Long been cast under the shadow of Fascism, an exhibition in Florence examines the creative arts in the 1930's in Italy and how they indicate a period of great stimulation and modernisation of the country.
'The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism', looks to present the work of Italian artists working under Mussolini's regime when the dictator was spearheading a concerted drive to modernise the country through the proliferation of mass production, mass communication and design – radio, cinema and the first illustrated magazines appeared in Italy at this which borrowed ideas from the fine arts and broadcast ' them to the masses.
The exhibition at the Palazzo Strozzi, which runs until 27th January 2013 showcases 99 paintings, 17 sculptures and 20 objects of design from over fourty of the preminent artists of the period, including Mario Sironi, Giorgio de Chirico, Alberto Savinio, Achille Funi, Carlo Carrà, Corrado Cagli, Arturo Nathan, Achille Lega, Ottone Rosai, Ardengo Soffici, Giorgio Morandi, Ram, Thayaht, Antonio Donghi, Marino Marini, Renato Guttuso,Ivanhoe Gambini, Carlo Levi, Filippo de Pisis, Scipione, Antonio Maraini and Lucio Fontana.
Undoubtedly technically proficient and at times seemingly experimental the work is presented that is puported to be 'apolitical'. This is in line with a certain 'revisionist' thinking that is geting oxygen in modern Italy. People for the first time are looking back at the Fascist era and seperating the debacle of the war years and finding positives in the way the state was run. There is no arguing that Italy had a love affair with Fascism that lasted over twenty years and the period over saw a period of immense change and unprecedented achievement.
But to present the art of this time as disparate from the political climate of the period sort of misses the point. Art is rarely, if ever apolitical, and of all political isms, Fascism utilised and manipulated the arts to spread its ideology into every corner of society. How can an artist be truly free to express his vision if he works in a climate of fear? Fascist art is interesting, because of its political associations and not despite it.
The visit of Hitler to Florence in 1938, where he was greeted with great fanfare, the streets lined with people and swastikas. Hitler, who considered himself an artist made his pilgrimage to the centre of Renaissance art, in a choreographed event that included, fake statues and even cardboard buildings to make Florence appear more prosperous. This bizarre episode is shunted to the side of in The Thirties. The Arts in Italy Beyond Fascism when in fact, it is central to the work. Rather an exhibition abo9ut the Fascists with the art of the time as the side-show.
Evident in the show, however is the tension between two conflicting political camps, the left and the right in Italy. While Germany neatly categorised the art of conflicting ideologies as 'degenerate art' and extolled the Neo-classicists above all others, the dichotomy in Italy was murkier territory with two Fascist arts awards competing for dominance. One was the Cremona Award, devised by Fascist hierarch Roberto Farinacci which sought a clear line in Fascist propaganda through the illustrative arts, the other was the Bergamo Award which accepted pieces that could have been considered Modernist provocation.