The 1972 MOMA exhibition, The New Domestic Landscape, featured the unique voices and high designs coming from Italy (particularly Florence) during the period. It was a design interpretation of “Counter Culture” lifestyles coming from American college campuses and media interrupted by the young generation of Italian designers that called themselves radicals practicing “Superarchitettura.” What comes through in the drawings, videos, and objects in the show is that while much of the work foregrounds a “hippie” return to nature how truly urban Italian design thinking was during the period.
Now a new text, Beyond Environment, by Emanuele Piccardo and Amit Wolf, details the difference between the American Thoreau and Olmsted influenced belief in the redemptive power of nature and the Italian (or European) belief in the centrality of urban space as the basis of societal life. It does through the art and architecture experiments of Gianni Pettena, the only one of the Italian radicals to spend time working in the United States.
In an interview Pettena conducted in Salt Lake City with Robert Smithson for Domus magazine in 1972 they discussed landscape and urbanism: Smithson began, “I would say mainly in Europe I would have to work in a quarry or in a mining area, because everything is so cultivated in terms of Church or aristocracy”…Pettena replied, “I think I understand why you prefer dismissed areas rather than untouched areas. But the fact is that for me those areas are still too natural.” Smithson replied “I think you have to find a site that is free of scenic meaning. Scenery has too many built-in meanings.” To which Pettena responded “I’m thinking that perhaps you are able to do something in a town in Europe…while you are not able to do something in a town here.”
Pettena defended his urban preference in a series of installation-like sculptures in Minneapolis and Utah where he brought this Italian urban sensibility to the very heart of America. His 1972 metal frame tower Tumbleweeds Catcher in Utah is an attempt to coalesce the disunity and incomprehensibly of the American landscape into a single urban tower.