School of Historical and Philosophical Studies - Research Publications

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    Abstract art and Fascism in Como
    White, Anthony ( 2003)
    During the 20th century abstract art was often connected with radical politics, most famously in the work of the Russian Constructivists. Although few would argue today that there is an inherent connection between abstract art and left-wing opposition, there is little awareness of how abstract art could be complicit with fascism, as happened during the 1930s in Italy. This lack of awareness can be partly credited to the role that Italian artists and historians have played in suppressing this complicity by publishing altered documents in exhibition catalogues. ‘Abstract Art and Fascism in Como’ will focus on a series of murals produced by Mario Radice (1898 – 1987) for Como’s Fascist Headquarters in 1936. A discussion of the role played by these murals in the propagandistic function of the building will give rise to a number of historiographical questions: Given the complicity of abstraction and fascism in this instance, as opposed to the more common association between abstract art and left-wing politics, should we assume that abstraction is politically neutral, an empty vessel for the inscription of ideology? Although there is an ethical obligation not to distort the historical record, are historians always obliged to read such works through a political lens? Or are there conditions under which such works might be understood to transcend their immediate political context?
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    Lucio Fontana: the post-Fascist masculine figure
    White, Anthony ( 2005)
    The ‘cut’ paintings of the Italian artist Lucio Fontana (1899 – 1968) are intensely sexual objects. For many viewers, their rawly coloured surfaces ruptured by deep vertical gashes strongly evoke female genitalia. Fontana’s violent cutting of the canvas has also been compared to the muscular gestures of male ‘action’ painters such as Jackson Pollock. What such interpretations fail to grasp, however, is the critique of gender identity, and in particular masculine identity, at the heart of Fontana’s work. However, as I will show, Fontana relied on an inversion of diametrically opposed notions of maleness and femaleness rather than any deconstruction of the opposition itself. As I outline in my paper, Fontana’s critique first emerges in the artist’s depictions of the male body immediately after Italy’s military defeat in WWII. Fontana’s limp and mangled clay warriors splashed with oozing layers of reflective glaze directly challenge the hard, ballistic ideal of the masculine body theorized in the proto-fascist writings of the Italian Futurist poet Filippo Tomasso Marinetti. Drawing on the work of Hal Foster and Jeffrey Schnapp on the representation of fascist masculinity, I argue that Fontana developed an alternative model of maleness to that encountered in the official culture of Mussolini’s Italy. Accordingly, as I also demonstrate, his work gives insight into the extraordinary transformations in male body imagery that took place in avant-garde and official cultural circles in Italy during the first half of the 20th century.