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Costantino Nivola

Chicago, August 1968: during the Democratic National Convention for the selection of the party’s presidential candidate, thousands of young people came to the city to protest the Vietnam War. To contain the circa 10,000 demonstrators, the authorities deployed 21,900 police officers, National Guardsmen, and soldiers. The tumult that followed was watched by the entire country, through the press, radio, and television. Like millions of Americans, Nivola observed the clashes from a distance and, left deeply disturbed, expressed his personal reactions in a dense series of drawings. Created during a year of intense political reflection, the Chicago drawings capture the symbolic value of the events and reveal the artist’s emotional involvement, varying from quick sketches to carefully thought-out and composed scenes.. The climate of ‘68 also spurred Nivola to turn his attention to the political and social situation in Sardinia, where the year closed with protests by shepherds, workers, and students, united against the violence of the State and the inertia of the ruling class. The following year, the anti-military Pratobello uprising against a plan to set up an army base in the Orgosolo countryside. In two posters published by Feltrinelli in 1969, Nivola commented bitterly on state repression and selling off the land for touristic ends. It was a prelude to an even more powerful politicization of his art, which in the 1970s took on features of the separatist movement for Sardinian autonomy. This immersive exhibition pairs the Chicago drawings and the media images that inspired them with photos, slogans, films, and documents from ‘68 in Orani and Sardinia. Nivola’s two “homelands,” America and Sardinia, were united in his eyes by the people’s civic commitment to peace and social justice, against the repression of the State. A continuity between places and cultures that is also expressed in the exhibition through the original sound project by Carlo Spiga that permeates the space. The title of the exhibition, What are we fighting for?, is drawn from the lyrics of Country Joe’s Vietnam Song. It is a question that the exhibition in turn asks its visitors and the youth of 2018, in a series of interviews of the eighteen-year-old organizers of Orani’s Festival of St. Daniel. The museum had two primary aims: to curate the exhibition in a participatory, not hierarchical, way, and to offer the local community an opportunity to create a shared—if conflictual—narrative, filled with the stories and memories of those involved in the Sardinian movement for civil rights. The curatorial collective—including, alongside the entire museum staff, a group of young professionals from different fields, the architect Alessandro Floris and the sound artist Carlo Spiga—worked with the idea of reproducing the creative strategies of a 1968 collective, without the rigid ideological limitations and male chauvinism that often connoted their praxis.

“I don’t believe that art is the most effective means of improving political situations. I do believe, however, that the artist, like any other citizen, should feel compelled to react, contributing as he can to the attempt to stem the currents of mediocrity and irresponsibility that, when in power, drag society along the road of desolation and suffering.”–Costantino Nivola, 1973

Curated by Giuliana Altea, Antonella Camarda, Luca Cheri, Sergio Flore, Alessandro Floris, Elisa Lai, Cinzia Melis, Maria Luisa Pinna, Anna Pirisi, Barbara Puddu, Marta Satta, Carlo Spiga, Debora Tintis, Loretta Ziranu.

The Museo Nivola in Orani (Nuoro), located in the middle of a park in the heart of Sardinia, is devoted to the work of Costantino Nivola (Orani, 1911–East Hampton, 1988), an important figure in the international movement for the “synthesis of the arts” (the integration of the visual arts and architecture) who also played a key role in the cultural exchange between Italy and the United States in the second half of the 20th century. The museum has a permanent collection comprising more than 200 sculptures, paintings, and drawings by Nivola and organizes temporary exhibitions focused primarily on the relationship between art, architecture, and the landscape.


Museo Nivola, Via Gonare n°2 , 08026 Orani (NU)  | Italy


Costantino Nivola, Policeman from the series “Chicago ’68,” 1968. Pencil on paper. Museo Nivola collection.

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