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© Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, a project by the Archaeological Park of Pompeii, 2020. Project Partner: MiC.
All archival images and photographs taken at the Archaeological Park of Pompeii are used with permission from MiC-Ministry of Culture-Archaeological Park of Pompeii. Any copies or reproductions are strictly forbidden.

Salvatore Settis, in conversation with Chiara Costa. The exhibition as Pathosformel

Pompeii Commitments 22    10•06•2021

1. Image:

Crouching Venus
Exhibition view of Serial Classic, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola
Fondazione Prada Milan
2015
Photo Attilio Maranzano
Courtesy Fondazione Prada

2-8. Text:

Exhibition as Pathosformel
Salvatore Settis in conversation with Chiara Costa

9. Images:

Exhibition views of Serial Classic, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola
Fondazione Prada Milan
2015
Photo Attilio Maranzano
Courtesy Fondazione Prada

10. Images:

Exhibition views of Portable Classic, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Davide Gasparotto
Fondazione Prada Venice
2015
Photo Attilio Maranzano
Courtesy Fondazione Prada

11. Image:

Center:
Experimental reconstruction of the Riace “A” Bronze, 2015
Reconstruction by V. Brinkmann, U. Koch-Brinkmann, L. Campana, P. Donati, T. Silvestri, K. Balzer
Exhibition view of Serial Classic, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola
Fondazione Prada Milan
2015
Photo Attilio Maranzano
Courtesy Fondazione Prada

In this interview especially conducted for Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, Chiara Costa, Head of Programs at the Fondazione Prada, converses with the archaeologist and art historian, Salvatore Settis, whose exhibitions and publications (among which the book Futuro del “classico”. Turin: Einaudi, 2004) provide an essential insight into the understanding of “archaeological material” as a potentially contemporary subject: an assumption that forms the very basis for the working method of Pompeii Commitment. Archaeological Matters, if indeed “the ‘classical’ does not only concern the past”, as Settis maintains, “but the present and a vision of the future”.
Awareness of the importance of integrating not only different subjects, but also times and spaces worlds apart, was the reason behind the Fondazione Prada’s programmatic choice to inaugurate one of its own galleries – which together form a multidisciplinary cultural institution dedicated to contemporary experiences of culture, rather than to contemporary art in the strict sense of the term – with two exhibitions on archaeological subjects: the inaugural exhibition Serial Classic (Fondazione Prada, Milan, 2015) conceived and co-curated by Settis with Anna Anguissola, alongside the simultaneous exhibition Portable Classic, (Fondazione Prada, Venice, 2015) co-curated by Settis and Davide Gasparotto. The first explored the ambivalent relationship between originality and imitation in Roman culture, characterised by the circulation of multiples, copies and further versions and variants as an homage to Greek art: “We tend to associate the idea of the classic to that of uniqueness, but in no other period of Western art history were the creation of copies from great masterpieces of the past as important as in late Republican Rome and throughout the Imperial age.” The second explored the origins and functions of miniature reproductions of classical sculptures: “In both ancient Rome and modern Europe, a veritable canon of sculptures is formed, considered as the highest formulation of a given subject. Their prestige is such that the educated public wants at least one reproduction, even of small dimensions and in different materials from the original”. One example of this trend, which like a spatial and at the same time temporal theory occupied the first floor of Ca’ Corner della Regina (the Venetian branch of the Foundation), is the Ercole Farnese, presented at the exhibition in the form of a 317 cm plaster cast, which was, in turn, used for academic study, based on its reproduction by the students, juxtaposed with a series of modern reproductions in various materials (marble, bronze and terracotta), ranging from the smallest copy (15 cm) to the largest (130 cm).
The installation of Serial Classic, developed by Settis with the architect Rem Koolhaas and the OMA studio (which designed the entire architectural complex of the Fondazione Prada in Milan), amplified the curatorial intent which, in Settis’ words, proposed and analysed “an unresolved question: can classical culture and art, which have played a decisive role in European history for centuries, continue to maintain its citizenship today, tomorrow and the day after?”. The display of the works, stripped of the more usual museum features such as the base, the pedestal or the display case, created an effect defined by Costa as “almost en plein air“, an atmosphere evocative of their hypothetical original outdoor locations and therefore equal, since the statues and the public walk together in the same environment. This was fully in keeping with Settis’ idea of “de-classicising classical art” in order to move from “passive admiration to creative questioning”.
Germano Celant also worked in a similar way, in dialogue with Koolhaas and the artist Thomas Demand, again at the Fondazione Prada, with an exhibition more specifically dedicated to the history of contemporary art entitled When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013. The project was based on a reconstruction of the exhibition curated by Harald Szeemann at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969, Live in Your Head. When Attitudes Become Form, which went down in history for the curator’s radical approach to exhibition practice. Its reconstruction on a 1:1 scale in the eighteenth-century rooms of Ca’ Corner della Regina maintained the original visual and formal relationships between the works, but raised a series of questions on an artistic, architectural and curatorial level: how is it possible to be both identical and different, symmetrical and asymmetrical? By testing possible forms of coexistence between past and present, between one exhibition and another, the language of exhibition design and curatorship emerged not as functional tools, but as an aid to critical investigation.
Expanding upon and returning to the themes of Serial Classic and Portable Classic through reflections that link the historical and contemporary dimensions, Costa and Settis explore exhibition-making as a subject that, like archaeology – in a mobile and dynamic way, notwithstanding the rigour and responsibility of its investigative tools – captures the symptoms of its own time. A practice that is therefore “seismographic” in its analysis of the relationship between past and present, that is linked to the vision formulated at the beginning of the twentieth century by the art historian and critic Aby Warburg, according to whom certain archetypal images tend to resurface and reappear in art history, even centuries later and in different contexts. The analysis of these images, defined as Pathosformeln (“pathetic formulas”), configures historical knowledge as expressive pathos, the expression of a desire that is stratified in experiences and expressions that return, as though they were the sediments of different geological phases, or as filmic stills, to condense the original creation (pathos) in the repetitiveness of the canon (Formeln, or “formulas”).
In line with this consideration, whereby that which has been long-buried can suddenly re-emerge, Pompeii itself and its archaeological materials – which, not surprisingly, appear repeatedly in the plates of Warburg’s Bilderatlas Mnemosyne (an atlas of images he dedicated to the Greek goddess of memory) – can be perceived as dimensions that are both original and derived: or, as Settis puts it, “as the speaking symptom of an excruciating impulse to build the new, while coming to terms with history”. SB-AV

Home page image: The Discobolus. Exhibition view of Serial Classic, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola. Fondazione Prada Milan, 2015. Photo Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

Salvatore Settis served as director of the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles (1994–99) and the Scuola Normale Superiore in Pisa (1999–2010). He was President of the Consiglio Superiore dei Beni Culturali (Cultural Heritage Board) (2007–09) and is one of the founding members of the European Research Council (2005–11). He was Warburg Professor at the University of Hamburg, gave the Isaiah Berlin Lectures at Oxford and the Mellon Lectures at the National Gallery in Washington. He has held the Cátedra at the Museo del Prado in Madrid and the Borromini Chair at the Università della Svizzera Italiana. Since 2010, he has been Chairman of the Louvre Museum’s Scientific Advisory Council. His research interests include topics relating to the history of ancient art (La Colonna Traiana. Turin: 1988; Laocoonte. Fama e stile. Rome: 1999) and post-ancient art (La «Tempesta» interpretata. Giorgione, i committenti, il soggetto. Turin: 1978; Incursioni. Arte contemporanea e tradizione. Milan: 2020), cultural orientation and policies (Futuro del “classico”. Turin: 2004; Architettura e democrazia. Paesaggio, città, diritti civili. Turin: 2017). For Einaudi he edited: Memoria dell’antico nell’arte italiana (Turin: 1984-86); I Greci. Storia, arte, cultura, società (Turin: 1995-2002); and for Panini he manages the series Mirabilia Italiae. His exhibitions include: La forza del bello. L’arte greca conquista l’Italia (Mantua, Palazzo Te, 2008); Serial Classic and Portable Classic (Milan and Venice, Fondazione Prada, 2015); I marmi Torlonia. Collezionare capolavori (Rome, Musei Capitolini, 2021). He is a member of the Accademia dei Lincei, the American Philosophical Society of Philadelphia and the Academies of France, Berlin, Bavaria and Belgium.

Chiara Costa, art historian and researcher, has been Head of Programs at Fondazione Prada since 2019, where she had been Editor of Publications since 2012. She recently edited the monograph on Lizzie Fitch and Ryan Trecartin (2019), and the catalogues for the exhibitions Post Zang Tumb Tuuum…(2018) and TV 70 (2017). She was co-curator of the first edition of the Books & Others festival, organised by the Milan branch of the ICA in 2019, and is curator of Johannes, the podcast of Ordet, a production space in Milan. She has written for numerous magazines such as Mousse, Nero, Arte, Exibart, Vogue.it and has collaborated with the Treccani encyclopaedia. She is the author of the catalogue dedicated to the history of the Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles and New York (Skira, Milan 2016, edited by Germano Celant). She was head of the publishing house Kaleidoscope and Project Manager of the exhibition space of the same name. She has also collaborated with the Biennale di Venezia, Manifesta 7, the Istituto Svizzero in Rome, the CCCS Strozzina in Florence and the research agency Connecting Cultures in Milan.

Pompeii Commitment

Salvatore Settis, in conversation with Chiara Costa. The exhibition as Pathosformel

Pompeii Commitments 22 10•06•2021

The exhibition as
Pathosformel

Salvatore Settis in conversation with Chiara Costa

 

Chiara Costa – Over the last fifteen years, the study of exhibition history as a subject practically in its own right, as distinct from art history and historiography, has stepped up considerably. In the contemporary sphere, I am thinking of Bruce Altshuler’s research, or the “Exhibition Histories” series by Afterall, the research centre of University of the Arts London. In 2013 and 2018, with Germano Celant, the Fondazione Prada worked on these very themes, with the readymade-exhibition that reconstructed When Attitudes Become Form (Bern, 1969) in dialogue with Rem Koolhaas and Thomas Demand, and with the exhibition Post Zang Tumb Tuuum. Art Life Politics: Italy 1918–1943 which traced the history of exhibitions, and hence that of the art system in Italy between the two wars. The exhibitions that you curated – Serial Classic and Portable Classic (Fondazione Prada, Milan and Venice, 2015) – also covered a similar theme, namely the idea of the creation of a canon and its repetition. In your book Futuro del “classico” (Einaudi, 2004), you speak about the rhythmic mechanism which, from fragments of the past (‘pathos of ruins’), generates the need for rebirth [1]. Do you think that this perennial evolutionary drive of the classical – an extremely contemporary characteristic in its own right can be examined in depth and studied in an innovative way through exhibitions?

Salvatore Settis — Your question concerns the ‘classical’ theme, but transcends it. In recent decades, the number of exhibitions (even of classical art) has grown, often in a deleterious and spurious manner, spreading all over the world a large number of instant shows without a real intellectual project behind them, placing works of art at risk unnecessarily by subjecting them to travelling, and sometimes running such risks merely to pander to the vanity or stratagems of politicians or curators of museums and exhibitions who have run out of ideas. So the fundamental question is: is it worth holding temporary exhibitions, given the costs involved and the stress (which can be reduced to a minimum but not completely eliminated) to which works of art are subjected, just by being packed and having to travel? My view is that it is only worthwhile organising temporary exhibitions if they really do broaden the knowledge, not only of specialists in that particular field, but also of every other visitor. This can also happen in exhibitions where the theme is not (or does not appear to be) new.


1 Cf. in particular the chapters “Eternitá delle rovine” (Eternity of the ruins), pp. 82–91 and “Storie di ritorni” (Cyclical Histories), pp. 102-111.

‘Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form’, 1969. Credit Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles (2011.M.30)

When Germano Celant reproduced When Attitudes Become Form with Koolhaas and Demand at Ca’ Corner della Regina, it was certainly not out of laziness (redoing an exhibition that had already been done), or to pay an abstract academic homage to Harald Szeemann or to the Bern Kunsthalle, but to cast doubt, by an action with a strong authorial imprint, on a question of method, i.e. is it possible to reconstruct an important exhibition ‘archaeologically’, and what does it mean, in terms of impact and response, to reproduce it ‘as is’ forty years later? This brings to mind a short story by Jorge Luis Borges, Pierre Menard, Author of the Quixote (1939): Pierre Menard assiduously rewrites Don Quixote, word for word, without copying it, because, as he says, ‘I have taken on the mysterious duty of reconstructing literally his [Cervantes’] spontaneous work’. It is a project that lasts for years, and only a few pages come out of it, identical to those of Cervantes’ masterpiece, for example this sentence: “la verdad, cuya madre es la historia, émula del tiempo, depósito de las acciones, testigo de lo pasado, ejemplo y aviso de lo presente, advertencia de lo por venir” [truth, whose mother is history, who is the rival of time, depository of deeds, witness of the past, example and lesson to the present, and warning to the future]. The sentence is the same, but what a difference in meaning! “Written in the seventeenth century, – writes Borges – this enumeration is a mere rhetorical praise of history”. In the twentieth century (Menard’s time), the idea that history is the mother of truth has a new implication. “Historical truth (…) is not what has happened; it is what we judge to have happened”. Reproducing a text (or an exhibition) after a long period of time has major cognitive consequences: the exhibition changes, but so does the mind of the person who does (or re-does) it. Germano was fully aware of this: when he was starting to work on the Venetian edition of When Attitudes Become Form he once spoke to me about it. He began more or less like this: I have an archaeological exhibition in mind, do you think it is worth doing? ‘Archaeological’, or philological, referred, in fact, to the method, the filter through which to reproduce that exhibition, acting, so to speak, as secondary curators (or half-curators), an intellectual endeavour of great interest.

Installation view of ‘When Attitudes Become Form: Bern 1969/Venice 2013’. From left to right: works by Gary B. Kuehn, Eva Hesse, Alan Saret, Reiner Ruthenbeck, Richard Tuttle. Fondazione Prada Venice, 2013. Photo Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

The distance between Szeemann’s When Attitudes Become Form and Celant’s is the same distance as that between Cervantes’ Quixote and Menard’s. The Venice 2013 exhibition appears the same as the Bern 1969 exhibition, but has a radically different meaning.

Chiara Costa — When the Fondazione Prada opened its new arts complex in Milan in 2015 with Serial Classic, many were surprised that an institute of contemporary art and culture would unveil itself to the public with an archaeology exhibition. I think it was a statement of intents for the foundation. From the dialogue with you, it gained a fundamental awareness of the importance of placing in dialogue and integrating different subjects. After all, a key element in the work of Rem Koolhaas and OMA studio when designing the building complex was that of ‘expanding the repertoire’ of types of space in which art can be exhibited and shared. This architectural choice is complemented by an extension of the types of content that can inhabit the space through the exhibitions and their settings. Shortly before the official opening, I remember that we went together to see Defining Beauty: The Body in Ancient Greek Art, an exhibition at the British Museum the purpose of which was to examine the “revival of the Greek body in the modern era”. The set-up used the contrast between the artificial light and the blackness of the walls, creating a very theatrical effect, which in contrast was replaced in Serial Classic by an almost en plein air display. Since it is undeniable that an exhibition set-up is a communication tool, what was the message you wanted to convey?

Salvatore Settis — What led me to imagine Serial Classic was, I think, in sync with Germano Celant’s experiential imagination and curatorial intuition, but it was prompted by a totally different initial impulse. Miuccia Prada had asked me to envisage an exhibition on Greco-Roman themes for the opening of the new Fondazione Prada complex in Milan, a building designed by the architect Rem Koolhaas, but still to be constructed. I felt free to choose the theme, but I felt that it had to be in harmony with the strictly contemporary mission of the Prada collection, and in harmony with the spaces designed by a rigorous and visionary architect like Rem. This is why I decided to work on seriality in art, a theme that couldn’t be more contemporary, but which classical Greco-Roman art had already addressed in another way. Classical archaeologists are well aware of this, but others rarely suspect it, since mainstream culture cultivates the traditional image of classical art as invariably original, unique and unrepeatable.

‘The Doryphorus’. Exhibition view of ‘Serial Classic’, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola. Fondazione Prada Milano, 2015. Photo Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

‘The Pouring Satyrs’. Exhibition view of ‘Serial Classic’, co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola.
Fondazione Prada Milan, 2015.
Photo Attilio Maranzano. Courtesy Fondazione Prada

So it was a question of bridging the gap between the study of copies of lost works of art, which is the bread and butter of classical art historians, and a public that for the most part knows nothing about it. Archaeologists consider it a subject exclusively for specialists, and much of the public does not realise that when they see a Discobolus in London or Rome they never see the original – irremediably lost – Discobolus of Myron, but one of its many copies. But why were so many copies made? How do we know that they are copies of that very statue? And how can we imagine the lost original, which nobody has seen for the last fifteen centuries? Questions that archaeologists think they can easily answer (they cannot), but which may flash through the mind of any attentive viewer. The short circuit between two levels of knowledge thus became the springboard for envisioning narrative paths, exhibition challenges and cognitive expedients. Was this a new way of speaking about the ‘future of the classical’? It may seem a little presumptuous, but yes, I think it was.
Interaction with Rem Koolhaas was essential in order to ensure that messages such as these were not only conveyed, but also enhanced by the exhibition set-up. With my co-curator Anna Anguissola (at the parallel, ‘twin’ exhibition Portable Classic the co-curator was Davide Gasparotto) we developed a close dialogue with Rem and his co-workers, always mediated by the Fondazione Prada team, Germano Celant and Miuccia Prada herself. It was like tackling Mont Blanc from two sides: on one side a sensational piece of architecture was taking shape with its commanding spaces and expressive potential; on the other, a curatorial idea was coming to light, entailing a double challenge. Firstly, it questioned the alleged unrepeatability of classical art while, secondly, raising an unresolved question: can classical culture and art, which have played a decisive role in European history for centuries, continue to maintain its citizenship today, tomorrow and the day after? And if so, how and why?

Architectural maquette of the exhibition ‘Serial Classic’, 2015. Photo Frans Parthesius. Courtesy OMA

Let me use the metaphor of the tunnel for the last time: we met, digging from both sides, and we joyfully (this is the word) realised that the spaces designed by Rem seemed to have been expressly made to accommodate Discoboli and Doryphoroi, Venuses and Satyrs, allowing them to dialogue with one another and with the public. Rem’s ingenious idea of completely abolishing the pedestals of the statues – their most customary museum feature – totally confirmed the extent to which we had understood each other. I had not thought of it, but it fully corresponded to the idea of de-classicizing classical art by making it ‘walk’ among us, thereby changing the viewer’s role from blind and passive admiration to creative questioning, by its very nature infinite and unsatisfiable, but all the more fruitful for this very reason.

Image taken during the install of the exhibition ‘Serial Classic’, 2015. Photo Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy OMA

Chiara Costa — The first time I associated Aby Warburg’s name with contemporary art was thanks to the work of Goshka Macuga, who has not only openly paid tribute to the German art historian on several occasions, but has also incorporated the image-based procedure experimented in Mnemosyne into her artistic (and curatorial) approach.
Warburg likened his research to that of Nietzsche and Burckhardt, receivers of mnemonic waves”, and thus described himself as a seismograph that received signals, and would transmit the data collected in a monumental publication (only produced in 2020 by the Warburg Institute). It seems to me that this “seismographic metaphor”, to which you have referred several times, can certainly be applied to some artist-receivers and also to the figure of the curator, and hence to the profession of making exhibitions.

Salvatore Settis — I would add to what you said that Warburg was very interested in communication through exhibition. He lived during a period (1866–1929) when the practice of exhibition-making, although already in vogue for some time (see Francis Haskell’s famous book on the subject, published in Italian by Skira), had little to do with what happens around us. Warburg was not a collector of the contemporary art of his time, but in 1916 he bought a painting, from a few years earlier, called Blue Horses by Franz Marc and he hung it in the entry hall of his home in Hamburg as a kind of manifesto attesting to his preferences. The years of the First World War were years of tremendous suffering for him. In the conflict between his two homelands, his native Germany and the Italy of his studies, he saw the collapse of European historical memory. This conflict led to his mental illness (first diagnosed as schizophrenia, then as bipolar syndrome) that was to torment him for some years. He meant this and nothing else by his seismic metaphor: in the artist and philosopher, as in the art history scholar (and, by extension, in the exhibition curator), he saw – autobiographically – a sensitivity intensified by his own expressive needs, and therefore strongly reactive to external stimuli, but also capable of grasping hidden connections. Exactly like a seismograph, capable of detecting even an earthquake in course hundreds of kilometres away, which none of the human beings in the same room are aware of. And so Franz Marc’s painting, and by extension the poetics of the Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider), appeared to him (in one of his notes from those years) as an example – equal in this to Dürer – of how artistic sensitivity can develop “interior figures that reflect a necessity of nature”.
And when, after the war and his mental illness, Warburg vigorously resumed his work, he understood it as a therapy not only for himself but for the crisis of European civilisation, so he envisaged ways of spreading his ideas not only among specialists (often reluctant to listen to him), but to a much wider public. Lectures in workers’ clubs, educational exhibitions on astrology and its images, and finally the thought of constructing an authentic Atlas of Images to ‘map’ the figurative memory of European civilisations: Mnemosyne. The original plates of this Atlas were very large (only recently Monica Centanni managed to reconstruct their original dimensions, and she will soon talk about them in her online magazine Engramma). They appeared to be conceived almost – we would say today – as a series of posters to be put on display in an academic venue. Waburg did, in fact, do this in some conferences in Rome and Hamburg. During the years in which he was preparing the plates of Mnemosyne (a work destined to remain unfinished), his favourite metaphor, that of the seismograph, was extended to include – as though it were a mission he felt had been assigned to him – the transmission from generation to generation of cognitive and perceptive procedures refined by historical studies and hence similar to those of artists.

The seismic waves that the astute scholar (curator?) had to be able to register were those of the formulas of pathos that disappear like a karst river, to re-emerge centuries or millennia later, thanks to the secret fire of their expressive content in this succession of deaths and rebirths, the pathos of artistic expression becomes (according to Warburg) increasingly stronger as the Pathosformeln are revived and relived as symptoms of emotions and conditions that concern the artist in question and their time, but also the historian who – as a ‘receiving station’ – enters into harmony with them.

‘The Rite’, 1969. Directed by Ingmar Bergman. Courtesy Entertainment Pictures / Alamy Foto Stock

Chiara Costa — A few pages of your latest book Incursioni. Arte contemporanea e tradizione (Feltrinelli, 2020), are dedicated to this seismographic metaphor. Among other things, the volume contains an unpublished text dedicated to Ingmar Bergman’s film The Rite (1967–68), the only feature film in which the director appears briefly as a character. Some of the scenes in the film, whose title refers both to religious and theatrical rites, intersect with the Dionysian iconography of the frieze in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii. You describe this relationship between the fresco and the film as a “genre shift” in which, to quote Sergei Eisenstein, there is a return of “identical formulas which – regardless of the people, periods or artistic spheres – provoke a fundamental ecstatic explosion, on which the pathetic effect of the whole is based [2]“.
A similar formulation to the Warburgian concept of
Pathosformeln. What if we looked at the friezes of Pompeii with a cinematographic eye? Are there any limits to a multidisciplinary reading of antiquity?

Detail from the frescoes at Villa of Mysteries, Pompeii. Photo Archivio Parco Archeologico di Pompei

Salvatore Settis — The fact that Eisenstein, without knowing anything about Warburg, coined the concept of Pathosformel on his own and in another language (Russian) speaks for itself.  The genre shift from fresco to cinema or video art is not so different from the shift from painting to sculpture, medal design and photography. What matters is not only and not so much the iconographic schemes, but their emotional and expressive load (or overload). The unexpected convergence between Warburg and Eisenstein on the idea of Pathosformel can probably be explained by a common background, the artistic practices (from painting to cinema, from theatre to dance) of German expressionism. In my essay on Bergman, which I abandoned halfway through in 1974 and finished writing many years later in connection with this book, the scenario is determined by the wave of ‘Dionysism’ of the years around 1968, from the United States to Bergman’s Sweden to Pasolini’s Italy, but also by some banal and yet unanswered questions. Why did those liberation movements, for example of sexual mores, feel the need to invoke Euripides’ Bacchae as a kind of precedent? How is it that the renewed good fortune of that terrible and bloody tragedy, where a mother tears her own child to pieces, still endures? Of course, I wanted to establish a link between a fresco in the Villa of the Mysteries in Pompeii and a 1968 Swedish film, and I also believe that this link is historically plausible; but I have tried to read it, imitating Warburg while maintaining the necessary distance, as a speaking symptom of an excruciating impulse to construct the new by coming to terms with history: something that is easier to deny than to explain. This and other visual and emotional connections that I tried to highlight in Incursioni are conceived as though a hypothetical table of Mnemosyne were being composed, in a heuristic exercise.


2 Salvatore Settis, Incursioni. Arte contemporanea e tradizione (Milan: Feltrinelli, 2020), p. 128. The quote has been translated from Italian to English for this text.

Serial Classic

Co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola
Fondazione Prada Milan, 9 May – 24 August 2015

Portable Classic

Co-curated by Salvatore Settis and Davide Gasparotto
Fondazione Prada Venice, 9 May – 24 September 2015