The Making of Modern Italy: Art and Design in the Early 1960s

During the early Sixties, Italy exploded onto the international stage, shedding its old image as a beautiful land with a glorious past but a lacklustre present. The new Italy was thoroughly modern: its economy was growing at an extraordinary rate thanks to its newfound industrial power, and large sectors of its population were on the move away from rural areas into its expanding cities. Italian architects, designers, filmmakers and artists were fêted, and the world seemed to fall under the spell of Italy.

A display curated by Giuliana Pieri at the Estorick Collection of Modern Italian Art, London (29 January – 7 April), is part of the AHRC funded research grant project Interdisciplinary Italy: Interart/Intermedia 1900-2020. The research team of the project includes Dr Clodagh Brook, TCD; Dr Florian Mussgnug, UCL; and Dr Emanuela Patti, RHUL.

The show focuses on the country’s new post-war identity, considering the role played by those artists and designers who worked across different disciplines, contributing to the fundamental transformation of Italian culture and its reception abroad. Art, fashion, design, craft and architecture come together under one roof in Gallery 4 at the Estorick Collection to help us rethink the way the arts contributed to economic and social change in post-war Italy.

During the 1950s, a special relationship developed between Italian architects, designers, industrial manufacturers, and mechanical and chemical industries. This collaborative approach was at the roots of the success of Italian industrial design in the 1960s – designers and architects being given the opportunity to experiment with new materials, new ideas and a wide range of disciplines. In the inter-war period, a handful of Italian companies such as Campari, Olivetti and Pirelli had already used this model, and continued to be protagonists of Italian innovation in forging close links between industry and design. However, the interdisciplinary approach typical of the post-war period had also characterised Italian avant-garde practice during the early years of the twentieth century, and could even be said to have been rooted in Italy’s distinguished cultural traditions, personified by the figure of the Renaissance polymath.

Images from Life, American Vogue, and Domus magazine sit alongside works by of Piero Fornasetti, Emilio Pucci, Gio Ponti and Fausto Melotti—who is the focus of the main show in Gallery 1 and 2, titled Fausto Melotti: Counterpoint. The display retains the flavour of the mood-boards we created at the start of the exhibition project: iconic images of 1960s Italy, key protagonists and concepts, and key design pieces (including ceramic plates from Fornasetti, Pucci printed silks, and an Olivetti typewriter).

What are your icons of modern Italian art and design? What single image/text speaks to you of Italy’s modernity in the post war period? Get in touch with us or leave a comment below.

30 January – 7 April 2019

Giuliana Pieri

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