INTERVIEW WITH DR. TOBIA BEZZOLA
Annette Kulenkampff, publisher at Hatje Cantz, talks to the curator Dr. Tobia Bezzola about Italian Divisionism and the exhibition Revolution of Light at the Kunsthaus Zurich.
What is »Divisionism« and what distinguishes it from Impressionism?
»Divisionism« is the name for the Italian variety of the successor movement to Impressionism, which in Paris was known as both »Neo-Impressionism« and »Pointillism«. So Divisionism, if you like, is the Italian Neo-Impressionism.
Which particular stylistic features were specific to Italian Divisionism? Why does light play such a crucial role in these works?
The basis of Divisionist painting is the analysis of light and color. Painters used the principles of color theory and optics in their works. Compositions infused with shimmering light were built up out of dots and lines, often painted in complementary colors. However, unlike the French Pointillists, the Divisionists never rigidly restricted themselves to dots and points, but also used longer, looser, more sweeping brushstrokes.
Who are the main representatives of Italian Divisionism?
There were in effect two generations. The most important representatives of the older generation are Emilio Longoni, Angelo Morbelli, Plinio Nomellini, Guiseppe Pellizza da Volpedo, Gaetano Previati, Giovanni Segantini, and Giovanni Sottocornola. In the younger generation are artists who began their careers as Divisionists and later matured into Futurism: Giacomo Balla, Carlo Carrà, Umberto Boccioni, and Luigi Russolo.
Were the Divisionist painters primarily interested in developing a new aesthetic, or was there also a social and politically conscious element to their work? To what extent did the political situation in Italy around 1880 influence innovations in painting?
As a radical and progressive form of expression, Divisionism was considered by the Italian painters to be the ideal means of conveying a socially critical message, one that had been influenced by both socialism and anarchism.
Is there a »Divisionist Manifesto« comparable to the »Futurist Manifesto« of a later generation of artists in Italy? If there was, what was its most important message?
No, the Divisionists were a loose, open grouping; what they had in common was a method of painting. But individual painters also often had contact with other currents and movements, especially Symbolism, and artists used the Divisionist method of painting to express the most varied subjects and ideas - from Catholicism to Anarchism.
Did the Divisionist movement have any political force beyond the artistic significance of their works?
Yes, exhibitions of the paintings - particularly at the 1891 Triennale in Milan - led to heated debates on the social and economic issues of the day. The political content of their paintings included strikes, unemployment, and workers' uprisings.
Did Divisionism also influence painters outside Italy?
The foremost among these were painters from southern Switzerland (Tessin and Graubünden), who had a long tradition of completing their education at the Brera Academy in Milan, and who consequently came under the influence of Divisionism. Among them were Edoardo Berta, Filippo Franzoni, and Giovanni and Augusto Giacometti.
Today many of these artists have fallen somewhat into obscurity. Why are you having this exhibition now? Does Italian Modernism have any relevance today?
In Italy these artists have remained significant up to the present day. In the rest of Europe they were never very well known, with the exception of Segantini, and, of course, the later Futurists. The hundredth anniversary of the Futurist Movement offers an ideal occasion to draw attention to how powerfully Italian Divisionism influenced Futurism, and through it the entire European avant-garde.
What interests you personally in these artists' works? Do you have a favourite picture in the exhibition?
The unique cultural history of the peninsula means that Italian art still has a unique relationship with progress and modernization. Giacomo Balla's Street Lamps (1909, Museum of Modern Art, New York) expresses marvellously the bristling tension between Romantic moonlight and cold, electric street lighting.