This fall, The Wolfsonian presents Rebirth of Rome, a program of interrelated exhibitions that examines the cultural output of interwar Italy. Each exhibition addresses the alliance between art, design, and ideology in Italy under Benito Mussolini. Rebirth of Rome coincides with the Year of Italian Culture in the United States, organized by the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Embassy of Italy in Washington, DC.
“Taken together, the exhibitions are a portrait of the country during the years of Fascist dictatorship. The works on view in these shows—decorative arts, public works, mural paintings, architecture, design—tell us a great deal about how Italy defined itself during this significant period in the country’s history and speak to the relationship between politics and aesthetics that influenced its identity,” explains Wolfsonian curator Silvia Barisione.
The exhibition Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design and the library exhibition From Italy to the Americas: Italo Balbo’s 1930 and 1933 Seaplane Squadrons are currently on view. Opening on November 22 are The Birth of Rome and Rendering War: The Murals of A. G. Santagata. The Birth of Rome is accompanied by a publication, the first in a series exploring core themes in the museum’s collection.
As Wolfsonian director Cathy Leff notes, these exhibitions, which showcase and investigate the museum’s extensive Italian holdings as well as strategic loans, “demonstrate that the material goods of a time and place are not only objects designed for function or decoration, but also are a form of persuasion. Whether it is overt, as in a poster or advertisement, or not as obvious, as in a vase or tea service, these goods reflect and influence culture. The Rebirth of Rome exhibitions are a valuable insight into how art and design affect our collective understanding of the world.”
The exhibitions are:
Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design
September 27, 2013–April 30, 2014
Drawn from The Wolfsonian’s collection and promised gifts from the museum’s founder, Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Echoes and Origins showcases a wide range of works, including furniture, ceramics, glass, graphic and product design, and industrial objects. These works are a reflection of modern Italy, evidence of the cultivation of a style that embodied the Fascist regime’s concept of Italianità (Italianness), which glorified both the Roman Empire and the spirit of modernity. This exhibition is now on view and is discussed in greater depth in the article “Echoes and Origins: Italian Interwar Design” in this issue of ePropaganda.
The Birth of Rome
November 22, 2013–May 18, 2014
The Birth of Rome presents modern architectural and urban planning projects that cultivated the perception of a storied Italian nation rooted in a mythologized past. On display for the first time, artist Ferruccio Ferrazzi’s colossal cartoon for the mosaic The Myth of Rome serves as the centerpiece of the exhibition. Ferrazzi designed the mosaic in 1938 for one of the buildings surrounding the recently excavated Mausoleum of Augustus. This visualizing of national origins through the idea of ancient Rome is complemented by four focus studies of additional building projects carried out during the years of Fascist dictatorship.
Rendering War: The Murals of A. G. Santagata
November 22, 2013–May 18, 2014
Novecento artist Antonia Giuseppe Santagata’s 1920s and 1930s mural paintings for the buildings of the Association for Disabled and Invalid War Veterans (Case dei Mutilati) commemorated Italian soldiers of the First World War. These works countered the devastating realities of Italy’s experience during the war with heroic and often devotional imagery designed to help restore national pride. Rendering War showcases Santagata’s large-scale studies for the murals, including those for his frescoes in the assembly hall and courtyard of the Casa Madre dei Mutilati (1928–36) in Rome.
From Italy to the Americas: Italo Balbo’s 1930 and 1933 Seaplane Squadrons
October 10, 2013–January 31, 2014
On view in the library vestibule, this exhibition tells the story of two Atlantic crossings by squadrons of Savoia-Marchetti seaplanes, carried out to celebrate the Fascist air force as well as mark the anniversary of the Fascist revolution. Led by Italo Balbo, Italian Minister of Aviation, the first crossing, in 1930, was to Rio de Janeiro. The second, more ambitious crossing was from Rome to the 1933 Chicago Century of Progress Exposition and back. Benito Mussolini leveraged these crossings to publicize Italy’s technological achievements, promote good will for the regime, and demonstrate the Fascist government’s power and reach.
Rebirth of Rome is made possible by the Italian Consulate General Miami, the Italian Cultural Institute New York, the United States Consular Agency Genoa, and the Wolfsoniana–Fondazione Regionale per la Cultura e lo Spettacola in Genoa. Additional support was provided by Gucci, Mediterranean Shipping Company S.A., the Poltrona Frau Group Miami, the Funding Arts Network, the Leon Levy Foundation, Aprile SpA, and Ansaldo Energy Inc. The Wolfsonian also thanks Mitchell Wolfson, Jr., Marcello Cambi in Genoa, and the Wolfsoniana–FRSC for their generous loans to the project.
Drawing, Audacia. Cartone per l’affresco nella Casa Madre dei Mutilati [Audacity. Cartoon for the Fresco in the Casa Madre dei Mutilati], Rome, 1937
Antonio Giuseppe Santagata (Italian, 1888–1985)
Charcoal on pasteboard
113 3/4 x 62 5/8 in
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, 84.5.44
Bottom (click to enlarge):
Photograph, Marble stadium, Foro Mussolini, c. 1938
George Hoyningen-Huene (American, b. Russia, 1900–1968), photographer
Gelatin silver print
9 1/2 x 9 1/2 in
The Wolfsonian–FIU, The Mitchell Wolfson, Jr. Collection, XX1990.2665