Home » “The Avant-gardes. Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art” – The great exhibition narrated by Stefano Zuffi – Pisa

“The Avant-gardes. Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art” – The great exhibition narrated by Stefano Zuffi – Pisa

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Vasily Kandinsky, Circles in a Circle1923, Olio su tela, 95.7 × 98.7 cm, Philadelphia Museum of Art | © Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

Pisa – Kandinsky, Chagall, Matisse, Picasso, Dalì, Duchamp: from today, Thursday 28 September, the greats of the twentieth century are at home in Pisa, in the newly restored rooms of the historic Blue Palace. Until 7 April 2024, the great exhibition The Avant-gardes. Masterpieces from Philadelphia Museum of Art will offer the Italian public an extraordinary journey into the art of the first decades of the 20th century through paintings and sculptures from a collection that is of world-class excellence. The exhibition, which will have its only stop in Pisa, was designed exclusively for Palazzo Blu by Matthew Affroncurator of the American museum, with the scientific advice of the art historian Stefano Zuffi.

“The Philadelphia Museum of Art is a true cultural acropolis within a crucial city in the history of the United States, the city that saw the birth of the independence movement”, says Zuffi: “In Philadelphia there are art collections of great importance, largely linked to private collecting of Pennsylvania and New England. In particular, in 1949 a brilliant artist, Marcel Duchamp, was commissioned to carry out a survey of museums in the United States to inform the great art collectors of the twentieth century which was the ideal museum to which to leave their treasures. Duchamp pointed to the Philadelphia Museum of Art, which for this reason has seen its collections of 20th century European painting and sculpture grow in an exceptional way.”

“What we see in Pisa is a very careful selection – continues Zuffi – made up of paintings and sculptures of a truly very high level: works that migrated to North America by European artists who in many cases migrated in turn during the Second World War, driven by reasons politicians or by the frightening racial laws promoted by Nazism. Now we have the opportunity to admire this exceptional body of work in Italy, a truly precious opportunity.”

Jacques Lipchitz, Sailor with guitar | © Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

What kind of experience awaits visitors to Palazzo Blu?
“Visitors will be able to admire the masterpieces of the avant-garde in the newly renovated rooms of this ancient palace located along the Arno: an architectural space restored with the utmost care and designed to host art exhibitions, with advanced equipment much appreciated by large museums international such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. The short circuit that is created between this city famous for its ancient history, for its Romanesque monuments, for its tradition of a maritime republic, and the Palazzo Blu program which is mainly dedicated to the 20th century.

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Together with the architects Cesare and Carlotta Mari, for the exhibition we thought of a chronological itinerary that would favor the full readability of the works, conceived in a rather compact period of time, between 1910 and 1940. The exhibition itinerary therefore follows the course of the history, inviting visitors to engage with the events of this period. The public will have the opportunity to admire highly evocative works, created by very famous artists and contextualised in a very clear way.”

In an era full of events such as the first half of the twentieth century, the turbulences of history are reflected in art, giving life to an extremely varied and fruitful creative galaxy: movements and innovations follow one another in a chain, along a season that will mark the destinies of future art. With Professor Zuffi we travel the itinerary of the exhibition at Palazzo Blu, diving into the legendary world of the avant-garde.

Alexey von Jalensky, Abstract Head Inner Vision Rosy Light | © Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

The fabulous Paris of the 1910s: Cubism
“The journey begins around 1910 in Paris, then the center of gravity of world art. It is the golden moment of Cubism, which in the exhibition will be represented by artists such as Picasso, Braque, Delaunay… Among the most eloquent masterpieces we find The man with the violin by Picasso, a key work of Analytical Cubism, impressive for the ability of the still young painter, in the first years of his very long and extraordinary career, to decompose images. Meanwhile, we see the emergence of the figure of a highly original, irreverent artist who will hold many surprises in the future: he is Marcel Duchamp. In this section visitors will find yours Grinder, a pioneering, almost prophetic work. Duchamp brings a banal object from everyday life to the canvas and transforms it into art with extreme simplicity: it is the beginning of a path that will cross a good part of the 20th century, fromobject found dadaist and surrealist to American Pop Art”.

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War and Revolution. From Juan Gris to Marc Chagall
“During the First World War, the tensions and uncertainties of the moment can be felt in painting,” continues Zuffi: “We see it in a beautiful still life with a chessboard by the Spanish painter John Gray, where the chessboard seems to evoke the great, tragic game that was taking place on the European battlefields. Other sensational events also occurred in the same years: the Russian Revolution of 1917, for example, which introduced the figure of Marc Chagall. At Palazzo Blu we will find a painting by Chagall which dates back to 1917 and depicts the Jewish festival of Purim, interesting for its fresh and absolutely new look.”

Juan Gris, Chessboard, Glass, Dish | © Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

The birth of abstract painting
“Abstractism, the protagonist of the next section, is in some way an escape from the reality of war and its dramatic consequences. The exhibition presents different declinations of Abstract Art, among which that of Vasily Kandinsky. An example of this is the extraordinary painting Circles within the circle, linked to the period in which the artist approached the Bauhaus experience, a truly advanced point in the European artistic culture of the 1920s. The alternative to Kandinsky’s Abstractionism is the soft and poetic painting of Henri Matisse. At Palazzo Blu we have two beautiful creations by Matisse created in this period, a female figure in an armchair and a large still life: two works full of light and colour, pervaded by the pleasure of painting and decoration”.

Surrealism: a dream signed by Mirò and Dalì
“One of the largest sections is the one dedicated to Surrealism. We are between the twenties and thirties, an extremely interesting phase for European culture, and Surrealism appears as a transversal movement, which embraces different arts, crossing national borders. Together with masters such as Paul Klee or the very refined French artist Yves Tanguy, here I would like to highlight the figures of the two Catalans Juan Mirò and Salvador Dalì. Miro is well represented by Dog barking at the moon, a funny and ironic painting, which shows a strange ladder almost suspended in the darkness of the night. From From there instead we have a very sophisticated, precious painting, painted with the usual technical skill of this artist. Is titled Agnostic symbol and collects some of the characteristic elements of Dalì’s Surrealism, that is, the perfect recognizability of the objects represented and their absolutely unreal, impossible juxtaposition, which creates a strong effect of alienation”.

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Paul Klee, Prestidigtator | © Courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art

On the brink of a new abyss: Mondrian and the utopia of mathematics
“Proceeding further, we arrive at the height of the Thirties with the figure of the Dutchman Piet Mondrian and his very rigorous geometric abstractionism, where regular grids of lines meet measured presences of color. The certainties of geometry and the pure world of mathematics ultimately represent a refuge, while the real world is about to fall into a new tragedy. In recent years, many European artists were in fact forced to leave Germany and then also France, following the persecutions of Nazism, which branded their work with the infamous brand of ‘degenerate art'”.

A universal masterpiece, the Crucifix by Chagall
“The last painting on display is dated 1940. The German army has now invaded Poland, starting the Second World War. A series of very rapid conquests will lead the Wehrmacht to enter Paris, the heart of European art and culture. The magnificent and poignant Crucifix Of Chagall he wears the ritual Jewish prayer shawl as a loincloth. The cross, the Christian symbol par excellence, becomes a universal symbol of pain and sacrifice in the tragedy of the Second World War.”

Scheduled from September 28, 2023 to April 7, 2024, The Avant-gardes. Masterpieces from the Philadelphia Museum of Art is produced and organized by Fondazione Palazzo Blu and MondoMostre, with the contribution of Fondazione Pisa.

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