Italy Painting and Sculpture
Condemning Futurism (c. 1909-16) in the name of its abstract schematism had long since become commonplace. Today, however, without hiding the intrinsic contradiction between pictorial and plastic intentions on the one hand and the illusionistic representation of dynamism and speed on the other, it is necessary to recognize that futurism was the only avant-garde movement of European significance with which the Italy had the opportunity to make a serious contribution to the development of modern art.
Among the artists who participated in that movement today undoubtedly appear the most important, by general consent, Umberto Boccioni and Gino Severini, followed by Carrà, Balla, Russolo, Depero, Prampolini, Fillia, etc. Only in the painting of Gino Rossi and in that of Pio Semeghini (the so-called Burano group) was a pictorial renewal attempted parallel to that in the same years of Futurism. With them, however, he walked along other paths and was cubist and expressionist in the first and post-impressionist in the second.
During the First World War, in a stay in Ferrara, Carrà found in the paintings that De Chirico had been doing for some time, an incentive to completely abandon futurism and seek, in unusual combinations of trivial and meaningless objects and characters, the expression of something supernatural, surprising and mythical. Having theorized the new formula, by Carrà himself, in a series of writings, the so-called “metaphysical painting” was born, to which Giorgio Morandi (v.) Also adhered for some time, and on the basis of which all the best developed Italian painting until about 1934.
Of metaphysical painting it can now be said that it was in Italy, albeit in a hidden and incomplete way, the only movement that presented analogies and points of contact with what was Dadaism in Europe. This meaning, however, in addition to being fleeting, is quite evident only in the works of De Chirico of that period. For the others, the elements that soon prevailed were – through a precise tactile symbology – an abstract plastic sense and – through the choice of unreal shades – an abstract coloristic sense, and both were aimed at presenting under a mythical and fabulous aspect any object or scene was assumed to be its theme. In this sense, and therefore against the lively chromatic realism of Impressionism, the movement of “plastic values” (circa 1919-24) was oriented, in which they participated,
Giorgio Morandi soon eliminated, however, all tactile symbology, turning completely to an abstract and atonalistic luminism. His great merit is to have reacted in this way among the first, and immediately, to the bad taste of the incipient “twentieth century”, which was becoming a proponent of a misunderstood and gross plasticism. On the same road, A. Tosi, F. De Pisis, F. Casorati, V. Guidi, O. Rosai, and others again set their own paintings, in more or less immediate time. The plasticism of “plastic values” instead transferred, or remained, to most (from Sironi to Carena, not to mention numerous others) of the artists who joined the “twentieth century” (which officially began with the 1926 exhibition in Milan) and declined gradually until it became an instrument of direct expression of the rude and severe “Roman”, “Italic”, “rural” health, and maybe racial. Among the sculptors, they were substantially inspired by the current of “plastic values” Arturo Martini (which however sometimes crossed over, like Carrà, in the “twentieth century”) and Marino Marini (whose position with respect to the former is similar to that of Morandi with respect to Carrà). On the other hand, F. Messina, R. Romanelli, Libero Andreotti and others fall into the “twentieth century”.
Between 1928 and 1933 a reaction against the “twentieth century” developed, consisting of an attitude which, if on the one hand referred to the level of culture and to the artistic and figurative awareness of “plastic values and metaphysical painting”, from another tried in every way to get out of his sphere by accentuating an emotional excitement and a spirit of painful rebellion that was expressed through a brushstroke, a sign or a modeling mostly of an expressionistic character. This reaction developed: in Turin with Carlo Levi, Chessa, Paolucci and Menzio, in the name of a modernity of living and almost Fauvian painting (although Carlo Levi already set his painting on basically metaphysical tones); in Rome, in chronological order, with Scipione, Mafai, Mazzacurati, Cagli and Melli, in the name of a mythographic and rebellious decadence in the former, tinged with melancholy in the last; in Milan, with the group headed by Birolli, Sassu and Migneco (and which would have gathered around the movement of “Corrente”) in the name of a tormented and literary Vangogism and, despite its culturalism, full of realistic crudities. The sculptors Giacomo Manzù in Milan and, later, Mirko Basaldella in Rome, were also formed between this decadence and a vague religious or archaic need. The activity of etching and painter Luigi Bartolini and that of the painter and engraver (especially xylography and linoleum) M. Maccari and the painter L. Spazzapan also have a meaning of reaction to the “twentieth century”. despite its culturalism, full of realistic rawness. The sculptors Giacomo Manzù in Milan and, later, Mirko Basaldella in Rome, were also formed between this decadence and a vague religious or archaic need. The activity of etching and painter Luigi Bartolini and that of the painter and engraver (especially xylography and linoleum) M. Maccari and the painter L. Spazzapan also have a meaning of reaction to the “twentieth century”. despite its culturalism, full of realistic rawness. The sculptors Giacomo Manzù in Milan and, later, Mirko Basaldella in Rome, were also formed between this decadence and a vague religious or archaic need. The activity of etching and painter Luigi Bartolini and that of the painter and engraver (especially xylography and linoleum) M. Maccari and the painter L. Spazzapan also have a meaning of reaction to the “twentieth century”.
In Milan, where the stimuli of a European figurative culture were very strong, in the same years around 1930 there was also an abstract movement with the sculptor Lucio Fontana, the painter A. Soldati, the painter and set designer Luigi Veronesi and others.
Taking advantage of this milanese environment of rebellious culture and anxious to get out of the provincial limits in which Italian art seemed increasingly closed, R. Guttuso turned his painting to a neo-Cubist and Picasso realism, at first full of emotional excesses of an expressionistic character, but then more and more firmly possessed. With his Crucifixion (1942) the expressionist protest of the Milanese and the Romans ceased to be resolved into a decadent realism or mythography to acquire the vigor of moral and social controversy. With the worsening of the Second World War and the struggle against Nazism and Fascism on this same level, not only the work of Guttuso and many Romans, but also that of R. Birolli and of the whole Milanese group which, at the beginning of 1946, condensed its polemical experiences in the magazine Il ’45. Among the sculptors who emerged in this period and in this atmosphere, the ceramist Leoncillo Leonardi should be mentioned.
With the end of the war, artistic exchanges also began to reactivate, and some didactic and summarizing exhibitions of modern French and European painting were able to improve the figurative culture of younger artists and stimulate that of the older ones. Thus it was that, in 1946-47, a decisive abstract movement developed aimed at rigorously exhausting all the formal experiences that had not been made in Italy or had not been able to be taken to depth and, above all, become a climate of culture.
Therefore today, alongside a residue of expressionistic decadentism, which finds its main exponents in Toti Scialoja and Giovanni Stradone, while on the one hand a strong group of painters such as Guttuso, Corpora, Afro, in Rome; Moreni in Turin; Birolli and Cassinari in Milan; Santomaso in Venice, etc. and sculptors such as Viani, Fazzini, Mazzacurati, Leoncillo Leonardi, Franchina try, with more or less talent, to reach a purity and a modernity of forms without however abandoning a legible realistic datum (and indeed trying, in some cases, to accentuate a its expressive hardness); on the other, a large group of painters such as Dova, Licini and many others in Milan; Pizzinato and Vedova in Venice; Turcato, the sculptor Pietro Consagra and many very young people in Rome have definitely switched to abstractionism.