For decades, post-war Italian art seemed to hide in plain view: revered by knowing critics and dealers, yet largely unfamiliar to a broader public. But with Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri being tapped for high-profile retrospectives and artists like Piero Manzoni and Enrico Castellani fetching record sales, recent years have seen Italy’s modern output achieve unprecedented success in settings both critical and commercial. In response, KALEIDOSCOPE has invited a dream team of experts to discuss the causes and implications of this ongoing (re)discovery.
Director, David Zwirner Gallery, New York
Italian culture in the 1950s and ‘60s could be compared to Florence in the late 15th century, a period of unprecedented creativity and rivalry. The difference between the two periods, however, comes down to patronage. There were no Medici(s) in Rome, Milan or Turin in 1964; collectors were few and far between for post-war Italian abstraction or the Azimuth artists (Castellani, Fontana, Manzoni), and there was little (if any) support for Arte Povera. These artists enjoyed minimal institutional support and were not “exported” in the way they deserved.
This is finally changing. Look at the auctions: there have been dedicated sales of Italian art in London for over fifteen years, with new names (of both artists and collectors) appearing each year. Outside of Italy, we’ve finally seen major exhibitions of Burri, Fontana and Manzoni. But there is still much to explore. The extraordinary legacy of galleries like Sperone, Christian Stein and La Tartaruga, post-war abstract painting, Arte Povera (especially the work of Giulio Paolini and Giovanni Anselmo), hand-painted Pop by artists like Mario Schifano, the rarefied persona of Gino de Dominicis: all are fertile for rediscovery.
Looking a bit further back, Giorgio Morandi also finds a welcome place in our gallery. With our fall exhibition, I focused on Morandi’s later period—particularly his “serial” works from the early 1960s, which were enormously impactful on American Minimal and Conceptual artists like Flavin, Judd and Reinhardt. Our gallery has a particular commitment to those artists, so I’m very interested in this cross-pollination between American and European art. Artists from both sides were traveling, interacting and mutually influencing each other. This lively exchange makes for a complicated chronology but an exciting history, which David Zwirner will continue to explore.
Director, Frieze Fairs
Post-war Italian art has never ceased to be relevant, although it is true that the market for this work has boomed in recent years. Part of its appeal is that it is embedded in Italian art history yet also feels fresh and current. It can sit comfortably alongside both historical and contemporary art.
Having served as director of Frieze Masters since its inception in 2012, I can say that we’ve probably received more applications to show Italian post-war art than any other category, which illustrates the work’s growth in popularity in the past few years. There have been great solo presentations of Fontana, Boetti, Pistoletto and Castellani at the fair, as well as many individual works from this period shown by both Italian and international galleries. In the past year, we also saw an increasing amount of works by artists such as Burri and Bonalumi. The fair provides an ideal context for Italian post-war art, as it is framed by Old Masters and late 20th-century art, and is occasionally even shown on the same stands.
Senior Director, Dominique Lévy Gallery, New York
From the beginning, Dominique Lévy has supported post-war Italian artists, from Lucio Fontana, whom we included in our inaugural exhibition, “Audible Presence: Lucio Fontana, Yves Klein, Cy Twombly,” to our upcoming Enrico Castellani exhibition (5 February–8 April 2016), which will be the artist’s first solo show in London. We have also exhibited works, both at the gallery and in major international fairs, by Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni and Giulio Paolini, to name a few. These artists fit well into our program, which strives to present dynamic exhibitions by post-war and contemporary artists from around the globe and across generations.
It’s been extremely exciting for us to see these artists receive an increased level of international recognition in recent years. Perhaps this is due to the fact that they are now being discussed in a broader context, in relation to artists from across Europe, Japan and the Americas, as we’ve seen in recent museum shows like “ZERO: Countdown to Tomorrow” at the Guggenheim in New York.
The visibility and interest surrounding post-war Italian art will only grow, as these artists use highly innovative media and a visual language that translates across borders. In this sense, they fit right into conversations currently taking place in the international art world.
Aside from the upcoming Castellani exhibition, we will show post-war Italian artists at Art Basel Hong Kong 2016, alongside the likes of the Korean artist Chung Sang-Hwa and the Japanese artist Kazuo Shiraga, in order to explore their parallel artistic practices.
Artistic Director, New Museum, New York
Personally, I think some of these developments owe to a mixture of two elements: first, nostalgia towards different moments in Italian history in which we could still appear to play a crucial role internationally; and second, a desire to celebrate a polyphonic idea of art history that is too often flattened by mainstream narratives in international museums.
Personally, the lack of proper museums in Italy has motivated me to introduce some of these works into an international context so that they don’t go forgotten. Many of these artists and works are the ones I grew up with, so naturally, it’s also an occasion to question and discuss one’s own origins—but such a process must be handled with extreme care and lightness. I am in no way interested in some nationalistic celebration of Italian grandeur.
In the specific case of the recent exhibition “New Skin” at the Aishti Foundation in Beirut, I focused particularly on the work of artists like Bonalumi, Castellani, Fontana and Manzoni, who congregated around the magazine Azimuth, a short-lived publication which managed to connect an incredible group of international artists, counting among its contributors artists from the Zero group, Robert Rauschenberg, and even Samuel Beckett.
Within the Azimuth group emerged a reflection on the relationships that tie information, consumerism and communication, which I find particularly relevant in understanding how many younger contemporary artists are dealing with the overload of information in the digital age. The type of “information painting” which many contemporary artists seem to be producing today has more than just a formal correspondence with the work of some of the pioneers of Azimuth and of the more obscure artists of the “Arte Programmata”; it is by analyzing the prehistory of the digital age that we can hope to understand better our present.
“Within the Azimuth group emerged a reflection on the relationships that
tie information, consumerism and communication.”
Director, Hauser & Wirth, Zurich
It is extremely encouraging to see post-war Italian art gaining significant institutional attention while climbing at auction. Italian art from this period is as beautiful as it is conceptually rigorous, and many of its artists have been highly influential across multiple genres, so it’s good to see them finally receiving the critical and commercial recognition they deserve.
Hauser & Wirth announced its worldwide representation of Estate Fabio Mauri in March 2015. The gallery has since staged a major exhibition of his work in New York, marking the artist’s first solo show in the city. It coincided with Okwui Enwezor’s presentation “All the World’s Futures” at the Venice Biennale, which featured several of Mauri’s large-scale installations, and followed a highly acclaimed retrospective at Fundacion PROA, Buenos Aires. This reflects a major shift in the critical perception of his work. Mauri was highly innovative and active in Italy’s avant-garde, but because his work was not directly linked to any particular movement, it has long been overlooked. Mauri made a significant contribution to European modernism, particularly through his performance pieces, and we hope to further his legacy by deepening understanding of and engagement with his work.
Mauri’s forthcoming London show, opening in December, focuses on the series “Picnic o Il buon soldato” (Picnic or The good soldier), a sobering, poetically reflective body of work depicting the repercussions of conflict on collective cultural memory—a theme that proliferates his work. Mauri came of age in the context of Fascist Italy, and his relentless effort to bridge that experience to the philosophical and artistic movements of his time is unparalleled. Each exhibition of his work is a revelation to an audience of several generations. It is a fantastic opportunity to see his work installed, especially as it now seems more relevant than ever.
Luxembourg & Dayan, New York
I think it is important to look at this from a macro perspective and not just a micro perspective. Post-war art in general has been booming, as we’ve seen more and more important exhibitions and critical attention given to art of the ‘50s, ‘60s and ‘70s. Italian post-war art had received relatively little attention until about ten years ago, but with better and more important works coming to the market, interest has been growing and prices rising. That said, I still believe that even if a “Fine di Dio” by Fontana (his most important and celebrated series) sells for $30M, the Italian market is still relatively reasonable compared to the American post-war market, for example.
Luxembourg & Dayan has long placed a prominent focus on artists from this period, having organized exhibitions by the likes of Mario Schifano, Alighiero Boetti, Alberto Burri, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Domenico Gnoli and, most recently, Enrico Baj (currently on view).
We are always seeking great works of art. We try to look at quality first and foremost, following our eye rather than the “fashion” of the market. This has led us to explore the works of these innovative and influential Italian artists, focusing at times on a particular theme (e.g., Gnoli’s “BEDS”), a particular series of works (Burri’s “Cellotex”), or the particular context in which the works were made (“Pistoletto Politico”). Our next exhibition in London will look at pre-war sculptures by Alberto Giacometti. Today, most attention is given to his post-war works, but we are fascinated by the pieces he made in the ‘20s and ‘30s, which are less known and deserve greater attention.
Director, Centre d’Art Contemporain, Geneva
I’m not a bit surprised to see this growing interest in post-war Italian art. Our country went through an extraordinary period from the ‘50s to the ‘80s—a sort of golden age in all aspects of culture, from cinema and design to architecture and literature. There were lots of remarkable artists working in Italy during that time, and many of them are still relatively unknown abroad. So I think that interest in them is bound to grow—as will the price of their works.
From a curatorial point of view, I want to present a history of Italian art that’s not the one that everyone knows. There’s a tendency at the international level to identify post-war Italian art solely with Arte Povera, which I believe is a grave mistake. It would be like seeing Italian cinema in terms of Federico Fellini or Luchino Visconti while neglecting directors of the calibre of Pierpaolo Pasolini or Marco Ferreri. In actual fact, the period was far more interesting and more complex than the dominant historical view would suggest. I’m interested in what I would call the “irregular” figures of our history—those personalities who cannot be pigeonholed into any particular artistic movement. I’m interested in those individuals who asserted a highly original and personal vision of art, and who ended up paying for this autonomy dearly in terms of international recognition. This has led to my organizing exhibitions of artists like Giorgio Griffa, Piero Gilardi, Luigi Ghirri, Luigi Ontani, Gino de Dominicis and Gianni Piacentino, who later had a major retrospective at Fondazione Prada in Milan in 2015.
As regards future projects, I’m currently working on a solo exhibition of works by Emilio Prini, his first in an institution since 1995. I’m also working on a major exhibition of works by Getulio Alviani, an amazing figure in Programmed Art, whom I believe is due for rediscovery.
“There’s a tendency at the international level to identify post-war Italian art
solely with Arte Povera, which I believe is a grave mistake.”
I think there are several reasons for the renewed interest in post-war Italian art. Most obviously, the regulation that any works in Italy that are older than 50 years require an export license has led to a significant number of works from that period being exported and promoted to an international audience. Suddenly artists long lost to history are being celebrated as seminal figures—which is maybe more true in some cases than others, but I’ll let the art historians sort that through. At the same time, just as importantly, there is a new generation of dynamic young dealers who are very active in post-war Italian art—doing a lot of research and promoting artists with catalogs, museum shows and major highly focused art-fair booths. A third factor: There are many collectors today who compellingly combine post-war Italian art with other types of art. I vividly remember once meeting a young Chinese industrialist who had just bought his first Morandi in Basel. Likewise, when visiting the legendary Howard Rachofsky in Dallas, I was struck by how well that collection combines post-war Italian art, the Japanese Gutai and Mono-ha movements and young American abstraction.
In recent years, post-war Italian art has been very present at all our shows, and incredibly well received. The galleries expert in that period sell to collectors in Europe but also in Asia and the Americas. There is a very high demand for work by artists including Fontana, Manzoni, Burri, Scheggi, Boeti, Castellani, Daidamaino and Bonalumi. The Art Basel shows are a great place for gallerists to bring these works, as they know that our shows are visited by connoisseur collectors who expect to find historical works of the highest quality at our shows.
I think that this boom in the market surrounding works of marginal or derivative artists from the ‘50s and ‘60s is logical, because although Italian art has been one of the most innovative forces in post-war cultural production, it is also absolutely undervalued. What is disturbing is the almost total vacuousness of the new generation of artists, whether it’s visual artists, writers or filmmakers. Most of them are entangled in a solipsistic state of self-reference, which cripples their chances of speaking to a wider audience beyond Italy’s boundaries.
This is why I’m committed to presenting worthy post-war Italian artists to an international audience, including them in exhibitions like the Venice Biennale, “Italics” at Palazzo Grassi, and “La fine di Dio,” a show juxtaposing Lucio Fontana and Maurizio Cattelan’s work at Gagosian in London.
I also recently organized an auction for Phillips in New York—The Great Wonderful—where I tried to underline the richness of Italian art production, including a few unknown figures alongside the usual suspects. But I was surprised by the masochistic attitude of certain players who allowed artists to sink, even if they were part of their roster of interests. For instance, a beautiful Baruchello from the ‘60s was B.I. at $15,000 at the sale, while a month later, a show by the same artist opened in an Italian gallery in London with an extra “0” in the price. The same went for a great Pessoli or a Mauri. It’s a totally irrational strategy played by part of the Italian system. We show a lack of credibility in our own potential. My goal is to reverse this bizarre, self-destructive attitude, even if it means becoming the target of criticism. We will repeat the experiment—more aggressively, I hope—in London this coming October.
I have always believed in the strength of post-war Italian art, and since 2000, thanks to the support from Christie’s international team, I have been promoting it with rigor and passion.
The Italian Sale, a themed auction dedicated to 20th-century Italian art, has been fundamental to the growing success of the Italian art market, and Eyes Wide Open: An Italian Vision, which consisted of the largest group of Arte Provera works ever sold in the world, demonstrates the strong and continued interest in this category.
Thanks to our curated sales and carefully arranged catalogues, which explain the inspiring history behind the works offered on sale, international collectors have shown increased interest in this market.
One can also gauge the strength of the Italian market by the success of recent sales like Modern Art in NY, The Artist’s Muse, and Post-War and Contemporary Art, which included works by such artists as Modigliani and Fontana.
Director, Gagosian Gallery,
I think that post-war Italian art is finally getting the critical and market attention that it deserves. Italy produced highly original, innovative and groundbreaking artists. Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni, to name just three superstars, are as important as Pollock or Warhol. Manzoni’s Le socle du Monde (Base of the World) (1961) is one of the most radical works ever produced: it conceptually redefines the essence of sculpture and our being in the world. Besides, it is still possible to find masterpieces in private collections, very often where they’ve been for decades.
Gagosian was one of the first international galleries to open a branch in Italy (Rome) and has organized museum-scale exhibitions by the likes of Pino Pascali, Piero Manzoni and, most recently, Lucio Fontana. These events reflect the attention the gallery has always paid to excellence. Our Manzoni exhibition was the first retrospective ever devoted to the artist in the U.S., and the Rome gallery is one of our most beautiful spaces, located in one of the most artistically charged cities in the world. This has allowed us to engage artists in a unique dialogue that has translated into remarkable shows.
“Burri, Fontana and Manzoni are as important as Pollock or Warhol.”
Director, Madre, Naples
The history of Italian contemporary art is twofold: it’s proven highly influential in the development of international art history, contributing to the avant-garde lineage through movements like Metaphysics, Process Art and Arte Povera; and yet it remains partially unknown, with much room for research and reassessment. We’re presently witnessing a revaluation between these two positions: a number of post-war masters have been consecrated (see: the extraordinary De Chirico and Fontana retrospectives at Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris), while many interrupted lines of Italian art are emerging, providing a broader and more detailed sense of its history.
Through all of this, a single aspect is essential: the new generation of critics, curators and gallerists to whom I belong has a great responsibility to fill this critical void and raise the curiosity of our international fellows. In focusing on these movements and figures, we must demonstrate that there’s a solid and consequential narrative to be explored—one that remained unclear even a few years ago, but can now finally be narrated.
MADRE’s collection has long included works by masters like Vincenzo Agnetti, Gianfranco Baruchello, Tomaso Binga, Alighiero Boetti, Francesco Clemente, Piero Gilardi, Gina Pane and Gilberto Zorio. More recently, we collaborated with MAXXI (Rome) and GAM (Turin) in organizing a retrospective of Ettore Spalletti.
Another project, “Per_forming a Collection,” commenced in June 2013 and completed in May 2015, resulted in the conjunction of different lines of research: restoring the permanent collection of the museum, with the history of Naples upheld as a crossroads of contemporary art over the last fifty years; creating a dialogue between artworks and their contextual documentation; and enacting the collection as a narrative structure, able to recall the past, narrate the present and forecast the future.
Edited by @alessio_ascari
Lucio Fontana, Concetto spaziale, Attese, 1964
Giorgio Morandi, Natura morta (Still Life), 1952 Oil on canvas 16 1/8 x 19 5/16 inches (41 x 49 cm) Private Collection © 2015 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/SIAE, Rome copy
Victoria Siddall, portrait by Jonathan Hokklo
Enrico Castellani, Superficie Biangolare Cromata (Bi-angular Chrome), 2011, Acrylic on canvas, 70 x 50 x 100 cm, Courtesy Archivio Castellani, Milano
Massimiliano Gioni, portrait by Ari Marcopoulos for Kaleidoscope
Fabio Mauri, Ideologia e Natura, (Ideology and Nature), 1973, Performance, Galleria Duemila, Bologna, Photo: Elisabetta Catalano
Gianni Piacentino, Black Pearl Frame Vehicle with Nickel Signed Plates, 1971, Courtesy Centre d'Art Contemporain Genève
Maurizio Cattelan | Lucio Fontana, La Fine di Dio (The End of God), 2014, Courtesy Gagosian Gallery
Piero Manzoni, Achrome, 1961-1962
Ettore Spalletti, Dittico rosa / Pink Diptych, 2011, impasto di colore su tavola, foglia oro, Collezione / Collection Lia Rumma, Napoli