Dawn of a Nation: From Guttuso to Fontana and Schifano

In America, the 1960s are generally recognized as a time of cultural and political unrest leading to a somewhat normalization of counterculture and civil disobedience. What some people do not realize is that this was not limited to America, but was experienced on an international scale. After World War II, Europe experienced an economic boom and an expansion of the middle class. This exploration of new society, new culture, and new ways of interacting with everything around you was extremely prevalent in Italy and is illustrated by the exhibition Dawn of a Nation: From Guttuso to Fontana and Schifano hosted in Palazzo Strozzi from 16 March to 22 July, 2018.

Alberto Burri, Sack and Gold,1953

The exhibition is curated by Luca Massimo Barbero. At the beginning of the exhibition in order to provide some historical context Barbero writes, “The exhibition sets out to highlight the relationship between art and culture, society and politics in Italy from the end of World War II to the late 1960s, focusing in particular on the period stretching from the “economic boom” (1958-63) to 1968. It explores the specific peculiarities of Italian art in those years, through research interacting with a culture that was busy building its own new identity after the wounds inflicted by the war.”

The exhibition is comprised of over 70 pieces of art, all of which leave a lot of room for viewer interpretation. A video installation opens the exhibition featuring the realism painting, The Battle of Ponte dell’Ammiraglio by Renato Guttuso. Throughout the following rooms examples of Abstraction, Informal Art , Pop Art, Art Povera, Conceptual Art and more are seen. A stark contrast between the separate rooms contribute to a dramatically different mood and tone with each collection designed to communicate the artistic and political evolution that Italy underwent during this time.

Lucio Fontana, Spatial Concept, New York 10, 1962

One of the initial rooms, “A Clash of Situations” has black walls and features Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept (1962) among other pieces. Fontana’s Spatial Concept has rougher feel, as it is sheet medal with large cuts. This harshness is directly juxtaposed by the next room, “Monochrome as Freedom.” The walls are all white and almost a perfect color match to the artwork on display, much of which is made of plastic, bandages, canvases, and polyvinyl acetate. The collection comes off as very modern and forward thinking as artist question conventional art forms through their work. This is perhaps most notably seen in Piero Manzoni’s Artist’s Shit, which is exactly what the name suggests.

A close-up picture of Piero Manzoni’s Achrome, 1959
Piero Manzoni, Artist’s Shit no. 68

These radical pieces of art look towards the future, but still hold pieces of a more restricted past. In the following rooms, the political commentary becomes clearer. Barbero describes this time as a, “period in art that sucked its lifeblood from politics, current events and social change.” Red, hammers, and slogans are seen depicting the creativity that grew from the demands and protests of 1968, a defining cultural time for modern Italy.

Mario Schifano, On the Fair Solution for Society’s Inconsistencies, 1968

The rest of the exhibition explores a greater variety of medias and interacts with the viewer in a unique and engaging way. I believe that this is something that the viewer should experience for themselves and shape their own opinion as each experience will differ. For students, a great time to do this is on Thursdays after 6 p.m. when special prices are available.

Albert Biasi, Eco / Echo, 1964-1974

The exhibition ends with Alighiero Boetti’s Mappa del Mundo, in a nod to what was accomplished in the past years by Italy and the world. Countries are represented on the tapestry by their flags and thus the modern world is recognized on a global scale. This completes the exhibition with a sense of accomplishment and hope for the future, contributing to the overall fulfilling emotional and educational journey that the viewer goes on throughout the different phases of the exhibition.

Alighiero Boetti, Mappa del Mundo, 1988 (image gathered from the Monsoon Art Collection, http://monsoonartcollection.com/alighiero-boetti/mappa-del-mundo/)

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Anna Perrone is a junior at the University of Kansas studying Strategic Communications in the School of Journalism and Mass Communications. Anna is attending LDM for the Spring semester of 2018 where she is enrolled in the 16 Unit Super Intensive Italian Program. With family roots in Italy and an innate interest in people and artful expressions, she is lookingforward to her time in Florence and immersing herself in the local culture.