“» solo un inizio. 1968”

Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna e Contemporanea
Viale delle Belle Arti 131
October 3, 2017–January 14, 2018

View of “Ť solo un inizio. 1968” (It’s Just a Beginning. 1968), 2017.

Nestled within a synchronistic and refreshing reinstallation of the permanent collection of Rome’s Galleria Nazionale (spearheaded by the museum’s director Cristiana Collu), the current exhibition “» solo un inizio. 1968” (It’s Just a Beginning. 1968) would even be worth visiting for no reason other than its surroundings. However, the real strength of curator Ester Coen’s meditation on a moment of broad social and artistic upheaval is the degree to which it allows physical realities to function as metaphors for political ones. Thus, as the double entendre of Mario Merz’s 1968 Sit-In reminds us, to occupy is both a political and a spatial act. Many of the works gesture toward this notion—from Alighiero Boetti’s well-known early map pieces to Luciano Fabro’s Three Ways of Arranging the Sheets, 1968, and Giovanni Anselmo’s Direzione, 1967–68, an abstract sculpture that points north. That the work of the female artists in the exhibition—Marisa Merz, Eva Hesse, Joan Jonas, Yayoi Kusama, Diane Arbus, and Carla Cerati—appears in auxiliary spaces adjacent to the central hall underscores the inescapable imbrication of place and power.

Questions of industry, containment, and reflection are also in play throughout the exhibition, and similarities resonate between seemingly disparate works, such that Diane Arbus’s New Yorkers could be mistaken for Italians if they weren’t already so iconic. The show’s sensitive installation re-creates the environmental aesthetic of the late 1960s, with its characteristic syncopated scatterings. Sparse didactic texts add to the formalist bent of an exhibition putatively about politics, while also facilitating a seamless integration between artists representing diverse movements within Italy (Arte Povera and Scuola di Piazza del Popolo, primarily) and elsewhere.

— Leslie Cozzi