artists & participants
La Bella Figura Curated by Bjorn Stern
18th February – 22nd March 2014
Max Wigram Gallery is proud to announce its first historical show as a continuation and broadening of its contemporary exhibition program.
La Bella Figura is an exhibition of works of Italian art and design beginning from the birth of the First Italian Republic, a period extending from the immediate aftermath of WW II until 1992. Artists featured in the exhibition include among others, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Alighiero Boetti, and Gilberto Zorio. La Bella Figura is curated by Bjorn Stern, a scholar and art consultant of 20th century art, in collaboration with Max Wigram Gallery.
Since the birth of the republic in 1946, Italy has gone through 63 governments and yet no other country in the world has made us believe to have handled such vortices and political turmoil with such carefree abandon and with such charm! Italy’s development in the post-war period transformed not only the country from largely farming to a leading industrial nation, but also introduced a unifying language from an array of local dialects. Its art, films, design and fashion were thus born distinctly new and with good riddance of the conventions of history, or so everyone was made to believe in the name of optimism of a new republic.
Our understanding that all things Italian, such as Vespas and Bruno Magli shoes, Anita Ekberg and Fiats, were the paragon of everything learned from Italy’s rich past and which were translated into beauty and pleasure, may actually have a darker, more sinister side. La Bella Figura will investigate what lies beneath the post-war Italian creative vortex, attempting to uncover an age-old structural balance between two prevailing Italian powers, the Mafia and the Church.
Through various juxtapositions of art, design and moving media, this exhibition seeks to shed new light on the ambiguous power relations that prevail to this day within Italy’s creative output, and to a certain extent also nourishing it. Well-known historical works by artists such as Fontana, Pistoletto, and Manzoni are used within the exhibition context to explore the very special conditions that many of these artists had to experience as practitioners in the adolescent Italian republic. A Republic that by its dysfunction, created the conditions for protest, discourse, certain freedoms, and sometimes indignation.
Every Italian knows the expression bella figura. It is a double entendre, sometimes acting as a generalization of Italy itself, as the deeply troubled nation with all its extreme factions that have been forced to cohabitate under the name of jurisdiction and the Law. Opposing power interests, representing good and evil respectively became an intertwined corrupted and unresolved malice in the Republic, carrying along with it the baggage of an older feudal time whose structures were incompatible with a new society, a new language and a new way to organize faith. La Bella Figura is the pretty outward face, sublime beauty and impeccable appearance, no matter how degraded and corrupted is its core.
The veneer of appearance has worn thin on many occasions when colliding political interests have taken center stage. For the most part the whistleblowers have been the artists, poets, musicians and comedians who created their own independent movements in the post-war period that were marked by an anti-elitist attitude, promoting everyday modesty in both thought and humble materials. The core of these protests seen in retrospect was the dehumanizing nature of industrialization as well as rampant consumer capitalism, which was perhaps a necessary trade-off by the fast developing Italian Republic. This exhibition hopes to reveal some of the fall-out from this complex set of struggles.