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Exhibition explores the links between the Italian avant-gardes and artists based in the USA
Sol Lewitt, Complex structures in a contained space,1988, watercolour on paper, 57 x 75,5 cm / 22 7/16 x 29 1/2 in. Courtesy Tornabuoni Art.

LONDON.- Tornabuoni Art’s summer exhibition this year draws from the gallery’s collection of international post-war art to explore the links between the Italian avant-gardes and artists based in the USA in the decades following the Second World War. ‘Italy – USA’ highlights the special link that existed between the New York and Italian art scenes in the post-war years by drawing parallels between artists who collaborated or inspired each other from either side of the Atlantic.

With the end of the Second World War, Italy emerged from years of cultural isolation, and international art shows like the Venice Biennale reopened. Meanwhile, with help from the Marshall Plan, the newly formed Italian Republic found a renewed economic and creative impetus. Italian artists, emerging and established, were galvanised by the new horizons that seemed to open up and many travelled to the USA to find inspiration and discover different ways of painting. Likewise, rising economic prosperity in Italy contributed to the atmosphere of ‘La Dolce Vita’, which attracted many American artists, some of whom, like Cy Twombly, settled in the Italian capital.

Artists such as Afro Basaldella, better known simply as Afro, travelled to the United States as early as 1950 and were inspired by the experiments of the American avant-gardes. Indeed the 1950s mark a significant change in Afro’s approach to abstraction, which becomes less representational and more experiential. During several trips to New York, Afro developed a close friendship with the artists of the New York School, who came to consider him as the Italian response to Abstract Expressionism. In particular, Willem de Kooning remained a lifelong friend of his, as demonstrated by their correspondence. He even created his black and white paintings of the early 1960s, better known as the ‘Rome’ series, in Afro’s studio. A letter from De Kooning, dated 1960, will be on show alongside a painting from the same year.

The seminal exhibition The New Decade: 22 European Painters and Sculptors, at MoMA in 1955, saw Afro, Alberto Burri and Giuseppe Capogrossi exhibited in New York for the first time. Their work attracted the attention of the legendary Guggenheim Museum Director James Johnson Sweeney and MoMA Director Alfred Barr, who would include them in future shows for the benefit of the US public. Many artists including Conrad Marca Relli, Christo, and Keith Haring, were influenced by the works of these Italians.

In 1964, Pop Art came of age when Robert Rauschenberg won the First Prize at the Venice Biennale. The Roman artists’ group that included Sergio Lombardo, Mario Schifano, Tano Festa, Franco Angeli, Cesare Tacchi and Giosetta Fioroni, had already begun working on their own critique of consumerist culture and were impressed by the works they saw in the American Pavilion of the Biennale. Their work quickly became known as Italian Pop.

The next year, in 1965, MoMA inaugurated the Responsive Eye exhibition, which showed the works of many artists who explored optical effects and colour. Among them were Josef Albers and Dadamaino, two artists who drew their inspiration from the Bauhaus teacher Johannes Itten and whose research on colour can easily be compared.

Finally, some artists collaborated. The friendship between Sol Lewitt and Alighiero Boetti, and the influence they had on each other’s practice, is visible in their respective works on show at Tornabuoni. The pair also collaborated on works, for example the small folded square that always hung on Boetti’s Muro – a wall of artworks, letters and memories he hung in his house. The Florentine artist Giuseppe Chiari, as the only Italian member of the Fluxus collective, also collaborated with artists such as Nam June Paik on musical performances.

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