Liberi tutti! Art and Society in Italy. 1989 – 2001 represents the first effort to analyze through a historical perspective that generation of Italian artists active between the late 1980s and the early 2000s.
A period, from the fall of Berlin Wall (9 November 1989) to the collapse of New York Twin Towers (11 September 2001), when society and culture underwent especially intense changes, waiting for another crucial passage, the coming of a new century and a new millennium.
As a matter of fact, in a very short span of time, the progress of digital culture revolutionized our way of life. The spread of HIV marked a change in interpersonal relations, undermining the sexual freedom gained in the previous decades and at the same time stimulating some thinking about gender identity. A greater awareness of environmental problems began to spread and, most of all, with the end of the cold war, the collapse of the USSR and the establishing of global economic dynamics and with major migratory flows towards more developed conflict-free countries, the perception of the world and its boundaries changed and the encounter of different cultures became everyday experience. Art expresses its own time and is sometimes able to anticipate it, increasing the awareness of the reality we live in. From 1989 to 2001, art itself has changed at an unknown speed, opening up to new themes, new languages, and encompassing expressions of cultures and geographic scenarios ignored before.
Even though it is maybe not as much influenced by major geo-political and cultural changes as USA and Great Britain or emerging countries like China are, Italian art scene of the 1990s significantly responds to its time and the questions it poses, it is rich of novelty and creative effervescences: as a matter of fact, that generation of artists can be considered the last one which came out solid and positive on the international scene.
It is a generation which, compared to the previous ones, practises great freedom in style, form and content. Switching from painting to video, from installation art to sculpture, from photography to objects, most young artists born in the 1960s and emerging in the 1990s amaze for the “thoughtful lightness” of their artistic proposal and the care in staging them; they are strongly tied to the project, they often dialogue
between them and they establish relations with other languages, such as literature but also film and music scene, lively like it has not been for a long time. The title Liberi tutti! – which has more or less the same meaning as “olly olly oxen free” – is inspired by a song of Turinese band Subsonica, released in their second album Microchip emozionale [Emotional Microchip] from 1999 and highlights the wide space of possibility (which does not mean without any rule) open to the Italian art of the 1990s.
It was a particularly lively and creative moment which has not repeated itself in recent times. Its story goes hand in hand with the development of our society, in a decade not so easy to identify yet, but whose distance in time seems enough to look at it without any prejudice or exaltation.
If Milan can seem the trade hub of young art galleries and the heart of the concentration of a great number of young artists from all over Italy, Turin develops an important cultural policy which, after the first serious economic crisis, will transform the industrial hub into the city of tourism and experimentation; Rome, on its turn, collects the heritage of Transavanguardia movement with different significant figures and the South too, neglected in other times, shows lively and exciting.
Since Italy is traditionally a country without a center, the role of provinces is foundamental: many notable galleries and exhibition spaces stand outside the metropolitan areas and it must be noticed that contemporary art museums whose date of birth is between the late 1980s and the early 1990s are taking on a new role.
- Massimo Vitali, Mazoon 1, 1997. Courtesy of the artist
- Maurizio Cattelan, Untitled, 1995. Photo, Armin Linke Courtesy, Maurizio Cattelan's Archive