Text written for the exhibition catalogue for Punti di Vista. Identità, Conflitti, Mutamenti at the Museo Nazionale di Palazzo Arnone, Cosenza, and curated by Ludovico Pratesi and Fabio De Chirico.


Eisenstein’s film “The General Line” tells the story of the dramatic lives lived in the Russian countryside before the Bolshevik Revolution, and of a female peasant’s attempts to create a cooperative. The film was a very long time in the making because it was considered unrealistic by the Communist Party’s control units, who imposed continuous changes. Stalin even intervened in person, ordering for the title to be changed into “The Old and the New”.
In 1987 I wrote a piece for an American magazine after the consecutive deaths of Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol, which was entitled “The Old and the New”. Here is an extract: ‘… now we have achieved an historical distance from our fathers and have recently buried two of our closest, to which we were tied by an affection so strong that it clouded our vision, our new art practices appear too often as veined with the nostalgia of loss, and the plastic material becomes sheer symptomology, the symbol of a liquidation, of the emptying out of the warehouses of art, of an exercise executed on inherited, dead styles…’ (1). What I wanted to point at with these words was the negative phenomenon of so‐called ‘citationism’, so pervasive at the time, which resolved all the problems of cultural inheritance with quote, whether it was quote of form or quote of content. I was denouncing something then which I still think is worth denouncing now: the risks inherent in confronting the past by using the mediation of a sort of warehouse filled with iconographic stock and with past meaning, which we can somehow access and use freely and unconsciously every time we wish to confront our past, that is, ourselves, and our work. The work of art reveals its newness when it most forcefully projects us into tradition in the true sense of the word: ‘implicit in the very instrument of every transmission, in language…’ (2). But it would be a mistake to consider this as a gesture entirely performed within the very grammar of a language, in fact the longer we linger within that grammar, the less likely we are to perform that renewal which is the distinctive trait of the truly new work of art.
What difference is there, today, between the two dichotomies Ancient/Modern and New/Old? Perhaps there is none, perhaps all of the ancient is perceived as old and all of the modern as new. Perhaps the weave of values which post-modernity has until recently (and imperiously) proposed, which sees the ancient with the new together with the modern with the old (a weave which is resolved and confronted only on a formal level)has made us unfamiliar with an authentic form of dialogue between that which has passed and that which is about to begin. A dialogue which is alive and necessary, but only on the condition that there won’t be a Stalin or some other nouveau philosophe who would again decree the meaning and the rhythm of that dialogue. Only on the condition, that is, that it’ll be us who will be able to find an Italian pathway which can solve the confrontation, and the bipolar transition, between ancient and new; a pathway which can allow us to thread sign and sense, to compose a unifying weave of histories and relationships. The work of art is never innovative: it is re‐innovative. It regenerates the hidden new in all which is terminated and consumed within a petrified reality; and the invention of the image remains its principal instrument, because without that invention there would be no confrontation, no dialogue, nothing able to enrich language: without invention there would be only traditionalism, formalism. The act of living in one’s own time allows past time to continuously reestablish its own life, to continue posing the questions it still contains: ‘nothing is worse than being stepchildren of one’s own time. There is no worse fate than that of living in a time which is not one’s own… Time only loves those who time itself has generated: it loves its own children, its own heroes, its own workers. It can never love the children of the past, the way women don’t love the heroes of the past, the way stepmothers don’t love other people’s children…’ (3). The task of creation, then, is to shed light on the vivaciousness of tradition renewed, to show us its living necessity, its absolute presence. The work of art renews the world, it presents and conceives the world for us who, in visiting an exhibition like the one discussed in this book, can feel that we are a vital part of its becoming.

Alfredo Pirri
Rome 2013

(1) Alfredo Pirri, in “Il vecchio e il nuovo”, ICA Journal, Los Angeles e Cominciamenti, De Luca edizioni 1987 – 1988
(2) Karl Jaspers, in “Del tragico”, SE studio editoriale,1987
(3)Vasilij Grossman, in “Vita e Destino”, Adelphi 2008