Autonomia: On the Entwinement of “Workerism” and “Aesthetic Autonomy:” Notes on Italy as the Crucible of the [Neo] Avant-Garde

While economics and aesthetics constitute discrete and irreconcilable forms of inquiry, the Italian context, 1949-73, offers a notable, vivid, even canonized (Arte Povera) exception. Through a reading of Piero Manzoni’s oeuvre, its influential aftermath, and its international reception, Mansoor demonstrates the degree to which first operaismo and then autonomia came to determine shifts in aesthetics by pointing to the division between intellectual and manual labour (de- and reskilling) at the heart of capitalism and its matrix of “real abstraction.”

Jaleh Mansoor is a historian of modern and contemporary cultural production, specializing in twentieth-century European art, Marxism, Marxist feminism, and critical theory. She received her PhD from Columbia University in 2007 and has taught at SUNY Purchase, Barnard College, Columbia University, and Ohio University.

Mansoor’s research on abstract painting in the context of the miracolo italiano and the international relations of the Marshall Plan era nested within the global dynamics of the Cold War opens up on to problems concerning the labour-to-capital relationship and its ramifications in culture and aesthetics. Her work limns the correlation between real and aesthetic abstraction. While Marx, in the introduction to The Grundrisse, evoked aesthetic abstraction only to bracket it off from concrete abstraction in the realm of production, circulation, and consumption, Mansoor traces the etiology of capitalist social dynamics symptomatized in aesthetic abstraction. The relationship among technology, media, and reification factors into this etiology, but does not account for the social relations also indexed therein.

Having worked as a critic for Artforum, and a frequent contributor to October, Texte zur Kunst, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protest, among others, Mansoor has written monographic studies on the work of Piero Manzoni, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter, and Mona Hatoum. She co-edited an anthology of essays addressing Jacques Rancière’s articulation of aesthetics’ bond to politics, entitled Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics (Duke University Press, 2010). Her first book, Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia (Duke, 2016),  explores procedural violence in the work of Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Piero Manzoni as an index of a rapidly reintegrating labour-to-capital relationship in the context of European reconstruction. She is currently working on a book, tentatively entitled Concrete Abstraction: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Labour, on the entwinement of labour, value, and “bare life” in the work of Santiago Sierra and Claire Fontaine, among other contemporary practices that examine the limits of the human.

Sponsored by the Department of Italian Studies; co-sponsored by the Program in Critical Theory.