As in other parts of Western Europe, the twentieth century in Italy is characterized by industrialization, urbanization, and modernization. Up until World War I, Italy is still defining itself politically, following nineteenth-century unification, but prospers after the war, having avoided many of the disruptions caused by fighting in other parts of Europe. The rise of fascism and the conflict of World War II dominate all aspects of Italian life during the middle decades of the century. In the postwar period, the modernization of Italy continues, and political life witnesses the rise of a wide variety of political parties representing an array of views.
Modernization and fascism each has an impact on the visual arts of the Italian peninsula. The Futurist movement, which has literary as well as visual arts adherents, places some of the essential characteristics of modernity—speed and violence among them—at the center of its aesthetic. The relationship of artistic production to the fascist movement is also a central problem for twentieth-century culture in Italy. Despite its politically progressive connotations in many other places, in Italy modernism is adapted by some artists and architects as the formal language with which to represent fascist ideology.
At mid-century, Italy emerges as one of the world centers of modern design. In the fields of furniture and industrial design, fashion, and others, Italy is known for stylish products that are marketed worldwide in the postwar period. The country’s preeminence in design through the end of the century is secured in the 1980s by postmodern innovators. In other fields of the visual arts, for instance painting and architecture, Italians also contribute to the development of postmodernism. Much of this new work is exhibited at the Venice Biennale, which through the century serves as one of the most significant international venues for showing modern and contemporary art.