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The first comprehensive public show dedicated to the art collection patiently gathered together during the last 20 years by lawyer Giuseppe Iannaccone opened last night at La Triennale in Milan and we may say that it was a moment the European art history should remember for a long time. In effect this is not only a unique collection of Italian paintings from the 30s which is extraordinary coherent and rich in masterpieces. It is also a powerful map, likely the most detailed in private hands, of what was really going on in the Country between the two world wars, while the regime was promoting the so called Movimento del Novecento in order to impose its values, ideas, and deceptive expectations also on the realm of painting.
‘This is the story of an underworld’ said yesterday morning Mr. Iannaccone (interview), while giving a comprehensive guided tour to the many art professionals attending the press preview – you may like to know that also an experienced art dealer such as Massimo Minini was among them, along with curators from all the main local public and private art institutions. And the underworld he was talking about is that of talented artists such as Tullio Garbari, Ottone Rosai, Scipione, Antonietta Raphael, Mario Mafai, Renato Birolli, Renato Guttuso, Filippo De Pisis, hence bright talents pretty known to the Italian audience but yet to be discovered by the international art community and market – much like most of the american artists from the same period recently presented in Paris (American Painting in the 1930s, the age of anxiety). Instead of passively accepting to represent in a positive way the ambitions of the society Mussolini was trying to shape, these artists ‘were representing the true feelings of humanity’, as the collector puts it, ‘no matter about the consequences’.
The exhibition is titled A new figurative art and narrative of the self and covers a period of time that goes from 1920 to 1945. At first glance you will notice that most of the paintings are quite small and the gallery room, also from the 30s (Giovanni Muzio), has been re-designed by Oblò Architetti in order to recreate the feeling of the kind of bourgeois interiors to which these works were earmarked. The wooden profiled white boards and the easels supporting the paintings may recall the groundbreaking interiors designed by Franco Albini in the early 50s for Palazzo Bianco in Genova, but it would be more interesting to refer them back to the Louvre Lens’s display (by SANAA) and its glorious predecessor, the one designed in aftermath of the Second World War by Lina Bo Bardi for the MASP in Sao Paulo, recently brought back to life by museum director Adriano Pedrosa (interview). This second reference is interesting because at that time Lina’s husband, Pietro Maria Bardi, who in 1947 funded the MASP in Sao Paulo providing it with an extraordinary collection of Italian art (the best in South America so far), was also an active art dealer, admiring and supporting many of the artists collected by Mr. Iannaccone, including Scipione, Mafai, and Fausto Pirandello.
The exhibition begins with a small painting by Ottone Rosai, which is a sort of introductory manifesto to the fascinating storytelling constantly feeding the works on display. Dated 1920, it’s the earliest work in the collection. Its titled ‘L’attesa’ (The wait). Mr. Iannaccone suggests that the mysterious man turning his back to the viewer is actually mirrored by the one who is staring at him. He seems to ask him ‘who are you?’, which is also the question into which the entire collection seems to be rooted, as its title suggests. Moreover, four people are painted around a table, so they can speak to each other. This is a pivotal element which also characterizes the display. ‘I would like the paintings to talk to each other, as the artists who made them did during their life’ says Iannaccone. And life, we may say everyday life, is actually the real object on display, the essence filling the space between pieces, personalities, and places.
Scipione, the collector’s favourite one, passed away at 29 years old. He painted the vibrant Still life with feather immediately after he came home from the hospital, a few days before his death. ‘He thought his sexual appetite was an indicator of the fact he was recovering. He went to the market, he bought two lemons as big as breasts, and then he went home to paint his sexual healing. Unfortunately he was wrong’.
Mr Iannaccone told many stories of this kind yesterday morning, melting them with anecdotes concerning the many passionate research he and his team have been doing from the beginning, a practice which is at the basis of the many purchases he did, most of the time with the help of distinguished art historian, dealer and collector Claudia Gianferrari. As it generally happens when the art of art collecting is played at its best most of the works on exhibition have been bought from primary sources, that is to say out of the art fairs and auction houses, but with the help of book, documents, art people and, most of all, undaunted optimism.