The new life of Italian art
Due to its geographical and cultural proximity, Nice has already devoted numerous monographic exhibitions to Italian artists, such as Giovanni Anselmo, Enrico Baj, Pier Paolo Calzolari, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Mimmo Rotella or Gilberto Zorio. This year, from 14 May to 2 October, Mamac, the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art in Nice, is proposing "Vita Nuova" to focus on a historic period for Italian art, which is little known in France outside of Arte Povera: the years 1960-1975. A period that began with the first exhibitions in Roman galleries of a new generation of artists born between the 1920s and 1940s, such as Franco Angeli, Giosetta Fioroni and Jannis Kounellis, and ended with the tragic death of the writer, poet and director Pier Paolo Pasolini. According to the art historian Valérie Da Costa, interviewed by Richard Leydier for the contemporary art magazine Art Press, "these fifteen years are undoubtedly the most flourishing for Italian art in the second half of the 20th century".
The exhibition is multidisciplinary and brings together 56 artists, including many women who have been forgotten by art history. It features 120 works of art, paintings, drawings, sculptures, installations and archival documents from public and private collections in Italy and France, and explores the links that were established during this period between visual creation, design and cinema.
While the early 1960s were marked by a flourishing consumer society and the media and Cinecitta film studios were at their peak, the early 1970s sounded the death knell for the illusions of industrialisation in Italy in a particularly tense economic and political atmosphere. This does not prevent Valérie Da Costa from organising her exhibition around three main themes rather than chronologically. Society, nature and the body thus share the very special architecture of the Mamac, welcoming visitors with extracts from films by Michelangelo Antonioni, Federico Fellini and Pasolini, before presenting Italian society through the society of the image, then the reconstruction of nature, and finally tackling the question of the body through memory. All of this in a very porous way.
In the section dedicated to the "Society of the Image", works of art by Giosetta Fioroni, Cesare Tacchi and Fabio Mauri perfectly illustrate the representation of the image of the woman, whether anonymous or a film star, while the opportunity is given to revisit the highly innovative images for the time of Lisetta Carmi, born in 1924 in Genoa, who caused a scandal by photographing the transsexual community of her native city. Her transgressive photographs resonate perfectly with Pasolini's 1964 documentary "Comici d'amore", which investigated love and sexuality throughout Italy, a country so constrained by religion and patriarchy... It is fascinating to discover how this generation of artists proposed new ways of understanding and making art, in a form of "vita nuova", or "new life", a title borrowed from Dante's book of the same name, which, while being an ode to love, asserts a new way of writing, marked the Italian art of this period and contributed to its international recognition.
But this effervescence was soon counterbalanced by increased political and social tension at the end of the 1960s, with the events of spring 1968, the strikes in autumn 1969, the bombing of Piazza Fontana in December 1969 and the Borghese coup d'état in 1970.
For the section 'Reconstructing Nature', Valérie Da Costa has wisely brought together artists who have reacted to a society in full economic and industrial expansion by producing either artworks created with primary materials such as wood, water or earth, or filmed actions interacting with the sun, wind, sand and other natural elements. This is a great opportunity for the curator to go beyond the famous arte povera to discover other artists who are often unknown in France, or even completely forgotten in Italy, but who nevertheless crossed paths with the American art scene of their time. Like Pino Pascali or Mario Merz with their installations, Laura Grisi, Marinella Pirelli or Luca Maria Patella with their films. In those years, artists and designers shared a common interest in revisiting the forms of nature: it was a question of bringing art into life.
"What always speaks in silence is the body", wrote Alighiero Boetti. Thus, in the early 1970s in Italy, many artists used their bodies as a simple element of reference. The perspective here is more conceptual than corporeal. And the body also becomes a political object that questions gender and history. For some of these artists, this participatory experience opens up to the public space with the stated aim of making 'social art'. In the "Memories of Bodies" section, visitors will see how Irma Blank's drawings and Giorgio Griffa's paintings are the result of a gesture that is almost exhausted, how Marisa Merz's and Paolo Icaro's sculptures bear the measurements of the artist's body, and how the body is at stake in the performative work of Eliseo Mattiacci, Gino de Dominici and Fabio Mauri... Vita Nuova" takes on its full meaning here. "The idea is to expose the trace of the gesture, the imprint, and not the spectacular dimension of the body, as in body art at the same time," explains Valérie Da Costa.
Many of the works in this exhibition announce later productions and collaborations, such as the small film by Ugo Nespolo in which Pistoletto is seen pushing a ball in the street, placed right next to a painting by Renato Mambor relating another story of friendship between Roman artists. But politics is also present. Whether it is Fabio Mauri's 1975 installation in homage to Pasolini, Gianfranco Baruchello's painting of Mussolini's hanging in 1945, Lucian Fabro's tattered map, or Boetti's first embroidered map of Afghanistan in the early 1970s, everything is there to keep in mind the background of this formidable artistic panorama: that of Christian Democracy and an overpowering Communist Party.