Almost two hundred exhibits by one hundred Italian and international artists serve to explore the art of a decade and of a city in a lively tangle of varied artistic trends and approaches. Rome in the 1970s was a crucible of experimental art, a city that welcomed with open arms all the different visual cultures that ended up forging a unique identity while continuing to reflect what was going on in the outside world.
With this exhibition, the Palazzo delle Esposizioni is continuing to pursue the exploratory journey it began back in the 1990s with a series of events devoted to Rome between the end of World War II and the 1970s, offering visitors an exhibition that also aims to act as a litmus test for an earlier phase of study and research.
The 1970s are seen by historians with increasing clarity to have marked a watershed: many of the changes that either began or came up to speed in that era are very much in the forefront of the news today, making it more interesting than ever to explore and to question them. The 1970s was a controversial decade that is generally identified with conflict and clash, but today we may interpret it as an extremely fertile and constructive era. In the visual arts, particularly in Rome, the 1970s were marked by a plurality of approaches to art which this exhibition sets out to illustrate by balancing historical investigation with interpretation.
Rome's importance in the 1970s may be attributed largely to the lively activity of the galleries and cultural associations that played such a crucial role in promoting and hosting contemporary Italian and international art: Fabio Sargentini's "L'Attico", Plino De Martiis' "La Tartaruga", Gian Tommaso Liverani's "La Salita", the International Art Encounters founded in 1970 by Graziella Lonardi Buontempo and chaired by Achille Bonito Oliva, Gian Lorenzo Sperone and Konrad Fischer, Massimo D'Alessandro and Ugo Ferranti, and many others besides. To this list of galleries and cultural associations we may add the activities of the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna and of the Palazzo delle Esposizioni itself, as well as the work performed towards the end of the decade in venues "self-managed" either by the artists in person - Gap, Jartrakor, La Stanza, S. Agata dei Goti and Lavatoio Contumaciale - or by such feminist groups as the Cooperativa del Beato Angelico. These players and institutions gave the city a frenzied programme of exhibitions, performances and debates in a rapid succession of events that allowed artists to immediately verify the impact of their work on the general public, and that turned the city into one of the world's leading centres of contemporary art.
But the importance of art in Rome in the 'seventies was due first and foremost to an exceptional string of artists, many of them from Rome itself, many others from outside the city but who chose to reside in the city and numerous foreigners who lived, and showed their work, in Rome throughout the decade. Their work, the undisputed star of this exhibition, was all either produced or shown in Rome in the 'seventies. Much of it is now in private or public collections while some of it is still owned by the artists themselves.
The exhibition hosts a multitude of different artistic trends, ranging from Arte Povera to the artists of the so-called Roman school, from Conceptual Art to Anarchitecture and art seen as collective participation or as political militancy, and from Narrative Art to the work that triggered a planetwide revolution in painting revolving around the Transavantgarde whose epicentre was in Rome.
Each room in the exhibition has been put together on the basis of a different leitmotif: not a theme as such but a trend, a discipline, a mindset, a key word, an intuition borrowed from a critic or the title of an exhibit. The way these leitmotifs have been choreographed has led to a basic division of the exhibition into two parts corresponding to the first and second halves of the decade. But we urge visitors to take our indications as mere suggestions, remembering that each exhibit is a repository of unfathomable complexity and that the arguments selected on each occasion for the plot of the narrative can "travel" in the eyes and mind of the visitor from one room to another and from one exhibit to another.