Fascism and the arts

Fascism and the arts

A major exhibition in Forlì exalts artistic works from the fascist era. But, anxious to document the work of little-known names, it has tragically forgotten the real geniuses of the Novecento movement

Just days following the closing of the Florence exhibition on non-fascist art in Italy during the 1930s?"Arte 30. Arti in Italia oltre il fascismo, curated by Antonello Negri?"offering a clear-cut ideological demarcation is the opening of Novecento. Arte e vita in Italia fra le due guerre [Novecento. Art and Life in Italy between the World Wars], curated by Francesco Mazzocca at the Musei di San Domenico in Forlì (until June 16th, catalog published by Silvana).

While the first event marked the continuation of the revisionist project of the memorable exhibition, Arte moderna in Italia 1915-1935 [Modern Art in Italy 1915-1935] offered in the same venue, Palazzo Strozzi, by Carlo Ludovico Ragghianti in 1967 and highlighting the independence of some of the artists from the fascist regime, this new, formidable exhibition in Forlì is a declared glorification of the promotion of the arts during the fascist period.

Perfectly coherent with the acknowledged innovative efforts, following avant-garde initiatives, of Margherita Sarfatti and Giuseppe Bottai, at least until 1938. And, because everything counts, it is incredible that the opening of the exhibition, in a city run by the center-left party, comes on the heels of the much-criticized declaration by Silvio Berlusconi that "Apart from the outrageous racial laws, Mussolini also did some good." So much the better ...

This exhibition proves the much-maligned Berlusconi to be right and, politically speaking, does not voice any hint of criticism of the regime, following its evolution to the very end, which is actually not documented. On the other hand, it seems to hearken to the words of Giacomo Noventa who courageously affirmed: "Fascism was not an error against Italian culture, but of Italian culture."

Here it is offered in its entirety in a wonderful exhibition of major works that have been rediscovered, as well as mediocre ones worthy of note, in a nexus of art and propaganda perfectly expressed in the obvious, original title: Dux, arte italiana negli anni del consenso [Dux, Italian art in the Consensus Years], but which was hurriedly substituted because it was considered opportune. But the tone of the exhibition and the care taken by the curator clearly refer to that theme as illustrated in the sections on regime architecture, both figurative and monumental painting during the regime, the aulic and solemn sculpture and regime fashion, not to mention furnishings and propaganda posters.

Mazzocca clearly stuck to his mission and has also found many works that are little-seen or not well-known. The new title, Novecento, according to the supervisor, the people's commissar, Gianfranco Brunelli, is meant to refer to the era of what was known as the Novecento movement, founded by Sarfatti and offered in the major exhibitions of 1926 and 1929 in the Palazzo della Permanente in Milan.

Those interested in this period will recall, following Ragghianti's exhibition, the punctilious exhibition on the Novecento italiano in 1983, curated by Rossana Bossaglia and shown in the original venue. But even just a quick look at the artist roster is enough to understand that the Forlì exhibition is much more tied to the relationship between art and fascism than the spirit of the Novecento movement, although the fact that they were able to have on loan such essential paintings as In tram by Virgilio Guidi?"whose absence in Milan was much lamented?"is something to be commended. But how is the presence of arch-fascist Antonio Maraini or the embarrassing and celebrative Cesare Sofianopulo to be justified?

There are, of course, the absolute masterpieces of Mario Sironi and Arturo Martini, the marvelous La quiete by Felice Carena and significant works by Libero Andreotti and Fausto Pirandello. Antonio Donghi shares the company of Felice Casaroti, and rightly so. But why Gian Emilio Malerba and not Alberto Ziveri?

And here, given the all-inclusive title, begins the massacre which, starting from the new title, renders unlikely the presence of even the prophetic portrait of Jeanne and her son in Gino Severini's Maternità, painted before the set time frame in 1916, and begs the question of the unjustifiable absence of others. First and foremost (present in the Bossaglia exhibition) Giorgio Morandi, whose still lifes during the interwar period are an essential testimony to a deeply-rooted and original a-fascist vision, and anti-fascist in their internal essence. The same could be said for other unlikely absentees: Filippo De Pisis, lost in his dreams, and Scipione, an essential Novecento master.

The list of those who have been excluded is long: Gino Rossi, the sublime Arturo Nathan who died in a concentration camp, the great and innovative Vittorio Bolaffio, Attilio Selva, Marino Marini, Francesco Trombadori, Riccardo Francalancia, Giulio Aristide Sartorio and Armando Spadini. Or what about the academician Romano Romanelli, the popular Giuseppe Gorni, the visionary Gianfilippo Usellini or the magical Franco Gentilini?

We are talking about artists of absolute quality who often went beyond the confines, rules and preset order of the regime. But even in the Sarfatti's Novecento, inexplicable the absence of works by Raffaele de Grada, Gigiotti Zanini and, above all, that icon of the Novecento, Carlo Bonomi's La madre, akin to both the precocious Maternità of Gino Severini and the absolute forms of Adolfo Wildt. And we won't even enter into the deliberately-ignored territory of abstract art, from Fausto Melotti to Manlio Rho, Mauro Reggiani and Mario Radice.

In short, a great exhibition diverted towards perhaps too vast and incomplete a perspective outside the strict connection of "art and propaganda" during the fascist period. In fact, if we want to talk about the Novecento, if we really want to be brutal, how can we fail to note the absence of the eccentric, elusive, but consummate Osvaldo Licini? And so, astounded by the extraordinary organization and meticulous documentation, with amazing loans, we can only look forward to the sequel: Novecento II. The Vendetta.



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Vittorio Sgarbi