Art for Sale: Paper Works @ Barbara Behan

Article excerpt

THE ITALIAN Cultural Institute and the Estorick Collection do much to promote modern and contemporary Italian art, but Barbara Behan's gallery is one of the few places where it is possible to buy such work from someone with specialist knowledge of movements from Futurism to Arte Povera.

Italy has always been a divided nation - the industrial north and the agrarian, Mediterranean south; a nation with the weight of art history carried on its shoulders, where museums and galleries are packed with paintings from the Renaissance to the Baroque.

Fascism has also been a problematic legacy for post-war artists. There are no Italian equivalents to the German Kiefer and Baselitz, facing the wartime experience head-on. With its love of speed and the machine, Futurism - the early 20th-century Italian avant-garde movement with dubious political connections - was a complex antecedent.

In the Fifties there was a gulf between those who followed other European movements into abstraction and those who favoured more traditional figuration. The generation of artists working in Italy from the beginning of the Sixties was the first to escape these strictures. Artists such as Lucio Fontana and Alberto Burri, with their analysis of what art could be, their interest in space and time, philosophy and material, had paved the way for Arte Povera, an influential post-war movement with its emphasis on anti-form and process. Artists like Manzoni would favour the use of materials such as cotton wool and eggshells over traditional pigment - even, notoriously, in the 1974 Tate exhibition organised by Germano Celant showing tins of his own excrement.

This exhibition consists of works on paper by Italian artists from the Futurists to the "young champions of the gallery". …