The Italian artist Giorgio Ascani picked up the pseudonym Nuvolo as a teen-ager in the Italian resistance. It derives from the word for “cloud,” but there’s nothing ethereal about the abstract experiments he composed with a sewing machine. Even beside stellar works by a dozen of his contemporaries—a square frame wrapped in black bandages by Salvatore Scarpitta, a ripped-poster marvel by Mimmo Rotella—Nuvolo has the power to startle. One untitled 1961 grid of dyed deerskin squares is a hybrid of haute couture and Paul Klee; a roughly Texas-shaped patch of corduroy sewn onto raw canvas, from 1959, curls up at its edges like an unruly cowlick.

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