Art Déco. The Roaring Twenties in Italy

Art Déco. The Roaring Twenties in Italy

A taste, an allure, a language which characterized Italian and European artistic production in the Twenties and had, above all, American results after 1929. The generalised definition of Art Deco corresponds to an eclectic, fashionable, international lifestyle. The success of this moment of taste lies in the search for luxury and the pleasure of living, the more intense the more ephemeral. It was introduced by the European bourgeoisie after the Great War had caused the disintegration of the last 19th century myths and the mimesis of the industrial reality, with the logic of its production processes. Ten unrestrained, “roaring” years, as they were called, of the great international bourgeoisie, while history outlined the grim horizon of totalitarianism between war, revolutions and inflation.

Following the important exhibitions dedicated to the Twentieth Century and to the Liberty movement, Forlì dedicates an important exhibition to Italian Art Deco in 2017.

The relationship with Liberty, which precedes it chronologically, was first of continuity, then overcoming and finally contraposition. The difference between the Idealism of Art Nouveau and the rationalism of Deco appears significant. The idea itself of modernity, the industrial production of the artistic object, the concept of beauty in everyday life radically change: as the sinuous, serpentine asymmetrical line connected to a symbolist conception which saw the fundamental laws of the universe in plants and animals is overcome, a new artistic language is born. The vitalistic impulse of the historic avant-garde movements and the industrial revolution replace the myth of nature with the spirit of the machine, the geometries of the gears, the prism-shaped skyscrapers and artificial city lights.

Within the scope of a recent rediscovery of Twenties culture and art and, markedly, of that distinctive taste called “1925 Style”, from the year of the well-known Universal Exhibition of Paris dedicated to Arts Decoratifs, which gave way to the fortunate Art Deco formula that endorsed its morphology and shape, comes an idea for an exhibition which proposes images and reinterpretations of a series of historic-cultural events and artistic phenomena which travelled through Italy and Europe. This occurred between the immediate post war period and the Great Depression of 1929, gradually assuming national characteristics and forms as portrayed not only by the numerous architectural, pictorial and sculptural works, but above all by the extraordinary production of decorative arts.

Deco taste was the style of movie theatres, railway stations, theatres, of transatlantics, public buildings and large middle-class residences: most of all, it was a stylistic formula with clearly recognizable traits. It influenced at different levels the entire production of decorative arts, from furnishings to ceramics, from glass to wrought iron, from jewellery to fabrics to fashion in the 1920s and early 1930s, like the shape of motorcars, advertising signs, sculpture and painting for decorative purposes.

The reasons for this new system of expression and taste are recognised in different avant-garde movements (the middle European Secessions, Cubism, Fauvism Futurism) which championed artists like Picasso, Matisse and Schad. The international protagonists of taste worth mentioning include Ruhlmann, Lalique, Brandt, Dupas, just like the aristocratic and fashionable portrait artist Tamara de Lempicka and the sculptures of Chiparus, who nourishes the myth of the dancer Isadora Duncan.

Most of all, the exhibition will have an Italian interpretation, bearing witness to the international biennials of decorative arts of Monza in 1923, 1925, 1927 and 1930 as well as the Expos of Paris in 1925 and 1930 and of Barcelona in 1929. The Deco phenomenon crossed the 1919-1929 decade with a disruptive force with furnishings, ceramics, glass, processed metals, fabrics, bronzes, stuccos, jewels, silverware and garments impersonating the vigour of finely crafted and proto industrial production and contributing to the birth of design and “Made in Italy”.

The demand of a market thirsty for innovation, but at the same time nostalgic of the tradition of Italian artistic craftsmanship, led to an explosion of extraordinary production of objects and decorative shapes in the Twenties: from the lighting fixtures of Martinuzzi, of Venini and Fontana Arte of Pietro Chiesa, to the ceramics of Gio Ponti and Guido Andlovitz, from the sculptures of Adolfo Wildt, Arturo Martini and Libero Andreotti, to the Lenci statues or to the highly original sculptures of Sirio Tofanari, from the Byzantine jewellery of Ravasco to the silverware of Finzi, from the furnishings of Buzzi, Ponti, Portaluppi, to the precious silk of Ravasi, Ratti and Fortuny, like the cloth tapestries by Depero.

The purpose of the exhibition is to show the public the qualitative level, novel features and importance which modern decorative arts have had on the Italian artistic culture denoting the features of Deco, also in relation to figurative arts: great painting and great sculpture. Here the tales of the works of Galileo Chini, painter and potter are essential alongside the great masters like Vittorio Zecchin and Guido Andlovitz, who were inspired by Klimt and the Viennese Secession; of the masters of Faenza Domenico Rambelli, Francesco Nonni and Pietro Melandri; the inventions of the second Futurism of Fortunato Depero; the paintings, among others of Severini, Casorati, Martini, Cagnaccio di San Pietro, Bocchi, Bonazza, Bucci, Marchig, Oppi, all accompanied by the extraordinary production of Richard-Ginori conceived by the architect Gio Ponti and by emblematic French Austrian and German examples until the baton is passed on, in the early Thirties, to the USA and American Deco.

Such a complete exhibition dedicated to this rich world of inventions has never been staged in Italy. Not only does it produce fascinating contaminations with modern taste, e.g. the Coppedè district of Rome or the Vittoriale (villa-museum) of the Italians, which was the last residence of Gabriele D’Annunzio, but it also calls forth atmospheres of the Mediterranean world of classicism, in the same way that the 1922 discovery of the Tomb of Tutankhamen re-launched the fashion of Egypt in Europe. Persian, Japanese, African echoes suggest distance and otherness, dreams and escapes from everyday life, in a continuous and illusory back and forth from modernity to history.

As this is a taste and a style of life there was no shortage of influences and affinities with the cinema, theatre, literature, magazines, fashion and music. From Hollywood (with the Parade by Lloyd Bacon or film stars, such as Greta Garbo and Marlene Dietrich or Rodolfo Valentino) to the unforgettable pages of The Great Gatsby (1925), by Francis Scott Fitzgerald, to Agatha Christie, Oscar Wilde, Gabriele D’Annunzio.

Conceived and promoted by the Fondazione Cassa dei Risparmi di Forlì, in collaboration with the Municipality of Forlì and the San Domenico Museums, the exhibition is curated by Valerio Terraroli and directed by Gianfranco Brunelli. The prestigious scientific committee is chaired by Antonio Paolucci.

Forlì, Musei San Domenico, 11th February – 18th June 2017