Art: Raw Talk, but Cooked Painting

A show surveys innovation and tradition in 20th century Italy

The Royal Academy of Arts in London, long since shaken from its ancestral mustiness by its energetic exhibitions secretary Norman Rosenthal, has made a speciality of packaging national surveys. It did German art in 1985, British art in 1987; now Italy's turn has come. "Italian Art in the 20th Century," curated by Rosenthal and the Italian art critic and historian Germano Celant, tells its narrative in some 230 paintings and sculptures, and will fill Burlington House, the site of the academy's galleries, through April 9.

It is hard to imagine a useful century-wide show of French or American art. The subject,...

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