Silent revolutions: Italian drawings of the 20th century


Another highlight of the display is Untitled (Combustion), a powerful piece from 1957 by Alberto Burri (1915-1995), a central but singular figure of the post-war period who used unconventional materials and processes, in this case combustion, to produce a work pioneer who destroyed and reconceptualized the Western pictorial tradition. The artist’s innovative approach to manipulating modest materials, which transcended painted surfaces and the gestural qualities of contemporary Abstract Expressionism and European informal art, had a profound impact in Italy and beyond.

Alighiero Boetti (1940-94), another influential figure in post-war European art, produced a work characterized by its material diversity and conceptual ingenuity. In the mid-1960s, Boetti explored his fascination with the modern technological object in a refined series of striking ink drawings, including the piece Untitled, 1965. Strongly composed on the white of the paper left largely in reserve, the drawing graphically confronts the viewer with a microphone in profile and a keyboard seen from above.

Born on the island of Sardinia, Maria Lai (1919-2013) developed an artistic language inspired by the folklore and traditions of her native region, in particular the ancient practice of needlework. His work in this exhibition, Journal, 1979, is typical of Lai’s imagery as she uses sewing as a form of drawing. This poetic piece is part of a group of sewn books that she made with fabric, paper and thread. His illegible tales fondly allude to the difficulties and complexities of human communication. Active on the fringes of the dominant artistic movements of his time, Lai forged a deeply personal path.

Edouard Kopp, John R. Eckel, Jr. Foundation Chief Curator, Menil Drawing Institute, said: “Silent revolutions highlights a period of Italian art which, with the possible exception of a few selected movements and artists, is not well known in the United States. During this time, artists have innovated in so many aesthetic ways and have done so with a dizzying sense of creativity, especially in the field of drawing. For the Italian artists of the 20th century, drawing proved not only a powerful tool of creation and a versatile means of expression, but also the place of fiery, even revolutionary dialogues, between form and material, tradition and innovation, figuration. and abstraction, the and the universal.

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