Peripheral Visions of Italy
New art exhibit focuses on Italian industrialization
Peter Dunifon, Associate Arts and Entertainment Editor
Ryoko Sakai, Contributing Writer
In the Hunter West lobby's Bertha and Karl Leubsdorf Art Gallery, a new exhibition opened on February 2 with artworks featured from twenty-one Italian photographers. Spanning from the 1950s to the present day, the images offer a perspective of Italy that often goes unseen. Professor Maria Antonella Pelizzari of the Hunter College Art Department, and a native of Italy, curated the exhibit. With the title “Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s–Present,” the exhibiteffectively integrates artwork into a solid historical foundation.
The impressive exhibit collects a wide range of work not often shown in the U.S., and the exhibit covers a lot of space inside the Leubsdorf Gallery. Every possible area, from a glass display facing out on 68th Street to a projection of photographs covering the south wall of the Hunter West lobby, is utilized. The artwork itself covers a lot as well: real, surreal and many abstract photographs, films, a rare book of Italian magazines and even an interactive piece.
A primary theme of the exhibit is industrialization in Italy. The works challenge the cliches associated with beautiful Italian countrysides and romantic cityscapes, forcing the viewer to focus on the periphery. To enable this, three screens playing famous Italian films from the 1950’s are installed just outside the gallery. Pelizzari collaborated with students in her graduate seminar on Italian photography for the footage. She said, “we chose them because they show the dream.” That idea is important. According to Pelizzari, Italy can be “a country that is not that pretty... [with] people living in shacks.” These films set a reference point for the exhibit and connect the great diversity of works.
Much of the art being exhibited comes from artists, lenders and collections originally from Italy. Students assisted Pelizzari with research and finding ways to connect the very broad range of work. After assembling a list of potential pieces in the fall, Pelizzari and her class worked with assistant curator Karli Wurzelbacher and the Leubsdorf Gallery to acquire the artwork.
One of the first works that Pelizzari acquired, “Massimo Vitali’s Rosignano,” is one of the most physically impressive and visually stunning. Set on two large panels that extend from the floor to the ceiling, Vitali's 2004 photograph depicts a heavily populated beach in Rosignano Solvay in Tuscany. Upon first glance, the scene appears rather normal, with tourists windsurfing and others suntanning and swimming in the water. The bright, over-saturated quality of the picture is perhaps purposefully distracting. Hidden in plain view at the top of the right panel is a factory owned by Solvay that produces a mildly toxic bicarbonate appearing as a very white powder. Situated at a fairly close proximity, runoff from the factory has an effect on the environment. It bleaches both the sand and the water. Unsurprisingly, a monicker for this area has come out of this phenomenon, and locals refer to what surrounds the Solvay factory as the White Beaches.
Disconcertingly calm scenes like the one in Vitali's work are interesting because they depend on what is most unseen. In many cases throughout “Peripheral Vision”, what’s noticed the least, even when the camera is pointing right at it, is the city itself. Or, at least the city as we imagine it. On Rosignano, Pelizzari said, “We really wanted that piece because we wanted to show the anti-idyllic beach, not a beach where you actually want to be.”
Many of the works ask questions about issues of urban decay and industrialization that remain open to discussion. The projected work in the lobby titled, “Chronicles from Milan”, features six color photographs that stand in stark juxtaposition to the romantic black and white films it mirrors. The images, collected by Vincenzo Castella, are of ordinary scenes in urban Milan: an apartment complex and its neighboring park. One who is familiar with the areas would see something much different, though. They depict places of past tragedy: a street where four died in a drug-related shoot-out and a corner where a man killed his former colleague.
Imagining such tragedies happening in such tranquil images is cause for discomfort. The images make it obvious that there is a disconnect between the past and present, and in a sense, a great gap between us as people and all that occurs in our environment. Slowly zooming in and panning across each projection, Castella's presentation brings serenity to each scene. The gap between the known present and the forgotten past may be filled with remembrance, but whether or not that is healing is left undetermined.
In a separate piece by Francesco Jodice, Cartoline dagli altri spazi, #12, Napoli (Postcards from Other Spaces, “12, Naples), a concrete plaza becomes a startlingly sterile object. With the exception of two small, somber looking girls wearing bright red dresses and standing at the foot of the photograph, the rest of the scene is gray. Wet ground suggests it has recently rained while also showing a weak reflection of what lies above. A still cloudy sky is mostly concealed by a row of towering office complexes. Taken in together, the harsh contours of the buildings and the soft image of the children before them, the city seems at rest, immovable at the edge of fading away.
One Hunter graduate student in art history, Claire Vancik, was heavily involved in the curatorial process. Her piece uses Interactive Presentation Software that was put together in collaboration with another student, Daniel Phelps. Through her research into Casabella and Domus magazines among other sources, her work gives a historical demonstration of architectural trends, especially relating to constructions built in the margins of main cities—places in the periphery.
The opening of “Peripheral Visions,” which runs until April 28, came with the release of an illustrated catalogue by the same name. Edited by Pelizzari, written by Hunter graduate students, and designed by a Hunter MFA student, Cynthia Pratomo, the book is a testament to the collaborative research that went into making this show. Published by Charta Editions in Milan, over 800 copies of “Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s–Present”will soon be making their way to New York.
In addition, the “Peripheral Visions” website, http://peripheral-visions.net, offers a resource for anyone looking to learn more. Here, too, events relating to the exhibition will be publicized, such as the movie screenings sponsored by the Romance Languages Department. Starting in February with Like the Shadow by Marina Spada, screenings will occur once a month in the Chanin Language Center. Pelizzari expressed a special excitement for theses collaborative events related to the exhibit. “We want to coordinate all possible activities, especially for a school. You want to give it to the community,” she said.