Rationalism on Set at Estorick Collection
Do you know any Italian films from the 1930s? If you’re drawing a blank, it’s not surprising. Until recently, the country’s contributions to cinema in this decade have generally been overlooked. Now, they are seeing a resurgence of interest from an unexpected angle: architecture.
Rationalism on Set: Glamour and Modernity in 1930s Italian Cinema at the Estorick Collection sets out a compelling argument for the ways in which international Modernism influenced the set designs for a number of Italian films during this period, and how these designs in turn became an influential reference point in the national culture more generally.
A number of features made by the dominant studio Cines feature strikingly modernist sets, which were built on an impressive scale and often photographed before filming began. Many of the set designers and directors who contributed to these works were also trained in architecture, and the results are stunning: glamorous, clean-lined and thoroughly modern, the constructions are entirely different to anything being produced in real life by Italian architects at the time.
The exhibition points to the myriad ways in which artistic and architectural references can be transmitted, picked up and transformed through popular culture, breathing new life into an industry that was otherwise lacking in innovation. For Italian film directors and designers, cinema offered an important way of conveying a taste for new architectural trends to the viewing public, and encouraging the wider adoption of modernist design in their country.
The display initially feels a bit difficult to get to grips with: it falls between so many disciplines (architecture, design, cinema, photography) that it’s hard to know how to assess the value of what you’re looking at. Filled with references to movies, directors and designers few people have heard of, it might also feel a bit niche for some viewers. But once you put these difficulties aside, it becomes apparent that the subtle visual pleasure of the show is complemented by an overarching and convincing narrative that rewards closer attention.
Rationalism on Set is at Estorick Collection from 18th April until 24th June 2018. For further information visit the exhibition’s website here.