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Art and industry in 1960s Italy explored in new exhibition at Tornabuoni Art, London
Mimmo Rotella, La rapina (The Robbery), 1964.

LONDON.- Tornabuoni Art London is launching its new curatorial fellowship. Every year, a curator will be given the keys to the gallery’s collection, in order to find new threads connecting the artworks in Tornabuoni’s vast collection. Dr Flavia Frigeri, Teaching Fellow at UCL and co-curator of The World Goes Pop exhibition at Tate Modern in 2015, is the first recipient of the fellowship.

Taking as a starting point Vittorio De Sica’s 1963 film Il boom, Flavia Frigeri’s exhibition explores the relationship between post-war Italian art and the economic miracle in the 1960s. The show focuses on how artists envisioned, represented and reacted to the boom, through the works of Carla Accardi, Franco Angeli, Marina Apollonio, Alighiero Boetti, Alberto Burri, Mario Ceroli, Gianni Colombo, Dadamaino, Tano Festa, Lucio Fontana, Francesco Lo Savio, Sergio Lombardo, Piero Gilardi, Pino Pascali, Mimmo Rotella and Mario Schifano. In order to highlight the link between art and industry, iconic design objects such as the Olivetti Valentine typewriter designed by Ettore Sottsass will also be on display.

In his film, De Sica identifies the thirst for material possession as a defining trait of the economic miracle. Having outspent his income on expensive holidays and fast cars, the protagonist, Giovanni Alberti, played by popular Italian actor Alberto Sordi, finds himself considering selling his eyes to a rich real estate developer who lost his own in an accident. The absurdity of this dilemma mirrors the excesses of the boom years and powerfully highlights the notion that vision and consumption are deeply embroiled.

Between 1958 and 1963, as a result of a favourable economic climate following the end of the Second World War, culminating in the creation in 1957 of the Common European Market, Italy experienced a period of accelerated industrial development. Growth rates reached unprecedented levels and a substantial rise in per capita income transformed the material, social and cultural landscape of the country. Contemporary artists engaged with the resulting wave of industrial production and consumerism in different ways, both criticising the excesses of the new consumerist society and collaborating with emerging brands like Zanussi and Olivetti to redefine the place of the artist in society. Some, like Pino Pascali, collaborated with the industrial sector as graphic designers.

A focal point of the exhibition will be a group of sketches by Pascali to be used in television advertisements. Other works by the artist, like Bachi da Setola [Silkworms] (1968) humorously highlight the paradoxes of the economic miracle by using acrylic brushes purchased from a local department store to create silkworm-like objects that undermine the preciousness of silk in favour of cheap acrylic. A similar strategy is adopted by Piero Gilardi in his Campo di Papaveri [Poppy Field] (1966), where a natural-looking environment is reproduced out of polyurethane. In fact, even the leading figure of the Italian avant-garde Lucio Fontana experimented with interior design, as exemplified by the two wardrobe doors on show in the gallery.

In Milan, product design was stealing art’s soul, and artists all over Italy showed awareness of this through the redeployment of industrial materials and strategies towards the making of their art. In Rome, artists like Carla Accardi and Alberto Burri sought to use new industrial materials such as plastic in their work. These artists integrated plastic in painting-like compositions to bring the star material of the 1960s into the fine art vocabulary.

By the 1960s, plastic had revolutionised the Italian furniture industry of the economic miracle years. Companies like Kartell specialised in plastic objects and furnishings, and designers like Marco Zanuso and Richard Sapper explored its potential across different platforms, from children’s furniture to the television set Doney 14 manufactured by Brionvega in 1962 and on display in the exhibition.

While artists in Milan and Turin were concerned with new materials and the mass production of objects, Roman artists uniquely engaged with the image culture that emerged from the economic boom. The Scuola di Piazza del Popolo group in particular, represented in the exhibition by Tano Festa, Franco Angeli and Mario Schifano drew attention to the commodification of culture in the 1960s. Festa described his own repeated depictions of Michelangelo’s David as ‘an American paints Coca-Cola as a value and for me painting Michelangelo is the same thing, in the sense that we are in a country where instead of consuming canned food we consume the Mona Lisa on chocolates.’

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