Museo Novecento presents the exhibition Arturo Martini and Florence, curated by Lucia Mannini with Eva Francioli and Stefania Rispoli, set up in the rooms on the second floor of the museum, open to the public from July 16 to November 14, 2021.
The exhibition is part of the cycle Solo dedicated to the major artists of the twentieth century, designed to narrate peculiar and less-known aspects of the life and practice of great protagonists in painting and sculpture of the last century. Since 2018 Museo Novecento has dedicated exhibition projects to Emilio Vedova, Piero Manzoni, Vincenzo Agnetti, Gino Severini, Fabio Mauri, Mirko and Medardo Rosso, the great sculptor who can be considered a precursor of the 20th century avant-gardes. Conceived as real solos, the exhibitions present from time to time a small group of works, with documents and apparatuses of various kinds, coming from civic collections or from loans granted by institutions and private collections. The Arturo Martini and Florence project is realized in conjunction with the great retrospective dedicated to Henry Moore, another giant of modern and contemporary sculpture.
The presence of Arturo Martini in Florence is reconstructed both through his participation in important exhibitions, both because he was immediately object of interest by private collectors, as evidenced by the presence of a series of his sculptures preserved in the Tuscan capital. Already in 1922, Martini was among the protagonists of the “Fiorentina Primaverile”, presented by Alberto Savinio. He will return to Florence in 1931, the year of the success obtained at the Rome Quadriennale, followed a few months later by the double solo exhibition with the painter Primo Conti in the premises of the Bellini gallery, in Palazzo Spini Feroni, which aroused wide participation and interest at national level. After about forty years, an important group of works by the master arrived in the city thanks to the generous legacy of the engineer Alberto Della Ragione. Among the 241 works donated by these to the City of Florence, in the aftermath of the 1966 flood, some masterpieces by Arturo Martini stand out, such as the great sculptures La Pisana (1933 ca.), the Lion of Monterosso (1933-1935 ca. ) and L’Attesa (c. 1935), as well as a group of small terracottas that investigate the female figure such as Le collegiali (1927 – 1931 ca.), The Chinese (1931 – 1933 ca.) and the lying Nudino (1932 ca.).
Among the Florentine private collections, the one inside Villa Vittoria dei Contini Bonacossi should undoubtedly be mentioned, where there was another significant nucleus of Martini’s sculptures, including the Woman in the sun, awarded at the Rome Quadriennale in 1931. entry of Martini’s works into the Contini Bonacossi collection, made known through the photographs published in “Domus” in 1933, represented the natural outcome of the partnership that had linked the sculptor with the poet Roberto Papi, son-in-law of the collectors, of whom Martini had been guest at the beginning of 1931, but also of the solo exhibition with Primo Conti, at the Bellini Gallery in Palazzo Spini Feroni.
The link between Arturo Martini and Florence therefore declines in the presence, and in the return, of some of his fundamental works of the Thirties – a short but relevant chapter that attests the cultural dynamism of the city in that period – and finally also in the relationship with the visual sources that the Florentine museums had been able to offer him. “The decision to link Martini’s work to Florence and Tuscany is therefore not dictated by a parochial enthusiasm, but by the intention of offering visitors and scholars the opportunity to see works of great interest – some of which have recently been rediscovered” “- and to reconsider some aspects of the sculptor’s biographical and artistic path that emerge through special ties”, explains Lucia Mannini, curator of the exhibition.
The emotional bond with Roberto Papi had led Martini to settle in Florence for a few months at the beginning of 1931, coming to the idea of buying a farm with the cash prize obtained with the victory at the Quadriennale. Instead, he will remain there for only a few months, leaving in the villa that housed him, a plaster sculpture believed to have been lost and which today, traced, is presented on display to introduce that crucial moment at the beginning of the thirties. During 1931 Martini maintained intense contacts with Roberto Papi in preparation for the personal exhibition, with Primo Conti, the following year.
The entry of four works into the collection that the Contini Bonacossi were setting up at Villa Vittoria (such as The Sailor’s Wife, now in a private collection, and The Hospitality, on loan from the FAI) confirmed the interest of collectors for Martini. Following that exhibition, other works entered or in the city collections, such as the Valli one (Head of a Jewish girl, on loan from the International Gallery of Modern Art of Cà Pesaro) and the one of Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco, a musician with a complex and refined culture, author of works drawn from classical mythology, from the Jewish religion, from literature, such as Machiavelli and Shakespeare. Castelnuovo Tedesco’s attention had fallen on Ophelia, a terracotta of touching sensuality and tragicity. In 1939 Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco, a Jew, had to leave Italy with his family due to the racial laws, but managed to save his possessions. The Ophelia, preserved for a long time in the United States, returns exceptionally to Florence today, offering the extraordinary opportunity to the scholars and fans of Arturo Martini to find themselves in front of a work no longer visible for a long time, also allowing them to face a reflection on Mario Castelnuovo Tedesco’s interest in contemporary visual arts.
A relationship of mutual esteem is what binds Martini to the painter Felice Carena, started already in the period spent by both in Anticoli Corrado and strengthened in the following years, albeit at a distance. This is attested by the unpublished bronze version of the 1935 Ulysses, given by Martini to Carena and his wife Mariuccia Chiesa in all probability around the mid-1930s, when Carena, in response to an invitation addressed to Italian artists , received from the sculptor a graphic work of his destined for the Academy of Fine Arts in Florence, of which he was director at the time. The itinerary of the exhibition ends with the discovery of an early work, the Plowing, kept in a private Florentine collection which confirms how much local collecting can still offer ideas for studying Martini’s work and how this “solo” of the Museum Novecento can be configured as a moment of research.
“Exhibition within the exhibition”, in September the opening of the “Martini and Carrara” section is scheduled, dedicated to that special relationship that Martini, like many other sculptors, had with the Apuan Alps, where statuary marble was extracted from the times of ancient Rome , preferred by artists for its purity and brightness. Martini’s relationship with Carrara and with marble has the character of discovery and adventure (he arrived there in mid-1937 following the contract for the large bas-relief La Giustizia corporativa, intended for the Palazzo di Giustizia in Milan) and, in shows, the elusive and mysterious forms of the Woman swimming underwater, floating suspended, floating in space, on three metal pins designed by the architect Carlo Scarpa for the presentation of the work at the 1942 Venice Biennale.
Born at the same juncture as the monument dedicated to the Latin historian Tito Livio, the marble work had come to the finish when Martini decided to behead it, with a clean and ruthless blow, thus creating the fragment and the sublime effect of unattainable completeness. The exceptional loan granted by the Cariverona Foundation represents the extreme research conducted by Martini in the 1940s, which is flanked by the painting The marble quarries with which he remembers the profound dissatisfaction that had led him to temporarily abandon sculpture to devote himself to painting.
The Arturo Martini and Florence exhibition – in line with a scientific vision of the museum as a research and training laboratory – is the result of a collaboration between the Museo Novecento and the SAGAS Department of the University of Florence. As part of the From the Classroom to the Museum project, launched in 2019 with prof. Giorgio Bacci, two young students of the master’s course in the History of Contemporary Art, Margherita Scheggi and Valentina Torrigiani, worked together with Lucia Mannini and the curatorial staff of the Museum on the organization of the exhibition. In fact, this project intends to bring the academic research sector closer to that of museum education and dissemination to the general public, while offering a unique opportunity to study the great masters of the Italian twentieth century and enhance our heritage.