The final part of the exhibition is reserved for artists alone: the works include the (not particularly visionary) miniature buildings of Chris Burden’s Pizza City, Cao Fei’s crazy videos from Second Life, and Carsten Höller’s acrylic models of flying cities, which were reworked from Georgij Krukatov’s 1928 designs. Between these two poles, some of the twentieth-century’s champions of the avant-garde and the neo-avant-garde shine through. Aforementioned Wright and Le Corbusier feature, as does the restoration of Laszlo Moholy-Nagy’s magnificent film Things to Come, alongside Constant’s New Babylon and Friedman’s Ville Spatiale.
The central hall is occupied by Archigram, Archizoom, and Superstudio, alongside the radical Florentine groups. Here, contrast between the gold-stuccoed, neoclassical statue of Neptune and Archizoom’s viewers in colourful ‘70s-style pinball machine aluminium is worth the ticket price alone. Not that this varied yet cohesive group of designs with their strong interrelations (accompanied by some solitary forays like the Swiss painter Walter Jonas’s Intrapolis or the City in the Air model, by a very young, then Metabolist Arata Isozaki) was immune from artistic influences. Constant had been a painter before he became a situationist; Charles-Edouard Jeanneret also started as a painter before assuming the name Le Corbusier; and even Adolfo Natalini is considered the youngest exponent of the Pistoia school of painting, to give a few examples.
Curator Marco De Michelis wants to suggest something more. For the last forty years, artists alone have been pursuing visionary design ideas for cities, whereas in the first part of the twentieth century architects had a leading role, one that they gradually lost. It is a debatable idea, but its clarity offers a certain conceptual coherence to the exhibition as a whole. It plays down the contrasts — sometimes apparent, sometimes real — between the original exhibits on show in this historical villa. It would have been much more useful to have been able to visit the exhibition and read not only the catalogue — which brings together contributions from leading historians, such as Jean-Louis Cohen, Mark Wigley and Roberto Gargiani; pieces from younger researchers, such as Anna Rosellini, Gabriele Mastrigli and Simon Sadler; and the writing of other figures, including Domus editor Joseph Grima —, but also the book that De Michelis has been writing for Phaidon for too many years on the relationship between art and architecture.
This is especially true since the Venetian historian, who also heads the Ratti Foundation in Como, is the leading exponent of that Venetian and Tafurian school/non-school intertwined with the idea of autonomous disciplines, which is traditionally in opposition to the idea of blending the arts. But this is an exhibition worth visiting, not just because of the difficulty there is Italy of seeing at first hand so much valuable original material, but also because of the attractiveness of the setting — a villa on the lake, with a delightful public garden in front and Como’s historic centre close by. It is further proof that everything in Italy that works and turns out well, happens by stealth and — most of all — at the country’s margins. Manuel Orazi
Through 14 July 2013
La Città Nuova. Oltre Sant’Elia. Cento anni di visioni urbane 1913-2013
curated by Marco De Michelis
Villa Olmo, Como