Not nostalgic. The Italian Transavantgarde

More than 30 years after its early stirrings, the Transavantgarde is the elephant on the Italian art scene. There is a paradox here. The Italian movement, represented by Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Francesco Clemente, Nicola De Maria and Mimmo Paladino, was highly influential. The ‘brand’ was a huge success internationally in the 1980s, when pieces were snapped up by museums on the spot, and the five artists became an instant phenomenon (which has not yet been historically contextualized). And yet, the critical debate over the last twenty years has marginalized them. The movement has become a background feature, like faded, unfashionable wallpaper, an easy target for criticism. Nicolas Bourriaud, in a 2002 essay, claimed that the Transavantgarde exploit – epitomized, in his view, by Enzo Cucchi’s paintings and, slightly incongruously, by Julian Schnabel’s work – brought back the idea of eclectic, extreme authorship. The movement, Bourriaud argued, represented the triumph of cynicism where “ the history of art becomes a giant landfill piled high with empty forms, their meaning severed from them.” The group was engaged in “a far-reaching endeavor to reify”[1] forms which were then sold cheap. His fierce slating of the Transavantgarde movement was unequalled, though other commentators were similarly harsh or cursory in their criticism.[2]


Accusations were already bandied about in the 1980s when the artists - launched by the art critic Achille Bonito Oliva (hereafter referred to as ABO) - were at their pinnacle of success as heralds of the postmodern transition. In these accusations, Transavantgarde artists were faulted for being either overly eclectic, superficial, and self-important, or for cultivating the idea of the artist as above-human, or again for being little more than cynical horse-traders. Criticism was particularly fierce in the United States. The unexpected boom of the five Italian artists in New York and their wild success among gallery-owners and collectors, as well as the rise of other key figures of the time (Schnabel, Salle, Basquiat, and Haring in particular), stridently shifted the conceptual climate of post-minimalism that had reigned undisturbed in the city since the 1960s.


Enzo Cucchi, A terra d'uomo, 1980


Hal Foster predicted as early as 1983 how negatively the neo-expressionist movement would end up being received in the decades to come, and plotted the exact cultural and critical coordinates of the decline in their favor. He clearly identified two paths. First, what he called post-structural postmodernism. He considered this “a postmodernism of resistance”, which radically attacked art as an institution, the “tradition of the new”, and the paradoxical posthumous victory of an avant-garde consigned to museums and citations. Second, a neo-conservative postmodernism, which was reactionary and formalistic, and was predicated on a return to narration, decoration, representation, and History, as well as to an author-subject.[3] Foster linked the first path to American artists of the Pictures Generation (Cindy Sherman or Richard Prince, for example), whom he considered manipulators of signs rather than producers of esthetic objects, and whose creative practice he considered an intersection of a web of discursive relationships that lacked the typically modern privilege of heteronomy.[4] He linked the second path to European neo-expressionism, where, in Foster’s view, the accumulation of iconographic fragments, narrative and allegoric waste unintentionally mimicked the visual inflation of neo-capitalist society. Rather than opposing the dilapidation of meaning, Foster accused, the neo-conservatives were active accomplices in its destruction.


According to Yve-Alain Bois[5], another important participant in the debate at the time, the two paths were irreconcilable, but had one idea in common. That is that modernism lived in “historicist terror”. In his view, modernism was stuck in a teleological idea of history as representing the progress of reason, and insisted on defining every work of art in relation to both the works that preceded it and those that would follow. And yet, Bois argues, this idea led to very different results according to whether it was taken up by neo-conservatives or a post-structuralists. For neo-conservatives, the only answer to the end of postmodernism was the ideologia cinica del traditore (“cynical ideology of the traitor”) that ABO cited in his eponymous 1976 essay.[6] This ideology, Bois concluded, marked the dissimilarity between this group and the political utopias of historical avant-garde movements. A cynic or a traitor would consider a utopian dream naïve. This position was free of History, and shed the weight it carried in the modernist movement. At the same time it also shed the sense of responsibility it held throughout the twentieth century.


Neo-conservative postmodernism apparently turned the diachronic nature of History into an a-critical synchrony, transforming it into a vast open tank where everything had the same value, where we could fish out whatever we wanted whenever we wanted, and find a befitting style whatever the occasion. The procedure called for citation and pastiche, an accumulation of reified styles and unreferenced quotations. It was a Tower of Babel where tragedy and comedy, avant-garde and kitsch all spoke the same language. By leaving aside the modernist dogmatism that claimed to draw a clear line between these two aesthetic approaches, neo-conservative postmodernism also left History aside. Behind the a-temporal availability of a multitude of cultures there was no such thing as high and low (one of modernism’s pet hates). There was rather, in Bois’s words, an “antique-dealer’s de-vitalization of History, which is transformed into merchandise.” This was the postmodern impertinence of the neo-conservatives, where a mixing of styles was considered “an affirmative synthesis of our visual and cultural universe.” Cucchi or Chia’s endeavor was thus seen as being no more than a “glorification of the political statu quo.”[7]


Sandro Chia, Zattera temeraria, 1982


Reading these observations twenty years after the global boom, when art fairs, biennales, museums and whole cities are transformed into centers of contemporary art consumerism, it is a legitimate exercise to question the confidence with which critics relegated the Transavantgarde movement to the back stairs of reactionary postmodernism. After all, these artists have become part of the academic and media mainstream, and nowadays the collective imagination is well able to appropriate reality and boldly recast it as a neo-capitalist narration. If it is true, as Thomas Crow[8] has argued, that the success of the Transavantgarde movement, as well as that of the whole neo-expressionist wave, was the result of the financial euphoria of the Reagan years, and of the new global reach of the  international art market (hungry both for new talent and investment opportunities), distinguishing between “progressive” and “conservative” postmodernism is no longer sufficient for understanding the phenomena it is trying to describe. Douglas Crimp, among others, criticized the distinction early on. He observed that even those practices that were not excessively mercantile were anyway exposed to insidious appropriation by the same art institutions they had attempted to shame for their authoritarian approach and “false normativity.”[9]


It is clear, however, that the Transavantgarde followed the same parabola as other movements in the 1980s. It was an age that will always be remembered for its excessive hedonism in private life, for its glamour, for its showy politics, for its neoliberalism. As the “great modernist narratives”, as Jean-Francois Lyotard called them, declined, so did faith in the progress of history, in the emancipatory force of novelty, in the birth of a new society, in the fact that there was space to occupy (or an origin to discover). There was little beyond dominant representations, little beyond capitalism. In short, in the postmodern age, the “subject”, the hero of western epic, was an empty fort. Communication had taken over from production. Work, politics, symbolic exchanges, artistic production, language - even the subconscious - had all undergone radical transformations. Difference, or differences – as postcolonial studies and researchers in new sexual and social identities taught us to call them - transformed what was once a solid identity into a permanent question mark, a series of contradictory moments under constant redefinition.


The crisis of the modernist evolutionary paradigm, as Fredric Jameson[10] called it, the end of utopian narrations that visual art had fed on for its imagery and style, made it much easier for the seemingly irresistible processes reifying culture and life to take place, and made way for the privatization of society. The 1980s was the age of bestsellers, of the cult of the individual, the religion of success and of deregulation. It was a time when, as Jameson suggested, an alienated subject was replaced by a fragmented subject. But it was also a time when the art world renewed itself and became more efficient, both financially and institutionally. Overcoming old rivalries, avant-garde and traditional works were hung side by side in museums, their dialectic contrasts made innocuous by the fact that they both glorified the concept of free time and of art as a mass secular cult. The 1980s was, moreover, an age when museums were no longer modernist white cubes – those rarified white halls so typical of museum architecture between the 1930s and the 1960s. Remakes, pastiches and sequels were adopted by all forms of art, including cinema, literature, and music. These art forms blended high- and low-brow genres creating profound repercussions on the artistic language, the modes of cultural consumption, and the mass media.


Mimmo Paladino, Untitled, 1982


If, at an international level, this was the cultural frame of reference, it could be claimed that the Transavantgarde was emblematic of a transition that, in 1979 when ABO’s manifesto was published, had not yet become clear in Italy. In what were perhaps the darkest years of the decade, in the middle of political, economic and social crisis, there were already warning signals of approaching disaster. This looming catastrophe left its mark on the symbolic plane, revealing itself in the deterioration of late modernist cultural and linguistic patterns, together with their ‘progressive’ ideological foundations. There was an erosion of the political motivation that had been such an important feature of the ten years from 1968 to 1978, a decade of social and political unrest that convulsed society, often with tragic consequences.[11] Because of Italy’s particular history, and owing to the ambivalence that characterized it, the shift to postmodernism took place in a very different way to the way it happened, for example, in the English speaking world. In both the US and the UK, French post-structuralism and deconstructionism were influential tools for interpreting social, psychological, political and aesthetic phenomena. Moreover, the urge to denounce the authoritarian nature of the modernist thought system became one with the need to question the western canon. In an increasingly de-territorialized world, the “de-colonization” of culture joined hands unexpectedly with the early stirrings of a neo-capitalist value system.


The transition in Italy was very different from this pragmatic approach. It was philosophically and aesthetically characterized by a peculiar need to rethink modernism in the oblique light cast by the finis Europae, the idea that Europe as a construct was coming to an end. The crisis of European paradigms and the modernist criteria of rationality, washing over the continent like tidal waves, revealed the negative side, the part maudite of the twentieth century that had been repressed for so long. This was the approach of the so- called pensiero debole (“weak thought”), an expression which Pier Aldo Rovatti and Gianni Vattimo used as the title for their widely read 1983 anthology.[12] This movement was the most conspicuous attempt by Italian culture to understand the transformations underway, especially the by then manifest crisis of the universal claims of the Eurocentric vision and of the utopias of emancipation. There was a new sensitivity to otherness, to the hermeneutic dimension, to the symbolic and historical aspects of language. These ideas were nourished by various ‘continental’, especially German, authors from Nietzsche to Heidegger, Gadamer and Habermas.


The pensiero debole – if it is possible to put together many different approaches under one label – is based on a criticism of technical and scientific rationalism, and of the idealistic notion of ‘overcoming’ as constants of modernity. What characterizes postmodernity, the movement claimed, was progress moving in leaps, based on a logic of distortion, a “fusion of orientations” embracing and tolerating differences, relative chaos, in which Vattimo claims the hopes of society’s emancipation lie. The real or imagined resolving of the traditional conflicts of the modern era (between antagonist ontologies, between capital and labor, between knowledge and interpretation, etc.) was a perfect excuse for reactivating potentialities that had remained unexplored or marginal in the “modern project”, incomplete by definition. A contemporary perspective did not call for a return to tradition but for survival, interrupted paths, or unforeseen directions. This was precisely because “postmodernism is not modernism which has reached an end but modernism in its nascent state – and this state is constant”, as Jean Francois Lyotard[13] put it (by the way Italian tradition had never really experienced modernism in the disciplinary, totemic way it was adopted in the English speaking world. It had always been posthumous, amphibious, anachronic. In a word, postmodern).


Nicola De Maria, Festival dell'atmosfera che brilla, 1982


This was the intellectual (and political, in the case of Italy) context in which to place the “rupture” of the Transavantgarde group and the ideas of its supporter, and its immediate targets, the art scene, art criticism, and the academic world was by minimalism, conceptual art and arte povera dominated in the late 1970s. The Italian critic-curator ABO, who had been active in the international art scene since the beginning of the 1970s,  compared in his ‘Manifesto’ what he defined as “ideologism”, “tautology” and “linguistic Darwinism”[14] to “a new attitude that does not claim any form of superiority other than art and the flagrance of the work of art that derives pleasure once again from being exhibited, from its substance, from the subject of the painting.”[15] In this newly re-discovered esthetic pleasure,


the Transavantgarde movement showed its openness to the intentional checkmate of logocentric western culture, and to a new kind of pragmatism that freed the instinct expressed by a work of art. This did not mean adopting a pre-scientific approach, but taking on a more mature post-scientific attitude that left behind the fetishistic adaptation of contemporary art to modern science.[16]


This openness, however, ABO claims, did not restore the supremacy of handiwork and traditional pictorial taste. That would have been impossible, because artists move “without a pre-constituted direction, without points of departure of arrival.”[17] Moreover, artists’ pictorial tendencies were required to survive the “rigor of language” and the “pleasure of manual application that is not separate from the conceptual impulse.”[18] There should not be a search for “academic perfectionism” , in ABO’s view, but rather a transit from the impulse to act and the stability of the result.[19]


In the junction between the awareness of the “irreducibility of the fragment”, of the “impossibility of regaining unity and equilibrium”[20], and a skepticism towards the “tradition of the new”, the five exponents of the Transavantgarde movement can thus be positioned along a fault line between the “fragmentation of the myth of a unified ego” and the weakening of neo-avantgarde poetics. The attitude towards these poetics was affectively and intellectually detached, they looked back with irony, melancholy, and sarcasm. By detaching themselves from their formative years and first period of activity – for all five characterized by postminimalist and conceptual interests – “artists,” ABO wrote, “ works through individual research that fragments social taste and pursues the aim of their own work.” Thanks to this approach, according to the critic, anything can be achieved, without “recourse to the hierarchical categories of past and present.”[21] The “pleasure of painting is accompanied by the impulse of the spirit, by the capacity to integrate the intense activity involved in creating the painting with a preventive, ironic detachment”[22] This attitude is symptomatic of a condition shared by artists, writers and poets, who all have in common “the feeling they are moving about in a desert, an empty space, with no sense of direction and no shared (or codified) foundations from the previous decade.” That is, with “no guarantees, but also without the limits or prejudices, in a space where liberty and gratuitousness are often indistinguishable.”[23]


The attraction Transavantgarde artists had for the archaic and the vernacular, for dilettantism and the exotic, for the unfashionable, for the exhibited monumentality of their work, their fascination with drawings – where autobiographical elements, the love for dressing up and the grotesque, symbology, fairy tales and eroticism were all present – was a kind of return to the past by two or three generations. As ABO wrote, there are many references, “from Chagall to Picasso, Cézanne to de Chirico, from the futurist to the Novecento “metaphysicist” Carrà”.[24] The artists adopted a first person narrative, which nearly always used an almost mythological tone to talk about their eureka moment. It was invariably described – and this is the point – as a shock, a fatal step, with no rational motivation and without measuring the consequences. In 1982, Mimmo Paladino described inspiration as a “sort of shiver”, an “underground river”[25] that suddenly came to the surface.[26] It was an esoteric experience, and the artist considered himself an “innocent”, a visionary, a wizard, or a bearer of an aura, as Nicola di Maria said in a 1983 interview.[27] Enzo Cucchi put it another way. He saw himself as a “survivor”, a “hero” in the sense of somebody outliving a war, surviving destruction.


I am an immune carrier […] it is not even my own doing. It is what it is. Painting comes out of me like a natural or divine emanation […] though every painter passes through the body of other painters, all the great painters of the past. We can only go back. Going forwards doesn’t mean anything in painting. […] I feel like a veteran that has survived the great modern war. I feel I have been conscripted in the great but very small army of painters. I always have been.[28]


Inhabitants of the post-history world today should, at this point, stop thinking of the Transavantgarde movement as a stumbling block – with its neoconservative arrogance and all its talk of the ineffability of inspiration -  on the otherwise clear path to what is known as ‘contemporary art’. Out of that idealized condition of smug, post-media self-reflection there could spring a motion of “opposition”, of criticism of art as an institution. This was totally absent or dismissed by the Italian group, but has coincided with the mainstream art world in the last two decades, and sits happily with today’s curatorial taste, replicated in exhibitions and biennials over and over again, with inevitable market implications and consequences. This essay is not the place, but what we should do is free ourselves from the angst of moralizing and pseudo-progressive interpretations  (ridding ourselves, to start with, of the resurgence in traditionalism and the populist enthusiasm for ‘roots’) and try to identify a wider historical perspective. In this way we can start to re-read the production of the five artists, and thus re-interpret their poetics, their contradictions and their specific work on images.


We have already outlined the theoretical ties with the pensiero debole philosophical approach in defining the cultural background of the Transavantgarde movement. From an artistic point of view, however, it is important to stress the “missing link”[29] between the 1970s and the 1980s represented by the works of Gino De Dominicis, Luigi Ontani, Vettor Pisani, and Salvo. These artists uneven talents opposed the Arte Povera movement in Italy, and internationally were critical of the post-minimalist poetic. Rather than “de-culturalize” de-signify or pauperize art, they went in the opposite direction. They accumulated, restored – or embalmed – “materials” which were by no means primary. They cultivated anything that was highly refined, symbols and allegories, images from the history of art, placing their production in an immense imaginary museum embracing everything, from prehistory to the avantgarde, in a mummified, posthumous form. De Dominicis, Ontani, Pisani and Salvo adopted cold irony, a dandified detachment, a restrained sense of humor and a spirit of contradiction (see, for example, De Dominicis’s films of “impossible” performances) in order to insinuate subtle metaphysical (and anti-modernist) doubt into every project. This was in marked contrast to the Arte povera movement, which advocated clear-headed planning, the search for phenomenological essentiality, an explicit and implicit political stance supporting pauperism, and the often stated requirement, as Germano Celant described in his seminal texts, to circulate art work as part of a wider transformation of the real world.


The work of the four artists, Michele Dantini suggested, could be seen as “narrations of identity.”[30] That is, a form of cultural negotiation - from a fiercely minority point of view – defending anachronistic national, or even regional, features against hegemonic international trends. In their work there is also an enduring attachment to the history of art, considered an essential feature of collective or individual identity. Appropriation could have historical, archeological, or “ludo-erotic” modalities. As Salvo showed, museums were not only cited but “memorized and copied”. Pisani, following the example of Duchamp and Beuys, revisited the catacombs of esoteric culture seeking ambiguous illuminations. Ontani transformed "the classical or renaissance art gallery” into an “aphrodisiac theatrical wardrobe to dress up in, and re-perform.” [31] In the background, for all four artists, there was the premature awareness of the twilight, of a crystalized condition that cannot be modified, where art is no longer a matter of perspective but rather a skeptical, melancholy exercise, drenched in pessimism gained from the deeply tragic irony of History. In 1969, De Dominicis produced a memorable eulogy to History with his installation Il tempo, lo sbaglio, lo spazio (“Time, Error, Space”), depicting human and dog skeletons on skates, holding a golden balancing bar. The piece represented the fatal disproportion between desire and destiny, the ineluctable passing of time, and the comic yet certain failure of the cosmic-heroic mission of the artist.


Francesco Clemente, Untitled, 1983-86


In Italy, the most illustrious exponent of this approach was Giorgio de Chirico, who, both in his painting and in his writing, almost physically incarnated, throughout most of the twentieth century, the contradiction between a lost desire for order (museums, tradition), and a neurotic, though lucid and ironic, inability to adapt either to the modern world, tout en étant moderne, which he expressed in his conscious regression to childhood, or to the primitive and archaic. De Chirico was both brilliant and bungling, a self-forger, a pompous blunderbuss with highly refined tastes, hyper-traditionalist and yet experimental.


By taking up painting again in the second half of the 1970s, Transavantgarde artists deliberately chose to challenge themselves with a medium (with both a great formal tradition and an aesthetic charge) that they knew was out of fashion. They considered painting a way to wave a white flag at the cultural and anthropological transformations they knew they couldn’t reverse. The perspective they adopted was thus the oblique point of view of an expert vedutista, depicting allegorical remains of the modern tradition as a ghostly pile of rubble, tumbling ruins that have lost their meaning but whose towering relics project a disquieting shadow over the smooth marble pavement of contemporary life.


The work of the five Italian Transavantgarde artists could thus be re-examined in the light of the allegorical impulse which gave the name to a seminal essay by Craig Owens published in 1983.[32]This was one of the most effective keys to understanding what took place in the visual arts after 1980. Reality, in Walter Benjamin’s famous phrase, was seen as a “petrified, primeval landscape, the Hippocratic face of history.” The world was characterized by infinite destruction, “inexorable decay”; everything was “inopportune”, “painful” and “wrong”.[33] Allegory, as I have written elsewhere[34], is the condition art finds itself in when it cannot aspire to totality, to a symbolic fusion of elements, of intention and meaning. And when, by contrast, it has to deal with a split between signifiers and the signified, in an infinity mirror of interpretations and repetitions. Intrinsic to the work of art is the awareness that the authority of every form of language is on the wane, only to be replaced by a boundless forest of signs, bodies, correspondences, returns, echoes, nesting. Allegory is the chosen form for a feeling of estrangement from the world and from tradition. In the case of the Transavantgarde movement, the historic dimension was discredited by a lack of trust in the hermeneutic constructive potential of the artistic endeavor.


Allegory was thus the effect of creative practice. On an individual, idiosyncratic level – in contrast with the “montage” typical of (post)modern appropriation cited by Benjamin Buchloh in his classic essay[35] - it makes the fading of tradition easier to see. The distancing of tradition from the present, its insignificance, or its minimal bearing on the way the present is established, makes it clear that Bourriaud’s giant landfill was not created by artists. It already existed, gaping wide open, under our feet. We were fearful spectators. In the case of the five Italian artists, this awareness could not be separated from the desire to place tradition bang in the middle of the historic present, without claiming to reveal its hidden or original meaning. The artists wanted to give tradition a meaning that was appropriate to their needs. Owens observed quite rightly that the allegorical key was not so much an addition that enriched the original sense of the chosen image – as it was in hermeneutics – but rather a substitution that left only the most recent meaning alive. The allegorical manipulation of the Transavantgarde artists emptied images of meaning, made them available, paid no attention to philology, to historical context, or to bridging the gap between tradition and the present. Rather, it leapt from one age to another, neglecting historical accuracy. This infidelity, this betrayal, was the movement’s emblem.


The melancholic ambivalence towards postmodernism of the Transavantgarde group always went hand in hand, as I have already observed[36], with a certain self-indulgence. The artists were more than ready to take part in their world success, at the cost of losing critical contact with the real world. There were differences among the artists, of course, as well as nd individual disagreements. Their tendency, in some artists more marked than in others, to re-establish a traditional pictorial body of work, together with other factors such as fatigue, arguments, the brutality of the art market, and the change in mood after early success, ended up by relegating the five artists to a niche. They soon lost the capacity to communicate with younger generations of artists, and thus broke the chain of events that usually forms that elusive and anachronic phenomenon we call art history. While the previous generation had been characterized by a sense of being stuck, by historic failure, by a feeling of insufficiency, other elements became more important for these artists. The uniformity of the new neoliberal world order that came to the fore after the fall of the Berlin Wall, the harshness with which Europe lost its centuries-old claim to centrality, the emergence of new forms of artistic mediation with the phenomenon of cities – architecture, photography, cinema, mass media – and, finally, the political and social context, were all elements to be taken into account when considering the art world since the 1990s.


The Transavantgarde movement can be re-read today, setting aside the charges made against them, as a paradoxical and intellectually lucid attempt to appropriate the language of modern figurative art. Its demise has been postponed so many times that it has become an emblem of the crisis of the entire tradition, especially of the particular ideology of Italian modernism. This language was brought back to life in the fatal moment when it declared its own inability to name the catastrophe that was causing its destruction. Finding “operative solitude, a minority sentiment”[37]cultivating a suspension of judgment with which to develop a restless “laterality” for viewing “a world without accepting it”.[38] These actions in the early 1980s were a way to grieve the end of modernity, the end of an ideal of pure, humanistic art. The vacuum was filled with propitiatory signs. Painting was a talisman, like the famous horseshoe cited by the physicist Niels Bohr. Much to his friends’ surprise and dismay at his superstition, Bohr responded that he kept the horseshoe on his door because he had it on record that the horseshoe worked even if you didn’t believe in it. Transavantgarde art was like Bohr’s horseshoe. It looked like it was produced on purpose to challenge our incredulity. Despite its tricks, its dressing up, its false histories, its theatrical emphasis, its visible patches, it still works today.



[1] Nicolas Bourriaud, Postproduction. La culture comme scénario: comment l’art reprogramme le monde contemporain, les presses du réel, Dijon 2003

[2] Cfr. for example Francesco Bonami, Un’antica civiltà contemporanea, in Id. (Ed.), Italics. Arte italiana tra tradizione e rivoluzione 1968-2008, exhibition catalogue (Venezia, Palazzo Grassi, 27 September 2008-22 March 2009), Electa, Milano 2008, p. 29. On the idea of a regressive syndrome that affects both the Transavanguardia and Arte povera, cfr. Adachiara Zevi, Peripezie del dopoguerra nell’arte italiana, Einaudi, Torino 2005, pp. 384-85.

[3] Hal Foster, Postmodernism: A Preface, in Id. (Ed.) The Anti-Aesthetic. Essays on Postmodern Culture, Bay Press, Seattle 1983, pp. IX-XII e Id., (Post) Modern Polemics (1984), in Recodings. Art, Spectacle, Cultural Politics, Bay Press, Seattle 1985.

[4] Hal Foster, Subversive Signs, in Brian Wallis (Ed.), Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 1984, p. 1066; originally published in «Art in America», 10 (1982), pp. 88-93. Cfr. also Id., The Return of The Real. The Avant-Garde at the End of the Century, The MIT Press, Cambridge-London 1996

[5] Yve-Alain Bois, Historisation ou intention: le retour d’un vieux débat, in “Cahiers du Musée National d’Art Moderne, n. 22 (1987), pp. 57-69.

[6] Achille Bonito Oliva, L’ideologia del traditore, arte, maniera, manierismo, Feltrinelli, Milano 1976.

[7] Yve-Alain Bois, Historisation ou intention, cit., p. 65.

[8] Thomas Crow, Art Criticism in the Age of the Incommensurate Values: On the Thirtieth Anniversary of Artforum (1992), in Id. Modern Art in the Common Culture, Yale University Press, New Haven 1996, p. 89.

[9] Douglas Crimp, Appropriating Appropriation (1982), in On the Museum’s Ruins, MIT Press, Cambridge-London 1993, pp. 126-36.

[10] Fredric Jameson, Postmodernism, or The Cultural Logic of Late Capitalism, Duke University Press, Durham 1991

[11] For an excursion into Italian culture between 1968 and 1980 see Marco Belpoliti, Gianni Canova e Stefano Chiodi (Eds.), annisettanta, Skira, Milano 2007.

[12] Pier Aldo Rovatti e Gianni Vattimo (Eds.), Il pensiero debole, Feltrinelli, Milano 1983.

[13] Jean-François Lyotard, Le Post-moderne expliqué aux enfants, Galilée, Paris 1986.

[14] Achille Bonito Oliva, La Transavanguardia italiana, in «Flash Art», n. 92-93 (1979), p. 18. The expression “linguistic darwinism” had been coined a few years before: cfr. Achille Bonito Oliva, Contemporanea (arte 1973-1955), in Id. (a cura di), Contemporanea, exhibition catalogue (Parcheggio di Villa Borghese, Roma, November 1972-February 1974), Centro Di, Firenze 1973, p. 25.

[15] Ibid.

[16] Ibid.

[17] Achille Bonito Oliva, Nuova soggettività, in Margarete Jochimsen (Ed.), Die Enthauptete Hand: 100 Zeichnumgen haus Italien, exhibiiton catalogue (Bonner Kunstverein, 20 January-28 February 1980; Städtische Galerie Wolfsburg, 9 March -6 April 1980; Groninger Museum, 6 June-6 July 1980), Groningen 1980. Cited in Achille Bonito Oliva, The Italian Trans-Avantgarde. La Transavanguardia italiana, Giancarlo Politi Editore, Milano 1980, p. 58.

[18] Ibid.

[19] Ibid.

[20] Achille Bonito Oliva, La Trans-Avanguardia italiana, cit., p. 18.

[21] Ibid., p. 20.

[22] Achille Bonito Oliva, Nuova soggettività, cit., p. 62.

[23]Roberto Galaverni, Dopo la poesia. Saggi sui contemporanei, Fazi, Roma 2002, pp. 129-30.

[24] To focus on the defining the poetics of the Transavantgarde see Fabio Belloni, “La mano decapitata”. Transavanguardia tra disegno e citazione, Electa, Milano 2008.

[25] Achille Bonito Oliva, Nuova soggettività, cit., p. 61.

[26] Achille Bonito Oliva, Interview with Mimmo Paladino (1982), in Enciclopedia della parola. Dialoghi d’artista. 1968-2008, Skira, Milano 2008, p. 229; the example cited by the artist is the well-known talisman painting  Silenzioso. Mi ritiro a dipingere un quadro (1977).

[27] Achille Bonito Oliva, Interview with Nicola De Maria (1983), ibid., pp. 249-51.

[28] Achille Bonito Oliva, Interview with Enzo Cucchi (1982), ibid., pp. 226-27.

[29] Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, La Transavanguardia italiana: una rilettura, in Ida Gianelli (a cura di), Transavanguardia, exhibition catalogue (Castello di Rivoli museo d’arte contemporanea, Rivoli-Torino, 13 November 2002 – 23 March 2003), Skira, Milano 2002, p. 69.

[30] Michele Dantini, Ytalya subjecta. Narrazioni identitarie e critica d’arte 1937-2009, in Anna Mattirolo, Gabriele Guercio (Eds.), Il confine evanescente. Arte italiana 1960-2000, Mondadori Electa | Maxxi, Milano | Roma 2010, pp. 288-90.

[31] Ibid. p. 289

[32] Craig Owens, The Allegorical impulse: Toward a Theory of Postmodernism, in Brian Wallis (Ed.), Art after Modernism: Rethinking Representation, The New Museum of Contemporary Art, New York 1984, p. 209; first published in «October», n. 12 (1980), pp. 67-86 e n. 13 (1980), pp. 59-80.

[33] Walter Benjamin, Ursprung des deutschen Trauerspiel (1926)

[34] Stefano Chiodi, Pratiche d’archivio. Note sull’uso dell’allegoria nell’arte contemporanea, in Maria Ida Catalano, Patrizia Mania (Eds.), Arte e memoria dell’arte, (Facoltà di conservazione dei beni culturali, Università della Tuscia, 1-2 luglio 2009), Gli Ori, Pistoia 2011, pp. 94-95.

[35] Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Allegorical procedures: Appropriation and Montage in contemporary art, in “Artforum”, 21 (1982), pp. 43-56.

[36] Stefano Chiodi, La discordanza inclusa, in Gabriele Guercio, Anna Mattirolo (Eds.), Il confine evanescente. Arte italiana 1960-2010, Electa, Milano 2010, pp. 168-69

[37] Achille Bonito Oliva, La trans-avanguardia, in «il verri», n. 1-2 (1984), p. 64.

[38] Achille Bonito Oliva, Transavanguardia. Opere dalla Collezione Grassi, catalogo della mostra (Nuoro, MAN Museo d’arte Provincia di Nuoro, 13 July - 17 September 2006), Edizioni MAN, Nuoro 2006, p. 15.

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