"The war which is coming is not the first one. There were other wars before it. When the last one came to an end there were conquerors and conquered. Among the conquered the common people starved. Among the conquerors the common people starved too."
The exhibition is a project organized by Mart, the museum of modern and contemporary art of Trento and Rovereto, with the collaboration of experts in history and contemporary art. Through the development of a series of complementary contributions, the exhibition draws a distance from a simple reflection about history and offers a more complex overview regarding the topicality of the conflict, which is still today at the centre of debate. The First World War being remembered now was one of the most dramatic and significant events of the modern era, and here represents the starting point for a broader investigation running through 20th-century history to the conflicts of the present day.
The Mart tackles the hardest, most afflicted and thorny of issues, taking on not just the telling of history, but also the comprehensive exposure of some of the truths marking it. This project has required and requires not only objectivity and detachment but also participation and clarity. It is not enough not to want war and to desire peace.
The exhibition takes as its starting point Bertolt Brecht’s famous poem: “The war which is coming / is not the first one. There were /other wars before it. / When the last one came to an end / there were conquerors and conquered. /Among the conquered the common people / starved. Among the conquerors / the common people starved too.” The museum tries to tell a story from which emerges an intense voyage rooted in that war and leading to the most tragic recent history.
The exhibition develops the theme by adopting a variety of viewpoints and touching also on the most sensitive, delicate and sometimes controversial points. It presents a view of the event as the result of a narrative composition in which art meets history, politics and anthropology.
Recurring to a sort of complex thematic and temporary assemblage, the exhibition avoids following a precise chronological order, demonstrating – through new semantic combinations and short-cuts – how all wars are the same and at the same time how each war is different. The intention is not to provide an inventory of the conflicts of yesterday and today, and nor to downplay the irreducible historic differences, but to maintain open research and thinking in a place in which remembering does not mean reducing an event to something petrified, archived and definitively sealed within itself but, on the contrary, revealing interpretations and re-readings able to express all their complexity.
In the exhibition, art comes into contact with everyday life: the masterpieces of the avant-garde movements maintain a dialogue with the propaganda, with the format of the whole exhibition, and renews the value of the documents, reports and accounts on display. Installations, drawings, prints, photographs, paintings, posters, postcards, letters, diaries share the over 3000 square meters of the top floor of the Mart, where they meet recent artistic experimentations, sound installations and filmed narratives: original documents, videos and films. Also on display are many war relics used in the First World War: every object has its own story to tell, and their finding is the most recent chapter in an event that is still topical.
The layout, designed by Martí Guixé, translates the two souls of the exhibition – historic and contemporary – building a palimpsest binding together folly, disorder, rhythm, light and hope.
The expressions of contemporaneity are used to amalgamate and punctuate the route and times of the visit. What emerges is a transverse vision that takes into account points of view of history, art and contemporary thinking to contextualize the past.
A story about war and of war. A mix of chapters dedicated to some protagonists, including soldiers, women and children, and prominent figures like doctors, intellectuals and artists.
The exhibition presents some historic masterpieces from the Mart’s own collections, including works by Giacomo Balla, Anselmo Bucci, Fortunato Depero and Gino Severini. A long series of important loans from Italy and abroad, from public and private collections and galleries, rounds off the project.
There are also numerous works by artists who lived through the horror of the Great War; on top of the exponents of Italian avant-garde movements mentioned above, this list includes Max Beckmann, Marc Chagall, Albin Egger-Lienz, Adolf Helmberger, Osvaldo Licini, Arturo Martini, Pietro Morando and Mario Sironi, and is joined by the work of directors of the time, like Filippo Butera, Segundo de Chomón and Abel Gance. Among the artists involved directly in the conflict, there will be a section dedicated to the Czechoslovak photographer, Josef Sudek.
On display will be not just war as a personal experience but also as a recurrent thought in the work of many artists, including Lida Abdul, Enrico Baj, Yael Bartana, Alberto Burri, Alighiero Boetti, Pascal Convert, Gohar Dashti, Berlinde De Bruyeckere, Paola De Pietri, Harun Farocki, Yervant Gianikian e Angela Ricci Lucchi, Alfredo Jaar, William Kentridge, Mateo Maté, Adi Nes, ORLAN, Sophie Ristelhueber, Thomas Ruff, Anri Sala and Artur Żmijewski.
Some of the best works by artists as yet unknown to the Italian public will be on display. A masterpiece that has not yet been shown in Italy is the complete series of 15 woodcuts by Sandow Birk, measuring 2.5 meters each. Birk narrates the war in Iraq by basing himself on the 18 woodcuts by Jacques Callot (1633) called Les Grandes Misères de la guerre, which was an inspiration also to Francisco Goya for his own Desastres de la guerra (1810-1815) on the Spanish war of independence.
The famous installation, In Flanders Fields, by Berlinde de Bruyckere is presented for the first time alongside the historic photographs that inspired it, on loan from the photographic archive of In Flanders Fields Museum at Ypres (Belgium) in which the artist spent some time in residence.
Also on show will be the entire series of House beautiful bringing the war home by Martha Rosler, one of the most noted reflections on the relationship between war and media; Atlantic Wall by Magdalena Jetevola, a photographic installation about the bunkers of the Second World War, inspired by the texts of the French philosopher, Paul Virilio, and the Picnic o il buon soldato installation by Fabio Mauri in which the artist created a sort of still life using original everyday objects from the war years.
Paolo Ventura, artist in residence at the Mart and former guest at the Casa d’arte futurista Depero in 2013 with two photographic series inspired by the Futurist artist, has been invited to produce a context-specific project.
Finally, for the first time since its recent restoration, Guerra-festa by Fortunato Depero will be displayed, on loan from the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna in Rome.
Some important archive documents dating from the First World War have been restored for the exhibition at the Mart, together with works of art, posters and remains from the Museo dell’aeronautica Gianni Caproni of Trento, the Museo Civico del Risorgimento of Bologna, the Soprintendenza per i beni architettonici e archeologici of the Autonomous province of Trento and the Soprintendenza per i beni storici, artistici e etnoantropologici for the provinces of Venice, Belluno, Padua and Treviso – Salce collection.