The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism at the Palazzo Strozzi, Florence – 22 September 2012 to 27 January 2013


Curated by Antonello Negri with

Silvia Bignami, Paolo Rusconi and Giorgio Zanchetti

Florence section curated by Susanna Ragionieri



In 1930s Italy, during the Fascist era, a very vigorous artistic battle was waged, involving every style and trend, from Classicism to Futurism, from Expressionism to Abstraction, and from monumental art to salon painting.  The scene was enriched and complicated by the emergence of design and mass communication – posters, wireless, films, for example – which espoused many ideas from the “fine” arts and conveyed them to a broad public.  It was a complex and vital time of experimentation, open to the outside world, the prelude to our modern era.  The exhibition will present this decade through a selection of works of art, while at the same time offering a historically informed narrative, fully conveying the aesthetic, cultural and ideological atmosphere of the time.  The exhibits will include paintings, sculpture and graphics, photographs (both experimental and documentary), models and sketches, posters, architectural drawings, illustrated books and journals, presented in seven sections.


Section 1.  Centres and Schools

Following an interpretative thread characteristic of the 1930s intended to recreate the atmosphere of the time, the exhibition starts with a focus on the influential artistic centres, each characterised by a particular style or taste: the Milan group, whose predominant figures were Sironi and Carrà and representatives of the Novecentismo such as Garbari, Tosi Funi and Wildt; Florence, with Soffici, Rosai, Lega and Viani, with whom Bologna’s Morandi can also be associated; Rome, divided between Classical and Realist schools with Donghi, Bartoli, Carena and Ceracchini); Turin, with the neo-15th century movement of Casorati, which also drew inspiration from France, artists included are Chessa, Menzio, Paulucci; and Trieste, which harked back to a Mitteleuropa suspended in time, as represented by Nathan, Bolaffio and Sbisà.


Section 2.  Youngsters and ‘Irrealists’

The supranational character of Italian 1930s art is more clearly perceptible in the work of the Futurist and abstract avant-garde and that of the younger painters and sculptors, who were open to European and international influences.  This section highlights their manifold and even conflicting characteristics through a selection of particularly significant pieces by artists working mainly between Rome and Milan: Licini, Prampolini, Radice, Peruzzi, Crali, Scipione, Mafai, Guttuso, Pirandello, Cagli, Capogrossi, Basaldella, Birolli, Sassu, Gentilini, Fontana, Marino and Melotti.


Section 3.  Travelling Artists

In this section the exchanges between Italy and Europe are illustrated both through examples of specific work by Italian artists abroad:  the France of the Italiens de Paris with De Chirico, De Pisis, Paresce, Tozzi, Savinio, and others; the United States of Depero; the Germany of Mucchi and De Fiori and others, and then in reverse through the presence of such foreign artists in Italy as Germany’s Max Beckmann and Jenny Wiegmann, Russia’s Deineka and France’s Cheyssial.


Section 4.  Contrasts

Aesthetic and ideological issues gave rise to arguments and conflicts in the 1930s.  The contrast between modernity and tradition gradually increased during the decade, culminating in the critical issue of ‘degenerate art’ in Germany, which was reflected in some respects in Italy, around 1940, in the clash between the ‘reactionary’ Cremona Prize and the Bergamo Prize, some entries for which were provocatively modernistic.  This tension was reflected in metaphysical and ‘abstract’ works by Italian artists that were at one time regarded as ‘shocking’ (De Chirico, Birolli, Carrà, Ghiringhelli, Reggiani and later Guttuso), set against works that celebrated the regime, somewhat symmetrically, the even more strident comparison provided by the works of German artists such as Dix and Ziegler.


Section 5.  Muralism and Public Art

The idea of art as a means of communication and a vehicle for messages is typical of the 1930s.  This section focuses on manifestations of public art in its plastic and painterly (muralism) forms, starting with the Milan Triennale of 1933, which was dominated by Mario Sironi.  It seeks to prompt a comparison with the French scene of the time, presenting sketches for murals and sculptures intended for public places, reliefs, glass panels and posters.  This is illustrated with works by Martini, Sironi, Carrà, Fontana, and others.


Section 6.  Design and Applied Arts

This section covers the range of products based on the deliberate reproducibility of images and objects, within the context of a first mass society:  from fashion to furniture, from furnishings and domestic appliances to advertising and political posters.  An Art Déco-modernist setting will be recreated, bearing the stylistic stamp of Gio Ponti, alongside a rationalist-abstract setting, both featuring furniture, furnishings and art works typifying contemporary, albeit contrasting, ideas about how to plan the domestic space.


Section 7.  Florence

In the final section, the opening group – Artists, poets and musicians: common ground refers to Florence’s role as the city of the most important and dynamic cultural journals, forming connections between poetry, painting, writing, sculpture and music.  On the other hand, there is the contrasting, albeit complementary, theme of The Strength of the Province and its Origins, featuring works by Soffici, Rosai, Viani, Romanelli, Marini, Quinto Martini and Manzù.  Between these two views and portrayals of life, the small group of works, Myth and the Mediterranean in the representation of the Human Form, deals with a particular approach to this topic, poised between the legacy of the Renaissance and international influences, from Hildebrand to Berenson and De Chirico.  The Modernity Myth relates the developments of such an atypical Futurist as Thayaht, and his brother Ram, to ideas for the city’s renewal as embodied in the two architectural masterpieces of the new Santa Maria Novella station and the Giuseppe Berta stadium.  Lastly, the establishment of Florence’s Maggio Musicale festival is represented by reference to two performances emblematic in different ways of the condition of modern man:  Luigi Dallapiccola’s Volo di notte (Night Flight), staged in 1940, and Luigi Pirandello’s I giganti della montagna (The Mountain Giants), which was first performed, posthumously and incomplete, in the Boboli Gardens on 5 June 1937.          


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