After the Future: The Postwar Italian Avant-Garde
July 6 – August 18, 2017
Lévy Gorvy Gallery, New York
Vincenzo Agnetti was an innovative participant in the Italian avant-garde from the 1950s through the ’70s, and a prominent member of the artist-run gallery and journal Azimut(h) along with Enrico Castellani and Piero Manzoni. Agnetti’s work traverses a wide formal range with an analytic rigor matched only by his poetic vision. In examining the depth and progression of the artist’s output, Vincenzo Agnetti: Territories, opening July 6th at Lévy Gorvy New York, begins to map the development of his artistic and philosophical consciousness. The first solo exhibition of Agnetti in New York in over twenty-five years, Territories, which was presented in London earlier this spring, celebrates Lévy Gorvy’s new collaboration with the Archivio Vincenzo Agnetti Milan. The exhibition will be on view through August 18th.
In parallel with Territories, the gallery also presents After the Future: The Postwar Italian Avant-Garde, a selection of works that demonstrates the ways in which the Milan-Turin axis served as an epicenter for the gestation and proliferation of ideas in the sphere of emergent international artistic movements. Offering a context for—and in dialogue with—the Agnetti works on view, After the Future includes works by Alighiero Boetti, Alberto Burri, Enrico Castellani, Jannis Kounellis, Piero Manzoni, Giulio Paolini, Giuseppe Penone, Carol Rama, and Gilberto Zorio.
“From Enrico Castellani, who we have represented for many years, to Carol Rama, who recently joined the gallery, we have a longstanding connection with Italian artists,” said Dominique Lévy, cofounder of Lévy Gorvy. “The opening of Vincenzo Agnetti: Territories and After the Future: The Postwar Italian Avant-Garde in New York represents an incredible opportunity to explore vital participants in the rapid development of modern art in Italy after the Second World War.”
Vincenzo Agnetti: Territories
A student of poetry and art from a young age, the details of Vincenzo Agnetti’s early life remain opaque. In the artist’s words, “What I did, thought, and heard, I’ve now forgotten by heart.” This deliberate occlusion of biographical information is characteristic of Agnetti’s use of language: shifting away from the personal toward a more remote philosophical terrain, Agnetti cultivated a mythic voice.
Curated by gallery director Begum Yasar, Territories focuses on two bodies of work from the artist’s diverse oeuvre—Axiomi (Axioms) and Feltri (Felts)—and explores the ways in which Agnetti approached language as both content and material, depicting linguistic propositions and abstractions with a signature esoteric streak. Seen as a whole, the artist’s work sheds light on possibilities for art’s engagement with philosophy and knowledge production: rather than illustrating theories, Agnetti sought to fully integrate idea and form.
The poetic dimensions of Agnetti’s linguistic explorations are perhaps most evident in his Axioms (1968–1974). The works’ white text on black grounds is evocative of the blackboard, but the slick finish of their smooth surfaces and engraved words lends a permanent and fixed quality. Through this linguistic and formal play, Agnetti produces a slippage between proposition and truth, calling into question the way meaning is produced and comprehended.
The Feltri also draw on familiar cultural forms, albeit more art historical than pedagogical. Many of these works are titled Paesaggio (landscape) and Ritratto (portrait) but, like the Axioms, their main visual content is textual. The portraits and landscapes are aesthetically severe, with stenciled letters burned or painted on a humble felt surface. The Feltri landscapes put forth more spare and open-ended provocations, as in Paesaggio, a 1971 dusky chartreuse felt with a circular chip missing from a top corner, its surface stenciled with the word “TERRITORY.” Theoretical and geopolitical conceptions of space constitute another significant concern for Agnetti, as this work boldly indicates.
Vincenzo Agnetti, Paesaggio, 1971, engraved and painted felt, 31 1/2 x 47
1/4 inches (80 x 120 cm). Courtesy Lévy Gorvy. Photo: Stephen White.
After the Future: The Postwar Italian Avant-Garde
Immediately after the Second World War, Italy underwent a series of rapid changes, seeing its transformation from a rural nation into a major industrial power. Spectacular economic growth was coupled with a major cultural shift as new products flooded the market and mass media gained popularity. This dramatic period was also the stage for some of the most revolutionary political movements of our time, in which Italian thinkers, artists, and laborers alike grappled with questions of how to live and work in an era of increased state power and consumerism.
The duality of material and concept, as well the complex implications for economic and abstract value formed a broadly shared theme among many postwar Italian artists—not as opposed dimensions, but rather as interwoven aspects of an artistic practice. After the Future is dedicated to contemporaneous Italian artists who forged bold and singular paths during this time of cultural upheaval, negotiating the intersections of Conceptualism, Minimalism, and post-Minimalism in the 1960s and onward. After the war, after artistic Futurism and political fascism, after the waxing and waning of revolution—after the future—Italian artists continued to explore what it might mean to make art in a newly globalized, interconnected world.