In San Gimignano, on a lovely day in August of 2007, I ducked the crowds and wandered off a cobbled street into a museum of modern Italian art. Up the cool stone stairs, I spent a happy couple of hours perusing several floors of paintings unlike anything I had seen reproduced anywhere.
Most of the work was post-war, much from the 1960's and 70's, and as I gazed from an enormous black and red, textured canvas through the plate glass window to the famous towers of the ancient city beyond, I tried to pinpoint the feel of the work as a whole. There was something especially Italian in the inventiveness, the earnestness and the craftsmanship, but it was more than that. It was as if these artists didn't expect wide recognition for their achievements. They seemed simply to be following their own thoughts with the passion of self-conviction.
I was reminded of this experience today when I woke to a lyrical article in the New York Times about a show in London of 20th century Italian painters working outside the predominant 'isms' of the time. It's a story of artists listening to their own voices beyond the inevitable influences.
But isn't listening to one's own voice beyond influences what being an artist is all about? Why should that seem suprising? The author, Souran Melikian, refers to this uncategorized art as 'exceptionalism' - as if work resulting from an artist listening to the small, strange thoughts that prompt decisions which surprise the eye and don't conform to the existing labels of art history needs a name, like another movement.
Meanwhile, the singular works don't care what is said about them, but speak for themselves in their singular accents. I wish I could visit this show and see for myself.
A Masterly World Apart, NYT
From Morandi to Guttuso. Masterpieces from the Alberto della Ragione Collection. Estorick Collection, London. Through April 3, 2011