Milan

View of “The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata,” 2012.

View of “The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata,” 2012.

“The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata”

Fondazione Prada

View of “The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata,” 2012.

Can an exhibition structured historically extend its reach to the very recent past without losing its scholarly legitimacy in favor of offering a reflection on contemporaneity? Can it adhere to a sense of the present better than an exhibition focused on more recent work? The answers are yes and yes, as proven by “The Small Utopia. Ars Multiplicata,” promoted by the Fondazione Prada and curated by Germano Celant. Installed at the Ca’ Corner della Regina in Venice, this large-scale show reminds us that, in the modern era of art’s technical reproducibility—here defined as the period from the dawn of the twentieth century through 1975—and the loss of the aura of uniqueness that has traditionally distinguished it, the creative output of an artist can be multiplied democratically without losing its fundamental semantic and aesthetic value. On the contrary, this value could be disseminated to an ever-broader public.

Such a utopian thought could have emerged and developed only thanks to the growth of mass communications over the course of the century. And art unfailingly registered this development—if not anticipating it, then acting as its sounding board. This exhibition rigorously and clearly describes the ways that the historic avant-gardes of the first part of the twentieth century and their postwar successors have offered a multitude of interpretations of art’s relation to reproducibility. It offers a wide range of examples of how artists sought to disseminate their work as an enhancement to people’s daily lives, from Futurist clothing by Giacomo Balla and Fortunato Depero to Cubist garments by Sonia Delaunay and Op-art apparel by Getulio Alviani with the designer Germana Marucelli; from Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to Surrealist objects by Man Ray and Salvador Dalí; from De Stijl toys by Gerrit Rietveld to Bauhaus ones by Lyonel Feininger. There are multiples by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, and Joseph Beuys, as well as Pop, Nouveau Réaliste, Fluxus, and Minimalist experiments in cinematography, performance, and sound from the 1960s and ’70s. This was a period when, in the hands of artists who availed themselves of corporate production and marketing practices, this desire called Utopia—in the end, not so “small”—seemed to reach its acme, thereafter dissipating along with the cultural and social conditions that had spurred it on. It’s not that utopian values disappeared after this; rather, they took on other guises, less ideological and programmatic than the original ones, perhaps, but undoubtedly close to them in substance. One only need think of the technological developments that have followed at an exponential pace, and of the increasingly advanced opportunities they have offered their users, from audio-visual systems to the Internet. Today’s artists working with the reproducible object have become the heirs to the practitioners whose work is showcased in this exhibition; they may be more pragmatic, but they share the same dream, that art can be for all.

Pier Paolo Pancotto

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.