Italian Art in the Rachofsky Collection
Nov 7, 2005 – Jul 21, 2006

One of the ambitions of the Rachofsky Collection is to examine how certain tendencies in art of the last few decades have developed simultaneously in the United States and Europe. This is especially the case with American Minimalism and Italian Arte Povera of the 1960s and 70s, which form the nerve center of the collection. Consequently, the Rachofsky Collection has become particularly strong in postwar Italian art, which we have chosen to focus on exclusively for the current installation.

Until quite recently, it was falsely assumed in this country that since World War II all great art came from the United States. This view was vividly shattered for curators and collectors in 1982 with a single exhibition, Documenta 7, which displayed contemporary American and European work side-by-side. For most American viewers, the exhibition was a revelation, and for the first time we began to understand the depth of art making of several generations of European artists, especially from Germany and Italy. From that point forward, the American contemporary art community embraced the work of younger artists on both sides of the Atlantic (and later, in South America and Asia). Unfortunately, understanding the work made in Europe in the decades that preceded them has remained skewed. One need only look at the recent opening installation of the expanded Museum of Modern Art in New York to see how this imbalance is slowly being corrected. (Even so, great European artists of the 50s and 60s are still only summarily represented there in relation to their American peers, most typically by minor examples of their art.)

Our interest in postwar Italian art grew out of our love of American Minimalism. In our search to create a historical backdrop for Minimalism (the art that we felt would resonate so well in the magnificent architectural setting of The Rachofsky House), we were led first to the American painter Ad Reinhardt. Perhaps it was the inaccessibility of the work of other relevant American artists of the 50s that led us to the paintings of the Italian artists Lucio Fontana and Piero Manzoni. (Other Dallas collectors were already collecting Ellsworth Kelly so thoughtfully, and early monochromatic Robert Rauschenbergs were simply not to be found.) A love of both Fontana and Manzoni gave the collection a focus (if not a mission), as well as a unique way to reexamine the art of the 50s and early 60s. Indeed, American audiences are beginning to realize that Fontana and his now famous slashing of canvases have been as important to postwar European art as Jackson Pollock and his famous splattering of paint are to American art. And Manzoni, in his pursuit of creating a painting that virtually makes itself, paved the way for both the literalism of Minimal art and the exquisitely ultimate reductionism of Conceptual art.

Fontana and Manzoni naturally led us forward to the artists of Arte Povera and their broad and poetic examination of materials in both painting and sculpture. We are especially proud of having acquired historically significant works by Jannis Kounellis, Mario Merz, Giulio Paolini, Giovanni Anselmo, and Giuseppe Penone. Arte Povera, like many modern art movements, was named by a critic rather than by the artists themselves. Even so, it is meaningful to remember that while American audiences rarely saw contemporary European art in the United States in the 60s and 70s, young American artists often had their greatest support from European museums and galleries. Indeed, the original Arte Povera exhibition and writings, in which the Italian critic Germano Celant named the movement, documented an international tendency in art that included Americans as varied as Bruce Nauman, Richard Serra, and Lawrence Weiner alongside their Italian peers.

In the late 70s and early 80s, a new generation of artists emerged in Italy who returned to painting and were dubbed the "Transavanguardia." They were internationally linked to German and American painters as disparate as Georg Baselitz, Anselm Kiefer, Julian Schnabel, and Robert Longo. We have deliberately not pursued this generation of Italian artists, with the exception of Francesco Clemente, who is represented here by a painting that was first displayed at Documenta 7 and who in this work retains strong poetic ties to his Arte Povera predecessors. This painting’s mystical content also relates nicely to other aspects of the Rachofsky Collection.

The presence of younger Italian artists engaged in an international dialogue is marked by a commissioned work by Maurizio Cattelan that sits atop The Rachofsky House, roughly above the doorway. This psychologically intense externalization of the inner child sets forth a position of continual resistance that is a fitting permanent portal—both actual and metaphoric—for a contemporary art collection that always seeks to reconsider recent history from fresh perspectives.

Allan Schwartzman
Director of the Rachofsky Collection