BY Barbara Casavecchia in Reviews | 01 SEP 11
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Issue 141


Museo del Novecento

BY Barbara Casavecchia in Reviews | 01 SEP 11

Ugo La Pietra, Commutatore - Per oggi basta (Commutator - Enough for today), 1970, film still. 

Disoccupate le strade dai sogni (Remove the Dreams from the Streets), is the title of a famous album released in 1977 by popular Italian singer/songwriter Claudio Lolli. By mocking the style of political slogans, it marked the end of an era of collective Utopias and political movements that had literally (and often violently) taken over the streets. ‘Fuori! Arte e Spazio Urbano 1968–1976’ (Out! Art and Urban Space 1968–1976) is one of the first exhibitions organized by the Museo del Novecento since it opened last December on a corner of Milan’s central Piazza Duomo. Given the bombastic architectural style of the Palace dell’Arengario – which was completed in 1956 and transformed into the museum by Italo Rota and Fabio Fornasari – and the institutional profile of a home of the city’s art collection, which ranges from the Futurists to the 1970s, the decision to concentrate on a set of recent experimental practices is promising.

Curated by Silvia Bignami and Alessandra Pioselli, ‘Fuori!’ is a documentary exhibition; it favours reconstructions over original art works. With the help of videos, photographs, slides, tapes, projections and rare publications, it focuses on five key episodes in Italian contemporary art and the urban environment: the legendary three days of performances curated by Germano Celant in Amalfi, ‘Arte povera+azioni povere’ (Poor Art+Poor Actions,1968); ‘Campo urbano’ (Urban Field, 1969), curated by Luciano Caramel in Como; the Festival of Nouveau Réalisme organized by Pierre Restany in Milan in 1970; ‘Volterra ’73’ curated by Enrico Crispolti in Tuscany; and the Italian section of the 1976 Venice Biennale, again organized by Crispolti, titled ‘Ambiente come sociale’ (Environment as Social), which reflected upon the phenomenon of ephemeral installations and actions taking place in the social sphere and presented works of art exclusively through audiovisual supports.

The period in question is so dense – 1968 also saw the Milan Triennale and the Venice Biennale occupied by students and protesters, while in ’77 the international Performance Week took place all over Bologna – and the archival material is so rich, that it’s a pity the exhibition is compressed into a space on the ground floor, with a resulting cacophony akin to a son et lumière. That said, the historicization of a decade of public events offers a precious opportunity to re-frame its context as well as that of the birth of Arte Povera. Too often presented as a European branch of Minimalism focused on frugal object-making, Arte Povera intended to activate a new, subversive as much as performative relationship between art and life, work and viewers. Celant’s famous 1968 manifesto opened with a quote from the Living Theatre: ‘The main problem is to come together.’ It also helps to give the bigger picture, by including artists and performances overlooked by the market: for example, Franco Mazzucchelli, who once installed a giant inflatable structure of transparent plastic in front of the gates of the Alfa Romeo car factory in Arese, near Milan, in 1971, to let the workers play with it; or the radical gesture of Piero Gilardi, who quit the commercial poverista circuit of Turin to join La Comune workshop, operating in squats and in the local psychiatric hospital; or, again, the multimedia researches on mass communication of the Laboratorio di Comunicazione Militante (Laboratory of Militant Communication) in Milan. There are hilarious moments too, like the bonfire of La Vittoria, a gigantic, golden, phallus-like ‘temporary monument 29 minutes long’ erected by Jean Tinguely in front of Milan Cathedral in 1970, exploding in fireworks, while loudspeakers blared a version of O sole mio performed by a drunken singer.

In order to gain access to the opening of ‘Fuori!’ visitors had to cut across the same square, which was occupied by what appeared to be giant props for mass entertainment: Mimmo Paladino’s monumental replica of his Salt Mountain (1995/2011) and a four-metre-high sculpture of Philip Haas paying homage to Arcimboldo, Winter (After Arcimboldo) (2010), both of which advertised two exhibitions at the nearby Palazzo Reale. In their joint introduction to the exhibition, Bignami and Pioselli quote the title of a 1970 article by Lea Vergine, who asked ‘what goes on when’, and whether art happens ‘in everybody’s space’. Vergine was reflecting on how much of the art of that time tried to position itself ‘out’ – that is, in the urban space – in a critical way. Nowadays, I often get the feeling that the only role assigned to art in the same context is merely decorative. In other words, her questions are still pertinent.

Barbara Casavecchia is a contributing editor of frieze and a freelance writer and curator based in Milan, Italy.