Rome in Hollywood
A Look at Mimmo Rotella
Mimmo Rotella was one of the most important post-war Italian artists and writers, which is somewhat ironic since American pop culture played such a large role in his art practice. Much like his American peers Robert Rauschenberg or Jasper Johns, Rotella was interested in the reprisal of Dada. The absurd and bizarre principles of the Dadaist movement resonated with Rotella after the destruction wrought on his native Italy through the misguided and violent intentions of Benito Mussolini. By using the media of a flourishing America, Rotella also was a forerunner of Pop Art (and Andy Warhol’s Marilyn) even before the 1960s.
Rotella is most known for his interest in collage’s inverse: décollage. Collage is a process of addition: layering and building up surfaces. However, décollage involves removing, ripping, and ungluing surfaces. For Rotella, the result is violent rips and gashes across the faces of matinee idols and starlet’s bodies, advertisement lettering is rendered illegible and abstract, and surfaces are mottled and scarred. By combining Cubist and Dada styles with the artificial imagery of American consumerism is surprisingly effective. Consider this: while Italians were picking up the pieces after the trauma and shame of World War II, the technicolor movies of Marilyn Monroe were being imported to European audiences. That would certainly be a jarring dichotomy.
Rotella hasn’t had a large survey in America in quite a few years, but he has retained a popular reputation in Italy and across Europe, which only has grown since his death in 2006. This year is the centenary of Rotella’s birth and the Galleria Nazionale d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea of Rome has put together an exhibition that celebrates his career as an artist and writer. Curated by Germano Celant, it is a compelling ode to this fascinating man. Hopefully this time America will take