The American Imperio

The idea of an “imperio” has laid the groundwork for our modern understanding of an empire. The notion of an imperio dates back to the Roman Republic, in which imperio was used to describe the republic’s growing influence in the Mediterranean basin. Rather than describe the conquest and governmental control of people, an imperio refers to the display of authority and command in a foreign land. It represents forced submission rather than conquest. Imperios, then, quickly became a common goal for countries in the post World War II world. More specifically, the way in which America exploited the economic and political ruin of the post-war world allowed them to create a global imperio.

After the war, America created an imperio by taking advantage of Europe’s cultural, political, and economic weaknesses to declare global American supremacy. This sense of cultural dominance is seen in Italian artworks, such as Alberto Burri’s Sacchi. The connection between this artwork, which has come to represent Italian society after the second world war, and America, shows the way in which America was able to force its cultural dominance into Europe. These artworks, made from the burlap sacks that held the food sent to Europe from America under the Marshall Plan, have come to exhibit the traumatic memories of fascism in Italy and its effects on Italian culture. Although closely tied to the post-war Italian state, this new form of expression would not have been possible without the food provisions from America, making these works completely built and controlled by the neo-imperialism of the U.S. Marshall Plan. America, due to strategic maneuvers such as the Marshall Plan, came to be seen as a worldly savior, a notion that is depicted in Burri’s work where he distinguishes the relationship “dagli America” to its European subjects. It is important to note here that the inscription on the artwork is the plural form of the Italian verb for “to give” (da) coupled with the singular form of America. “Dagli America” represents the way in which American dominance has become so powerful that individual Americans have come to embody American culture and society on their own. Connecting this back to Ancient Rome, it relates to the way in which an imperio allows for citizens of the leading state to go to foreign states and embody their country. Like Romans abroad, American artists would go to Europe and put on exhibitions that promoted the necessity for abstract art, an artistic concept that America created. Through their efforts, they were able to spread America’s modernity to Europe, creating a dependence on America to lead the world into art’s future. 

Italy, who quickly submitted to the American Imperio out of their need for aid, differed greatly from Spain, who at this time was attempting to recreate their own imperio. Spain, under a fascist government, wished to recreate the original Spanish Empire in an effort to connect countries that had previously been under Spanish rule. The Spanish Imperio completely contradicted that of America’s, as rather than creating cultural dominance through the use of modern art, they chose to embrace their tradition and history. It is in the analysis of Guayasamin’s, an Ecuadorian painter who was awarded the top prize in the III Beinal, failure that the success of the American Imperio can be seen. His failure shows the ways in which the Spanish Imperio dream could never be achieved, as it highlighted the way that Spain’s dependence on the “Old World’s” approval caused them to fall behind and lose to the American Imperio. Imperios must be able to modernize and adapt so as to not become slaves to tradition (as the Spanish did), as they must be able to continue innovating and furthering society before anyone else. They must make it so people are constantly running behind them, desperately trying to catch them. It is in this way that they create cultural dominance. America, having created the stage for abstract art to flourish, created a new art scene that made it extremely difficult for traditional artworks to gain the same traction as modern works. America shows the way in which cultural centers also become the centers of power, as these centers lead the world into modernity, forcing people to forget tradition.

The notion of the imperio, then, is incredibly important. As an analysis of Yves Klien’s monochromatic works displays, once someone has a certain amount of clout in their professional field, they have the ability to dictate whether or not something has importance. In his film, in which Klien provides the sense of pictorial importance by pointing to empty air, the power of imperio is seen. People who are too preoccupied or too unaware to know any better agree immediately with the artist, as they lack the necessary knowledge to argue against the importance of the space. People begin to believe there is importance to the emptiness being shown, for why else would Klien waste energy to establish connections to an invisible form if there was nothing there to admire? Klien represents the way in which cultural dominations quiet people into submission, something that America used to its advantage when creating its global cultural supremacy. Countries, such as Spain and Italy, were either too destroyed or too stuck in the past that they failed to understand the new culture being forced onto them by America; it was too late to change it by the time they realized what had happened.

Thus, the creation of an imperio is an incredibly powerful tool that gives people the power to control by submission rather than control by conquest. It gave people or entities, in this case America, the power to decide what is culturally worthy or not worthy while also making sure that no other culture surpasses them in importance or excellence by constantly remaining one modern step ahead of everyone else. It is understandable why America is compared to Ancient Rome. The sheer hubris and loyalty that is created when aiding countries, whether that be economically or culturally, allows for countries to believe they have the right to control those around them as if they are the only ones that are able to do this work. As if they are doing this work for the betterment of those around them rather than for their own personal gain. America, then, used the concept of the imperio to create its own when establishing its global cultural dominance after the war.

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