Roma/New York, 1953–1964
On ViewDavid Zwirner Gallery
Roma/New York, 1953-1964
January 12–February 25, 2023
From the moment of entering David Zwirner’s expansive first floor galleries, Roma/New York, 1953–1964 compels. There are so many great works—drawn from museums, private collections, foundations, and estates—juxtaposed in revealing combinations, that for direct visual pleasure and intellectual provocation it could not be more engaging. Highlighting the difficulties and challenges for artists in both Rome and New York during this post-war period, the initial focus is on Informale and gesturalism of the 1950s and early 1960s and then, on the second floor, on Italian New Realism and American Pop. Curator David Leiber deserves congratulations and thanks for the effort of several years in organizing and presenting this extraordinary undertaking.
The show also commemorates the death of renowned Italian curator and writer Germano Celant (1940–2020) who organized the 1993 exhibition Roma/New York: 1948–1964, at the Murray and Isabella Rayburn Foundation, New York. As the inspiration for this new exhibition (following close on the heels of Celant’s final curatorial project, New York: 1962-1964, at New York’s Jewish Museum, which closed in January) Celant’s words, from his 1993 exhibition essay also serve as a very good introduction to this one:
In both Italy and America, the arts function as a national redemption, offering themselves as a simulacrum of life, capable of triggering a discussion about the discontents of a society devoted to rampant technology and marketing. Thus, the heartening and seductive form of art operates to challenge reality and nurture the mirage of a future ‘civilization’ with a reassuring character.… It was between 1945 and 1964 that Italian art turned to American art in regard to its investigators, collectors, and dealers. And similarly, American artists refocused on a culture whose roots and history could not be wiped out by the Fascist era.
This international connection between local art worlds was clear by the early 1950s as artists in Rome—including Afro Basaldella (known as Afro), Alberto Burri, Giuseppi Cappogrossi, and Piero Dorazio—appeared regularly in New York galleries such as Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery, and the galleries of both Catherine Viviano and Leo Castelli. And New York artists, including Philip Guston, Franz Kline, Willem de Kooning, Robert Rauschenberg, Salvatore Scarpitta, and Cy Twombly traveled to Italy, and were deeply influenced by the experience. These artists also exhibited in Rome, notably at Irene Brin’s (she was crucial to the conversation between artists either side of the Atlantic as she wrote for Vogue and Harper’s Bazaar) and Gaspero del Corso’s Galleria dell’Obelisco and Plinio De Martiis’s Galleria La Tartaruga.
Of particular importance to this extensive dialogue between artists and cultures was artist Conrad Marca-Relli. The son of Italian immigrants, he acted as a bridge between the artist communities of Rome and New York, making introductions between many artists and dealers that became lasting relationships during this period. His collage works are a particular focus of the first part of this exhibition. Alberto Burri, a prisoner of war in Hereford, Texas during the 1940s, had begun making paintings whilst incarcerated, often utilizing recycled materials such as burlap due to a shortage of regular art materials. By the 1970s, he was teaching in Los Angeles, and was a strong influence on Robert Rauschenberg, who visited Burri’s studio together with Cy Twombly in 1957. Burri was a forerunner of Arte Povera, his visceral use of found material together with his emphatically torn, reconfigured, and incised surfaces gave his works a corporeal quality that was later also embraced by Rauschenberg and Twombly. Burri’s Bianco 1955 (1955) employs a variety of materials—oil, casein, burlap, thread, and PVA on a substrate of Masonite. Resourcefulness, and insistence on ordinary or alternative materials, also features in Rauschenberg’s Untitled (Gold Painting) (c. 1953), positioned in the same gallery, and in which the artist uses gold and silver leaf, fabric, newspaper, paint, wood, paper, glue and nails on a base of wood. Twombly’s Untitled (1960), likewise uses everyday materials, house paint, wax crayon, and pencil on canvas.
Exhilarating, and resonant juxtapositions like these recur throughout the exhibition. Works by Jannis Kounellis, Franz Kline and Carla Accardi for example, are perceptively arranged in conversation. To exemplify some of the many other such personal and aesthetic connections represented here: Kline and Piero Dorazio, knew and visited each other’s studios; Twombly had returned to Italy in 1957 at the recommendation of Toti Scialoja; and de Kooning made work in 1959 at the Rome studio of Afro. Invention and adventure beyond the expected or known, together with the entwinement of art and its socio-cultural-political context, ensure that Roma/New York, 1953–1964 will be remembered as an historic and timely exhibition.