Riccardo Venturi: Porosity as Modernism

Alberto Burri, “Grande Cretto”, Gibellina, 1984-1989. Photo: Riccardo Venturi

Porosity as Modernism: A Transatlantic View on Post-War Italian Visual Practices

If asked what Modernism is in XXth century Italian art and culture, most Italian scholars would be puzzled. Far from being an established and widespread concept, Modernism is indeed an alien word. Venturi’s project aims to offer new insights on Italian Modernism—that is post-war art and culture—through the concept of “porosity” that Walter Benjamin developed on the occasion of a long stay in Naples and the neighborhood during the 1920s.
What is especially porous is the ground, as Naples—for Benjamin “la ville la plus incandescente que j’aie vue, en dehors peut-être de Paris”—is built on tuff stones, on a volcanic rock. But porous is also the architecture and urban planning of this city, the traits and costumes of its inhabitants. Porosity becomes a true and proper interpretative key to the character of southern Italy if not of the entire country. Within this approach, past is not a chronologically perished and lost era to be recovered or recollected with nostalgia, but a complex, geological, stratigraphic time— an under-covered time ready to surface and meld with our living present. Multiple intertwined layers take the place of historical and successive stages. Is porosity our Modernism? Giving attention to the specific cultural and geographical morphology of Italian territory, Venturi argues that porosity could be developed beyond Benjamin’s intentions, and functions as a radical reassessment of Italian artistic practices within the issues of national identity and cultural memory. More specifically, his aim is to reconsider Italian artistic identity: 1) beyond the rhetoric of secluded national and inter-national identities (as in the Rome-Milan or Turin-Naples contention), and within a transatlantic dialogue which marked my previous researches; 2) beyond the diffuse but irresolute discourse on Arte Povera, which grasps exclusively an enclosed, specific time-framed and short-lasting period at the end of the 1960s. Threatening the dominant narratives focused on Arte povera, porosity offers an alternative and more comprehensive critical term; 3) beyond the tendency to consider Italian post-war cultural production through the key of international and, more specifically, American modernism, of which Italy could offer no more than an “Ersatz” or an impoverished model. Venturi’s content is that the notion of porosity offers a literally eccentric vision on Italian artistic, visual and cultural Modernism, one that obliges us to reconsider the relationships between the construction of national identity and artistic production. Porosity might finally be one of those “categorie italiane” that Giorgio Agamben, Italo Calvino and Claudio Rugafiori elaborated in the mid 1970s in order to recognize the dominants threads of Italian cultural history.

Riccardo Venturi received a PhD in Art History and Aesthetics from the Université Paris X – Nanterre and University of L’Aquila (Italy) with a dissertation on “Screen Memories. Mark Rothko and the Cinematic Experience”. He was Postdoctoral Fellow in Residence at The Phillips Collection Center for the Study of Modern Art and George Washington University, Washington DC. He currently holds a position as postdoctoral research scholar in residence (“pensionnaire”) at the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) in Paris, affiliated with the program “History of Contemporary Art, XX-XXI century” with a focus on the relationships between visual arts and cinema (http://www.inha.fr/spip.php?article4173) and on a reassessment of the role of the screen in visual culture through art history, film studies and media archaeology. At INHA he is also in charge of the seminar “Ecrans exposés. Cinéma Art Contemporain Médias” and “Archéologie des médias et histoire de l’art”. “La porosità dell’arte italiana” is the working title of his book project, to be published by Johan & Levi.


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