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Waging war on clichés

Elasticospa+3

When asked to define art, Joseph Brodsky answered that art was simply a tireless war against the cliché. But clichés are sly things. Like the devil, clichés pretend they do not exist. Put differently, clichés know that the best way to survive is to pose as an absolute novelty. An example is the glittering avant-garde of the last century, initially exalted and then disparaged, a fate that brings to mind Leo Longanesi’s remark that nothing is more repetitive than the avant-garde. Never was a truer word spoken. So what weapons do we have to fight the cliché, an enemy not only of art but of life itself? The answer lies in the tactics we adopt in this war. Again it was also Joseph Brodsky, speaking at an American university during the 1970s at the peak of the student protests, who invited his audience to be truly anti-conformist and discard their hippy clothes and “dress in gray”, albeit keeping a sophisticated touch of anti-conformism in their attire. In other words, clichés are countered by carefully studied anti-conformism laced with a dash of eccentricity at just the right moment to signal your detachment from both conformism and anti-conformism. A difficult feat this, but one at which Italians excel - when they are not loudmouths or populists. In the early 1970s, the famous Italian design exhibition at MoMA was accompanied by a catalog in which Emilio Ambasz described Italian design as eccentric, gently provocative, ironic - even caustic, and anti-conformist yet unshackled by the clichés of radical anti-conformism. In other words, Ambasz continued, Italian design had succeeded in remaining ineffably unique, both undefinable yet clear. This in turn brings to mind Franco Albini, one of the fathers of Italian design who in the 1950s produced a rattan version of the 19th Century bergère armchair, infusing it with an irony that was to appear not only in a wide range of Italian furniture but...

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