Xanti (Alexander) Schawinsky, Olivetti MP1 Portable (ico) poster (1935), lithograph (all images courtesy Center for Italian Modern Art)

In 1926, Italian Futurist painter Fortunato Depero debuted “Squisito al selz” at the 15th Venice Biennial. The painting advertised Campari, a popular Italian aperitif, and belonged to a genre Depero called quadro pubblicitario or “advertising painting.” Depero’s Biennial presentation was an offshoot of a half-decade collaboration between the artist and the brand; in 1924, he was put in charge of the company’s advertising brand and campaigns, and produced many materials for them in his signature style.

This fine art crossover of Depero’s commercial art triggered a movement within avant-garde Italian art that lasted a solid 30 years, through Italy’s economic boom following World War II. This blurring of influences between experimental art and advertising is the subject of an upcoming exhibition at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York. From Depero to Rotella: Italian Commercial Posters Between Advertising and Art opens mid-February at CIMA, and will feature nearly three dozen examples of crossover art within this movement.

GiVi (Giuseppe Vincenti), Watt Radio poster (1931), chromolithograph on paper

From pasta, to men’s hats, to theater performances, to typewriters, and beyond, artists of the time applied modern aesthetics to create graphic, engaging, color-blocked posters (among other advertising materials) that not only forwarded Modernist and Futurist thinking among artistic circles into the common visual vernacular, but made advertising a form of artistic expression in its own right. New headway was made by Depero and his fellows, regarding lithographic techniques, photomontage, and typography. These techniques and artist vision promoted the products of iconic companies integral to Italy’s economic boom, including Barilla, Campari, Olivetti, Fiat, and Pirelli.

Bruno Munari, Suola Coria Pirelli poster (1953) (© Comune di Milano)

The exhibition features numerous posters from major Italian institutions and corporate collections, and private collections in the United States, made by a cohort of artists including Erberto Carboni, Fortunato Depero, Nikolai Diulgheroff, Lucio Fontana, Max Huber, Bruno Munari, and many others.

Armando Testa Pirelli, Arti Grafiche Pirovano poster (1954–c. 1980), offset print

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