Contemporary Italian Art 100 Works from Futurism to the Present Day Depicting the Italian Contribution to European Avant-garde in the 20th Century

05.03 – 24.03.1968 Contemporary Italian Art 100 Works from Futurism to the Present Day Depicting the Italian Contribution to European Avant-garde in the 20th Century

Zachęta Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions (CBWA)

organiser: Ministry of Culture and Art, Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions, on the Italian side: Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Ministry of Education, Soprintendenza alle Gallerie di Roma II (Arte Comtemporanea, Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna)
selection of works: Giorgio de Marchis (Soprintendenza alle Galerie di Roma II)
exhibition design: Jan Kosiński
poster design: Hubert Hilscher
number of artists: 54
number of exhibits: 91
attendance: 17,640 (Rocznik CBWA [CBWA Annual])

Despite the protests that engulfed the streets of Warsaw on the 8 March 1968, the Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions presented the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space — a famous sculpture by Umberto Boccioni. The list of artists, whose works were presented at the Contemporary Italian Art. 100 Works from Futurism to the Present Day exhibition featured numerous artists, including Carlo Carrà, Gino Severini, Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico, Enrico Prampolini, Lucio Fontana, Piero Manzoni, Michelangelo Pistoletto, as well as American artist Cy Twombly, who lived in Rome at the time. At the same time, the National Museum in Warsaw presented an exhibition of Venetian painters.[1]

The works exhibited by the Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions were loaned from the Galleria Naztionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome, private galleries and collections, as well as directly from artists. According to Życie Warszawy, the exhibition was officially opened by Deputy Minister of Culture Zygmunt Garstecki, and the ceremony was also attended by Henryk Birecki, head of department of scientific and cultural cooperation with foreign countries of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Italian side was represented by Palma Bucarelli, director of Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Rome.

The exhibition’s focus on emphasising the contribution of Italian art to the international avant-garde was stressed by Jerzy Olkiewicz in his review written for Kultura. In his text, the critic argued with Palma Bucarelli’s introduction to the exhibition catalogue, in which she stated that: ‘nobody has ever included fauvism or cubism among the “avant-garde”, but regardless of that, some countries had avant-garde trends related to cubism, or at least similar to it.’[2] ‘A quite bold observation, which changes the perspective on the entire exhibition concept’, said Olkiewicz. ‘The basis for being included among the avant-garde is the proclamation of certain slogans and their implementation in creative work. The avant-garde mainly aims at changing the surrounding life, transforming the world — and this is what it is valued for. Picasso, Braque and Gris simply painted and did not care about changing the world. The fact that futurist painting would not exist without them does not change another fact — that futurism was an avant-garde trend, as opposed to cubism’.[3]

Apart from pointing out the controversial elements of the exhibition catalogue narrative, Olkiewicz emphasised the ambitious task of transporting the various works of art made in multiple media. ‘I admired the boldness and courage required for transporting coloured water containers lying on the floor, which represent Approximately 32m2 of Sea, as much as I mused over a container “filled with two quintals of (authentic) anthracite”’, he quipped sarcastically. ‘I was not surprised by the fact that the neon lights of Prini’s Perimeter stopped working after just a few days, and that visitors stare with their mouths agape at the Pistoletto’s mirror with a light bulb painted at the top. Fortunately, there are also works by T and N Groups, paintings by Dorazi, Fontana’s perforated canvases and the white surfaces by Castellani.’[4] Regardless of the importance and rank of this event, which became part of the official cultural exchange between Italy and Poland, Olkiewicz did not refrain from criticising some of the works shown at the CBWA: ‘On the example of the aforementioned exhibits, we can notice that we were treated in a very avant-garde manner despite the fact of it being an official exhibition. Apparently, the organisers believed that all art lovers in Poland are endowed with a mentality free from traditional reservations. The marching crowd of figures cut out of raw wooden boards by Mario Ceroli is a great piece, but it will never replace the focus of just one sculpture by Boccioni.’[5]

The aforementioned description can give us an insight into the visual experiences that awaited the visitors seeing the Contemporary Italian art exhibition in March 1968. The photographs of the exhibition preserved at the Zachęta show viewers posing by Ceroli’s Marching Crowd or admire the Unique Forms of Continuity in Space by Boccioni. The exhibits were placed in one row on the walls, as well as on the low white panels and curtains suspended from the ceiling installed in the halls. Moreover, sculptures and installations were set up in the exhibition space.

The first room featured works by Italian futurists, including Flags at the Altar of the Motherland by Giacomo Balla. Critics also pointed out the presence of Italian metaphysical painting at the exhibition. ‘The exhibition features a number of masterpieces, which are considered rare even in Italy, such as two paintings by Giorgio de Chirico — Piazza d’Italia (1912) and Hector and Andromache (1916)’, mentioned Wojciech Skrodzki in a review published in Współczesność.[6] The critic also devoted a separate paragraph to the Italian sculpture: ‘Unfortunately, the — understandable — difficulties with transporting the works led to a rather modest representation of this form of art at the exhibition, limited mostly to small forms. Nevertheless, the presence of great individuals was successfully signalled — this includes Arturo Martini (Woman from Pisa) and Giacomo Manzù, whose bas-relief Crucifixion (1939), overflowing with the highest spiritual strength, presents the way of the artist’s work, which led him to create one of the most profound works of our time — Door of the Dead in St. Peter’s Basilica’.[7]

Some of the artistic experiments were commented in a rather critical manner. In a review published in Tygodnik Kulturalny, Stefan Rassalski wrote: ‘When the painting constitutes a uniform white or dark plane, or when it is a plane broken up into numerous bright spots and stains, when various kinds of mechanical effects — bells, whirling spirals, flashing light bulbs and shiny tinfoil things — are introduced into this plane . . . One can willingly play with this, but no nobody should call it art. In particular, nobody should call it progressive art, since it does not bring about anything positive, despite the fact that it in fact brings about something new. However, if this is supposed to be a common phenomenon, if everything that is new and different — despite being worthless — is supposed to be a testament to new search, it is perhaps the Italians who have the greatest right to do so, since they worked very hard in their time.’[8]

On the other hand, in her text written for Życie i Myśl, Bożena Kowalska stated that this ‘playing’ is a continuation of the futuristic tradition of artists’ interest in modern technology: ‘Just like futurists presenting the movement and dynamics of their times in their paintings by means of overlapping film stills and lines suggesting the directions of tension, our contemporary artists, such as for example Alberto Biasi, manifest their respect for modern technologies by elevating an engine, a projection light bulb and their effects to the rank of a work of art. Pino Pascali stands on the verge of poetry and an innovative artistic concept with ironic message by bringing a fraction of a bridled and measured sea to the exhibition hall. . . . As a result, just like back in the day individual artistic works were reflections of their time, only today, after being brought together in their diversity and after summing up their characteristics and messages they can reflect the shape and nature of our difficult era.’[9]

It is worth mentioning that the Contemporary Italian Art. 100 Works from Futurism to the Present Day exhibition featured three works by Renato Guttuso, whose works were presented at the CBWA in March and April 1954 during an individual exhibition organised by the Committee for Cultural Cooperation with Foreign Countries. In October 1958, Zachęta hosted an individual exhibition of works by Emilio Vedova, whose work was also featured in the Contemporary Italian Art . . . exhibition.[10]

The Warsaw exhibition was one of the editions of the mobile exhibition. At the turn of 1968 and 1969, the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome presented an exhibition entitled 100 opere d’arte italiana dal futurismo ad oggi, which translates into 100 Works of Italian Art from Futurism to the Present Day.[11] As Palma Bucarelli points out in the catalogue of the CBWA exhibition, ‘in dedicating this exhibition to countries that experienced the historical or experimental avant-garde themselves, with the aim of demonstrating the multiplicity and diversity of Italian interventions in international art, we have broadly taken into account the works by young artists. We wanted to emphasise that the Italian presence in the contemporary artistic movement is a progressive phenomenon . . .’[12]

Petra Skarupsky
Institute of Art History of the University of Warsaw

This text was prepared as part of the National Programme for the Development of Humanities of the Polish Minister of Science and Higher Education — research project The History of Exhibitions at Zachęta — Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions in 1949–1970 (no. 0086/NPRH3/H11/82/2016) conducted by the Institute of Art History of the University of Warsaw in collaboration with Zachęta — National Gallery of Art.



  • Współczesna sztuka włoska. 100 dzieł od futuryzmu po dzień dzisiejszy obrazujących udział włoski w awangardach europejskich XX wieku, exh. cat., introductions: Palma Bucarelli, Giorgio de Marchis, Sandra Pinto. Warsaw: Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, 1968


  • Matusińska, Maria, Barbara Mitschein, Ada Potocka, Helena Szustakowska, eds. Rocznik CBWA 1968–1969–1970. Warsaw: Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, [1971], pp. 11–12
  • Świtek, Gabriela, ed. Zachęta 1860–2000. Warsaw: Zachęta — Narodowa Galeria Sztuki, 2003, pp. 247–248

Source texts:

  • Anders, Henryk. ‘Zarys włoskiego współudziału’. Przegląd Artystyczny, no. 5, 1968
  • Bołdok, Sławomir. ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska’. Życie i Myśl, no. 4, 1968
  • (g). ‘Włoscy futuryści i dzień dzisiejszy’. Kurier Polski, no. 63, 14 March 1968
  • Garztecka, Ewa. ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska’. Trybuna Ludu, no. 72, 1968
  • Kowalska, Bożena. ‘Wystawa współczesnej sztuki włoskiej’. Życie i Myśl, no. 9, 1968
  • Olkiewicz, Jerzy. ‘Nie tylko awangarda’. Kultura, no. 13, 31 March 1968
  • Olkiewicz, Jerzy. ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska’. Biuletyn Informacyjny ZPAP, no. 55–56, 1968
  • Osęka, Andrzej. ‘Wernisaż (IV)’. Kultura, no. 1, 1969
  • Rassalski, Stefan. ‘Cztery wystawy zagraniczne’. Tygodnik Kulturalny, no. 17, 1968
  • Skrodzki, Wojciech. ‘Pół wieku sztuki włoskiej’. Współczesność, no. 7, 1968
  • ‘Sztuka słonecznej Italii’. Ilustrowany Kurier Polski, no. 62, 1968
  • ‘Sztuka włoska w Warszawie’. Głos Koszaliński, no. 66, 1969
  • ‘Warszawskie wystawy’. Express Wieczorny, no. 65, 1968
  • Witz, Ignacy. ‘Włoski sezon’. Życie Warszawy, no. 75, 1968
  • ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska w Warszawie’. Głos Wybrzeża, no. 61, 1968
  • ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska w Warszawie’. Trybuna Ludu, no. 71, 1968
  • ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska w Warszawie’. Życie Warszawy, no. 62, 1968
  • ‘Współczesna sztuka włoska w Zachęcie’. Słowo Powszechne, no. 61, 1968
  • ‘W warszawskich galeriach’. Słowo Powszechne, no. 63, 1968

Press mentions:

  • Arte Viva (Rome), no. 3, 1968
  • Dziennik Bałtycki, no. 61, 1968
  • Dziennik Ludowy, no. 61, 1969
  • Dziennik Ludowy, no. 68, 1969
  • Esteri Piazza Montecitorio (Rome), 1969
  • Express Wieczorny, no. 65, 1968
  • Głos Koszaliński, no. 66, 1968
  • Głos Pracy, no. 60, 1968
  • Głos Wybrzeża, no. 61, 1968
  • Gromada Rolnik Polski, no. 34, 1968
  • IKP (Bydgoszcz), no. 62, 1968
  • Kultura, no. 12, 1968
  • Panorama Północy, no. 13, 1968
  • Słowo Powszechne, no. 61, 1968
  • Słowo Powszechne, no. 63, 1968
  • Trybuna Ludu, no. 71, 1968
  • Tygodnik Kulturalny, no. 12, 1968
  • Życie Literackie, no. 12, 1968
  • Życie Warszawy, no. 53, 1968
  • Życie Warszawy, no. 62, 1968
  • Życie Warszawy, no. 70, 1968

Additional compilations (contemporary Italian Art):

  • Berghaus, G. Futurism and Politics: Between Anarchist Rebellion and Fascist Reaction 1909–1944. Providence–Oxford, 1996
  • Berghaus, G., ed. Futurism and the Technological Imagination. Leiden, 2009
  • Berghaus, G., ed. International Futurism in Arts and Literature. Berlin, 2000
  • Greene, V., Solomon R., eds. Italian Futurism 1909–1944: Reconstructing the Universe. New York: Guggenheim Museum, 2014
  • 100 opere d’arte italiana dal futurismo ad oggi, exh. cat. Roma: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, 1968
  • Strożek, P., ed. Enrico Prampolini: futuryzm, scenotechnika i teatr polskiej awangardy, exh. cat. Łódź, 2017
  • Strożek, P. Marinetti i futuryzm w Polsce 1909–1939: obecność, kontakty, wydarzenia, Warsaw, 2012


Carla Accardi, Giacomo Balla, Alberto Biasi, Umberto Boccioni, Gino Bonichi (Scipione), Davide Boriani, Alberto Burri, Massimo Campigli, Giuseppe Capogrossi, Carlo Carrà, Felice Casorati, Enrico Castellani, Mario Ceroli, Giorgio de Chirico, Ettore Colla, Gianni Colombo, Filippo De Pisis (Luigi Tibertelli), Piero Dorazio, Luciano Fabro, Pericle Fazzini, Lucio Fontana, Renato Guttuso, Jannis Kounellis, Edoardo Landi, Osvaldo Licini, Sergio Lombardo, Francesco Lo Savio, Mario Mafai, Alberto Magnelli, Piero Manzoni, Giacomo Manzù, Enzo Mari, Arturo Martini, Giorgio Morandi, Gastone Novelli, Tancredi Parmeggiani, Pino Pascali, Michelangelo Pistoletto, Enrico Prampolini, Emilio Prini, Antonietta Raphael, Ottone Rosai, Mimmo Rotella, Salvatore Scarpitta, Mario Schifano, Gino Severini, Mario Sironi, Ardengo Soffici, Atanasio Soldati, Giulio Turcato, Cy Twombly, Gabriele de Vecchi, Emilio Vedova, Gilberto Zorio.

[1] Ignacy Witz, ‘Włoski sezon’, Życie Warszawy, no. 75, 1968.
[2] Palma Bucarelli, [introduction], in Współczesna sztuka włoska. 100 dzieł od futuryzmu po dzień dzisiejszy obrazujących udział włoski w awangardach europejskich XX wieku, exh. cat., introductions: Palma Bucarelli, Giorgio de Marchis, Sandra Pinto, Warsaw: Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, 1968, n.pag. [p. 4].
[3] Jerzy Olkiewicz, ‘Nie tylko awangarda’, Kultura, no. 13, 1968.
[4] Ibid.
[5] Ibid.
[6] Wojciech Skrodzki, ‘Pół wieku sztuki włoskiej’, Współczesność, no. 7, 1968.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Stefan Rassalski, ‘Cztery wystawy zagraniczne’, Tygodnik Kulturalny, no. 17, 1968.
[9] Bożena Kowalska, ‘Wystawa współczesnej sztuki włoskiej’, Życie i Myśl, no. 9, 1968.
[10] See: Rocznik CBWA 1958, Warsaw: Centralne Biuro Wystaw Artystycznych, [1959], pp. 21–22.
[11] 100 opere d’arte italiana dal futurismo ad oggi, exh. cat., Rome: Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna, 1968.
[12] Bucarelli, [p. 9].

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Contemporary Italian Art
100 Works from Futurism to the Present Day Depicting the Italian Contribution to European Avant-garde in the 20th Century
05.03 – 24.03.1968

Zachęta Central Bureau of Art Exhibitions (CBWA)
pl. Małachowskiego 3, 00-916 Warsaw
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