Amedeo Modigliani at the 1922 Venice Biennale
Istituto de Investigaciones Estéticas-UNAM, Ciudad de México
European primitivism has been widely debated in art history and anthropology, as well as in terms of specific artists such as Amedeo Modigliani. However, due to the impossibility of tracing his African sources, it has been difficult to locate his work more precisely, leading to descriptions of a stylized primitivism mediated primarily by Brancusi and the early Italian Renaissance. My paper addresses this artist’s primitivism by paying special attention to his reception in Italy after his death, since the 1922 Biennale featured a monographic exhibit of his works, which coincided with a small exhibition of African sculpture. Specifically, I will discuss the critical reception of this exhibition by focusing on Ardengo Soffici’s response to this artist and his non European sources. I argue that in many ways, Modigliani was perhaps the artist who most closely embodied Soffici’s call for a modern Italian painting based on native and French sources before World War I, and more importantly, achieved a level of international recognition that few Italian artists matched at the time. While Modigliani adopted the very sources that Soffici had promoted before the war, such as the Florentine Trecento and Quattrocento, Cézanne, and Cubism, his reliance on African sources and his bohemian lifestyle were received negatively by the critic. In conclusion, this paper, by closely examining Soffici’s art criticism on Modigliani, sheds light on the role of primitivism within Italy during the rise of Fascism. It also describes how this monographic exhibition gave Soffici the opportunity to renegotiate his earlier posture and promote instead a return to order.