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Italy 1946-1954: from Neo-Cubism to “Abstract-Concrete” Art

On 26 October 1946, Birolli, Guttuso and Morlotti signed a brief letter in Guttuso’s studio in Rome addressed to “our dear former Secessionists” (including Pizzinato, Santomaso and Vedova). In it they announce their decision to change the previously suggested name of Nuova Secessione Artistica Italiana into the more combative Fronte Nuovo. This new group was soon joined by the sculptors Viani, Fazzini, Franchina and Leoncillo; and the painters Corpora and Turcato. This was how the first post-war group uniting the most vital energies of young Italian painters came into being, with the aim of preparing them for the challenge of European – and particularly Neo-Cubist – art, rediscovered after the end of Fascism.
After presenting a united front at the 1948 Biennale, the group returned en masse (this time round with many other artists) for a major collective show promoted by the Alleanza della Cultura in Bologna. The exhibition was held in October of the same year, at the Palazzo di Re Enzo. On that occasion, the attacks on the “abstractionist” wing of the Fronte from the columns of the newspaper Rinascita and by Palmiro Togliatti sealed the group’s future dispersion. Besides - after the elections in April, from which the Christian Democrats emerged victorious, and the congress of Wroclaw held in August – the Communist Party had begun to formulate the principles of intransigent opposition in the cultural sphere too. This would soon lead to the full explication of “socialist realism,” which would be espoused, amongst others, by Guttuso and Pizzinato, former members of the Fronte Nuovo. After being undermined in Bologna, the Group officially split two years afterwards, marking the end of a difficult but nonetheless important chapter of Italian art.
From its ashes, and in particular from that part of the group most inclined to a non-figurative language, sprang a new cluster of artists (Birolli, Corpora, Morlotti, Santomaso, Turcato and Vedova from the Fronte, in addition to Afro and the youngest member Moreni). The “Eight Italian painters” – as they were dubbed by Lionello Venturi in a book published in May 1952, destined to become their main critical vehicle – debuted at the 1952 Venice Biennale and exhibited on a more or less united basis in Italy and in Europe until 1954. Their work expressed a language that was “abstract with recollections?? of nature”, which Venturi himself had christened “abstract-concrete” years previously. This balance, which was ultimately ambiguous and unresolved, was the cement uniting the activities of “the Eight” for some time (and of other Italian artists who looked to them during that period). Still, already at the 27th Biennale of 1954 it was possible to detect the first rifts that would ultimately result in the group’s disbandment (with the departure of Morlotti, who answered the call to the “last naturalism” of Francesco Arcangeli, and soon after of Vedova).

Fabrizio D'Amico