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Metaphysical Years Lecture Series: Ara Merjian on 1919

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CIMA - Center for Italian Modern Art

421 Broome Street

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New York, NY 10013

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THURSDAY, February 28 / 6 - 8 PM

Metaphysical Years Lecture Series

Year 4: Ara Merjian on 1919


This lecture series offers an overview of the birth and development of pittura metafisica (metaphysical art) against the backdrop of World War I as well as in the context of the post-war years in Italy. The presentations explore significant literary trends of the time along with socio-cultural events of the short yet crucially important period covered by CIMA’s 2018-19 exhibition, Metaphysical Masterpieces 1916-1920: Morandi, Sironi, and Carrà.

Fresh off its victory as a newly minted Allied power, Italy appeared, by 1919, to have consolidated a still fitful national identity. Leaving behind the volatility of the Giolitti period, the still young country seemed poised to enter twentieth-century modernity with fresh confidence. Yet a spate of strikes and factory occupations – spurred on by revolutions in Russia and Germany – threw the political and social order into chaos, matched by an equally aggressive activism rising from the right. The violence and uncertainty of the “Red Biennium” of 1919–1921 saw a newly radicalized left square off against an emergent Fascist movement, galvanized by equal parts social agitation and virulent nationalism. Published in Milan in March, the platform of the ‘Fasci di Combattimento’ – followed by Gabriele D’Annunzio’s paramilitary occupation of the port city of Fiume later this same year – fatefully shifted the tenor of political discourse in Italy.

These new developments were significantly influenced by the example of F.T. Marinetti’s Futurist movement, which had long agitated for both war and an irredentist foreign policy. The rise – and eventual triumph – of Mussolini’s Fascist party drew extensively on Futurism’s rhetorical arsenal of virility, nationalism, and élan vitale, promising a slate wiped free of Italy’s weighty cultural patrimony. Yet the burgeoning Fascist revolution came to appeal in equal measure to a sense of order and rectitude – ideological values which echoed the “plastic values” pursued by various artists in the wake of World War One. Setting aside avant-garde fragmentation and violence, the period’s “return to order” witnessed a renewed visual investment in notions of stability, clarity, and architectural solidity, nourished upon the Mediterranean past. This lecture will examine some of these competing strains as they intersected in Italian politics and culture in 1919, as well as with a wider European moment: a moment riven by revolution and reaction, innovation and atavism, ruptures and returns.

Please note: CIMA will be live-streaming the program on our Facebook page.

Program schedule:

6pm – registration, aperitivo and viewing of Metaphysical Masterpieces

6:15pm – program begins, followed by audience Q&A

8pm – Evening concludes

Ara H. Merjian is Associate Professor of Italian Studies at New York University, where he is an affiliate of the Institute of Fine Arts and the Department of Art History. He was educated at Yale University and the University of California, Berkeley, where he studied under the direction of T.J. Clark. He was a Fulbright scholar to Italy, and before joining the faculty at NYU he taught at Stanford and Harvard. He is the author of Giorgio de Chirico and the Metaphysical City: Nietzsche, Paris, Modernism (Yale University Press, 2014), which won a CAA/Millard Meiss Author’s Award, and Against the Avant-Garde: Pier Paolo Pasolini, Contemporary Art and Neocapitalism, 1960-1975 (University of Chicago Press, 2019), for which he received a Creative Capital/Andy Warhol Foundation Art Writers Grant. His book Blueprints and Ruins: The Architectonic Afterlifes of Giorgio de Chirico will be published with Yale University Press in 2022, and he currently is at work on two new manuscripts: The Mimesis of the Gaze: Shared Vision and Intersubjectivity in Modernist Painting, and A Future by Design: Modernity, Totality, and the Italian Avant-Garde. He is a contributor to frieze, Art in America, and Artforum.



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421 Broome Street

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New York, NY 10013

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