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Reflections on “A Difficult Heritage”

March 29, 2019
Michele Bernardi and Arnold Holzknecht, untitled, 2017, LED lights, installation on Hans Piffrader, Il Trionfo del Fascismo, 1939–42, bas-relief, Palazzo delle Finanze, Bolzano (photograph by Laura Egger)
Nina Fischer e Maroan el Sani, Freedom of Movement, 2018
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By Claudia Trezza.

Many urban projects realized during the Ventennio remain part of the Italian land­scape. Together with architectural mon­uments and works of art, they constitute surviving traces of Fascist visual culture in contemporary Italy. Part of the national cultural patrimony and protected by pres­ervation laws, these vestiges have become the focus of a charged politicized debate as Italy comes to terms with a complicated chapter in its national history.

These delicate issues were the sub­ject of an international, interdisciplinary conference titled “A Difficult Heritage: The Afterlife of Fascist-Era Architecture, Monuments, and Works of Art in Italy,” held at the Biblioteca Hertziana and at AAR on March 11 and 12. The gathering was conceived and organized by Carmen Belmonte (2019 Italian Fellow) and supported by the Fellows Project Fund.

Fellows of AAR participated in the proceedings as speakers and session chairs, including Joshua Arthurs (2016), Franco Baldasso (2019), Jim Carter (2019), Lindsay Harris (2014), and Karyn Olivier (2019). The first day of talks concluded with a visit to see Mario Sironi’s painting L’Italia tra le Arti e le Scienze in the Aula Magna at La Sapienza, Università degli Studi di Roma, with conservator Eliana Billi.

A dozen architects, artists, and histori­ans—including prominent scholars Ester Coen, Michele Dantini, Giuliana Pieri, Andrea Pinotti, and Rosalia Vittorini—crit­ically examined the reception of numer­ous artifacts, including mural paintings, buildings, decorative arts, and sculpture, from the iconoclasm following the Fall of the Regime (July 25, 1943) to the present. Papers explored the ambiguous transi­tion from Fascism to the Republic and the dynamics of postwar censorship. Speakers reconsidered traditional historiogra­phy, questioning accepted art-historical narratives and underlining elements of continuity throughout the twentieth century. This included a second look at the damnatio memoriae implicating artists close to Mussolini’s regime and the role private collections played in the survival of Fascist-era artworks.

Probing the theoretical concept of “dif­ficult heritage” related to the peculiarities of the Italian case, and comparing them to the situation in other countries, including Germany, Albania, and the United States, the conference addressed issues of resto­ration, display, and critical preservation of artifacts in public and institutional spaces.

The conference also fostered an open dialogue with artists whose work engages political monuments and multilayered memories in public space. Karyn Olivier (2019 Fellow) and two Berlin-based artists, Nina Fischer and Maroan El Sani, discussed strategies they employ in a variety of media.

“A Difficult Heritage” concluded with a Conversation | Conversazioni between Dell Upton, 2019 James Marston Fitch Resident in Historic Preservation and Conservation, and Adachiara Zevi, an architect, art historian, and president of Fondazione Bruno Zevi, moderated by AAR Director John Ochsendorf.