Beyond Madonnas: Post-War Italian Art Surprises in Washington DC Exhibition

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While many people equate Italian art with Renaissance and Baroque masters, an intimate exhibition at IA&A at Hillyer in Washington DC introduces audiences to the cutting-edge work being done by Italian artists after World War II.

Contemporary Echoes: Rediscovering Italian Art from 1950-1980, Artworks from the BFF Collection showcases the prominent Italian artists Franco Angeli, Enrico Baj, Alberto Burri, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Mario Ceroli, Piero Dorazio, Giò Pomodoro, Mario Schifano, and Emilio Tadini. The show is curated by Renato Miracco and draws from the collection of BFF Banking Group based in Milan.

Eighteen works reveal their exploration of Pop Art and abstraction through experiments with paint, watercolor, photo transfer, wood, paper, fabric, even shards of broken mirror. Part of the show highlights Movimento d’Arte Nucleare, founded by Enrico Baj along with Sergio Dangelo, and Gianni Bertini, whose manifestos warned of the dangers of emerging nuclear power in a world still reeling from World War II. 

Installation view of three artworks in abstract styles are hung in a row on a dark red wall on either side of a doorway. A fourth piece hangs on a wall outside the door.
Installation view, courtesy of IA&A at Hillyer.

The exhibition reflects the interplay between these artists and their American counterparts, such as Robert Rauschenberg, during a time of intense artistic experimentation and social and political upheaval in both countries. (Rauschenberg is the subject of the documentary, Taking Venice, that happened to show at Filmfest DC just as the exhibition opened.)

A grainy photo of a TV image rendered in pink, white, and black shows the word ROMA in white type superimposed over a black platform surrounded by blurry people.
Mario Schifano, TV Landscapes, 1970, Colored photographic transfer on canvas, 29 x 36 1/4 inches, Collection of BFF Banking Group.
Painting of dark grey symbols of the American Eagle and other icons of the US flag set against a white background with a narrow band of royal blue filling the right side.
Franco Angeli, Untitled, 1965, Enamel on paper, 39 3/8 x 55 1/8 inches, Collection of BFF Banking Group.
Painting of areas of bright red, mint green and dark blue outlined with black with abstract shapes in green and brown layered on top. The word L'Engadine is painted in script in the upper left.
Valerio Adami, L’Engadine, 1973, Watercolor, 20 1/8 x 28 1/8 inches, Collection of BFF Banking Group.

When asked about the show’s origins, IA&A President and CEO Greg Houston explained, “One of our goals at IA&A at Hillyer is to give a platform to those forms of expression that haven’t had the exposure they deserve. We were fascinated by the Italian pop-culture period covered in the Contemporary Echos exhibition — not only because it is such a unique time of brilliant creativity that is often overshadowed by the centuries of classic art that Italy is known for; but because of the great, previously untold stories the exhibition tells of American and Italian artists collaborating and pushing boundaries together. We were thrilled to collaborate with the Italian Embassy and the Italian Cultural Institute to showcase these remarkable works from BFF Bank’s private collection when the opportunity was presented. This exhibition aligns perfectly with Hillyer’s mission as a hub of global artistic engagement in Washington, and we are delighted to be a part of it.”

Curator Renato Miracco and BFF Banking Group CEO Massimiliano Belingheri discuss the purpose of the exhibition and goals for the collection.

Contemporary Echoes: Rediscovering Italian Art from 1950-1980, Artworks from the BFF Collection
April 5–June 2, 2024
IA&A at Hillyer
9 Hillyer Court NW
Washington DC

TOP IMAGE: Installation view, courtesy of IA&A at Hillyer.

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