Adolfo Wildt’s Fascinating Fascism

Go figure: the long-forgotten Adolfo Wildt is having a bicoastal moment. He’s featured in the New York Guggenheim’s “Chaos and Classicism: Art in France, Italy, and Germany, 1918-1936″ and also in the Resnick collection show at LACMA. The Guggenheim exhibition is the polar opposite of LACMA’s fluffery. It’s curated by a famous art historian, Kenneth Silver, who’s written extensively on this neglected phase of modernism. Wildt (1868-1931) is a key figure in the post-futurist return to the classics. His one-time fame may be judged from the fact that de Chirico wrote that the surfaces of Brancusi’s sculptures reminded him of Wildt’s. Today Wildt is remembered mainly for his brutalist portrait of Benito Mussolini (above), on view at the Guggenheim. Brokered by Il Duce’s Jewish girlfriend, Margherita Sarfatti, the Wildt Mussolini has hollow eyes, like an ancient bronze, and possesses the colossal scowl of portraits of the baddest emperors.
Wildt’s Madonna (left) is only a little less disturbing, a post-Spielberg E.T. seen through the lens of Francesco Laurana. Oddly enough, Wildt taught Lucio Fontana. The LACMA show contains three Wildt marbles, including Uomo Antico (below), possibly the most unpleasant work in a collection that errs on the side of pleasantness. Wildt favors hollow eye-sockets framing globular eyeballs with mostly closed lids featuring stone eyelashes. This upturns the millennia-long debate about how best to represent eyes in sculpture. By most standards, Wildt does everything wrong. If Wildt has anything to say to us today, it’s as a “party of no” challenging every received notion of plastic propriety.

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