Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia
Introduction: Labor, (Workers’) Autonomy, (Art) Work
From 1949 through 1973, Italy emerged as the geopolitical nexus of contradictory cultural tendencies that masked irreconcilable economic and political histories. The rapid reception of numerous, conflicting, and asynchronous artistic developments dramatically symptomatized clashing ideologies during the Cold War, and the swerve in the real movement of capital across nation-states and into the post–World War II world order, reticulated to American interests and governance and opening onto a new phase of restructured capitalism. The Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome ran a Jackson Pollock. Robert Rauschenberg, who was awarded the controversial 1964 Venice Prize, had moved to Rome in 1950. This rhythm of reception offered two asynchronous and mutually exclusive models of painting—expressionism and its antithesis in a model of painting that reached its apotheosis in Andy Warhol’s understanding that authorial gesture could take place only within a fully predetermined template, pop. Problems in European modernism and the avant-garde were resurfacing. The monochrome was associated with the Soviet avant-garde and with the failure of the communist project in Italy, signaled by the neutralizing reception of Gramsci by the Italian Communist Party. In this political and historical entanglement, the monochrome was evidently less about the drama of opticality and the flatness it seemed to portend in the American context and more about the tension among partially recovered histories that continued to culturally ramify, at once latent and prefigurative, in the sudden and difficult convergence of the readymade and abstract painting.