Exhibiting Communist Italy Abroad: The 1956 Artist Delegation to the People’s Republic of China
Martina Tanga e Yang Wang
In the 1950s, Italian Communists looked not only to the USSR but to China’s nascent regime, the People’s Republic of China, for cultural exchange and collective inspiration. Italy sought alternative avenues toward a revolution and China hoped to gain international legitimacy. Through various channels, artists and other cultural figures participated in periodic visits and dialogues, largely omitted from macro-histories. This essay focuses on the unique experience of six unlikely Italian artists – Agenore Fabbri, Antonietta Raphaël, Aligi Sassu, Ampelio Tettamanti, Giulio Turcato, and Tono Zancanaro – as they visited China in 1956. Sponsored by the PCI, these artists showed their artwork in Beijing in an unprecedented exhibition and made artwork from their travels that was shown upon their return to Italy. Art – accepted in a plurality of visual forms – served as a vehicle for dialogue and was placed at the center of this mid-century Communist project of national connection. The Chinese-Italian exchange thrived at a moment when both countries imagined a radical future, and communist ideals of equality and prosperity seemed within reach.