Methodologies of Exchange: MoMA’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Art” (1949)
January 2020 | 2640-8511
The third issue of Italian Modern Art is dedicated to the proceedings of the conference “Methodologies of Exchange: MoMA’s Twentieth-Century Italian Art (1949),” held at CIMA in February 2019.
“Positively the only person who is really interested in the show”: Romeo Toninelli, Collector and Cultural Diplomat Between Milan and New York
Romeo Toninelli was a key figure in the organization of Twentieth-Century Italian Art, and given the official title of Executive Secretary for the Exhibition in Italy. An Italian art dealer, editor, and collector with an early career as a textile industrialist, Toninelli was not part of the artistic and cultural establishment during the Fascist ventennio. This was an asset in the eyes of the James Thrall Soby and Alfred H. Barr, Jr., who wanted the exhibition to signal the rebirth of Italian art after the presumed break represented by the Fascist regime. Whether Toninelli agreed with this approach we do not know, but he played a major part in the tortuous transatlantic organization of the show. He acted as the intermediary between MoMA curators and Italian dealers, collectors, and artists, securing loans and paying for the shipping of the artworks. He also lent several works from his collection, and arranged for the printing of the catalogue. A recent collector and gallery owner, Toninelli was mistrusted by many Italian critics and collectors, who suspected him of having commercial motives. Yet he arranged the practical side of the operations while intervening little in the decision-making about which artists to include – exactly as MoMA wanted.
Analyzing Toninelli’s role in organizing the pioneering display of Italian modernism at MoMA provides important insights into transatlantic cultural exchanges between Italy and the U.S. in the postwar period, and illuminates critical fractures of the Italian art system in the aftermath of Fascism. Were native-born critics and artists obliged to hand the narrative of modern Italian art over to outsiders who had not been compromised by the Fascist regime, or were they entitled to an account independent from the modernist vulgate promoted by MoMA?
Collecting art is usually seen as an individual occupation, motivated by personal passion, desire to possess, and economic investment. This paper suggests that there are social aspects of collecting that need to be considered as well. These aspects can lead to a form of “friendly competition” among local collectors. This is evident in the case of St. Louis and the collecting of postwar Italian art. Through interviews with family members and research into archival materials, this paper traces the identities of collectors (Pulitzer, Weil, Shoenberg, May, and Bernoudy) and examines the mechanisms through which productive rivalries arose. It concentrates on the collections of the Kemper Art Museum and the Saint Louis Art Museum, where one finds similar-looking works by Alberto Burri, Afro, and Marino Marini, made in the same years and bought by local collectors in the same period.
What were the relationships and connections that developed between St. Louis collectors of postwar art? How did this web develop into a community or social group, and how did this lead to donations of works to local museums? What were the relationships between these collectors and the 1949 MoMA exhibition Twentieth-Century Italian Art and its organizers? How did MoMA shows, prepackaged for further exhibition in the Midwest, influence collectors’ tastes? How did travel abroad to exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale affect acquisition habits? Whose opinion did the collectors trust and which dealers did they buy from? Such questions and their ramifications are discussed before the paper concludes with a consideration of the process through which St. Louis collectors were identified in Harold Rosenberg’s 1965 Esquire article on tastemakers in the field of contemporary art.
“Retourner le rêve à la manière d’une chaussette que l’on retire.” Alberto Savinio and French Surrealism
Although Savinio defined himself as a non-Surrealist painter, and the artist’s relationship with French surrealism has, in part, already been studied, this paper aims shed new light on Savinio’s relationship with the French movement during his second Parisian period (1926–33). This relationship will be analyzed both in terms of the artist’s participation in surrealist group initiatives and shared stylistic influences, focusing particularly on works from the same period by René Magritte and Max Ernst. Additionally, as the surrealists were also collectors, this presentation will address Savinio’s reception within the surrealist group—both as a painter and as a writer.
This paper analyzes one of the most ambiguous and enigmatic themes within the poetics of Alberto Savinio: that of the double, which continually resurfaces in the author’s work, taking on different meanings – from the concept of hermaphroditism to that of half-death, and from those of the mask to the shadow. Through a brief historical-theoretical excursus, the presentation will retrace chronologically the evolution of this fascinating topic in the vast musical, pictorial, literary and theatrical production of the minor of the “Dioscuri.”
This study compares the activities of Fortunato Depero in New York to his fictional account of them. Depero’s first stay in New York in 1928–1930 was far from successful: in the midst of the Wall Street crash and its aftermath, his paintings failed to sell and his commercial enterprise in the city, the Futurist House, did not survive longer than a couple of months. The artist, however, created a myth out of his experience when he went back to Italy. For more than ten years, he wrote extensively about his American experience and dedicated several works to New York, in a variety of mediums. These expressed extreme enthusiasm about the city, as well as antagonism and even anger against it. After the fall of Mussolini, Depero returned to the ‘New Babel’ for two more years (1947–1949), which, again, proved a fiasco. Paradoxically for a Futurist, he was ultimately happy to leave the metropolis for a bucolic retreat in the suburbs of Connecticut. Depero’s ambivalent love affair with New York was part of the changing debate on Americanism that took place in Italy during the 1930s and, then, in the reconstruction years after World War II. This was a major avenue for Italians to define and re-define their own modernity, and Depero – in his idiosyncratic way – played a central part in this pursuit.
This study aims to understand Depero’s painting technique through the results of a broad process of multispectral imaging, performed on about fifteen paintings and various works on paper, including watercolor and tempera sketches, as well as drawings. It is the first investigation of this kind to focus on Depero and the largest one ever dedicated to a Futurist artist. A greater comprehension of Depero’s painting strategies can aid in the identification of forgeries – which, unfortunately, emerge frequently in his œuvre – and the dating of works that were post-dated by the artist. After analyzing the results of this study, we ascertained that some of the works examined were restored by the artist, partially re-painted, modified, and then re-signed. This paper focuses specifically on ten paintings that once belonged to the Mattioli collection, some of which are considered to be Depero’s masterpieces; new findings regarding other works examined are summarized in the last paragraph.