Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • 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 and donate as much or as little as you can: “Miracles do happen, but we need your help”.

  • Events: Reports

    “By Hand and By Lens”, Redefining Italian America Through Art

    The Italian American Visual Artists Network (IAVANET) was founded in 2007 by sculptor Richard Laurenzi, with the intention of bringing together artists from similar Italian-American backgrounds who could, through their art, promote a positive image of their culture, an alternative to the negative stereotypes often associated with Italian Americans.

    This exhibit, held at Casa Italiana Zerilli Marimò, is the group’s fifth show and its largest one yet, as Laurenzi explained during its opening on March 4th, a successful event – complete with servings of Italian food and wine - , which introduced IAVANET to a community of Italian culture devotees.

    The group’s work encompasses a full range of expression from abstraction to representation, through the use of varied media, including: painting, sculpture, photography, design, and installation art. Some amongst its current 18 artists focus on making explicit references to Italian and Italian-American themes, like family, religiosity, and so on.

    These themes are particularly present in the works displayed at the “By Hand and by Lens” exhibit, which feature portraits by ten IAVANET artists: Robert Franca, John Milisenda, Rita Passeri, Antonio Petracca, Siena Gillann Porta, Richard Laurenzi, Donald Vaccino, Peter Vaccino, Angela Valeria, and Joe Zarba.

    In fact, these portraits, each in their own way and form, depict people that are somehow significant to the artists. And most, whether they are family members, friends, or the artists themselves, are Italian-American or Italian. The pieces therefore voice questions of national identity and culture.

    A painting by Donald Vaccino, “Dario”, shows his father as a young child in traditional Italian schoolboy clothing and holding a wooden hoop, a once popular children’s toy. Similarly, Rita Passeri’s “Nonna Maria” and “Nonna Anna” show her two grandmothers, one a farmer plucking a chicken, the other a better dressed, more severe-looking, but equally a “classically Italian” woman.

    Italian references of the sort are present throughout the exhibit, for example through the names of the people portrayed, which include typical ones like “Peppino” and “Gina” but also American ones like “Judith” and “Mackinly”.

    The richness of the exhibit lies in the broad range and mixes of cultural elements present in the works. The public encounters various aspects of traditional Italian culture: familiar but nuanced by regional and class variations. The artists also incorporate American and Italian-American elements and their art echoes their own personal mixed cultural experiences.

    By working together, the artists at IAVANET can share their stories and their views with each other and identify what it is they all share and what is relative to each of them as individuals. The result is an exhibit that feels extremely real and personal. The pieces have both an air of warm familiarity and one of exciting originality and uniqueness.

    In the above interview  Laurenzi expresses his desire for IAVANET to establish a rapport with Italian artists, to mentor emerging Italian-American artists, and to broaden the group’s network in a general sense. He seems hopeful – and rightly so – that an event such as this one will help circulate their art and its different and heartfelt portrayals of Italian-American culture.

  • Events: Reports

    Il Dolce Suono: Music from Donatello's Florence

    The innovative “salon-style” concert venue, Salon/Sanctuary Concerts, founded in 2009 by Artistic Director Jessica Gould as an alternative to the conventional concert hall, will be bringing a piece of Medieval Florence to New York City.

    This critically acclaimed organization, which can flaunt the endorsement and co-sponsorship of institutions such as the American Philosophical Society, the Museum of Jewish Heritage, theColonial Dames of AmericaCentro Primo Levi, and many others, will in fact be hosting two concerts with the aim to convey the musical essence of Medieval Florence.

    The first of these events, titled Music for Brunelleschi’s Dome will be held on Saturday February 28th, inside of Christ and St. Stephen's Church located at 120 West 69th Street. It will feature a recital performed by Lucia Baldacci, an official organist of the Duomo of Florence, the iconic dome built by the Italian artist and architect, Brunelleschi (thus the title of the concert).  

    The construction of the grandiose structure was completed in 1436. The repertoire will include the works of composers ranging from the roughly contemporary Dufay, to later Renaissance musicians like Frescobaldi and Zipoli.

    The Concert will begin at 7pm but those interested in the Art and History of Florence may choose to also attend a lecture on Donatello and his context in Florentine Art History. This event be held in the same location, at 6pm, just before the concert. It will be guided by Dr. Giovanni Matteo Guidetti, an Art Historian and Guide to the City of Florence.

    Another concert will be held on Thursday March 12th. This concert, titled Il Dolce Suono – Ki Kolech Arev, Jewish and Christian Music from Late Medieval Italy, will also be held at 7pm, however not in a Church, but in a Synagogue this time: The Stephen Wise Free Synagogue located on 30 West 68th Street.

    It will offer a different and likely unexpected version of Italian Medieval music and culture.

    The globally acclaimed countertenor Doron Schleifer will perform accompanied by Corina Marti on the clavisimbalum – an early keybord dating all the way back to the 1300s – and recorders. They will be playing energetic fourteenth century polyphonic tunes, a genre compared that flourished in Medieval Florence, and the main exponents of which were composers of the likes of Francesco Landini, Gherardello da Firenze, Don Paolo da Firenze, Laurentius da Firenze, and Jacopo da Bologna.

    True to the dedication of Salon/Sanctuary Concerts to the unconventional, the

    performance will also feature the music of the little-known shadow world of Jewish musicians, who lived in Italy during that same period and influenced the music of that time and of times to come.

  • Life & People

    Happy Birthday America (and New York)!

    It would be impossible to list every single one, but we have selected some of the most interesting ways New Yorkers can choose to celebrate the United State’s Birthday this year: from securing a spot to see the famous Macy’s Fireworks, to experiencing improv shows at the much more underground Indie-pendence Day Festival.

    How do New Yorkers celebrate Independence Day? I don’t actually know but they sure aren’t lacking in options. As always, the Big Apple doesn’t fail to offer a vast range of activities for all types of people.
    Perhaps the most well-known of these are the Macy’s Fireworks, which, according to the store, will be held regularly at 9 pm this year, in the event of rain or shine. However, one thing that will definitely be different is that, for the first time in Five years, the fireworks will be held on the East River, above the Brooklyn Bridge, not on the Hudson River.  
    This means that the viewing spaces have changed. But not to worry, we have a pretty good idea of where to get the best firework-viewing experiences.
    If you want to keep it simple and inexpensive, head out early (at least before 5pm) and find a spot on Piers 1 to 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park, on the Brooklyn Heights promenade, in South Street Seaport (except for piers 15 and 17, which will be closed), the Grand Ferry Park in Williamsburg, or the Columbia Street Waterfront, between Degraw Street and Atlantic Avenue. In these places you can enjoy some nice American snacks and relax outdoors with friends as you wait for the fireworks to start.
    You could also head to Havemeyer Park, where from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m., North Brooklyn Farms is hosting a 4th of July BBQ.
    If you would rather enjoy the view from a rooftop, there are quite a few restaurants offering Independence Day deals. Such as Fornino, a pizzeria and café on Pier 6 in Brooklyn Bridge Park where for $75, guests get pizza and a buffet, plus a prime spot on the rooftop to see the fireworks. Likewise, The bar, Berry Park’s huge Williamsburg roof deck will be a great place for firework-viewing.
    Same goes for the Red, White and View event at the Z Hotel rooftop in Long Island City. And the Brooklyn Bridge Garden on Pier 1 of Brooklyn Bridge Park is hosting a private, ticketed event that will offer the best views without the crowds.
    And if you want to get even closer to the fireworks, you can take one of the many ferry services, from the luxurious Infinity Yacht to the more affordable Festival Yacht, there are many options if you want to experience the fireworks while partying on the river.
    Another way to celebrate the 4th of July is by heading down to the lovely South Street Seaport where there will be events going on for the entire weekend with live music and open air movie screenings.
    If you want to witness something really American then you should definitely go out to Coney Island and check out Nathan's Famous Fourth of July International Hot Dog Eating Contest. This contest is a serious affair. It’s neatly organized with different categories, people all around the United States participate, and the whole thing is broadcasted on live television.
    After this you should stick around for Coney Island’s very own fireworks starting at 9:45 pm: Although less famous than Macy’s, just as festive and worthwhile.
    Another all-American experience can be had at the Independence Day celebration in Historic Richmond Town, Staten Island (378-410 Clarke Ave). This event goes on from 11 am to 5 pm, during which time you can indulge in fun activities like the pie baking contest, help to churn old-time ice cream, participate in the Pinwheel Parade, and even meet patriotic villagers from the 1800s and earlier.
    You could then spend the night on the South Beach Boardwalk at the FDR Boardwalk and Beach still in Staten Island, where from 9pm to 11pm there will be a free screening on the beach of the movie National Treasure.
    Otherwise, if the Independence Day spirit has made you interested in the country’s history, this could be a great time to enjoy the Revolutionary Era Manhattan Walking Tour and discover the city’s beautiful historic landmarks, which played a role in the Nation’s fight for independence. Tours depart daily on Broadway and Murray St. at either 10 am, 12 pm or 1pm and last about two hours and a half. This could be a fun opportunity to brush up on your American History.
    Perhaps the most official way to celebrate is by attending the Star-Spangled Celebration at Avery Fisher Hall: a beautiful concert held at 3pm on the 4th, at 8 pm on the 5th and at 3pm on the 6th by the New York Philharmonic and “The Commandant’s Own” to celebrate America’s birthday with this spectacular display of musical fireworks.
    And if this type of celebration just isn’t for you but you still want to do something special for the 4th of July, you should check out the Indie-pendence Day Festival at the PIT in Manhattan (123 East 24th St). The venue will host independent improve teams from across New York and beyond for hours of shows, live music, BBQ, drink specials, and fun (from 12pm to 11 pm). Here you can enjoy Independence Day with a dose of irony.
    But regardless of how you choose to spend it, have an amazing Fourth of July!