Marshall Plan Modernism

Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia

Marshall Plan Modernism

Art History Publication Initiative

More about this series

Book Pages: 288 Illustrations: 26 illustrations, incl. 8 in c Published: September 2016

Author: Jaleh Mansoor

Art and Visual Culture > Art Criticism and Theory, History > European History, Sociology > Social Theory

Focusing on artwork by Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Piero Manzoni, Jaleh Mansoor demonstrates and reveals how abstract painting, especially the monochrome, broke with fascist-associated futurism and functioned as an index of social transition in postwar Italy. Mansoor refuses to read the singularly striking formal and procedural violence of Fontana's slit canvasses, Burri's burnt and exploded plastics, and Manzoni's "achromes" as metaphors of traumatic memories of World War II. Rather, she locates the motivation for this violence in the history of the medium of painting and in the economic history of postwar Italy. Reconfiguring the relationship between politics and aesthetics, Mansoor illuminates how the monochrome's reemergence reflected Fontana, Burri, and Manzoni's aesthetic and political critique of the Marshall Plan's economic warfare and growing American hegemony. It also anticipated the struggles in Italy's factories, classrooms, and streets that gave rise to Autonomia in the 1960s. Marshall Plan Modernism refigures our understanding of modernist painting as a project about labor and the geopolitics of postwar reconstruction during the Italian Miracle.


"Brilliantly highlighting the difference between Italian autonomy/autonomia and the far more general and metaphorical evocations of factory work in American-style pop art and minimalism, Mansoor is one among a small group of authors whose work consistently undercut the historicizing and pacifying ism in the concept of modernism. What we gain is an art historical account on par with the multiple upheavals of modernity and their various contingencies."
  — Ina Blom, Critical Inquiry

"Mansoor’s book is an inspiring investigation of Italian art in the post-war years, and an unprecedented attempt, at least in terms of a book-length study, to apply to artworks analytical tools derived from autonomous Marxism." — Jacopo Galimberti, Oxford Art Journal

"An ambitious book: it is literally brimming with questions and the invitation to further exploration. . . . It takes up the challenge to think differently about accepted narratives of the neo-avant-garde and of artistic practices in Europe after the Second World War." — Teresa Kittler, Art History

"Possessing the great gift of being able to bring art to life through language, Jaleh Mansoor offers new and illuminating readings of artworks that are among the most compelling objects from the last seventy-five years. She infuses the complex frameworks of recent Marxist thought with her own voice, thinking through the possibilities open to painting while deepening our understanding of postwar Italian culture and its contradictions. This book makes a powerful contribution to the discourses of art history and cultural criticism." — Rachel Haidu, author of The Absence of Work: Marcel Broodthaers, 1964–1976

"Jaleh Mansoor’s Marshall Plan Modernism is a strong, tendentious, and convincing argument for the works of Alberto Burri, Lucio Fontana, and Piero Manzoni as symptomatic responses to the global ascension of postwar American painting, in one register, and to the economic and social displacements of Bretton Woods and the miracolo Italiano, in another. Written with intensity and critical commitment, Mansoor’s book presents their works as acts of resistance and antagonism—and political theory—that parallel and even prefigure the actions of Operaio and Autonomia against the assembly line and the new productivity, in sabotage and strike." — Howard Singerman, author of Art History, After Sherrie Levine


Availability: In stock
Price: $26.95

Open Access

Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Jaleh Mansoor is Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of British Columbia and coeditor of Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics, also published by Duke University Press.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Acknowledgments  vii

Introduction. Labor, (Workers') Autonomy, (Art) Work  1

1. The Monochrome in the Neocapitalist Laboratory  39

2. Lucio Fontana and the Politics of the Gesture  69

3. Alberto Burri's Plastics and the Political Aesthetics of Opacity  93

4. "We Want to Organicize Disintegration"  119

Conclusion. "Ready-Made Artist and Human Strike" or From Autonomy to Strike  167

Notes  207

Bibliography  249

Index  265
Sales/Territorial Rights: World

Rights and licensing
Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-6260-9 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-6245-6
Publicity material