Mansoor, Jaleh, Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia. Durham: Duke University Press, 2016. 288 pages. Paperback, $26.95.
As Professor Jaleh Mansoor begins Marshall Plan Modernism, she highlights that the perceived gap between history, theory, and practice is nothing more than imagined (p.4). This breaking down of imagined barriers is a perfect characterization of Mansoor's work; only she chooses to break down the imagined barriers of relevancy to questions in the field. Mansoor even states that the intention of her work is to, "reopen questions of analytical and interpretive method to pose a way out of the usual impasse between formalist autonomy... and social reflective history" (p. 38). In doing so, Mansoor chooses not to create a definitive answer to questions of Lucio Fontana or Alberto Burri's work but breathe new life into questions deemed irrelevant.
In order to do so, Mansoor carefully articulates the coexistence of culture and history through the delineation of "autonomy" against the Marxist definitions of the 1950s (p.24). Mansoor begins her work by exploring the resurgence of monochromatic art as it relates to the postwar culture while it was monochrome that led to the decline of painting in 1921. Moving past her introduction of monochrome, Mansoor focuses on some of the leading figures as major contributors of this change in the cultural landscape. These were Piero Manzoni, Lucio Fontana, and Alberto Burri. By focusing on these individuals, Mansoor can solidify her argumentative framework in snapshots of these artists and their use of unorthodox materials and brutal engagement with the medium.
As with all academic fields, there comes a point when the questions become stagnant. Focusing on the resurgence of artistic methods like the monochrome, Mansoor chooses to combat the assumed irrelevance of this narrative by illuminating a more nuanced perspective of the development of this culture of the miracolo italiano in the era of mass production and the exploitation of worker's rights. In order to do this, Mansoor cites Burri, Fontana, and Manzoni as key figures in conversation with each other and responding to the cultural landscape in which they found themselves.
As a single monograph, Mansoor's work is extremely successful. The work was written with upper level academics as the intended audience. Coming from Duke University Press, the quality and contributions of Marshall Plan...