As Italy’s recent general elections on Sunday 4 March solidified the growing presence of far right and anti-establishment parties in Italian politics, it seems an apt coincidence that a current exhibition at Fondazione Prada explores the role of artistic and cultural production during the rise and fall of the country’s fascist regime. The vast show, ‘Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943’ – among the largest that the institution has ever held – identifies the environmental, temporal, social and political contexts that contributed to Italian art during this period.
Curated by Germano Celant and designed by New York-based 2x4, the Milan exhibition centres on the partial reconstruction of 20 public and private exhibitions held both in Italy and abroad. Private rooms and exhibition halls featuring over 100 artists — Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Giorgio Morandi alongside their respective movements futurism, Valori Plastici (‘plastic values’), Novecento Italiano, among others — are rebuilt within Fondazione Prada’s sprawling galleries.
Paintings, sculptures, architectural drawings, tapestries and furniture are placed in their original arrangements, while ghostly apparitions printed in greyscale appearin lieu of pieces either destroyed or unobtainable. Collected photographs, letters, exhibition catalogues and newspaper clippings are shown in tandem, illuminating the fascist government’s role in supporting and surveilling the arts in the guise of syndicated exhibitions and prizes.
Opening in 1918 at the close of the First World War, the exhibition’s first reconstruction is the private home of Filippo Tommaso Marinetti, founder of the futurist movement, whose sound-poem Zang Tumb Tumb inspires the show’s onomatopoetic title. Marinetti’s writing glorified the violence of war, what he called ‘the dreamt-of metallisation of the human body’, and spurred on Mussolini’s cause in the form of a cultural counterpoint. The walls are hung with fawning portraits of Marinetti by Růžena Zátková and Fortunato Depero in the brashly colourful style that came to define the movement.
From there, the exhibition travels through time. Moving from the 1921 German exhibition ‘Das Junge Italien’ (‘The Young Italian’), featuring a wall of Morandi’s still lifes, to Adolfo Wildt’s room at the 13th Venice Biennale in 1922. The ‘Mostra del Novecento Italiano’, organised by cultural critic — and mistress of Mussolini — Margherita Sarfatti, delves into the cry for a ‘return to order’ in Italian art that endeavoured to erase the avant-garde exploration of the early 20th century. The exhibition, inaugurated by Mussolini in 1923, showcased work by Mario Sironi, Carlo Carrà, Arturo Martini, and more.
Further along, Mussolini’s propaganda machine reaches its zenith in the cathedral-like Deposito, which hosts imagery from the ‘Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution’, held in Rome at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni from 1932-1934. White panels as tall as houses are projected with life-size images in black and white from the event, which four million Italians made their way to the capital to see.
What begins with the futurist movement’s avowed glorification of the act of war finds its logical artistic conclusion in Corrado Cagli’s simple, excruciating line drawings. Cagli, an Italian artist of Jewish descent, became a US citizen during the war in order to join the military, returning to Europe as an American solider. Sketched in oil, the drawings illustrate the horrors of the Buchenwald concentration camp, which Cagli helped liberate in 1945. A chilling but necessary reminder of the ultimate cost of a nation’s descent into the grip of fascism.
‘Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918–1943’ is on view until 25 June. For more information, visit the Fondazione Prada website
Largo Isarco 2
Receive our daily digest of inspiration, escapism and design stories from around the world direct to your inbox
Laura May Todd is a Canadian-born, Milan-based journalist covering design, architecture and style. In addition to the Italian dispatches she writes for Wallpaper*, she regularly contributes to a range of international publications, including T: The New York Times Style Magazine, Architectural Digest, Elle Decor, Azure and Sight Unseen. Prior to her work as a journalist, she was assistant editor at London-based publishing house Phaidon Press.
This LED Mask by myBlend is sculptural, cinematic, and tech-forward
myBlend’s LED Mask is contoured to the face and neck, with pre-set programmes to treat different skin types
By Hannah Tindle Published
How Vanya’s set design went from stage to NT Live screen
As Vanya, starring Andrew Scott, hits the big screen with NT Live, set designer Rosanna Vize describes retaining the intimacy of London’s National Theatre show
By Hannah Silver Published
Inside Sterling Ruby and OTW by Vans’ skatewear-inspired collaboration
American artist Sterling Ruby and OTW by Vans’ footwear collaboration was revealed in Los Angeles, backdropped by a specially constructed skate park created with PLAYLAB, INC
By Tilly Macalister-Smith Published
Juergen Teller’s ‘i need to live’ explores beauty and fragility at Triennale Milano
Juergen Teller’s ‘i need to live’ is on show at Triennale Milano, following its Paris debut, and spans shots of Yves Saint Laurent and Björk, as well as quirky self-portraits
By Tianna Williams Published
Triennale Milano exhibition spotlights contemporary Italian art
The latest Triennale Milano exhibition, ‘Italian Painting Today’, is a showcase of artworks from the last three years
By Tianna Williams Published
Walls, Windows and Blood: Catherine Opie in Naples
Catherine Opie's new exhibition ‘Walls, Windows and Blood’ is now on view at Thomas Dane Gallery, Naples
By Amah-Rose Abrams Published
The best London art exhibitions to see now
Your guide to the best London art exhibitions, as chosen by the Wallpaper* arts desk
By Hannah Silver Published
Fondazione Prada exhibition is an ode to a vanishing Venice
At Fondazione Prada’s 18th-century Venice palazzo, group exhibition ‘Everybody Talks About the Weather’ straddles beauty and fear and probes Venice’s precarious environmental future
By Will Jennings Published
All eyes on Christina Quarles, the painter inventing a new figurative language
Los Angeles-based artist Christina Quarles is in her element, with two major solo shows underway at Hamburger Bahnhof and Hauser & Wirth Menorca
By Emily McDermott Published
Raffaele Salvoldi stacks hundreds of marble blocks for dazzling Milan installation
For a Milan Design Week 2023 installation, Italian artist Raffaele Salvoldi teams up with marble brand Salvatori to create architectural sculptures comprising hundreds of marble blocks
By Harriet Lloyd-Smith Published
Ann Veronica Janssens wraps Milan's Pirelli HangarBicocca in light, mist and magic
A major survey of Ann Veronica Janssens’ work at Pirelli Hangar Bicocca, Milan shines new light on the sensorially stimulating work of the Belgian artist
By Benoit Loiseau Published