The part for the whole.
Italian architecture and architects from 1965 to 1985 on show in Paris
La Tendenza, architectures italiennes 1965-1985, the exhibition that opened last 20 June at the Centre Pompidou, presenting materials related to an intense period that was closely linked to the Italian architectonic culture of the Novecento, poses some questions, without resolving them.
To begin with, as the curator Frédéric Migayrou clearly stated at the press conference, the whole event is based on a work hypothesis: to inform the public on the subject title by exhibiting solely the works kept in the collection of the Centre Pompidou, Musée national d‘art moderne - Centre de création industrielle. The first question, in other words whether the number of works exhibited for each author suggests a direct proportionality precisely with the entity of the acquisitions made by the Parisian institution in these years, is thus explained. That is to say, the choice of projects included in the exhibition seems to reflect the entity of the collection of works, linked to the subjects tackled, held by the Centre Pompidou (more than 250 drawings and numerous models, photographs, paintings, films and other documents), and not necessarily the quantity or importance of the production of the single authors included in the show. It is possible to understand certain absences in the light of this, or in other words the decision to give a meaning to a collection as an autonomous research instrument. Thus, to those who object that the reduced presence or complete absence of the work of some of the most important Italian authors from the historical period in question (1965-1985) may be misleading to the less informed Parisian public, one may counter that the cultural operation Migayrou has ventured to stage is of a progressive character, something that is synonymous with suggesting an implicit inclusiveness given by the very historical scenario subject of research. It seems comprehensible, in this spirit, that it may be possible to reconstruct, in the juxtapositions proposed by the exhibition, an analogic arrangement based on results rather than on presuppositions, and the constant work aimed at expanding the collection through continuous acquisitions, inspired also by this event, is praiseworthy.
The second question centres on the very title of the exhibition. The force of the name, La Tendenza, calls for an observation of a whole period in history, decreeing its fortune and at the same time its historicization. Architecture that acts as concrete sign of urban transformation, as a fact to be understood beyond its own capacity of consumption, finds its destiny in its self-definition, becoming product and thus subject of interest on the part of the community, also beyond national borders, in a phenomenon of cultural exportation that have not been equalled in later years. To our question as to whether one ought to have included all the authors in the exhibition within the scenario of La Tendenza, an architect friend (who was born and received his education in Italy but had lived in Paris for twenty years) answered that it was, in his opinion, a matter of a kind of synecdoche adopted to attract the attention of the French public, which has a clear idea of what La Tendenza is about, but would find it hard – at least before visiting the exhibition – to appreciate other, all-Italian, nuances. For that matter, a lot has been said (and is being said) on the nature and evocative capacity of this name, which has succeeded in linking, in the course of a decade, the assertions of Ernesto N. Rogers with those of Aldo Rossi. The seven rooms featured by the clear and free exhibition itinerary on the second floor of the Beaugourg suggest a thematization aimed at providing the instruments necessary to understanding without thereby excluding the possibility of autonomous interpretations.
The first room features a large image in black and white, a group photo of the young participants at the XV Triennale of Milan of 1973, which fixes the recounted events in time. The formal pose of the photograph and the central position of Aldo Rossi remind of similar images, as the one taken a few years later in Santiago de Compostela, in 1976, where the Italian experience was invited as an example to follow4. In the centre of the area a number of models of buildings by Rossi illustrate the reflections on form and memory. Another of his works, the Teatro del Mondo which is installed in a showcase at the end of the exhibition itinerary and thus near the entrance, serves the same purpose. In spite of its short life (1979-80) this work has made such an impression on the collective memory that it still today generates a kind of reconstructive necessity.
The historical premises are presented in room 2, Les formes de l‘histoire: the works of Mario Ridolfi, Carlo Aymonino, Ernesto N. Rogers are described through an eclectic material. The small room called L‘architecture en débat – which proves to be a kind of recreation of the library of a cultured and well-informed architect, photographed in the late Seventies, but also a little paradise for the present-day bibliophile with an interest in the sector – acts as antechamber to the larger room which tackles the subject of Typologie-Morphologie (room 4).
The visitor is then guided through the central area dedicated to the figure of Rossi once more, to reach the spacious rooms 6 (L‘architecture effective) and 7 (Une dynamique internationale: une architecture exposée), separated by a structure supporting large oil paintings by Arduino Cantafora (L‘altra Berlino I e II), produced in 1984 and restored by their author himself for the occasion.
The catalogue, published by the Centre Pompidou, is an excellent example of intelligent editorial design: it is relatively economic (29.90 euro), coherently illustrated, light for its size (237 by 280 centimetres), it includes a number of summaries (defined as dossiers), eight in all, that focus on the principal experiences of the period, from the construction of the Velasca Tower in Milan to the Strada Novissima ideated by Paolo Portoghesi for the Venice Biennial of 1980.
The introductory treatise by Migayrou (which, as also Vittorio Gregotti points out, is well worth reading) is a preface for two texts, by Silvia Micheli and Mario Viganò respectively, taken from a research on Italian architecture in the Sixties and Seventies9. The iconographic apparatus, clear and complete, makes one forgive some imprecisions in the captions and in the monographic section.
As the curator points out, the exhibition itinerary makes it possible to reconstruct and obtain a comprehensive view of the work of leading figures on the Italian scene: Mario Ridolfi, Alessandro Anselmi, Carlo Aymonino, Paolo Portoghesi, Ernesto N. Rogers, Aldo Rossi, Massimo Scolari, Salvatore Bisogni, Gianni Braghieri, Arduino Cantafora, G.R.A.U (Roman Group of Architects and Urbanists), Edoardo Guazzoni, Antonio Monestiroli, Dario Passi, Franz Prati, Franco Purini, Uberto Siola, Franco Stella, Daniele Vitale, Giangiacomo D‘Ardia and others. In the exhibition the physical arrangement of the works in the space is unencumbered by conspicuous exhibition modules; the Beaubourg offers the public a part of what it collects and keeps in its basement archives and of what it methodically catalogues on the pages of its website (collection centrepompidou.fr), consequently eliciting a need, voiced by more than one person, for opening a general reflection not only on the historical significance of the period but also on the contents of the debate, their presence and topicality, on the recomposition of an extremely evident trace, represented by the cultural coherence of the protagonists and the actions of subsequent generations, in a continuous elaboration that has not been interrupted in the late Eighties but has wielded a natural, one might say inevitable, influence on the European cultural positions in the transition from the old millennium to the new.
Beyond personal sentiments of identity, the direct access to the documents, both those kept in Paris and those found in Italian archives10, may today represent, to most architects, a means of understanding their own work. And it may trigger the simple and relevant question “why do I think what I think?“ while remembering, when searching for an answer, that architecture allows for neither shortcuts nor convenient masters (or enemies).
Valter Scelsi, architect and researcher, teaches architectural design at the University of Genoa.
Author of essays and monographs, he‘s editor of the series Testi di Architettura (Sagep). From 2003 to 2007 he was part of the collective Magazzino Sanguineti and in 2003 is founding member of AMS (Architecture, Modernity, Sciences).
His design work is linked to Sp10studio, which he founded in Genoa in 2002. The Sp10studio item is in Illustrated Biographical Dictionary of the X Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Valter Scelsi participates in the XIII Venice Biennale of Architecture as part of the project ‘Collaborations‘ of San Rocco Magazinev