La Dolce Vita: Avant-Garde Artists in Post-War Rome

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Open: 10.30am-6.30pm Tue-Fri, 11am-7pm Sat

Passage de Retz, 9 rue Charlot, 75003, Paris, France
Open: 10.30am-6.30pm Tue-Fri, 11am-7pm Sat


La Dolce Vita: Avant-Garde Artists in Post-War Rome

La Dolce Vita: Avant-Garde Artists in Post-War Rome
to Wed 10 Jan 2018

Sometimes at night the darkness and silence weigh upon me. Peace frightens me; perhaps I fear it most of all. I feel it is only a façade hiding the face of hell. I think, ‘What is in store for my children tomorrow?’, ‘The world will be wonderful’, they say. But from whose viewpoint? If one phone call could announce the end of everything? We need to live in a state of suspended animation like a work of art, in a state of enchantment.

From the film ‘La Dolce Vita’, directed by Federico Fellini, 1961

Works by : Giuseppe Capogrossi / Giulio Turcato / Afro / Alberto Burri / Mimmo Rotella / Salvatore Scarpitta / Carla Accardi / Gastone Novelli / Piero Dorazio / Ettore Colla / Giosetta Fioroni / Mario Schifano / Pino Pascali / Francesco Lo Savio / Franco Angeli / Jannis Kounellis / Renato Mambor / Mario Ceroli / Tano Festa

After dedicating many shows to the Milanese art scene of the 1960s – with exhibitions of the work of Lucio Fontana, Enrico Castellani, Dadamaino, Turi Simeti and Paolo Scheggi – Tornabuoni Art Paris inaugurates a second journey into Italian art, with the exhibition La Dolce Vita: Avant-Garde Artists in Post-War Rome.

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 1

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 2

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 4

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 5

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 6

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 7

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 8

Tornabuoni Art Paris La Dolce Vita 9

La Dolce Vita refers to an historical period in Rome of the 1950s-1960s and specifically to new trends and lifestyle that became synonymous with Federico Fellini’s 1961 film, La Dolce Vita, a chef-d’oeuvre of Italian cinema.

In the 1950s, Rome was recovering from the wounds of WWII. While this dark past was in the background, these were the years of the economic boom and rebuilding, that came with a strong desire to make the most of life and celebrate beauty after the horror of war and Fascism. At that time Rome also became a destination that attracted international intellectuals and artists, such as Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly.

From the remains of the war emerged a wave of change, the birth of a modern era, with the formation of new artistic movements that would make their mark on the 20th century. This exhibition explores the way the art that emerged in Rome at this time – the Forma 1 and Origine groups and Roman Pop – were inspired by the cultural panorama of this period to push the boundaries of painting in ways that continue to influence contemporary art.

La Dolce Vita pays tribute to and documents this historical moment in Italian art with a selection of 40 museum-quality works, many – including those by Alberto Burri, Carla Accardi and Piero Dorazio – created between the 1950s and 1960s, and others made in the years following La Dolce Vita, by artists such as Jannis Kounellis and Mario Ceroli, directly inspired by their experiences of the Post-War Roman art scene.

The first group of artists presented in the exhibition, named Forma 1, was founded in 1947 by Carla Accardi, Piero Dorazio and Giulio Turcato, among others. In their manifesto, published in the Forma 1 journal in April 1947, the artists claim to be “formalists and Marxists”, their ambition being to connect Marxist politics to abstract art. The group promoted a structural anti-realist, abstraction that gives importance to the form and the sign in their basic sense, excluding any symbolic or psychological representation in their work.

Carla Accardi, a researcher and experimenter, developed her own poetic painting style, at first based on interlocking geometric forms and later evolving into pseudo-calligraphic signs and informal improvisations with different materials, such as her colourful paintings on transparent plastic.

Her work later influenced Arte Povera artists. Piero Dorazio and Giulio Turcato, painters of colour and light, attempted to express movement with their luminous textures. Dorazio in particular went against the tide of contemporary avant-gardes by questioning the role of colour and experimenting with all its possibilities, while Turcato in his work abolished the concepts of mass, volume and perspective. Forma 1 disbanded in 1951 but left a deep mark on 20th-century Italian Art.

The year 1951 also saw the birth of the Gruppo Origine of which Dorazio was also a member. Maintaining numerous contacts with American artists, such as Cy Twombly and Robert Rauschenberg, the group was founded by Alberto Burri (shown above), Giuseppe Capogrossi (shown right), Ettore Colla and Mario Ballocco. The Gruppo Origine considered abstract art to be “decorative” and instead sought to become the reference for non-figurative art, reducing colour to its simplest and most incisive expressive function, developing pure and elementary images.

During this period, Rome also benefitted from an intense dialogue with the USA through the strong influence of the language of American Pop Art. By the late 1950s, Italian Pop precursors emerged in Rome: Mimmo Rotella (shown left) with his appropriation of street posters through layering, tearing and peeling; followed by the sculptures of Mario Ceroli. Italian Pop Art found its unity in the Roman group Scuola di Piazza del Popolo whose members included Tano Festa, Franco Angeli and Mario Schifano.

Roman Pop Art’s fertile experimentation with images and art differs from other contemporaneous Italian art scenes. Refusing to relinquish figuration, these artists developed their own artistic vocabulary, defined by cultural references to the past, art and its history, as can be seen in Tano Festa and his citations of Michelangelo, as well as in Mimmo Rotella’s collage-like works. These references to classical art also influenced the work of Pino Pascali and Renato Mambor.

In the creative setting of Post-War Rome, artists such as Mario Ceroli and Jannis Kounellis embarked on more radical experiments, creating sculptural forms and challenging traditional notions of artistic classification, materials and genre – ideas that later found expression in Arte Povera.

As a tribute to Jannis Kounellis, who passed away last February, the final room of this exhibition will be dedicated to his monumental Untitled work from 1989, a 16-metre-long installation made of iron, lead, oil lamps and coal – materials typical of his Arte Povera work. One of Kounellis’ most impressive pieces, it concentrates and epitomises the different themes and creative elements of his work. Typically large-scale, the work fills the entirety of the room in which it is exhibited.

Another key aspect of Untitled is the relationship between man, the artist and nature. This installation is neither a painting, nor a sculpture; the frontier where nature ends and the artist begins is difficult to trace. While Kounellis’ work embodies the ideas of Arte Povera, its experimental spirit was born in the cultural ferment of Post-War Rome.

Courtesy Tornabuoni Art
Courtesy Tornabuoni Art

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