Exhibiting Italian Modernism After World War II at MoMA in “Twentieth-Century Italian Art”

Antje K. Gamble Methodologies of Exchange: MoMA’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Art” (1949), Issue 3, January 2020
https://www.italianmodernart.org/journal/issues/methodologies-of-exchange-momas-twentieth-century-italian-art-1949/
Abstract

Foregrounded as a kind of exploratory survey of work outside of the “two formidable counter-attractions in Europe—the Parisian present and the Italian past,” Twentieth-Century Italian Art curated a particular view of Italian modern art. The 1949 exhibition at MoMA would become the precedent for international investigations of Italian modern and avant-garde art, and one that represented Italy as a modern democracy. In part to uphold this idea, curators Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and James Thrall Soby presented Italian modernism as apolitical aesthetic experiments.

In part, the works were selected by using Fascist art world contacts and exhibitions as guides, which helped shape Barr’s coalescing vision for a modernist hegemony. The installation also foregrounded a depoliticization of the cultural production of the former combatant country. The works were not presented in the more innovative manner seen in exhibitions like the prewar We Like Modern Art (1940–41) or the wartime Road to Victory (1942), which gained inspiration from the same avant-garde exhibition models that Fascist exhibitions like the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (1932–34) had evoked. Rather, the exhibition was installed in a more deadpan manner, with most works displayed with ample space at similar heights. Precedent for this installation style can be seen in MoMA as well as in Italy, particularly in the presentations at the Rome Quadriennale of the 1930s and 40s. Barr and Soby were able to visually reframe the production of Italian artists as part of a transatlantic modernist project, rather than an Italian Fascist one.

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The Museum of Modern Art began planning a large survey of Italian modern art in 1947, to present important aesthetic trends to an uninformed American public. According to co-curators Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and James Thrall Soby, the Italian modernists were those “that we in America have tended to neglect, not only because of our rightful interest in our own contemporary painting and sculpture, but also because of two formidable counter-attractions in Europe – the Parisian present and the Italian past.”1 The 1949 exhibition Twentieth-Century Italian Art would be a way to showcase this underappreciated, in the curators’ estimation, vein of modern art. Barr and Soby’s curatorial choices have since become canonical within Anglo-American discourse on Italian modern art. At least in part, the exhibition’s enduring legacy, with its recent resurgence of scholarly interest, can be attributed to the museum’s deployment of modernist exhibition design. Though in recent years scholars including Raffaele Bedarida, Nicol Mocchi, and Davide Colombo, to name a few, have considered this exhibition with respect to both its Fascist-era precedents and the postwar reframing of Italian modern art, there has not yet been an investigation into the exhibition’s design.2 This modernist design was used to present Italian art as just another aesthetically progressive, culturally modern, and, importantly, apolitical vein in the development of art during the last century (figure 1).

Figure 1. Installation view, “Twentieth-Century Italian Art.” June 28, 1949 through September 18, 1949. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photographer: Soichi Sunami. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.

The organizers of Twentieth-Century Italian Art sought to sidestep the Fascist elephant in the room, namely, Italy’s recent history as part of the Axis alliance in World War II, including art’s integral part in the success of Benito Mussolini’s two-decade-long dictatorship. To this end, the exhibition presented Italian modern art primarily in relation to the developing canon being cultivated at MoMA. The exhibition’s catalogue and press praised Italian contemporary art as having rid itself of “the shackles of Fascist isolationism [that were] rusting empty on the ground.”3 Correspondingly, the exhibition design showed the work to be formally and ideologically in line with modernist and avant-garde aesthetics, in avoidance of possible political references. In this essay, I will show that the modernist design at MoMA was part of larger transatlantic exhibition practices, including in Fascist-era Italy: it was not the apolitical framework it is often understood to have been. In short, context was everything. At MoMA in 1949, Italian artists were seen as reflecting progressive aesthetics in a lineage leading to postwar democracy, even while some of the same works had been presented in a similar fashion in Fascist Italy to reflect the progressive aesthetics cultivated by a modern Fascist regime.

Two veins of modern exhibition design informed Twentieth-Century Italian Art. One was an avant-garde style that combined various art media, graphic design, documentary photography, and historical artifacts in an installation that was visually dynamic; the other was a modernist style, where works of art were the primary focus on plain walls. The 1949 show followed after experimental avant-garde MoMA exhibition designs including We Like Modern Art (1940–41) and the wartime Road to Victory (1942).4 These earlier exhibitions would become precedents for the iconic Family of Man exhibition of 1955, which is an important touchstone in MoMA’s more explicitly political and curatorially avant-garde exhibitions.5 These exhibitions were part of a lineage of avant-garde curatorial practices that combined various media to create visually dynamic and often immersive exhibition experiences. There were a small number of moments in the 1949 exhibition of Italian modern art that resonated with this installation style, for example the Futurist section reflected this design to correspond with the first European avant-garde group. However, Twentieth-Century Italian Art was primarily installed in a modernist manner that Barr had spearheaded for the majority of MoMA’s exhibitions of art during his tenure as the museum’s first director. Soby, who was the primary organizer of the exhibition, likewise favored this modernist design.6 The legacy of Barr’s modernist exhibition design preferences can still be seen as canonical within museum practices in the U.S. Importantly, this design style intended that the viewer read a neutral presentation of individual works, to be contemplated as aesthetic objects.

While Soby oversaw the exhibition’s logistics and authored most of the catalogue’s texts, Barr’s part in choosing the works, as well as his legacy of modernist, so-called ‘white-cube,’ exhibition design, worked to foreground the aesthetic significance of Italian art over any sociopolitical context or import. While interwar Northern European models for MoMA’s modernist exhibition designs have been well researched, little examination has yet been done of exhibitions in Italy that might have served as precedents.7 Scholarship has overlooked Italian modernist exhibition design likely due to bias both towards Norther European modernism and also away from any acknowledgment of the Italian Fascist support for modernism’s aesthetic and curatorial contributions. This essay will unpack current scholarship of modernist exhibition design at MoMA, in general, and present possible Italy-specific precedents.8

 

MoMA and the White Cube

Barr and Soby’s Twentieth-Century Italian Art showcased over two-hundred paintings, sculptures, prints, and drawings – making for an exhibition truly grand in scale. Though it focused heavily on early twentieth-century developments, particularly the work of the Futurists and the Scuola Metafisica, a number of post-WWII works were also exhibited. The inclusion of a younger generation of artists who were in early to midcareer at the time of the exhibition allowed the curators to drive home their articulated curatorial agenda: the rebirth of Italian culture after the fall of Fascism.9 Though this will not be discussed in-depth here, Barr and Soby’s curatorial choices were as important as the exhibition design.

With a primarily-modernist display for Twentieth-Century Italian Art, Barr and Soby were able to visually reframe the production of Italian artists – those working before, during, and after Fascism – as belonging to a transatlantic modernist project. The reasons for their curatorial choices were likely numerous and undoubtedly political.10 MoMA’s institutional position within cultural Cold War networks – in addition to individual curators’ and administrators’ connections to political actors – impacted choices in curation, exhibition design, and even programming.11 Twentieth-Century Italian Art strove to present Italian modernist and avant-garde art primarily as formal exercises that allied Italian artistic production with that of America’s cultural (and political) allies, namely, France and Britain. In addition, since Italian modern art allowed American tastemakers to create an image of the U.S. as both the inheritor of an idealized humanist culture and also the true modern space for its future development, curatorial choices were of political import. In other words, Italy created a strong connection to a cultural past that the U.S. felt it did not have.12 Therefore, the presentation of Italian art in a modernist exhibition allowed Americans to strengthen their desired role as purveyors of a vibrant postwar culture made possible by U.S. intervention in international politics.

For the larger curatorial and collecting program at MoMA, Twentieth-Century Italian Art continued the projects that Barr had started as Director of Exhibitions before the war. In fact, Barr had been fired from that position and then rehired as Director of Museum Collections over the course of the war; the latter position he held when this exhibition was organized.13 Though a number of exhibition design precedents for Twentieth-Century Italian Art can be seen within MoMA’s history, the most significant is the 1936 exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art (figure 2).14 Not only did the earlier show include works by Italian Futurists, it was also important in the development of modernist exhibition design at MoMA.

Like the 1949 show, Barr’s 1936 articulation of modernist abstraction was both interdisciplinary in its curatorial choices (showcasing painting, sculpture, drawing, and printmaking) and also focused on formalist advances, creating a deeper lineage for contemporary art. Importantly, Cubism and Abstract Art became a canonical presentation of abstract modernism for the rest of the century, with Barr’s curatorial choices joining with his modernist exhibition design to present a new narrative of twentieth-century art, involving the progressive advancement of aesthetic choices.15

This early version of modernist exhibition design made the works read, within the context of the institution, as pure aesthetic choices. Overwhelmingly, Barr’s curatorial program focused on formalism, a stance for which he was criticized by contemporaries such as Meyer Schapiro.16 However, Barr’s program at MoMA was not ahistorical, despite Schapiro’s critique. As art historian Kristina Wilson convincingly argues, Barr’s legacy of formalist ideals often ignored his awareness of the “social, ethical, and political aspects of art.”17 In the exhibition design, this can be seen in the more avant-garde exhibition design moments in Twentieth-Century Italian Art, like inclusions of graphics and archival texts, and unexpected installation choices, which point to a desire for visual contextualization. Barr’s larger project was to connect art with the larger public through formal aesthetics as well as considerations of modern American society. He understood art’s power in creating a particular view of national culture and identity.18 This is an important point for the present study. Even when the program at MoMA seemed, on the surface, to have been a purely formal presentation, the social and political import of art in contemporary culture cannot be overstated.

The mix of a seemingly apolitical formal context is particularly true in considering the museum’s 1936 and 1949 presentations of Fascist-era Italian art. For example, the Futurist room in Cubism and Abstract Art (figure 2) implicitly and explicitly connected modern Italian art to a classical lineage – a small model of the famed Winged Victory of Samothrace from the Louvre Museum overlooked Umberto Boccioni’s Forme uniche della continuità nello spazio (Unique Forms of Continuity in Space, 1913) – and it presented pre-WWI Futurism as foremost a modernist formalist exercise. More recent examples of interwar Futurism were not included in the exhibition within Barr’s narrative, and the chronology ends in 1914–15, well before the rise of Fascism.19 In the accompanying catalogue, his description of pre-WWI Futurism connected it to French Impressionist and Neo-Impressionist painterly breakdown of “the materiality of objects” and also to Cubism’s “disintegration.”20 Any relation to indigenous Italian Divisionism or Macchiaioli was disregarded. For Barr, Futurism’s French roots resulted in “the simultaneous presentation of different aspects of the same object in a single work of art.”21

Figure 2. Installation view of the exhibition, “Cubism and Abstract Art.” The Museum of Modern Art, New York. March 2, 1936 through April 19, 1936. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.

The 1936 installation of the works likewise focused the viewer on a kind of modernist auratic experience rather than any social or political reading. Each work has space for the viewer’s visual contemplation. Even the inclusion of the Victory, which was placed above eye-level, allowed the viewer to create a visual lineage without distracting the viewer from the individual works. The white plaster facsimile on a tall white pedestal would have read visually almost as a ghost of art past, in contrast to the shiny bronze Boccioni on a dark-painted pedestal, set farther from the wall. The formal abstraction of the work took precedent, as it did in the catalogue’s texts. With deep roots in both MoMA’s history and the larger history of European exhibition design, Cubism and Abstract Art served as a clear curatorial precedent for the later show of Italian art. This of course contradicts the central tenants of Futurism’s ideals; the Victory was specifically highlighted in the founding manifesto as outmoded.22 Boccioni’s sculpture would be present in the 1949 show too, with a similar dark base but no Hellenistic ghost (figure 1).23

Between these two shows, MoMA built a new permanent home for the museum, specifically designed to highlight modern art in modernist exhibitions. Twentieth-Century Italian Art was presented in this new gallery architecture, designed by Philip Goodwin and Edward Durell Stone. Their building, completed in 1939, had been inspired by new exhibition practices developing in interwar Europe and the U.S.24 Before moving into the West Fifty-Third Street location, MoMA temporarily occupied a number of townhouses. At this time, Barr and the rest of the MoMA board had worked to create a modern space to exhibit the new modern art.25 The now ubiquitous ‘white cube’ style began with works hung just below eye-level (articulated from the average height of men, foregrounding a male viewership), on neutral walls devoid of architectural decoration.26 By standardizing the exhibition design, it was seen to add to the viewer’s ability to consider an artwork’s “self-sufficient structure of meaning.”27 The installation design emphasized the importance of individual works as unique representations of certain styles or ideas.

Nineteenth-century installation precedents, where works were hung as if within designed interiors of rich estates – commonly known as ‘salon-style’ – had begun to be abandoned by museums and private galleries alike in Europe and the U.S. starting in the 1920s. The most innovative of modernist museum installation practices from this period came from inside the German states. Alexander Dorner, Director of the Landesmuseum in Hanover, brought together enlightenment ideals and avant-garde aesthetics to simplify the gallery space, creating “atmosphere rooms” appropriate for cultural epochs.28 Barr had visited an innovative installation by El Lissitzky that inspired Dorner’s later redesign realized at the Hanover museum; the latter which he and Philip Johnson, then Curator of Architecture at MoMA, also visited in the early 1930s.29 This encounter was a watershed moment for American ideas about modernist exhibition design, though entrées into this style were taking place on both sides of the Atlantic already.

Aligning with these contemporary exhibition practices, stark walls and regularly spaced artworks were theorized as allowing the viewer a vision free from distraction; and these ideas were just the start of Barr’s exhibition design legacy. Art historian Mary Anne Staniszewski argues that “the installation experimentation at MoMA was […] very particularly an American (i.e., U.S.-specific) realization of Modern culture.”30 MoMA’s practices showed off America’s modernity as much as the new art. For Barr, with Soby following his lead, “this conventional manner of displaying modern culture and art [was] itself far from neutral: it [produced] a powerful and continually repeated social experience that [enhanced] the viewer’s sense of autonomy and independence.”31 Importantly, the modernist exhibition design became a code for modernist “aesthetic authority.”32 For this consideration of Twentieth-Century Italian Art, the framing of the modernist exhibition as both authoritative and within American cultural control is not insignificant.

The constructed authority of the museum meant that it led in the cultural education of its visitors. Consequently, not only was Twentieth-Century Italian Art meant to educate the American public about Italian modernism in particular, it also was presented as part of a larger cultural education mission at the heart of MoMA’s purpose as an institution.33 Victor D’Amico, who was hired as head of the new “Education Project” in 1937, supported a focus on engaging children in learning about modern art, and many of the tenth-anniversary speeches delivered in 1939 spoke to the role MoMA was playing in reaching the American public.34 Even President Franklin D. Roosevelt foregrounded this educational role, connecting the aesthetic tastes cultivated by the museum with the upholding of American Democracy.35 MoMA had well established its position as a cultural custodian of American democracy. Therefore, the aesthetic neutrality of MoMA’s exhibitions was meant to be seen as a kind of democratization of modernism.36 In the case of the 1949 exhibition, a democratization of Italian modernism – which had been corrupted for a time by Fascism – was part and parcel of the choice of a modernist exhibition design.

 

Italian Precedents for Modernist Exhibitions

Though Barr and Soby visited studios during a brief Italian tour in 1948 that was funded by the Office of International Information and Cultural Relations (OIC), Barr had preexisting knowledge and interest in Italian art.37 Barr’s wife and collaborator Margaret Scolari Barr was an art historian of Italian modernism in her own right, having published and taught on the subject before meeting Barr.38 Scolari Barr’s father was an antiques dealer in Rome, where she had spent her formative years; she was fluent in Italian and had a number of important contacts in Europe. In the initial planning stages of Twentieth-Century Italian Art, Barr wrote to the new Director of Exhibitions at MoMA, Monroe Wheeler, that Scolari Barr was integral to the project because of her knowledge of the Italian landscape; and she joined her husband and Soby for the 1948 trip.39 Not only did Scolari Barr’s personal and professional background connect Barr to Italy, she would undoubtedly have had a clear understanding of contemporary exhibition practices there, not to mention the contemporary political landscape.40

Barr and Soby consulted with a number of other Italians on choices for Twentieth-Century Italian Art, though not without some contention. Connections to Italian Fascism were not absent in the exhibition’s artworks, nor in the curators’ network of collaborators throughout Italy. The Ghiringhelli brothers (Peppino and Gino) were wartime Fascist collaborators.41 It is not surprising, however, that Barr and Soby worked with them, since they were friends of Scolari Barr and had helped her access the 1933 Triennale di Milano exhibition before it opened to the public (she wrote a review of the show for the New York Times).42 Though Barr denounced the Nazi regime and its treatment of artists, there is no evidence of a similar censure of Italian Fascism.43 This seeming double standard was fairly typical in the Euro-American interwar context, for a variety of reasons – among them, lasting admiration for Mussolini’s modernization efforts and wide-ranging support for the arts.

During their 1948 planning trip, Soby, Barr, and Scolari Barr visited both the postwar Venice Biennale and the Quadriennale in Rome.44 However, the Barrs were also already familiar with the diverse exhibition practices of Fascist Italy, from the avant-garde Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution, 1932–34) and the modernist editions of the Triennale di Milano (Triennial Exhibition of Design in Milan in 1933 and 1936) to the modernist Quadriennale editions of 1931, 1935, and 1943.45 In looking at these Italian precedents for the Twentieth-Century Italian Art exhibition, the messiness of presenting Fascist-era art in postwar America as a representation of a cultural renaissance becomes more apparent. The art scene, with its varying levels of state support, was not monolithic under Fascism.46 Even when considering state-sponsored exhibitions, the specific type of exhibition design varied based on the venue, audience, and propaganda motives.

As the 1932–34 Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista represents the Italian Fascist precedent for avant-garde exhibition design at its pinnacle alongside the later shows at MoMA such as We Like Modern Art and Road to Victory, the Quadriennale similarly presents an Italian Fascist precedent to Italian Twentieth Century Italian Art’s modernist exhibition design. Though it is unclear if Barr or Scolari Barr visited the Quadriennale in either 1931 or 1935 (when they were staying in Rome), the national exhibition best exemplifies the utilization of modernist exhibition design principles to present contemporary artistic production under the Fascist Regime. These two veins in Italian Fascist exhibition design were developed concurrently with those in other parts of Europe and in the U.S.

This diversity in Fascism’s exhibition design was tied to the three camps in Fascist-era debates about art: conservatives, modernists, and antimodernists.47 The Quadriennale under the direction of Cipriano Efisio Oppo supported more abstract and avant-garde art, from the Novecento to the Futurists. Though there was a growing number of antimodernists calling for purges of art and artists – similar to Nazi Germany – theirs was a small group until the mid-1930s.48 Organized to present the best emerging contemporary artists in Italy, the Quadriennale was run by a semiautonomous body of artists and critics; this was until it came under the jurisdiction of the Ministry of Corporations in 1937, in correspondence with the conservative shift in politics in the lead-up to war.49 The exhibition’s first two iterations, in 1931 and 1935, were at the fore of presenting modernist and avant-garde aesthetic movements within Fascist Italy. Oppo was a vocal proponent of the idea that “Fascist art is that which has been created during the Fascist Era,” rather than art depicting intensely Fascist themes in a directly propagandistic way.50 He was well connected, with close relationships to prominent critics and gallerists; and Margherita Sarfatti even proclaimed Oppo the “greatest arbiter of artists in Italy.”51

Oppo’s characterization of Fascist art as a reflection of a general epoch and not a defined style or subject matter is important to remember. As with the use of a modernist exhibition design in Northern Europe and the U.S., Italian Fascist exhibitions such as the Quadriennale sought to present artworks as auratic reflections of contemporary culture. It is not surprising, therefore, that support for modernist and avant-garde art was central to the rhetoric, curated content, and exhibition design of the Roman show. Along these lines, the prize for painting in 1935 went to the former-Futurist painter Gino Severini, whom Oppo brought in from France both to meet Mussolini and also to highlight the international popularity of Italian artists abroad.52 Though the Quadriennale was centrally a platform to highlight national production, it would play a similar role to MoMA’s in the international understanding of recent advancements in art. The exhibition was significant in highlighting progressive aesthetics among Italian artists within a modernist exhibition framework as a way to highlight the Fascist regime’s success in bringing modernity to a still largely agrarian Italy. Oppo himself saw the Quadriennale as a way to bring Italian art to the international public – especially looking to the U.S. He was the “guarantor for countess Pecci Blunt’s New York gallery” (the Cometa Art Gallery), and traveled to the U.S. twice in the 1930s to work on various projects including a collaboration with the Carnegie International.53

The pinnacle of modernist Fascist culture’s support for progressive aesthetics has been marked as that 1935 Quadriennale.54 Marino Marini won that year’s prize for sculpture – the cognate prize to Severini’s for painting. Therefore, it was unlikely a coincidence that Marini was of particular focus in Twentieth-Century Italian Art and singled out in one of the exhibition’s few reviews. During the organizing of the show, Soby said that Marini was “among the best sculptors of our day” and a large number of his works were highlighted in a separate room in the show.55 Foreshadowing the focus on the sculptor at MoMA, the concluding section of the Quadriennale’s exhibition catalogue likewise praised Marini above all others in the four years prior.56 Though Barr and Scolari Barr may not have seen that 1935 exhibition in person, the catalogue and photographs of the installation were widely available.

As MoMA’s interior spaces were initially modified in its temporary homes, the Quadriennale installations seem likewise to have used a “textured fabric known as friar’s cloth or monk’s cloth” on the walls of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni, designed by Pio Piacentini and opened in 1883.57 The presentation of the artworks against this seemingly neutral backdrop was meant to reinforce their modernity and aesthetic autonomy. As would be the case in Twentieth-Century Italian Art, most works were given ample space and hung at similar heights. Both shows utilized the power of modernist exhibition design to highlight the aesthetics of the artworks understood to reflect the modernity of the epoch, from Fascist Italy to democratic America.

Also installed at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in 1932–34, the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista, used a very different exhibition design to achieve different but not unrelated effects. The avant-garde exhibition design of the Mostra was intended to directly illustrate Fascist power in quite literally a narrative of Fascist political mythology. Akin in exhibition design and purpose to the later MoMA exhibitions We Like Modern Art and Road to Victory, the Mostra was a spectacle of presumed political superiority.58 It became the site where the “identification of the exhibition medium [took place, recognizing its potential] as a key propaganda tool that allowed organizers to affirm a national style, gather together the various needs of modernity, and reference Roman history.”59 In other words, it made clear to the Italian and international public that Fascist propaganda was being staged through the medium of the exhibition.

The Quadriennali were too set up to support the regime’s power, though not as overt propaganda like in the Mostra, but rather through progressive aesthetics. Its successive editions presented the most progressive art as a way to push Fascism forward, exemplifying Mussolini’s idea that “art always has been a spiritual force of Italy.”60 Importantly, the connection between the state and its art was foregrounded at the Quadriennale, which differentiated the Regime from that of other modern totalitarian states, particularly Germany.61 As historian Marla Stone writes,

Fascist faith in the ability of exhibitions to transform consciousness and to carry the Fascist message led to (I) a radical transformation of and official intervention in the system of display of art in Italy and (2) the employment of the exhibition as a container of Fascist visions of the past, present, and future.62

Both the Mostra and the Quadriennale editions worked to create various “Fascist visions” in the move to solidify political power through culture.63 So when the 1935 Quadriennale foregrounded young artists – even if the artist’s personal politics were anti-Fascist – and showed the work within the modernist exhibition, the Fascist state displayed itself as modern, young, open, and vital.64 The most progressive aesthetics were presented within the most modernist exhibition design to represent Fascism’s modernization of Italian culture.

 

Exhibiting Italian Modernism at MoMA

While Twentieth-Century Italian Art represented Italian modernism as a neutral aesthetic experience, the use of the modern exhibition design for the show was inherently political. The rooms were set up chronologically, as narrated in the catalogue, starting with Futurism and ending with the most recent contemporary production. Most of the exhibition had light-painted walls. While a few were painted a darker color, those dark walls highlighted specific works; for example, a dark wall behind Alberto Viani’s Nude (1945; figure 3) was used to accentuate the work’s light marble. Some works were labeled individually, others in groups. Some exhibition sections received larger wall texts for contextualization, similar to those included in the catalogue, but more often than not the walls were clean and free from text. Headings in a modernist sans-serif font, installed high above the artworks, matched those in the exhibition catalogue. All of these installation choices were meant to give the viewer space to contemplate individual works – an idea rehearsed in the exhibition’s publicity photographs (figure 4). Differing from avant-garde exhibition design, which almost collaged together works, documents, and wall text, the modernist design here allowed space for contemplative viewing.

Figure 3. Installation view of the exhibition, “Twentieth-Century Italian Art.” June 28, 1949 through September 18, 1949. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Photo: Soichi Sunami. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.
Figure 4. Unidentified visitors at the exhibition, “Twentieth-Century Italian Art.” June 28, 1949 through September 18, 1949. The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo: Homer Page. Photographic Archive. The Museum of Modern Art Archives, New York. Digital Image © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.

There was still some variety in the formalism of the modernist installation, as some variants seem to emphasize the subject matter of the works, while others were more pragmatic. For example, the presentation of the Scuola Metafisica hung most of the works at eye-level, while two seemed to sit outside the linear logic of the modernist exhibition design. Though there are no installation notes from the curators existent in the archives, it seems clear that this divergence from the modernist exhibition framework was intended to highlight the uncanny nature of those specific works. This, alongside the darker walls, asked the viewer to consider these works a little differently than those elsewhere in the exhibition.

At other moments in the exhibition, groupings of works were hung or placed in closer proximity than the standard in order to visually mark them as a pairing or triplet. One example is the tiered presentation of three ceramic sculptures by Lucio Fontana. Two are on colored pedestals of varied heights, while the third was on a white shelf on the wall behind. Here, the deviation from that standard line of the modernist exhibition hang created a moment of contemplation within the otherwise standard and progressive visual narrative – a moment of pause for the viewer to consider a set of works in comparison. For the sculptures in the exhibition, Barr and Soby seemed to have taken into special account their tone and volume, often highlighting them with darkly colored pedestals or darker walls, painted to create dramatic backdrops as with the installation of the aforementioned Nude by Viani (figure 3).

In short, Twentieth-Century Italian Art was presented similarly to other early modernist exhibitions at MoMA, with the intention of highlighting the institution’s coalescing understanding of modern art. In 1949, MoMA was celebrating its twentieth anniversary and the Italian show was just one of a number of exhibitions foregrounding the institution’s influence in showing American and international art. These included exhibitions that addressed the museum’s growing collection, for example Master Prints from the Museum Collection (1949), as well as contemporary production in various media, from painting and sculpture to photography and design.65 These exhibitions utilized, consistently, modernist design. They represented MoMA’s vision for the presentation of modern art as developed by Barr over the previous decades. Modernist exhibition design at MoMA in the early twentieth century was part of a larger Euro-American move to present modernist art so as to reflect the modern epoch – whether within the Fascist or democratic context.

The modernist exhibition style would remain supreme within MoMA at midcentury, even as more avant-garde exhibition designs were used for special exhibitions such as the later Family of Man (1955). Like Twentieth-Century Italian Art, the choice of exhibition design style was political in Family of Man. While in 1949, it was important to show Italian modern art as purely aesthetic in a ploy to symbolically sever the connection between modernism and Fascism; in 1955, Family of Man was meant to show the rich collections of images as a “mirror of the essential oneness of mankind” after the devastation of the WWII.66 The large exhibition ostensibly created a three-dimensional collage of images, which had five different iterations and traveled to eighty-eight venues in thirty-seven countries, plus more throughout the U.S.67 In Family of Man, the avant-garde exhibition design would serve to give a sense of liveliness that helped along the sense of the colloquial, the everyday, the human in the atomic age.

In contrast, Twentieth-Century Italian Art utilized the modernist exhibition design style to create a sense of distance; not between the viewer and the work of art, but the art and the sociopolitical context of the works’ creation. The works in the show were presented in a way that allowed them to be read as auratic works of formalism, disassociated from politics or specific context. Rather, they were just another vein in modernism formalist development. Barr and Soby understood the very real connection between modernism and Fascism in Italian art, so for an exhibition of it after the end of the World War II, a reframing was required. Like many thinkers in Italy, the reign of the totalitarian dictatorships was relegated to a parenthesis in the MoMA exhibition.68 Italian art had been saved from Fascism, as had Italy.

 

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Braun, Emily. “L’Arte dell’Italia fascista: il totalitarismo fra teoria e pratica.” In Modernità totalitaria: il fascismo italiano, edited by Emilio Gentile, translated by Sandro Liberatore and Roberto Cincotta, 85–99. Rome: Gius. Laterza & Figli, 2008.

Colombo, Davide. “1949: Twentieth-Century Italian Art al MoMA di New York.” In New York New York / Arte Italiana: La riscoperta dell’America, edited by Francesco Tedeschi, Francesca Pola and Federica Boragina, 102–09. Milan: Electa, 2017.

Colombo, Davide. “Chicago 1957: Italian Sculptors. Qualche vicenda attorno alla scultura italiana in America.” LUK Studi e Attività della Fondazione Ragghianti, no. 23 (January–December 2017): 138–54.

Duggan, Christopher. “Italy in the Cold War Years and the Legacy of Fascism.” In Italy in the Cold War: Politics, Culture and Society 1948–58, edited by Christopher Duggan and Christopher Wagstaff, 1–24. Oxford and Washington, D.C.: Berg Publishers Limited, 1995.

Falasca-Zamponi, Simonetta. Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997.

Franc, Helen M. “The Early Years of the International Program and Council.” In The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century: At Home and Abroad, edited by John Elderfield, 108–49. New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

Gagliardini, Stefania. “The 2nd National Art Quadriennale in Rome.” In Post Zang Tumb Tuuum: Art, Life Politics, Italia 1918–1943, edited by Germano Celant, 336. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 2018.

Gamble, Antje K. “Buying Marino Marini: The American Market for Italian Art after WWII.” In Postwar Italian Art History Today: Untying ‘the Knot’, edited by Sharon Hecker and Marin Sullivan, 155–72. London: Bloomsbury, 2018.

Gamble, Antje K. “Exhibiting Italian Democracy in the 1949 ‘Twentieth Century Italian Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art.” In The First Twenty Years at MoMA 1929–1949, edited by Sandra Zalman and Austin Porter. London: Bloomsbury, forthcoming.

Greene, Vivien, ed. Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe. New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014.

Guilbaut, Serge. “Postwar Painting Games: The Rough and the Slick.” In Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal 1945–1964, edited by Serge Guilbaut, 30–84. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992.

Hanks, David A. “The Bauhaus: Mecca of Modernism.” In Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson, edited by David A. Hanks, 28–55. New York: The Monacelli Press, 2015.

“John Hay Whitney announces MoMA will serve as weapon of national defense,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, press release, February 28, 1941.

Kantor, Sybil Gordon, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002.

Kimmelman, Michael. “Revisiting the Revisionists: The Modern, Its Critics, and the Cold War.” In The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century: At Home and Abroad, edited by John Elderfield, 39–55. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

Lasch, Christopher. “The Cultural Cold War: A Short History of The Congress for Cultural Freedom,” in A New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History, edited by Barton J. Bernstein, 322–59. New York: Pantheon Books, 1968.

Levin, Amy K. “Introduction.” In Gender, Sexuality, and Museums, edited by Amy K. Levin. 1–10. London and New York: Routledge, 2010.

Marinetti, Filippo Tommaso. “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism (1909).” In Art in Theory 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, edited by Charles Harrison and Paul Woof, 146–49. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2002.

McClellan, Andrew. The Art Museum From Boullée to Bilbao. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008.

Mocchi, Nicol M. “Twentieth-Century Italian Art 1949: il caso Morandi.” In New York New York / Arte Italiana: La riscoperta dell’America, edited by Francesco Tedeschi, Francesca Pola and Federica Boragina, 110–16. Milan: Electa, 2017.

Morelli, Francesca Romana. “Oppo ‘grande arbito degli artisti d’Italia’?” In Cipriano Efisio Oppo Un legislatore per l’arte: Scritti di critica e di politica dell’arte 1915–1943, edited by Francesca Romana Morelli, 1–6. Rome: Edizioni De Luca, 2000.

Morelli, Francesca Romana. “Italian Art Exhibitions in the United States.” In Post Zang Tumb Tuuum: Art, Life Politics, Italia 1918-1943, edited by Germano Celant, 208. Milan: Fondazione Prada, 2018.

Noyes Platt, Susan. “Modernism, Formalism, and Politics: The ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ Exhibition of 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art.” Art Journal 47, no. 4 (Winter 1988): 284–95.

Pontiggia, Elena. “La Grande Quadriennale.” In La Grande Quadriennale. 1935 La Nuova Arte Italiana, edited by Elena Pontiggia and Carlo F. Carli, 11–111. Milano: Mondadori Electa, 2006.

Rasmussen, Briley. “The Laboratory on 53rd Street: Victor D’Amico and the Museum of Modern Art, 1937–1969.” Curator 53, no. 4 (October 2010): 451–64.

Roediger, David R. Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White New York: Basic Books, 2005.

Salaris, Claudia. La Quadriennale. Storia della rassegna d’arte italiana dagli anni Trenta a oggi / History of the Exhibition of Italian Art from the Thirties to Today. Translated by Felicity Lutz. Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2004.

Scolari Barr, Margarete. “In the Triennale, International Style Triumphs: Important Exhibition of Architecture and the Decorative Arts at Milan Brings Modern Theory and Practice to the Fore.” New York Times, August 6, 1933.

Scolari Barr, Margarete. “‘Our Campaigns’: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and the Museum of Modern Art, a biographical chronicle of the years 1930–1944.” New Criterion (Summer 1987): 23–74.

Staniszewski, Mary Anne. The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998.

Stone, Marla Susan. The Patron State: Culture & Politics in Fascist Italy. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998.

Szarkowski, John. “The Family of Man.” In The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century: At Home and Abroad, edited by John Elderfield, 12–37. New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994.

“Umberto Boccioni Unique forms of Continuity in Space.” MoMA website (last accessed August 14, 2019).

Wilson, Kristina. The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925–1934. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009.

 

Archival Sources

Barr, Alfred H., Jr. Memo to Monroe Wheeler, re: Italy Trip, November 28, 1947. Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, Museum of Modern Art, New York [hereafter: MoMA Archive], microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, Washington, D.C. [hereafter: Archives of American Art], MF3154. 

Bonner, Paul Hyde. Letter to Monroe Wheeler, October 8, 1947. Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3153.

Scolari Barr, Margaret, and Paul Cummings. “An interview of Margaret Scolari Barr conducted 1974 February 22–1974 May 13, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art.” Archives of American Art.

Soby, James Thrall. Letter to Nelson A. Rockefeller, June 8, 1948, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3154.

Soby, James Thrall. Memo to Monroe Wheeler, re: Italian Show, February 9, 1949, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3154. 

Transcript of Roosevelt’s Address on Museum of Modern Art (Herald Tribune), President Rockefeller, Friends of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF 3153, 1.

Wheeler, Monroe. Memo to Alfred Barr and James Thrall Soby, April 17, 1946, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3153.

Wheeler, Monroe. Letter to Charles Rufus Morey, February 24, 1947, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3153.

Wittgens, Fernanda. Letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., January 26, 1949, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, MoMA Archive, microfilmed by the Archives of American Art, MF3154.

 

How to cite

Antje K. Gamble, “Exhibiting Italian Modernism After World War II at MoMA in ‘Twentieth-Century Italian Art’,” in Raffaele Bedarida, Silvia Bignami, and Davide Colombo (eds.), Methodologies of Exchange: MoMA’s “Twentieth-Century Italian Art” (1949), monographic issue of Italian Modern Art, 3 (January 2020), https://www.italianmodernart.org/journal/articles/exhibiting-italian-modernism-after-world-war-ii-at-moma-in-twentieth-century-italian-art/, accessed [insert date].

  1. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and James Thrall Soby, foreword to Twentieth-Century Italian Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1949), 5.
  2. See Raffaele Bedarida, “Operation Renaissance: Italian Art at MoMA, 1940–1949,” Oxford Art Journal 35, no. 2 (2012): 147–69; Davide Colombo, “1949: Twentieth-Century Italian Art al MoMA di New York,” in New York New York / Arte Italiana: La riscoperta dell’America, ed. Francesco Tedeschi, Francesca Pola, and Federica Boragina. (Milan: Electa, 2017), 102–09; and Nicol M. Mocchi, “Twentieth-Century Italian Art 1949: il caso Morandi,” in ibid., 110–16.
  3. Barr and Soby, foreword to Twentieth-Century Italian Art, 5.
  4. See Helen M. Franc, “The Early Years of the International Program and Council,” in The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century: At Home and Abroad, ed. John Elderfield (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1994), 108–49.
  5. See John Szarkowski, “The Family of Man,” in ibid., 12–37.
  6. Soby curated a solo exhibition of the work of Amedeo Modigliani the following year (1950), which showcased a similar preference for the modernist exhibition design. See details at “Modigliani” at Museum of Modern Art, available at this link (last accessed December 31, 2019).
  7. Two major studies are Elderfield, The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century; and Kristina Wilson, The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925–1934 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009).
  8. The most recent study of Italian Fascist exhibitions was the 2018 exhibition at the Fondazione Prada. The exhibition catalogue had a number of important essays about Fascist politics and exhibition culture, including exhibitions – both planned and realized – of Italian art in the U.S. See Francesca Romana Morelli, “Italian Art Exhibitions in the United States,” in Post Zang Tumb Tuuum: Art, Life Politics, Italia 1918–1943, ed. Germano Celant (Milan: Fondazione Prada, 2018), 208.
  9. For the best description of the rhetoric of rebirth in the 1949 show, see Bedarida, “Operation Renaissance,” 147–69.
  10. It is important here to cite the movement that informs my articulation of the politics of exhibitions, which are often presented as neutral iterations of culture. In part, this has developed from institutional critique practices (e.g., Fred Wilson’s work) that reconsider the politicized nature of museums; but in particular, I wish to highlight the recent hashtag/movement #museumsarenotneutral, created by cultural organizer LaTanya S. Autry and museum administrator Mike Murawski in August of 2017, “to refuse the myth of neutrality that many museum professionals and others put forward.” See “Museums Are Not Neutral,” Artstuffmatters available at this link (last accessed July 12, 2019).
  11. For further discussion, see Antje K. Gamble, “Exhibiting Italian Democracy in the 1949 ‘Twentieth Century Italian Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art,” in The First Twenty Years at MoMA 1929–1949, ed. Sandra Zalman and Austin Porter (London: Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming in 2020). The history of MoMA as an agent of the U.S. government has been widely discussed. See, for example, Serge Guilbaut, “Postwar Painting Games: The Rough and the Slick,” in Reconstructing Modernism: Art in New York, Paris, and Montreal 1945–1964, ed. Serge Guilbaut (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1992), 30–84; and Michael Kimmelman, “Revisiting the Revisionists: The Modern, Its Critics, and the Cold War,” in Elderfield, The Museum of Modern Art at Mid-Century, 39–55.
  12. For a discussion of Italian art’s place in postwar American culture, see Gamble, “Buying Marino Marini: The American Market for Italian Art after WWII,” in Postwar Italian Art History Today: Untying ‘the Knot’, ed. Sharon Hecker and Marin Sullivan (London: Bloomsbury Press, 2018), 155–72.
  13. For more details of Barr’s employment at MoMA, see Sybil Gordon Kantor, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and the Intellectual Origins of the Museum of Modern Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2002), 354–65.
  14. The progressive view of Italian modernism presented resembled Barr’s diagrams for the MoMA exhibition Cubism and Abstract Art, which included Italian Futurism as an important node. See Alfred H. Barr, Jr., Cubism and Abstract Art (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1936).
  15. Susan Noyes Platt, “Modernism, Formalism, and Politics: The ‘Cubism and Abstract Art’ Exhibition of 1936 at the Museum of Modern Art,” Art Journal 47, no. 4 (Winter 1988): 284.
  16. Kantor, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., 328–30.
  17. Kristina Wilson, The Modern Eye: Stieglitz, MoMA, and the Art of the Exhibition, 1925–1934 (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2009), 110.
  18. Wilson argues for this reading in terms of Barr’s exhibitions of American art: “When viewed from within the context of Depression-era inspirational national histories, American Painting [a 1932–33 exhibition at MoMA] is revealed as a powerful mythmaker for the discouraged audiences who entered the Rockefeller mansion in the winter of 1932–33.” See ibid., 126.
  19. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 61. Interwar and World War II–era Futurism continue to be excluded in most canonical histories of both Futurism and modernism more generally. The first thorough international consideration of Futurism’s long history is Vivien Greene, ed., Italian Futurism, 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe (New York: Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, 2014).
  20. Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 56.
  21. Ibid.
  22. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, “The Foundation and Manifesto of Futurism (1909),” in Art in Theory, 1900–2000: An Anthology of Changing Ideas, ed. Charles Harrison and Paul Woof (Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishing, 2002), 147.
  23. MoMA acquired the sculpture through the Lillie P. Bliss Bequest in 1948. See “Umberto Boccioni Unique forms of Continuity in Space,” MoMA website (last accessed August 14, 2019).
  24. See Bruce Altshuler, Salon to Biennial – Exhibitions That Made Art History, vol. 1, 1863–1959 (New York: Phaidon, 2008), 17; and Wilson, The Modern Eye, 133–46.
  25. “When asked about the neutral, non-skied installation method inaugurated at MoMA, Philip Johnson […] stated simply: ‘That was Alfred Barr.’” Mary Anne Staniszewski, The Power of Display: A History of Exhibition Installations at the Museum of Modern Art (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1998), 64.
  26. For a general overview on the place of gender in the history of museums, see Levin, Amy K., “Introduction.” In Gender, Sexuality, and Museums, edited by Amy K. Levin (London and New York: Routledge 2010), 1–10.
  27. Wilson, The Modern Eye, 139.
  28. Staniszewski, The Power of Display, 16–23.
  29. Sybil Gordon Kantor even argues that Barr’s conception for the lineage of Cubism in the 1936 exhibition comes from the 1924 book The Isms of Art by El Lissitzky and Jean (Hans) Arp. See Kantor, Alfred H. Barr, Jr., 318. Scolari Barr States that Barr had visited the museum in 1928, and saw it again in 1935, on a guided tour by Dorner. Margaret Scolari Barr, “‘Our Campaigns’: Alfred H. Barr, Jr., and the Museum of Modern Art, a biographical chronicle of the years 1930–1944,” New Criterion (Summer 1987): 39. In Barr’s Cubism and Abstract Art catalogue, he notes travels in Europe in 1927–29 as influencing the “plan of the exhibition.” See Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 9. Altshuler says that Barr and Phillip visited together in 1932 and 1933. See Altshuler, Salon to Biennial, 242.
  30. Staniszewski, The Power of Display, 57.
  31. Ibid., 66.
  32. Wilson, The Modern Eye, 142.
  33. Though the educational purposes of exhibitions like Twentieth-Century Italian Art were “meant [for] the narrow cult of collectors, scholars, critics, and fellow museum professionals, not [really] the general public,” the curatorial program was no less concerned with the kind of lessons being taught. See Andrew McClellan, The Art Museum From Boullée to Bilbao (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2008), 171.
  34. The best work on MoMA’s education program under D’Amico has been done by Briley Rasmussen. See her “The Laboratory on 53rd Street: Victor D’Amico and the Museum of Modern Art, 1937–1969,” Curator 53, no. 4 (October 2010): 451–64. It is also interesting, perhaps, to note that D’Amico’s place as an Italian-American made him a somewhat strange choice for the position because of ongoing anti-Italian racism. Often only hired for low-wage and unskilled labor, Italian-Americans were grouped with African-Americans workers before World War II – a powerful statement in the Jim Crow Era. See David R. Roediger, Working Towards Whiteness: How America’s Immigrants Became White (New York: Basic Books, 2005), 220.
  35. Transcript of Roosevelt’s Address on Museum of Modern Art (Herald Tribune), President Rockefeller, Friends of the Museum of Modern Art, Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers, Museum of Modern Art, New York, microfilmed by Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution, MF 3153, 1. Materials found in the Alfred H. Barr, Jr. Papers will be hereafter referred to as AHB. Also in 1941, MoMA President John Hay Whitney declared that the museum would “serve as [a] weapon of national defense” in collaboration with Central and South American allies. See “John Hay Whitney announces MoMA will serve as weapon of national defense,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, press release, February 28, 1941.
  36. Cultural freedom was explicitly connected to “Western” democracy at this time. See Christopher Lasch, “The Cultural Cold War: A Short History of The Congress for Cultural Freedom,” in A New Past: Dissenting Essays in American History, ed. Barton J. Bernstein (New York: Pantheon Books, 1968), 322–59.
  37. The OIC was one of the early Marshall Plan programs created in 1946. The discussion of the OIC funding of this initial Italian trips is detailed in the MoMA archives. See Monroe Wheeler, Memo to Alfred Barr and James Thrall Soby, April 17, 1946, AHB, MF3153; and letter to Charles Rufus Morey, February 24, 1947, AHB, MF3153. See also Paul Hyde Bonner, letter to Monroe Wheeler, October 8, 1947, AHB, MF3153.
  38. Edward P. Alexander, The Museum in America: Innovators and Pioneers (Walnut Creek, CA: Alta Mira Press, 1997), 71.
  39. Alfred H. Barr, Jr., memo to Monroe Wheeler, re: Italy Trip, November 28, 1947, AHB, MF3154.
  40. The “influence Margaret Barr may have had on the exhibition project cannot be determined from any extant archival sources, and remains a matter of speculation.” See Bedarida, “Operation Renaissance: Italian Art at MoMA, 1940–1949,” 147–69.
  41. For more details, see Gamble, “Exhibiting Italian Democracy,” forthcoming. For other Italian connections, see James Thrall Soby, memo to Monroe Wheeler, re: Italian Show, February 9, 1949, AHB, MF3154; Monroe Wheeler, letter to Charles Rufus Morey, February 24, 1947, AHB, MF3153; Fernanda Wittgens, letter to Alfred H. Barr, Jr., January 26, 1949, AHB, MF3154; and Laura Moure Cecchini’s essay, “Positively the only person who is really interested in the show”: Romeo Toninelli, Collector and Cultural Diplomat Between Milan and New York,” in this journal issue, on the collaboration of the diplomat and art dealer Romeo Toninelli, who was an associate of Wheeler.
  42. Scolari Barr, “‘Our Campaigns,’” 34. See also Margaret Scolari Barr, “In the Triennale, International Style Triumphs: Important Exhibition of Architecture and the Decorative Arts At Milan Brings Modern Theory and Practice to the Fore,” New York Times, August 6, 1933.
  43. Barr tried to warn colleagues in the U.S. about activities Nazi Germany, though only one brief statement was published in 1933. Barr used MoMA’s clout to help a number of artists and scholars escape Nazi concentration camps and emigrate to the U.S. and the U.K. See David A. Hanks, “The Bauhaus: Mecca of Modernism,” in Partners in Design: Alfred H. Barr Jr. and Philip Johnson, ed. David A. Hanks (New York: The Monacelli Press, 2015), 38. There are detailed descriptions of Nazi atrocities throughout Scolari Barr’s various recollections of their European travels. The strongest denouncement of Italian Fascism is her brief comment in a 1974 interview: “I mean Alfred was a priori anti-Fascist. I had lived in Italy through the March on Rome while I was still Italian. So neither of us was Fascistically inclined.” Scolari Barr, in “An interview of Margaret Scolari Barr conducted 1974 February 22–1974 May 13, by Paul Cummings, for the Archives of American Art,” Archives of American Art. See also Scolari Barr, “‘Our Campaigns.’”
  44. The curators’ visit to Italian exhibitions is discussed in Davide Colombo and Silvia Bignami’s article, “Alfred H. Barr, Jr. and James Thrall Soby’s Grand Tour of Italy,” in this issue.
  45. It is likely that the Barrs knew of, if not visited, the Biennale and the Quadriennale di Roma before or even during the war – though this is speculative because of the lack of extant sources. Any reference to visiting Fascist-sponsored exhibitions is conspicuously missing from Scolari Barr’s recollection of their time in Italy, especially since the Barrs were in Rome when the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista was on display. See Scolari Barr, “‘Our Campaigns,’” 28–36. Raffaele Bedarida will publish evidence of the Barrs visit to the Mostra and the Foro Mussolini in his forthcoming article “Out of the chart: Boccioni-centrism and Barr’s Struggle with Italian Modernism.”
  46. For a brief overview of Fascist state support for the arts, see Emily Braun, “L’Arte dell’Italia fascista: il totalitarismo fra teoria e pratica,” in Modernità totalitaria: il fascismo italiano, ed. Emilio Gentile, trans. Sandro Liberatore and Roberto Cincotta (Rome: Gius. Laterza & Figli, 2008), 85–99.
  47. Marla Susan Stone, The Patron State: Culture & Politics in Fascist Italy (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998), 43. Even though I agree with the general categories as set out by Stone, I diverge from her characterization of personalities and allegiances. She writes that Oppo was a conservative, alongside Mariani. From my own research into the two curators, as well as through numerous discussions, Oppo is more allied with modernists. To understand the complexities of Oppo’s position, see Francesca Romana Morelli, “Oppo ‘grande arbito degli artisti d’Italia’?,” in Cipriano Efisio Oppo Un legislatore per l’arte: Scritti di critica e di politica dell’arte 1915–1943, ed. Francesca Romana Morelli (Rome: Edizioni De Luca, 2000), 1–6.
  48. Stone, The Patron State, 45–46.
  49. Claudia Salaris, La Quadriennale. Storia della rassegna d’arte italiana dagli anni Trenta a oggi / History of the Exhibition of Italian Art from the Thirties to Today, trans. Felicity Lutz (Venice: Marsilio Editori, 2004), 12.
  50. “Oppo, del resto è convinto, e lo afferma in numerose occasioni, che‘l’artefascista è quella che si farà durante l’era fascista.’” Quoted in Morelli, “Oppo‘grande arbito degli artisti d’Italia’?,” 2.
  51. Quoted in ibid., 1. Translation by the author.
  52. Salaris, La Quadriennale, 31. See also Elena Pontiggia, “La Grande Quadriennale,” in La Grande Quadriennale. 1935 La Nuova Arte Italiana, ed. Elena Pontiggia and Carlo F. Carli (Milano: Mondadori Electa, 2006), 14.
  53. Salaris, La Quadriennale, 43–44. See also Bedarida, “Export/Import: The Promotion of Contemporary Italian Art in the United States, 1935–1969” (PhD dissertation, Graduate Center, City University of New York, 2016); and Morelli, “Italian Art Exhibitions in the United States,” 208. See also Sergio Cortesini’s essay, “Another History: Contemporary Italian Art in America Before 1949,” in this journal issue.
  54. Pontiggia, “La Grande Quadriennale,” 11–111.
  55. James Thrall Soby, Letter to Nelson A. Rockefeller, June 8, 1948, AHB, MF3154. For more on Marini’s import in the U.S. after WWII, see Davide Colombo, “Chicago 1957: Italian Sculptors. Qualche vicenda attorno alla scultura italiana in America,” LUK Studi e Attività della Fondazione Ragghianti, no. 23 (January–December 2017): 138–54; and Gamble, “Buying Marino Marini,” 155–72. This is also discussed in Cortesini’s essay, “Another History: Contemporary Italian Art in America Before 1949,” in this issue.
  56. Càllari, Quadriennale D’Arte Nazionale, 174.
  57. Wilson, The Modern Eye, 136. The archival images of the 1935 Quadriennale, reproduced in Salaris’s book La Quadriennale, show the kind of cloth described as typical for these early modernist installations in Wilson’s book.
  58. See Simonetta Falasca-Zamponi, Fascist Spectacle: The Aesthetics of Power in Mussolini’s Italy (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997).
  59. Mario Mainetti, “The Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution,” in Post Zang Tumb Tuuum, 266.
  60. “L’arte è per noi un bisogno primordiale ed essenziale della vita – L’arte è stata sempre una delle forze spirituali dell’Italia.” Translation by the author. Càllari. 11. Quadriennale D’Arte Nazionale, title page.
  61. “[…] se la comprensione spirituale fra Arte e Regime ancora non è intera perché lasciano a desiderare per immediatezza e naturalezza, quindi per intimo sentimento quelle opere che si vogliono chiamare d’ispirazione fascista, è già organato il campo disciplinare e gerarchico senza con ciò essere costrette ed obbligato a servire lo Stato, come ed esempio in Germania.” Ibid., 9.
  62. Stone, “Exhibitions and the Cult of Display in Fascist Italy,” in Post Zang Tumb Tuuum, 188.
  63. Here I am borrowing the terminology of the seminal text on European Latinate fascisms: Fascist Visions: Art and Ideology in France and Italy, Edited by Matthew Affron and Mark Antliff (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1998).
  64. Stefania Gagliardini, “The 2nd National Art Quadriennale in Rome,” in Post Zang Tumb Tuuum, 336.
  65. MoMA’s exhibition history is easily accessible on their website, often with digitized archival sources from photos to press releases. See here (last accessed October 15, 2019).
  66. Szarkowski, “The Family of Man,” 14.
  67. Ibid., 13.
  68. Christopher Duggan, “Italy in the Cold War Years and the Legacy of Fascism,” in Italy in the Cold War: Politics, Culture and Society 1948–58, ed. Christopher Duggan and Christopher Wagstaff (Oxford and Washington, D.C.: Berg Publishers Limited, 1995), 3.
About the Author

Antje K. Gamble is an art historian of Italian modernist sculpture and midcentury transatlantic exhibition practices. She is Assistant Professor of Art History in the Department of Art & Design at Murray State University. From Fascism to the Cold War, her work examines the exhibition, sale, and critical reception of Italian art and how it shaped and was shaped by national and international sociopolitical shifts. Gamble’s scholarship has been included in the recent volume Postwar Italian Art History Today: Untying the Knot (ed. Sharon Hecker; Marin R. Sullivan; New York, NY: Bloomsbury Visual Arts, 2018), in which her chapter “Buying Marino Marini: The American Market for Italian Art after WWII” looks at politicized collection practices during the early Cold War. Among her forthcoming essays are an assessment of the 1949 exhibition Twentieth-Century Italian Art, which will be published in The First Twenty Years at MoMA 1929–1949 (ed. Sandra Zalman and Austin Porter; Bloomsbury Press, forthcoming), and another of the 1947–48 ceramic Crocifisso by Lucio Fontana, for the exhibition catalogue Material Meanings: Selections from the Constance R. Caplan Collection (Art Institute of Chicago). Gamble is currently working on a monograph on Marino Marini, for which she received the CIMA-Civitella Affiliated Fellowship at the Civitella Ranieri Foundation for Spring 2020.
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