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  • Towards a Genealogy of the Thematic Contemporary Art Exhibition: Italian Exhibition Culture from the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (1932) to the Palazzo Grassi’s Ciclo della Vitalità (1959 – 1961)

Cagol, Stefano, 2013, Thesis, Towards a Genealogy of the Thematic Contemporary Art Exhibition: Italian Exhibition Culture from the Mostra della Rivoluzione Fascista (1932) to the Palazzo Grassi’s Ciclo della Vitalità (1959 – 1961) PhD thesis, Royal College of Art.

Abstract or Description:

The goal of this thesis is to look at the emergence of the thematic contemporary art
exhibition in Italy through an analysis of the influence of Fascism and the commercial
sector in the three exhibitions composing the Cycle of Vitality, organised between 1959 and
1961 at the Centro Internazionale delle Arti e del Costume (CIAC), opened at the Palazzo
Grassi in Venice in 1951. The cycle falls within the fields of both curatorial studies and the
history of modern and contemporary exhibitions, two disciplines that have been developed
since the 1990s. This inquiry contributes to them by clarifying further their specific fields
of investigation, or in presenting alternative genealogies by casting light on overlooked
antecedents; and by addressing the curator as a distinct cultural producer, the institution as
a medium for social change and the history of exhibitions.
The exhibitions analysed belong to the genealogy that resulted from the shift in the display
language of international inter-war avant-garde experiments in exhibition design as
manipulated by Fascism and commerce in the 1930s. Modernist architects were engaged in
turning the exhibition into a medium for social change, and a mass-medium to bring a
sense of the future into the present: It was from this premise that the model of the
thematic exhibition emerged. Its further development in post-war Italy paralleled the
questioning of the fine art museum’s entanglement with the discipline of art history,
enacted by those architects trained in the 1930s. The Cycle of Vitality paired the two models
in the thematic contemporary art exhibitions – Vitalità nell’arte (1959); Dalla natura all’arte
(1960) and Arte e contemplazione (1961) – organised by curators avant-la-lettre Paolo Marinotti
and Willem Sandberg.
Crucial to the analysis of the Cycle of Vitality is the questioning of the relationship between
contemporary curators, museums and the discipline of art history, as a consequence of
Italian exhibition culture between 1932 and 1961. Within this historical framework, these
exhibitions were influenced by the original profile of the CIAC, a cultural centre sponsored
by the SNIA Viscosa, a company manufacturing man-made fibres. The CIAC allowed for
the development of exhibitions that were intended to reshape the social body rather than
to present the results of art historical research as was traditionally the role of museum or
fine art exhibitions. In the 1950s, modernist Italian architects played a strategic role in
rethinking the museum, a tendency further fostered by curators avant-la-lettre who, as
cultural producers, turned the institution into their medium rather than considering it a
function of the discipline of art history.

Qualification Name: PhD
Subjects: Creative Arts and Design > W900 Others in Creative Arts and Design
School or Centre: School of Humanities
Date Deposited: 13 Oct 2014 14:53
Last Modified: 13 Oct 2014 14:53
URI: http://researchonline.rca.ac.uk/id/eprint/1642

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