Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943

Fondazione Prada
February 18–June 25, 2018

The exhibit Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943 at the Fondazione Prada, Milano is a carefully curated show of reconstructed exhibits and artistic activity during the pre-war years. After years of research and documentation using photos, published material and archives, the curator, Germano Celant recreates the exhibitions in the style in which they were originally presented to the public.

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Choosing sides

An artist can sit on top of the fence and observe, but in times of war, must decide on which side to fall.
The exhibit Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943 shows both sides.

The exhibit takes us through the difficult years between WWI and WWII in Italy. The portraits, yet beautiful, are not happy. The architecture and presence of war are ominous. The Futurist paintings are confusing, grey and somber. Splashes of color seem sinful and aggressive.

The exhibit as a whole clearly demonstrates the impact the media influences the choices we make as a society. As the exhibit progresses towards the Fascist ruling years and Mussolini’s reign, it reminds us of how important that decision to choose sides is.

To fully understand the exhibition it is important to remember what was happening in Italy at the time.

1928 Giorgio De Chirico,”Gladiators”. In 1938 De Chirico, outraged by Italy’s racial laws left Milan to move to Paris.

Some history

WWI (The First World War) occurred between 1914 and 1918. At the time, it was considered one of the deadliest conflicts in history causing over 18 million deaths. Although the Italian forces were strong, they suffered many casualties and called a draft; I Ragazzi del ’99 (the Boys of ’99). All males born in 1899 and prior were called to arms.

In art and architecture – romantic, floral patterns of Art Nouveau adorned buildings, sculpture and was prominent in the new media of commercial advertising.
In Paris, young artists were experimenting with geometric forms, which became known as Cubism.

WWII (The Second World War) occurred between 1939 and 1945 and is considered the most global war in history involving over 30 countries and causing over 80 million fatalities. WWII marks a dark time in human history with massacres, the genocide of the Holocaust, strategic bombing, starvation, disease, and the first use of nuclear weapons.

In the European art world, in the years leading up to the war, Neoclassicism and Expressionism were popular.
In Italy a new movement, emerging from Cubism called Futurism was establishing itself both as an artistic and social movement.

What is Zang Tumb Tuuum and why does it start there?

In 1914, artist and poet Filippo Tommaso Marinetti wrote Zang Tumb Tuuum, a visual poem using new print techniques and creative use of typography. An ode to the WWI siege of Adrianople, the onomatopoeic language harshly reproduces the sounds of war. Zang Tumb Tuuum was not only an innovative work of contemporary art, it was also a sign of what was to come.

An active militarist and leader of the Partito Politico Futurista (Futuristic Political Party) and a founding member of Fasci Italiani di Cambattimento, Marinetti viewed fascism as a revolutionary force and although he later criticized the reactionary change, he continued to work for and create propaganda for the Fascist Party.

This exhibit brings us through a time when intellectuals, writers, and thinkers sought dialog and expression, questioned authority and were asked to choose sides.

Art & Fascism in Italy

Sculpture and publications dedicated to Il Duce 

Benito Mussolini, leader of the Partito Nazionale Fascista (National Fascist Party) became the 27th Prime Minister of Italy and ruled as dictator from 1922 to 1943. In 1940, Italy joined the war as part of the Axis alliance with Japan and Germany.

By the time Italy joined the war, the fascist party had twenty years of propaganda and influence on society through newspaper publications, magazines, sculpture and other art forms.

In Italy, both nationalistic fascist, as well as anti-fascist movements, were taking place.

When the Nazi-fascist regime took a stronger hold on society in the late ‘30’s, free expression was taken away from many artists. They were exiled, imprisoned, or sent to concentration camps if they openly disagreed with the regime.

On the other hand, other artists worked for the regime creating propaganda with the aim of empowering Fascism and celebrating Benito Mussolini.

Others still, succeeded in remaining neutral by not expressing political opinions or involving themselves in the struggle.

Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italia 1918-1943

Both sides of the fence

The regime supported artists that communicated the Fascist Party message. Some artists simply needed work and tried to avoid conflict. Regardless of the artists’ political views,  the work from that period is unique and communicative.

Felice Casorati was an anti-fascist painter, publisher, and founder of the cultural and political magazine Energie Nove. He was briefly incarcerated, but later avoided political conflict and lived out a successful career.

Margherita Sarfatti was born in the Jewish quarter of Venice. She worked in Milan with artists and intellectuals forming the Gruppo Novecento Italiano.  A steadfast socialist, she sympathized with the fasci. In 1911 she met and became Mussolini’s lover. Some historians consider her “the woman who created Mussolini”. Through publishing and art exhibits, she was able to intensify the nationalist concept of Italianità (Italianness). When Mussolini met Hitler, Margherita Sarfatti intuitively knew it would end badly. In 1938 when racial laws were enforced in Italy, Sarfatti crossed the ocean to Uruguay and Argentina. She is quoted as saying “[ ]… he transformed fascism into a grotesque deformation.” She later returned in 1947 where she lived out the rest of her days on Lake Como in the town of Cavallasca.

Author, Alberto Moravia maintained a neutral view toward the fascist regime. It was between 1924- 25 he wrote the well-received novel Gli Indifferenti (The Time of Indifference). Other works were also successful, but it was his later novels Le ambizioni sbagliate, and La mascherata, which were confiscated and censored. His two cousins, Carlo and Nello were assassinated because of their anti-fascist activity. Although the regime had a dossier on him, Moravia avoided involving himself in the fascists struggled. In order to avoid censorship, he wrote surreal stories and worked under a pseudonym.

Dino Alfieri was a loyal fascist and told the story of fascism in the “Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution”. The exhibit showed the history of the Fascist Regime and was dedicated to the cult of the nation, the fascist movement and Mussolini. The exhibition opened in October 1932 and attracted almost 4 million visitors.

Carlo Levi, painter, writer and anti-fascist activist. A militant member of Carlo Rossi’s Justice and Liberty movement was arrested on March 13, 1934 with other resistance members. Following his arrest, his works were excluded from the 19th Venice Biennale national art exhibit; a harsh punishment for an artist. While in prison, he produced a set of seven ink drawings and two watercolors. He was released May 9, but re-arrested on May 15, 1935. He served three more years imprisonment.

Newsreels by Giornale Luce, the first Italian newsreels distributed in Italian Cinemas from 1927 are projected on large screens showing exhibitions and architectural construction of the time.

Aligi Sasu was arrested in April 1937 and while in prison produced a series of 400 drawings represented the death of Caesar with obvious references to Mussolini.  Some of his prison drawings were first shown in an exhibit at The Barbaroux Gallery in Milan in 1939.

Mimi Pecci Blunt was founder and owner of Galleria della Cometa. The gallery’s goal was to promote Italian art abroad. Initially the fascist regime supported its nationalistic spirit and the gallery enjoyed the protection of the political-cultural policy, however later in the wake of anti-Semitic attacks, the gallery was closed.

In August of 1943, Mino Maccari, painter and faithful supporter of the Fascist Party created an exhibition called DUX in honor of Benito Mussolini. He hung over 50 works on the walls of his home and on the trees in his garden.

Telesio Interlandi was the editor of La Nazione and L’Impero publications, which held extremists outlooks of the fascist movement. He was openly racist and anti-Semitic. He opened other publications such as Il Tevere and La Difesa della razza (Defense of the race) which propagated the Nazi-fascist message. His use of language was so harsh, it is said that Mussolini himself asked him to restrain. After the war, he was not arrested, but was deprived of his property and quietly disappeared from public view.

The exhibit not only shows the history and artwork of the time but also illustrates the conflict that artists, authors and tinkers struggled with in order to continue their work.

Fondazione Prada
Largo Isarco 2
20139 Milan
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Monday to Thursday a.m. to 7 p.m.
Friday to Sunday am to 8 p.m.


Adult: 10 euro
Students under 26 years old: 8 euro
Free for visitors under 18 years old, over 65 years old, visitors with disabilities, and credited journalists

Guided tours

Tours must be booked at least 48 hours prior to visit (max 25 people)

A guided tour is €80 in addition to the admission fee

Free guided tours are offered on Saturdays (4:30 PM) and Sundays (11:30 AM and 4:30 PM) booking and admission ticket is required.

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Getting there

By metro: MM Lodi (yellow line) and walk 15 minutes

By bus: 65 stop at Largo Isarco/Via Brembo

By Tram: 24 stop at Via Ripamonti/Via Lorenzini

Celia Abernethy

Celia is the founder and managing editor at Originally from New York, she now spends her time between Milan and Lake Como sharing her discoveries and experiences living in Italy. Follow @CeliaAbernethy on Twitter

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