The State of The Art: Contemporary Italian Artists From 1945 to Present

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Course Information
Art History
Terms offered: 
Fall, Spring
Language of instruction: 
Contact Hours: 

A background knowledge of art is not required for this course, although Art and Fine Arts major students may find the course easier to follow at the beginning.

Additional student cost: 



Italy has always been a land of encounter for different artistic backgrounds. This course invites the student to examine how this aspect has had a significant development in the field of visual arts during the second half of the 20th century, in relation to the political, social, and cultural growth of Northern Italy. How did artists meet, reject, and interact with the changes in culture, society, and politics? Why and how did they choose to play their cultural, social, or political roles? How did the last 50 years change the identity of visual arts as we know them today? How shall we study a work of contemporary art to understand its multiple levels of meaning? All of this will be examined and discussed with the students both in class and during field studies to museums, architectural landmarks, public art, and current exhibitions. An interdisciplinary approach will be used in order to clarify the concepts and present them in a broader cultural context.

Attendance policy: 

Regular class attendance is mandatory. Students are expected to attend classes each day, including course-related excursions.

IES Abroad Milano allows a maximum of TWO excused absences per semester. Each further absence will automatically result in a penalty of two points off (2/100) on the final grade. SEVEN absences per course (including 2 excused absences) will result in a failing grade for that course. Furthermore, an absence on the date of scheduled tests, presentations or quizzes does not entitle you to recover/reschedule such tests. Failure to attend your midterm and/or final exam will result in an F grade on that paper/exam.

Learning outcomes: 

By the end of the course, students will be able to:

  • Express a specific and mature knowledge of the history of recent art, in Northern Italy but also on an international level
  • Understand comparisons to similar or contemporary facts in Europe and the United States
  • Demonstrate a mature, critical approach to art
  • Read and understand specific literature on the subject of art, a task for which an appropriate terminology will be provided
  • Demonstrate an improved ability to speak in public and lead a discussion on artistic and cultural matters, as exercised through field studies and the presentations of the final papers
Method of presentation: 

Slides, Units, in-class discussions and field study trips to the following monuments/museums/events in Milan: 

  • The House-Museum Boschi-Di Stefano
  • Museo del 900
  • A current exhibition in Milan and/or public art in the urban context
  • Gallerie d’Italia (XX century section)

Field studies will be an essential part of the course: this unique opportunity of direct experiences of monuments and works of art will provide a remarkable help in the understanding and appreciation of art in Northern Italy from the 1950s to the present. This course also will feature guest speakers, including Italian artists and curators, who will illustrate the role of art today. 

No additional cost is required (the selected field studies are free).

Required work and form of assessment: 
  • Midterm exam - 30%
  • Final exam - 30%
  • Active participation through discussion - 20%
  • Term paper -OR- Leading a class field study trip - 20%

Midterm exam
Midterm and final exams will have the following format: four short- answer questions (5% each); one analysis of a work of art studied during the course (40%); and one short essay concerning a general topic studied during the course (40%). To help the student in his/her exam preparation, the course will include a practice of the midterm exam.  The performance in the practice will not be considered for evaluation. 

Final exam
Midterm and final exams will have the following format: four short- answer questions (5% each); one analysis of a work of art studied during the course (40%); and one short essay concerning a general topic studied during the course (40%). To help the student in his/her exam preparation, the course will include a practice of the midterm exam.  The performance in the practice will not be considered for evaluation. 

Active participation through discussion
Punctual reading/writing and quality of assignments, participation in group discussions, and attendance will be accounted for. 

Term paper
1000 words, due in typewritten form one week before the final exam

Leading a class field study trip
Preparation and leading of the class field study trip to one of the sites listed above or to specific temporary exhibitions. Those selecting the field trip option must consult with instructor for guidance in preparing their study presentations.

Session Content

Introductions and Logistics; Overview of the course and introduction to Contemporary Art


Unit 1 – Post-War and Art: Realism vs. Abstraction

3 Unit 2 – The Season of Informale

Unit 3 – On and Through the Canvas: Alberto Burri and Lucio Fontana


Unit 4 – A Critique of the Fifties I: Fontana’s later work and Fausto Melotti

Field Study: The Boschi-Di Stefano House-Museum


Unit 5 – A Critique of the Fifties II: Arte Programmata and “Azimuth”

Field Study: Museo del ‘900


Midterm practice

Recap: Units 1-5

8 Midterm Exam

Unit 6 – Pop Art in Italy


Unit 7 – Art and Politics around the ’68: Arte Povera and Concettuale

Field Study – Gallerie d’Italia


Unit 8 – Painting in Italy since the 1970s


Unit 9 – Public sculpture in Italy since the 1970s

Field Study: The atelier of Giancarlo Marchese


Unit 10 – Anti-Modernism and Post-Modernism in Italy


Recap: Units 1-10

Final Papers Presentations

Final Exam

The dates for both exams will be announced in class. You will receive official notice of the exact dates and times as soon as all possible overlaps have been identified after the add/drop deadline.

Required readings: 
  • G. Celant (editor), The Italian Metamorphosis 1943-1968, exhibition catalogue, Guggenheim Museum, New York 1994, pp. XIV-XX, 2-19, 648-655. 
  • G. Celant (editor), Fausto Melotti. Catalogue raisonnée, Electa, Milan 1994, pp. 5-21. 
  • L. Caramel, Il MAC Movimento Arte Concreta, Banca Commerciale Italiana, Milan 1996 (English translation), pp. 43-69. 
  • Studio Azzurro. Ambienti sensibili (Sensitive environments), exhibition catalogue, Palazzo delle Esposizioni, Rome, Electa, Milan 1999 (English translation), pp. 15-16, 18, 21-23, 29-30, 32, 39-40, 67-68, 70-72, 147-167. 
  • J. Hamilton, «Making Art Matter. Alberto Burri’s ‘Sacchi’», October, 124, Spring 2008, pp. 31-52.
  • E. Crispolti, Lucio Fontana, in L. M. Barbero (editor), Lucio Fontana. Venice / New York, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York, 2006, pp. 51-81. 
  • G. Celant, In Piero Manzoni’s Territory, in G. Celant (editor), Manzoni, exhibition catalogue, MADRE Museo d’Arte Contemporanea Donnaregina, Naples, Electa, Milan, 2007 (English translation), pp. 14-45.
  • W. Guadagnini, Pop Art Italia 1958-1968, Silvana Editoriale, Cinisello Balsamo, 2005 (texts in English).
  • L. M. Barbero, Milan – Turin 1958-1968: Birth of an “Identity” and F. Pola, The Art Context in Milan and Turin: a Bipolar and Ramified Identity, in Time & Place: Milano – Torino 1958-1968, exhibition catalogue, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, Steidl Verlag, 2008, pp. 10-27, 56-67. 
  • G.M. Accame, Abstract figures, in Id., Figure astratte. Esperienze internazionali della pittura aniconica,  Campisano, Roma 2001, pp. 9-54.
  • C. Cerritelli, The Craving for Painting, in Accame, Figure astratte, pp. 65-79.
  • A. Bonito Oliva, Bel Canto Ahead, Torture Behind, in I. Gianelli (ed.), Transavanguadia, Skira, Milano-Geneve, 2002, pp. 37-54.
  • K. McManus, The sculptor’s dialectic. Giancarlo Marchese’s projects for public and private spaces, Allemandi, Turin, 2013, pp. 103-115.
  • F. Pola (editor), Mauro Staccioli. Space: a Blank Page, A arte Studio Invernizzi, Milan 2006, pp. 11-27.
  • N. Spector, The Aesthetics of Failure, in Ead., Maurizio Cattelan: All, Guggenheim Museum Publications, New York 2011, pp. 23-44.
  • Also among the required readings are the English translations of the following original sources: L. Fontana, Manifesto blanco, 1946; P. Manzoni, For the discovery of a zone of images, 1957; U. Eco, Arte programmata, 1962; G. Celant, Arte Povera, 1967-69; M. Staccioli, Working Notes, 1973-1993; Studio Azzurro, selected writings. All sources will be available on Moodle.