An exhibition of more than 175 books and periodicals created by Italian artists, the first thorough review of this material to be presented in the United States, The Artist and the Book in Twentieth-Century Italy ranges from Futurist manifestoes and booklets from the early part of the century through works that feature etchings, lithographs, and screenprints by prominent contemporary artists.
The exhibition, which coincides with the quincentennial of Christopher Columbus’s discoveries, has been installed chronologically and features works by such artists as Enrico Baj, Giorgio de Chirico, Francesco Clemente, Lucio Fontana, Giorgio Morandi, Umberto Mastroianni, and Giuseppe Santomaso.
Italy dominated book production in the five decades following Gutenberg’s invention of movable type in the mid-fifteenth century. Again, in the early decades of this century, Italian writers and artists made major contributions to the art of the illustrated book when the Futurists broadcasted their aesthetic and political positions in unique formats. The exhibition includes such Futurist examples as Filippo Tomasso Marinetti’s Zang Tumb Tumb (1914) and several manifestoes (1910–15), Fortunato Depero’s Depero Futurista (1927), and Tullio D’Albisola’s Parole in Liberta Futurista (1934).
The majority of the books in the exhibition date from the years after World War II, when Italian books began to take on their own character. Indeed, within twenty years of the war’s end, artists, writers, and printers had reanimated Italy’s publishing tradition. The early postwar years are amply represented in the exhibition, with works by such artists as Alberto Burri, Renato Guttuso, and Giacomo Manzu.
Among books made in the late 1960s and early 1970s, the exhibition includes examples by members of the group known as Arte Povera, whose work in all mediums defied formal and stylistic convention. In using the book form, these artists—such as Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, and Michelangelo Pistoletto—worked not to complement or extend the text of an author, but to create books which would serve as the primary vehicle of their own ideas. Merz’s 1970 Fibonacci 1202, which consists of a series of numbers and plans for one of his constructions, is a typical example.
As artists returned to painting on canvas in the late 1970s and 1980s, many were commissioned to create books by publishers both in Italy and abroad. Among the most recent books represented in the exhibition are a tale from Aesop’s Fables with a print by Enzo Cucchi (1991) and a book by a Salvatore Licitra with fold-out etchings by Mimmo Paladino (1991).
The Artist and the Book in Twentieth-Century Italy reveals the ways in which the book as an artwork—be it an illustrated text, a poem accompanied by prints, a conceptual artist’s book, or an object that imitates a book—both lends itself to a wide variety of creative expression and expands upon the artist’s efforts in other mediums.
A brochure by Riva Castleman, made possible by a grant from IFI International (IFINT), is available to the public in the exhibition.
Organized by guest curator Ralph Jentsch, specialist in early twentieth-century art and illustrated books, and coordinated for The Museum of Modern Art by Riva Castleman, director, Department of Prints and Illustrated Books.