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Just when you think you've seen and heard it all with regard to new art and art movements, something really new or really obscure pops up that may lead you to think that, as they say, "You don't know the half of it." Ever heard of Transavanguardia? Heard of it, I can't even spell it, you say? Well, like so many art movements, it was one extreme in the pendulum swing. In another article, I mentioned the Roman Secession and its negative reaction by Italians to, not only traditional Italian genius in the arts, but to Futurism as well. It would seem that a few more ticks of the clock, a few more swings of the pendulum and you come to Transavanguardia, which was a rediscovery of Figural Art, and traditional tools, techniques, and colours in painting. But it wasn't a rediscovery of 1950s, post-war figural painting but Renaissance painting (a la Michelangelo). The year was 1979. A whole new generation had grown up since the Figural 50s and had time to digest and react to what their fathers had done with paint, brushes, and pigments on canvas.

The reaction was one of dismay, longing for something more than mere bodies. Among the artists in the group were Sandro Chia, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola De Maria, Mimmo Paladino, and Francesco Clemente. They wanted to pull out all the stops to expressive freedom without reference to any one cultural mode, but assimilating ALL of them. The result was a considerable amount of inconsistency often referred to by critics as "nomadism." Nonetheless, they moved to meld Surrealism, Cubism, Expressionism, Realism and numerous other divergent influences without any cultural or political axe to grind. There was even a German branch of the movement that was especially sensitive to their post-war past, wanting mostly to free German art from the overwhelming power of American art which had pervading their culture.

Some called this development Anachronistic painting. It looked back to Mannerism and Neo-classicism such as in Carlo Maria Mariani's La Mano ubbidisce all'intelletto (The Hand Obeying the Intellect), painted in 1983. In it he depicted two classically nude Greek male figures each with brush in hand, sitting facing one another, both delicately painting one another. The figures and composition are crystal clear. The colours are Renaissance, the content Surrealistic, the poses Classical. It is a painting mirroring itself but also reflecting its independent existence. It's unquestionably Italian, but with so many international influences, it also reflects the fact that, by the 1980s, art was no longer provincial, but global in scope. In that sense, perhaps we're all Transavanguardian painters.

Contributed by Lane, Jim
15 June 1999


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