CIHA 2016 in Beijing

34th World Congress of Art History

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VENTURI, Riccardo
Vasari in Bangkok, or How Modern Art Came to South-East Asia. ——The case of Corrado Feroci

Session 13 Transmission and Adoption

Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art 


Despite the Italian sculptor Corrado Feroci (alias Silpa Bhirasri, 1892-1962)

was pivotal to the promulgation of modern art in Thailand and South-East Asia, he remains a largely unknown figure. In 1923, by the request of King Rama VI to the Italian government, he left the Fine Arts Academy in Florence, where he studied and taught, and set out for Bangkok. Expected to spend there 3 years, he finally stayed for 39 years, until the end of his life.

His entire artistic output results from four main undertakings. To begin with, it should be mentioned his artistic contribution to figurative royal monuments and statues in Thailand (18, nine of them in Bangkok , plus many others that he sketched) . Then, his decennial pedagogical enterprise: Feroci established and directed the School of Arts (Rongrian Silpakorn) in 1932, and the Silpakorn University  Thais premier art academy  since 1943. Consequently, he wrote on Western art  as much as on South-East Asia age-old art . Finally, he was actively engaged in promoting and preserving the historical and religious Thai patronage .

Through his artworks, his teachings, his writings and his interest in cultural patronage, Feroci promoted Western modernity in South-East Asia, having a tremendous impact on the way Thai perceived visual arts. Modern art in Thailand came not from French modernité or American modernism, but from an historical tradition that dated back to Renaissance perspectival painting and figurative sculpture. This forces us to reconsider modern art in a historical and geographical expanded field.

However, this is an incomplete and partial account; as such, it could be inaccurately featured as another case of importation of European artistic tradition in Asia. This paper aims to reassess Ferocis importance in the process of formation of modern art in South-East Asia, showing precisely that his is a rare case of cross-artistic and -cultural encounter and not a transmission and adoption of a foreign language and philosophy in a cultural space, a process of Westernization, or a blind fascination tinted with exoticism (Orientalism).

Resisting to any easy hybridity, Feroci promoted, on one side, Western and Thai modern art, inciting his students to go beyond classical tradition ; on the other, he wrote and contributed to restore the Asia historical artistic heritage. Finally, through Ferocis exceptional case, this paper would investigate the aesthetic discourse of modern art in a global perspective.

VENTURI, Riccardo

Riccardo Venturi

Riccardo Venturi received a PhD in art history and aesthetics at Université Paris X – Nanterre and University of L’Aquila (Italy) with a dissertation on  American Modernism: Screen Memories. Mark Rothko and the Cinematic Experience. He was Postdoctoral Fellow in Residence at The Phillips Collection Center for the Study of Modern Art and George Washington University, Washington DC.

He currently holds a position as post-doctoral research scholar in residence (“pensionnaire”) at Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art (INHA) in Paris, affiliated with the program “History of Contemporary Art, XX-XXI century” with a focus on the relationships between visual arts and cinema ( At INHA he is also in charge of the seminar “Ecrans exposés. Cinéma Art Contemporain Médias”.

He authored Mark Rothko. Space and its discipline (Electa, Milan 2007), the first monograph on the artist to appear in the Italian language, and Black paintings. Eclipse on Modernism (Electa, Milan 2008), a study of black monochromes by Ad Reinhardt and Frank Stella. Forthcoming is Porosità dell’arte italiana, a book that attempts to reassess some Postwar Italian art practices through the notion of porosity employed by Walter Benjamin while he was living in Naples. Beyond classical national narratives, the book spans from Burri’s Grande Cretto to Robert Smithson’s first Asphalt Rundown realized in the outskirts of Rome. The paper submitted for the CIHA conference stems from this project, reassessing the relationships between modern artistic production and national identity in a global perspective.

He regularly writes for several art magazines including “Artforum” and the on-line platform, where he holds the blog “Screen Tests” (