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ROME — The 2020 edition of the Quadriennale is working to subvert its traditional mission of showcasing what’s current among contemporary artists in Italy. Instead, curators Sarah Cosulich and Stefano Collicelli Cagol, propose a reinterpretation of Italian visual arts from the 1960s to the present day, highlighting its connections to music, theater, fashion, design, and cinema. By doing so, they adopt a radical stance by Italian standards, affording prominence to women and young artists. Their strategy of creating constant intergenerational dialogue opens up space to grapple with issues linked to Italy’s fascist history and the country’s feminist and LGBTQ movements of the 1970s. (The exhibition’s title, Fuori — meaning “out” — is an appropriation of the acronym FUORI!, one of the first Italian associations for gay rights, created in 1971).
The exhibition acknowledges Italy’s fascist past in an unprecedented way. (Incidentally, two of the most established artists included, Lisetta Carmi and Simone Forti, were forced to leave the country in the 1930s, due to racial persecution.) The very institution of the Quadriennale, created under Mussolini’s dictatorship, was employed by the regime as a political tool to present the “best” of Italian art. Not unrelatedly, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, the Quadriennale’s historical venue, also served as a stage for important propaganda exhibitions, including the First International Colonial Art Exhibition (1931), and the Fascist Revolution Exhibition (1932-1934).
That this Quadriennale forces the public to confront these historical events is more than welcomed; it’s necessary. Because of complex historical and cultural dynamics, including the civil war that followed the fall of the regime in 1943, Italy has yet to go through a thorough process of de-fascistization (every year, Mussolini’s grave is visited by thousands of people), yielding a tricky paradox of modern Italian identity.
With their installation “Towards a Decolonization Entity / Verso un Ente di Decolonizzazione” (2020), Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti, the founders of the collective DAAR (Decolonizing Architecture Art Residency) propose the establishment of an Italian decolonization authority. Video projections and photographs reflect on the presence of fascist architecture in Italy via a series of case-studies in the south of the country, connecting these structures to the architecture built by the regime in Asmara, Eritrea, during the Italian occupation.
Yervant Gianikian and Angela Ricci Lucchi present the film Pays Barbare (2013) which addresses the representation of fascism and the history of Italian colonialism in Africa, manipulating images from documentary materials. In reframing such imagery, the film urges a reflection on the consequences of individual and collective inaction, recalling a long list of colonial instances which have been brushed under the Italian historical rug for too long.
Representation is key. This is why the inclusion of several LGBTQ artists is both novel and crucial here.
Themes of queerness manifest in the work of TOMBOYS DON’T CRY, a self-described collective “of girls of any gender, non-binary creatures, and their allies,” that has been vital in shaping recent queer culture in Italy. The collective responded to the Quadriennale’s invitation by organizing a group show within this group show, including both Italian and international artists. While this section of the exhibition feels excessively fragmentary and difficult to grasp, each artist’s work, when isolated from the rest, triggers the kind of conversations about identity that Italy desperately needs at the moment.
Long overlooked, the polymath Silvano Bussotti is refreshingly presented in all his talents: as a musician, visual artist, composer, poet, novelist, and stage director. His grandiose costumes, three of which are displayed here in all their campiness, would have made Luchino Visconti eat his heart out. Bussotti’s erotic drawings recall the decadent formalism of Aubrey Beardsley, while his hypertrophic collages combine cuts-out from historical photographs, art books, and gay pornographic magazines. Were we in New York, London, or Berlin, the artist would be hailed as a national treasure. But we’re not, and many Italians have long felt more at ease picking their heroes from men’s football leagues, where queerness remains obstinately absent.
At times, Fuori demands an exceedingly high level of concentration, which occasionally proves challenging. But, above all, the exhibition brilliantly achieves its fundamental goal: prompting deep, honest, thought-provocation.
Fuori reopens February 4 and continues through spring 2021 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni (Via Nazionale, 194, Rome). The exhibition is curated by Sarah Cosulich and Stefano Collicelli Cagol.