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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Art & Culture

    Fausto Melotti and Lucio Fontana: New York Exhibitions Paving the Way for Contemporary Italian Artists

    Conceived in dialog with the Met Breuer’s current exhibition “Lucio Fontana: On the Threshold” as well as with “Spatial Explorations” held at the Italian Cultural Institute, the exhibition “Fausto Melotti: Works from the Olnick Spanu Collection” organized by Magazzino Italian Art Foundation at the Consulate General of Italy, introduced new audiences to the work of the Italian Modernist artist, highlighting his connection to Fontana and the influence that both artists have had and continue to have on the Italian and global artistic landscape.

    The Italian Consulate in New York held a closing reception for “Fausto Melotti: Works From the Olnick Spanu Collection”, which it had been hosting since January 28. The exhibition reflected the mission of its organizer, Magazzino Italian Art, a foundation based in Cold Springs, New York, focused on supporting contemporary Italian artists and fostering discussions on Postwar and Contemporary Italian Art in the United States.

    A vision shared by the Consul General of Italy in New York, Francesco Genuardi, who in his speech emphasized the importance of engaging in “cultural diplomacy” and promoting the arts, as well as by the Italian Ambassador to the United States, Armando Varricchio, who also stressed how shows such as this one serve to highlight a characteristic of the Italian DNA, that is the “strive for constant innovation.”

    A characteristic which, as Giorgio Spanu, co-founder with his wife Nancy Olnick of Magazzino Italian Art and owner of the vast collection from which the works on view were selected, emphasized is common to immigrants, which artists like Fontana and Melotti were. They represent how “immigration is an asset.”

    Perhaps the most striking elements of the exhibition were Fausto Melotti’s ceramic works, showcased in the foyer. These seemingly simple yet beautiful glazed vases and pots are a testimony to the artist’s skill, versatility and creative curiosity. They also speak to a new way of perceiving ceramics, as an artform that went beyond the traditional distinction between the “artisan practice of creating useful objects and the fine art tradition of sculpture.”

    Lucio Fontana, the acclaimed founder of Spatialism, until now mostly known for his “slashed” canvases, was also interested in investigating ceramics. Melotti and Fontana were friends, they worked together, particularly in the region Liguria, where they learned and experimented with a local ceramic tradition. “Fontana was primarily a sculptor, he was a pupil of Adolfo Wildt along with Melotti. I have always approached his practice through sculpture”, explains Giorgio Spanu.

    Both Mr. Spanu and Vittorio Calabrese, the director of Magazzino, declared themselves truly satisfied with the exhibition and the response it gathered. Although it was held in the Consulate, a space open to the public only under reservation, the show managed, through special programs and events, to introduce new audiences and collectors to the work of this great Italian artist.

    And as the Italian Ambassador said, shows such as this one and the Met Breuer’s Fontana exhibit are important not for these artists and their legacies but “also for all Italian artists who followed and will follow.” Familiarizing American and international audiences with the Italian Modern and Contemporary art traditions is fundamental for them to understand where living Italian contemporary artists are coming from and truly appreciate their work.

    It’s with this in mind that Magazzino recently opened its own Research Center, which currently holds over 4,000 publications, including more than 300 rare books and hosts its first Scholar-in-Residence, Francesco Guzzetti, who is working on expanding the research on Italian Contemporary Art and on developing and participating in the public programs offered by the foundation.

    So stay tuned for more interesting events and initiatives to come.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Dacia Maraini, Memories From a Japanese War Camp

    In her directing debut, "Haiku on a Plum Tree", Mujah Maraini-Melehi takes us along her journey to unravel her family’s history, and particularly the little-known story of their years spent in a Japanese concentration camp during World War II. It was the price the director’s grandparents (Dacia’s parents), the anthropologist Fosco Maraini and the Sicilian princess and artist Topazia Alliata, paid for refusing to sign a document adhering to the Republic of Salò, the fascist puppet state put in place during the German occupation of Italy from September 1943 to May 1945.

    An Idyllic Life Until...

    The director's grandparents moved to Japan in 1938 where Fosco Maraini conducted research. There they lived what from the numerous photographs and journal entries presented in the film appears to have been a pleasant, idyllic life, with their three daughters, Dacia, Yuki, and Toni (Mujah’s mother). Now a renown author, Dacia Maraini remembers how as a child she spoke the language fluently “better than Italian”, she went to Japanese school, had Japanese friends, felt the culture as her own, and this feeling persisted through her time in the camp and up until today.

     

    Until 1943, when officials showed up at their house demanding they sign papers declaring their allegiance to the newly instated Republic of Salò, the puppet state headed by Mussolini and controlled by Nazi Germany. Both Fosco and Topazia refused to sign. Shortly after, all five family members, including the children, now considered traitors, were taken to a Japanese prison camp, where they stayed until the end of the war, facing hunger, cold, torture and daily humiliations.

    Facing Painful Memories 

    Maraini-Melehi explains that she felt compelled to make this film in order to understand and process her family history. This project has given her and the rest of the family the opportunity to begin discussing this difficult and painful topic. Topazia, who passed away at age 102 in 2015 while Mujah was still working on the film, narrates most of the story and her drawings and diary entries appear constantly throughout the film. Dacia Maraini, Mujah’s aunt, and Toni Maraini, her mother, also appear as narrators and share their memories.

     

    The film is in fact mostly about memory, about the urgency of passing down stories which are deeply personal but also universal. The importance of talking about the past, of remembering what happened, even and especially if it is difficult, painful, and in some cases shameful, is a theme that is being increasingly discussed nowadays, in many places including Italy and other countries where certain extremist ideologies which were thought to be in the past are threatening to make a comeback.

     

    In the film, Dacia says that when her parents left Italy in ‘38, “Europe was drunk on racism.” While racism and hate may look different today, be less “outspoken” or “direct” - for example, during the discussion she remembers how in those times people theorized about race, claiming it was a scientific, provable fact that some races were superior to others - we cannot dupe ourselves into believing that it no longer exists. “Racism went out the front door and came back through the window” the author comments.

     

    The rejection of racism is a central aspect of the film. It’s what lead Fosco and Topazia to make the choice that would affect the lives of the entire family. Dacia insists that her parents’ decision not to sign in allegiance to the Republic of Salò was not a political act “they did not belong to any political party”, it was a direct consequence of the fact that they were thoroughly and unequivocally against racism.

    Memory and Hate

    Another important aspect of the film is how it emphasizes the distinction between memory and hate. Though not all the family members have the same relationship to Japan, none of them feel hatred or resentment towards the country and its people. This can also be said of the film itself, which stylistically is a celebration of Japanese culture, as it makes use of Japanese music and theatrical practices, particularly through the use of puppets and a specific type of screens belonging to a 17th century tradition which was itself long forgotten even in Japan and is now being rediscovered, making it the perfect medium for realizing a film about memory. While the use of puppets gives the viewer the possibility to project onto the film more than live actors would and thus renders the universal aspect of the Maraini family’s story.

     

    Even as a child, Dacia separated the Japanese people from the regime that incarcerated and tortured them. This subtle distinction is fundamental in order to avoid perpetuating a cycle of hate. Which is why it is so important for the people who have had such complex and difficult experiences to talk about them, to explain them (and for everyone else to listen). The author admits that, though she does mention her family’s life in Japan and the fact that they spent time in concentration camps in passing in her famous memoir Bagheria, she has never discussed it completely. “Before dying, I want to write a book specifically about this, about my experience and how I lived it as a child,” she says.

    We can’t wait to read it.

     

  • Art & Culture

    Addio, Great Master of Italian Cinema

    On Tuesday, January 19th, director Ettore Scola passed away surrounded by his wife Gigliola and his daughters Paola and Silvia at the Policlinco Hospital in Rome. He was signed in last Sunday and had been in a coma since then.

    The news of his death called many people, including celebrities like Sophia Lauren, Daniele Luchetti, Giancarlo Giannini, and Paolo Sorrentino, who worked with him and considered him a close friend, to the ceremony held today at the Casa del Cinema in his honor.

    Scola has been one of the most important figures of Italian cinema throughout the last forty years. He directed over 40 films such as ‘A Special Day’ (Una Giornata Particolare), which earned him a Golden Globe for Best Foreign Language Film in 1977.

    His other masterpieces include ‘We All Loved Each Other So Much’ (C’eravamo tanto amati) starring Nino Manfredi, Vittorio Gassman and Stefania Sandrelli, ‘That Night in Varennes’ (1982), and ‘The Dinner’ (La Cena) from 1998.    

    Estimed both at home and abroad, Scola received five Academy Award nominations throughout his carreer and many are the people who praised him and his work. 

    Amongst them are not only members of the film industry, but also other figures including politicians like Italian President Sergio Mattarella and Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who both recognized the important role Ettore Scola played in representing Italian society at different stages.

    His films perfectly capture the Italian social landscape of the second half of the 20th century with the emotions tied to it and all
    its complexities. 

    As Mattarella said Scola “narrated our contemporary history with extraordinary acumen and sensitivity”. His body of work can in fact be seen as a historical record of contemporary Italy, while at the same time being made up of engaging and deeply human films.

    And not only did his films provide a new way for Italians to look at and understand themselves and their history, but the international attention they received, allowed for the country to be better shown and understood abroad. It’s therefore no surprised if so many different people gathered - both physically or figuratively - to mourn his death and especially to celebrate his achievements.

  • Art & Culture

    Daniele Puppi: Minimal Devices of Multisensory Reanimation

    Daniele Puppi works with installation art, which he finds to be a more direct art form and the ideal method of creating something that can be truly experienced by the public. And that’s what the artist wants: to transmit a full experience, hence why he makes use of mixed media, working with both images and sounds.

    Sound is what he finds to be the most important part of his installations, the element that ties everything together, usually through coherence in everyday life, but in the case of his works through disruption. Sound is the first thing we perceive upon venturing in the Italian Cultural Institute, which hosted some of the artist’s works in the occasion of his entrance into the New York art scene following his reception of this year’s Gotham Prize.

    The sound comes from a piece called “Naked”. It’s like a drill, sounding intermittently, shaking a projector and therefore the projected images along with it. The sound creates a disruption but it’s also the only time during which the projected scenes evolve, intrinsically linking this sound to the visual scenes.This sound changes the entire viewing experience and Puppi is interested in exploring the public’s reaction to being presented with the unexpected.

    In a sense the artist works with contradiction, using technology in unconventional ways. Another installation present in the Institute called “Blast”, for example, projects images onto two old television monitors set on the floor in a seemingly “careless” way. The monitors become passive receivers of images but though they may appear so, they are not fully obsolete: they generate the sound.  

    Both these works are examples of what he calls “re-animated cinema”. And cinema he tells us is in fact one of his main sources of inspiration, particularly his desire to change it. For that’s what he does: Puppi takes existing scenes or films new ones, edits them and then presents them in an unusual manner, deconstructing and rearranging what to him are the three main elements: “sound, space, image”.
     

    His work is all about mixing - mixing old and new technologies, mixing visual and auditive experiences - and that’s how he manages to be so innovative, so exciting. It’s then easier to understand why he says he still hasn’t found anything quite intriguing enough for his taste since recently moving to the city.
     

    He’s certainly not thinking of giving up though. His very first US show was well received by artists and curators alike. “I’m very curious” he says, “to discover experimental art here”. Though it’s hard to find amidst the vastness of the New York art scene, and is certainly hidden behind more mainstream art forms usually found in the famed Chelsea galleries, we’re confident that it’s out there and wish him luck uncovering it.  

  • Facts & Stories

    Ségolène, Keep your Palms off Our Nutella!

    There have always been tensions between Italy and France, regarding anything from serious issues to petty quarrels. Most recently, adding to the long list of blows from both sides, is the attack from Ségolène Royal, the French Minister for Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy, on the popular Italian chocolate-hazelnut spread Nutella.

    On June 15th, during a live interview on a program called the “Grand Journal” on the French television network Canal +, Royal urged everyone to stop eating Nutella, because of the product’s use of palm oil.

    Although it’s true that the production of palm oil is often linked to deforestation – a very serious threat to the health of our planet – with natural forests being taken down to make space for palm tree plantations, it’s not always the case.

    Ferrero, the Italian food company in charge of Nutella, immediately responded, stating that they use “100% certified sustainable palm oil” and that as of December 1st, 2015 they have been part of the Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil (RSPO). A piece of information that as some have pointed out is readily available on their website.

    The intensity of the responses coming in from Italy, particularly through social media platforms, was quite astounding but it was to be expected. Italians love their Nutella, and having it unjustly attacked, by a French minister of all people, was just too much to bear.

    With all the companies across the planet that make use of palm oil, often through the unsustainable and harmful methods, it makes one wonder why Royal had to attempt to boycott Ferrero’s product, without even bothering to make a quick background check on the company’s practices.

    Let’s also keep in mind that the atmosphere is already currently very tense between France and Italy what with the issue of France closing its borders, blocking the passage of migrants into Northern Europe and causing them to stage a sit-in protest on the Italian side, in Ventimiglia.

    This is clearly a completely different issue but it provides an explanation for why Italian officials quickly stepped in to protect the good name of Nutella and along with it, that of Italian products in general. Royal’s Italian counterpart, minister Gian Luca Galletti, asked her to “leave Nutella alone”.

    Outside entities also criticized the attack. Greenpeace, one of the most well known environmental organizations in the world, also stepped in to stress the uselessness of boycotting Nutella, mentioning how it would actually more likely be counterproductive considering Ferrero’s position as one of the few companies who are actually working towards making palm oil sustainable.

    Pressured by such widespread responses, the French minister publicly apologized via tweet on June 17th, making sure to state that she’s all for the recognition of progress. And all of us – Italian and French alike – hope she means it.   

  • Facts & Stories

    Three Stolen Pompeii Frescoes Found in the US to be Returned

    Three Pompeian frescoes – estimated at more than 30 million euros – had been smuggled into the US and ultimately came into the hands of a now deceased American businessman and were about to go to auction when they were intercepted by the carabinieri (the “Italian FBI”) unit for the protection of cultural heritage.

    The frescoes, dating back to the 1st Century BCE, feature the portrait of a woman with a baby cupid, a woman in red, and the figure of a man. They were part of a bigger set that had been stolen from an archaeological dig back in 1957.

    The carabinieri also recovered other illegally trafficked pieces including a second-century AD white marble “sleeping beauty”, a pinnacle from a tomb from the ancient Greek city of Paestum near Salerno, dating to the third or fourth century BCE, and an Etruscan “kalpis” decorated by the famed Micali painter (510-500 BCE) voluntarily given back by the Toledo Museum in Ohio.

    After a probe involving the US Homeland Security Investigations and Immigration and Customs Enforcement agencies, it has been agreed that these and other pieces will be returned to their original sites or to close-by museums. This is undoubtedly great news, however, as US Ambassador to Italy John R. Phillips remarked "What has been returned today is just a fraction of the works currently illegally circulating on the market”.

    Dario Franceschini, the minister of Italian Culture, also commented on the events, and reminded everyone of the importance of protecting our cultural heritage, which is subject to plundering and theft and can easily be lost in the midst of the complex networks that constitute the international art market.

    The minister also mentioned another form of threat that has been a great cause of concern lately: the threat of destruction by extremist terrorist groups like ISIS, who last March, bombed the ancient archeological sites in Syria and Iraq, destroying irreplaceable parts of the world’s cultural heritage.  "It is ever more urgent for the international community to mobilize in organized prevention” He stated.

    Both Italy and the US seem to be on the right path, as the smooth resolution of this episode suggests. However, there is still much to be done in terms of conveying the importance of preserving cultural heritage, preventing such thefts, and establishing appropriate sanctions for committing them.

    In fact, as it often happens in these cases, no one was arrested for the theft of these artworks. This because of a lack in fitting laws and regulations that apply across borders and throughout the years. This is why the Italian Ministry of Culture is currently working with the Justice Ministry on drafting a bill to redefine the entire subject of cultural heritage, tomb raiding, smuggling and related crimes.

  • Art & Culture

    Celebrating 10 Years of “Conversazioni”

    Ten years after they held the first edition of “Le Conversazioni” in Capri, Antonio Monda and Davide Azzolini are back in New York where they’ve been holding an edition of their literary event every year since 2008.

    This literary festival has been growing each year since its inception. Antonio Monda tells us all about this process starting from how they came up with the idea for it in the first place. It came to them as all good ideas do, over dinner. He once had Azzolini and a series of other writers and intellectuals over at his Capri residency. As they were enjoying a long post-dinner discussion, Azzolini asked “why don’t we do this in public?”.

    Monda promptly agreed, under the condition that they did so in the place he considers to be the most beautiful in the world: Capri. The idea was to recreate the same casual atmosphere and engaging in literary discussions all while allowing the public to listen in. And that’s what they did. The first edition of the festival was very low-key, featuring just one event with five guest speakers.

    However, as Monda puts it, they were “small in number but had very big names”. These five guests were in fact Jonathan Franzen, Zadie Smith, Nathan Englander, Jeffrey Eugenides and David Foster Wallace, who had never travelled to Europe for a festival before.

    While the discussions remain limited in size in order to maintain a feeling of casualness and intimacy, the number of events have increased exponentially. Currently, “Le Conversazioni” are held in four different cities: Capri, Rome, New York and Bogotà, Columbia. Starting next year another city will add itself to the list: Cartagena de las Indias, also in Columbia.

    Several events are held in each city. Capri will have six this year and the New York edition features three, all held at different prestigious locations. One of these took place at the Morgan Library, which incidentally is where Monda and Azzolini were first invited to recreate their event in New York back in 2008, on May 7th. 

    It featured composer and lyricist Stephen Sondheim as well as author and professor Joyce Carol Oates.

    The other New York events are to be held at the New York Historical Society and at the Guggenheim. Guests will include writer and commentator Adam Gopnik, New Yorker editor David Remnick and author Don DeLillo.

    Although the format remains the same, each talk is different and their focus shifts depending on the guests and the location. The New York edition usually focuses more on film and the film-literature relationship compared to the Capri talks. This year’s latest addition, the Bogotà edition, was born from an invitation to collaborate by the International Book Fair of Bogotà. It too focused on the ongoing dialogue between film and literature, and was particularly interesting because it demonstrated the country’s determination to redefine itself by emphasizing its interest in culture.

    As Monda reveals, the secret behind the international success of the “Conversazioni” is that they “communicate profound themes lightly”, something people everywhere are interested in. These events also speak to the desire to meet authors, to see who they really are, which he finds to be very common within contemporary society.

    Hopefully the demand for events such as these will persist, allowing the “Conversazioni” to keep growing and expanding to further parts of the world. It certainly seems to be the case: with one more location adding itself to the list (i.e. Cartagena de las Indias), next year’s edition already looks promising. And those already looking forward to it will be glad to know that we got the inside scoop on what the theme will be: diversity. 

  • Style: Articles

    Afro: The legacy of Transatlantic 20th century Italian Artist Basaldella

    Varied works by the Italian contemporary artist Afro Basaldella are exhibited in Afro, a show dedicated to him, on view at NYU’s Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò through May 29th. In it are featured varied types of works, from paintings to gorgeous pieces of jewelry, both tracing back Afro’s artistic evolution. “You really get to see some different phases of his career”, explains Rosemary Ramsey Stewart, editor of the exhibit’s catalog.

    Born in 1912 from a family of artists, Afro started his career very young. At age 16, with the

    help of his older brothers (also artists), he participated in a group exhibit. He then moved to Rome and had his first solo show in 1937.

    From the very start he proved to be very good at making friends and cultivating meaningful relationships within the art world. He became friends with prominent Italian artists such as Turcato, Vedova, and Scagli. He came to hold a position amongst the most renown European artists of the time and was called to paint a mural at the UNESCO in Paris alongside such household names as Picasso, Mirò, and Tamayo.

    It was through a collaboration with Catherine Viviano, whom he met in Venice, that he finally made it to New York in 1956 and exhibited some of his works at her gallery. He was greatly appreciated in the United States and continued to make new friends all while maintaining connections in Italy. In fact, he introduced various American artists to the Italian art scene, including De Kooning, Klein, and Gaston.

    Throughout his career, he worked hard to promote Italian art in America, by serving as a bridge between the US and Europe. He did so by fostering relationships between artists but also through his own artwork. For example, he remained true to his origins by continuing to produce his own paint in the Venetian tradition, creating connections not only in space but also through time, by using old traditions to produce new art.

    His numerous friendships also helped Afro grow as an artist. Being constantly surrounded by many forms of inspiration, he experimented with different styles. Initially, his paintings were more figurative and he relied on a muted pallet of colors. Eventually, he moved into geometricized abstraction in the 1940’s, which then developed into a more lyrical abstraction during the 1950’s, inspired by the work of Gorky, among others.

    The same trend can be recognized in the evolution of the style of his jewelry. The designs featured on his beautiful hand-crafted golden jewelry, of types and forms, go from being somewhat figurative, to geometric, and finally abstract, just like his paintings.

    A fine example of this later style of his – the one for which he was most known for – is the final sketch of Boy with Turkey, currently showed in the exhibit, but usually found hanging on the walls of the famous Museum of Modern Art.

    Throughout his career in the United States, Afro’s works were in fact purchased by several prestigious art institutions. As Isabelle del Frate Rayburn, the curator, informs us “Some of the works in this exhibition were previously exposed in places like MoMA, JPMorgan, National Gallery in Washington”.

    “There are several lithographs from the 50s up to the 70s belonging to famous US museums”, adds Isabella. Afro’s work was very well known in America as was his endeavor to introduce Italian art in American collections. His success proved to be beneficial for both Italian artists looking to gain recognition in the US, as well as for the American artists, buyers, and curators who became fascinated with Italian art.

  • Renzi seeks the White House’s support in his attempt to wake up Italy

    Renzi is currently in Washington D.C. and recently gave a speech at Georgetown University in which he stressed the importance of the Italian government’s current effort to implement an ambitious economic reform program. 

    The prime minister compared the country to Sleeping Beauty, saying that “Italy has been like sleeping beauty in the woods for too long. We are here to wake it up, to give direction for the future”.

    In a time of economic uncertainty such as the one Italy is currently experiencing, the blessing of leader of the United States, the “most powerful man on Earth” could go a long way. 

    This is especially true given how the various recent reforms have been and are being questioned. And who could be better suited to back up Italy’s desire to change than Obama?

    But Renzi is not only looking for support in his internal endeavors. Another type of endorsement that Renzi will be seeking from Obama has to do with obtaining increased international involvement in the UN’s effort to establish stability in Libya, a country with strong ties to Italy given its colonial history. 

    According to a statement released by the White House, other international issues will be discussed during their meeting, including what are to be the attitudes adopted by the US and the EU regarding the situations in Ukraine and in the Middle East. 

  • Art & Culture

    NIAF calls Italian Americans to save the US’ first Saint


    NIAF’s new “Emanuele and Emilia Inglese Memorial Grant” will help restore the iconic Duomo of Milan and the Spire dedicated to Saint Francesca of Cabrini, the first ever naturalized American citizen to be canonized by the Roman Catholic Church. 



    The statue, situated atop of the fifth largest church in the world and the largest in Italy, has become the symbol of the “Save the Saint” campaign, aimed at gathering funds for this restoration project, which involves all of the Duomo’s 135 spires, each one in need of “adoption”. 

     
    Seen as the figure of Mother Francesca Cabrini is extremely important to Italian immigrants and Italian Americans – because she embodies the strength, determination and integrity of the Italians who migrated to the United States, where they found success, in various forms - , it’s in her honor that NIAF already gathered their $100,000 grant. 
     
    Mother Cabrini truly is a compelling figure. In over 30 years of service throughout the United States, she and her Missionary Sisters traveled to all major cities including New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, Los Angeles, Denver, and New Orleans. They worked tirelessly for the good of the less fortunate, establishing orphanages, hospitals, and schools. It’s therefore only natural for people to want to give something back to her now. 
     
    NIAF encourages all Italian Americans to join the International Patrons of Duomo di Milano’s “Save the Saint” campaign, reminding us that the restored Saint Cabrini Spire will be dedicated to all international donors. The crowd founding platform “For Italy” allows Italians and lovers of Italy from all over the world to help preserve this significant monument dating back from the late 1300s. And many entrepreneurs and patrons from the United States and China, for example, are starting to contribute.
     
    For further information on how to help “save the saint” visit www.foritaly.org and donate as much or as little as you can: “Miracles do happen, but we need your help”.

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