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Monday, January 16, 2012


Son of the Son, 1982, Sandro Chia
Just when you think you've seen and heard it all with regard to new art and art movements, something really new or really obscure pops up that may lead you to think that, as they say, "You don't know the half of it." Ever heard of Transavantguardia? Heard of it, you say, I can't even spell it. Well, like so many art movements, it was one extreme in the pendulum swing. Basically it means beyond the avant-garde. Not long ago, I mentioned the Roman Secession and its negative reaction by Italians to, not only traditional Italian genius in the arts, but to Futurism as well. It would seem that a few more ticks of the clock, a few more swings of the pendulum and you come to Transavantguardia (sometimes called Neo-expressionism), which was a rediscovery of figural art, and traditional tools, techniques, and colors in painting. But it wasn't a rediscovery of 1950s, postwar figural painting but Renaissance painting (ala Michelangelo). The year was 1979. A whole new generation had grown up since the Figural 50s and had time to digest and react to what their fathers had done with paint, brushes, and pigments on canvas.

Inside Outside, 1980, Francesco Clemente
The reaction was one of dismay, longing for something more than mere bodies. Among the artists in the group was Sandro Chia (above, right), Enzo Cucchi, Nicola De Maria, Mimmo Paladino, and Francesco Clemente (left). They wanted to pull out all the stops to expressive freedom without reference to any one cultural mode, but assimilating all of them. The result was a considerable amount of inconsistency often referred to by critics as "nomadism." Nonetheless, they moved to meld Surrealism, Cubism, Expressionism, Realism and numerous other divergent influences without any cultural or political ax to grind. There was even a German branch of the movement that was especially sensitive to their postwar past, wanting mostly to free German art from the overwhelming power of American art which had so pervading their culture.

La Mano ubbidisce all'intelletto, 1983,
Carlo Maria Mariani
Some critics called this development "anachronistic painting." It looked back to Mannerism and Neoclassicism such as in Carlo Maria Mariani's La Mano ubbidisce all'intelletto (The Hand Obeying the Intellect, right), painted in 1983. In it he depicts two classically nude Greek male figures each with brush in hand, sitting facing one another, both delicately painting one another. The figures and composition are crystal clear. The colors are Renaissance, the content Surrealistic, the poses Classical. It's a painting mirroring itself but also reflecting its independent existence. It's unquestionably Italian, but with so many international influences, it also reflects the fact that, by the 1980s, art was no longer provincial, but global in scope. In that sense, perhaps we're all Transavantguardian painters.

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