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“From Hopper to Warhol”
on the gentle hills of San Marino
In the Republic of Monte Titano an exhibition dedicated to great American painting of the 20th century.
Pollock’s Action Painting and Warhol’s Pop Art, but also Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe, Andrew Wyeth…
by Pietro Marino
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Andy Warhol. Jackie. 1964

      On the hairpin bends that take you up to Monte Titano you come to Palazzo S.U.M.S., a modern building apparently almost suspended over the valleys. The letters stand for the Società Unione di Mutuo Soccorso, an age-old institution in San Marino that together with the Fondazione Cassa di Risparmio della Repubblica destinates a large part of its structure to exhibitions and events connected with art and culture.

      The most important one at the moment, from January to June 2012, is a collection of American paintings from the 20th century “from Hopper to Warhol”: in which are displayed works – almost all on a grand scale – by 15 famous painters. A succinct but substantial anthology of the protagonists of some of the issues that imposed U.S. art on the 20th century world. The curator is Marco Goldin, who, with his “Linea d’Ombra” enterprise has been proposing exhibitions on Italian soil dedicated to the great names in the art world but from a divulgative standpoint and with vast media appeal. The exhibition in San Marino adheres successfully to these criteria, and is connected to another wide-ranging display of masterpieces “from Vermeer to Kandinsky” taking place in Rimini in the Castle of Malatesta.

      In the American panorama there is a place of honour reserved for two art stars: Jackson Pollock and Andy Warhol. Dissimilar protagonists of the culture and society which emerged as winners after the second world war. Individualistic and rebellious freedom, the physical sense of wide open spaces, the neurotic and restless breadth of the gestures of the former, and the cynical, bitter acceptance of mass-produced, media addicted society, of the consumer culture and serial production of the latter. Action Painting in the 40s and 50s versus the Pop Art of the 60s and 70s, one might say. Common to both (and convergent in the American way of life) was the individual challenge of change and innovation, the epic “make it big”, the struggle between the feeling of duration and the premonition of enthropy, of a “burnt-out life.”

      On display are Pollock’s works Number 8 and Number 9 from 1952 (four years before he died, crashing his car under the influence of alcohol at the age of 44), vibrant examples of dripping, an effect obtained by pouring paint on the canvases stretched out on the floor. An action which goes back also to the “sand painting” of the American Indians. By Warhol (wounded in an attempt on his life in 1968, dying after a banal operation in 1987 at 59) there is a Jackie (Kennedy) from 1964, silk-screen portrait of iconic fascination with the simplification of the paint hues and two later canvases, from 1986, in which the Statue of Liberty and the artist’s face become “masks” emerging from waves of mimetic stains. Other great artists represented in the exhibition can be included in various ways in the historic area of Action Painting, like Gorky, Rothko (who committed suicide in 1970 at 67), Kline, Louis and Francis. Another exponent of Pop Art is Liechtenstein, while the Graffiti Art of Keith Haring (who died from Aids at 31 in 1990) connects us with the Post-Pop of the 80s with his little man reduced to road-sign segments on the walls of the mazes in the subways.

      From further away in time and space, from the social realism of the 20s and 30s – the years of Roosevelt’s New Deal – we have the experiences of other great artists.

      Working almost in silence, isolated in time suspended in relation to the revolutions that were breaking out and following on one after another, but these days enjoying renewed international acclaim, we are talking about Edward Hopper, Georgia O’Keeffe and Andrew Wyeth. Three brief but intense flashes illustrate them in this exhibition. Hopper gives us the window, illuminated by night, in the desert of the metropolis, with his Drug Store (1927) with the sign advertising laxatives. From Georgia O’Keeffe we have a heraldic Deer’s skull impaled to a tree like a trophy of mortuary beauty against the distant profile of Pedernal Mountain (1936). Almost a visionary and epic synthesis of the wild nature of the West exalted by an artist who spent most of her century-long life (1887-1986) in the New Mexico desert. Andrew Wyeth is less well-known in Europe but is equally great and equally long-lived (1917-2009). His Sloop Day (1975) frames the front of a colonial style house in Maine, with a feel of straight photography Weston-style about it, but in a dazzling light, with an almost metaphysical detachment.

      Marco Goldin intends to dedicate a more in-depth retrospective exhibition to Wyeth in future. So, San Marino informs us, with its clues and its omissions, that the panorama of American art is as vast as its horizons. The Italian public can also expect some more virtual explorations. There is a new showing in progress in Rome, in the Palazzo delle Esposizioni on “The American Avant-Garde 1945-1980” with works from the Guggenheim in New York and its European branches in Bilbao and Venice. But that means going down to the valley and leaving the peak behind, with its suggestions of culture and nature.

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