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Articles by: Roberta Cutillo

  • Art & Culture

    Discover Guercino at the Morgan Library

    The exhibition features over 25 Guercino drawings from the Morgan Library’s own collection as well as additional pieces on loan from public and private New York collections. It traces the entire span of the artist’s career and showcases the broad range of media he employed to create his drawings.

     

    Born in 1591 in Cento, Italy as Giovanni Francesco Barbieri, Guercino was a self-taught artist who received various influences throughout the course of his career, starting from the Carracci brothers’ work in Bologna, from which he took inspiration to create figures drawn from everyday life as well as poignant caricatures. 

     

    The show also showcases various preparatory drawings that the artist made as he worked on creating his altarpieces, as well as studies of engravings, which allow the viewer to understand his process, to see how he worked and reworked his creations to achieve the desired effect. As Curator John Marciari puts it, "It's like seeing his mind at work.”

     

    Viewers can also admire various finished landscape and figure drawings created as independent works. All these pieces - some well-known while others are recent acquisitions - have never been exhibited or published together as a group. 

     

    This is therefore an incredible opportunity to get acquainted with one of the most interesting and diverse yet still little-known artists of the Italian Baroque, a rich and dynamic era which saw the production of some of the most remarkable works in the western art historical canon. 

     

  • Facts & Stories

    Recap - President Mattarella’s US Visit From DC to SF

    The first stop on President Sergio Mattarella’s official visit to the United States was a bilateral meeting with President Donald Trump in the White House’s Oval Office on October 16th. Trump opened their press conference by paying homage to Italian culture and heritage, including one of its icons, Christopher Columbus. "For me it will always be Columbus Day, even if some people don't like it," he said referring to growing protests calling for it to be replaced by Indigenous Nations Day.

     

    The two leaders then talked about the tariffs the US government recently imposed on a variety of EU goods. Mattarella told Trump that he hoped they could cooperate on trade issues and avoid retaliatory tariffs, which he stated would be to the benefit of no one. According to US Trade Ambassador Dennis Shea, the US also hopes to achieve a negotiated solution but said the EU needed to end subsidies to Airbus and ensure they were not revived under another name. For the time being, US officials maintain they are still waiting for specific proposals from Brussels.

     

    President Trump praised the investments that Italy and the US have made in each other (he was particularly pleased about the country agreeing to purchase 90 “brand-new, beautiful F-35s” fighter jets produced by Lockheed Martin) but also asked Italy to increase its defense spending, citing the fact that it is currently only spending 1.1% of its gross domestic product on defense, short of a goal set by NATO allies of spending 2%. To which Mattarella responded that Italy is the second biggest contributor to NATO missions and the fifth biggest contributor in funding, then adding that the country is and will be very careful on 5G looking after national security in response to US concerns.

     

    The two presidents also discussed the situation in Syria, where Turkey began attacking Kurdish fighters and civilians after Trump announced he was moving US troops out of harm’s way. "Italy has condemned and it condemns the ongoing operation by Turkey," Mattarella said during the press conference. The US President defended his decision and distanced the United States from the conflict between Turkey and America’s Kurdish allies in Syria, saying that the battle “has nothing to do with us.”

     

    Their encounter ended with a reception organized by President Trump to celebrate Italian-American heritage. 

     

    The following day, October 17th, the President of Italy met the leadership of the Italian American Congressional Delegation and the Speaker of the US House of Representatives, Nancy Pelosi on Capitol Hill. 

     

    “I don’t know if you have any idea what a joy it is for me, as the first Italian-American Speaker of the House,” Pelosi claimed, “to welcome the President of Italy to the Capitol of the United States.” She also stated that “Italy is our very best and strongest friend in NATO and so we look forward to continuing, strengthening that relationship, as well as increasing economic ties and strengthening the economies of both of our countries.”

     

    On the 18th, President Mattarella travelled to San Francisco to visit startup companies Kong and Nozomi Networks (both founded by Italians) and succeedingly went out to Stanford University to participate in the Italy-US Innovation Forum, before meeting with the Mayor of San Francisco, London Breed, and the city’s Italian community. Finally, on his last day, he met with the Governor of California, Gavin Newsom.

     

    Overall an important and dense visit, aimed at celebrating and consolidating the longstanding relationship between the two nations, and recognizing the achievements and contributions of Italians in America, in this case with a particular focus on the field of technology and innovation.  But this was also an occasion to discuss some of the most pressing issues of the moment. Important topics were indeed brought up, particularly during the encounter with the President and, while the friendship between the two countries is not in question, it remains to be seen whether they will reach agreements regarding certain international issues. 

     

  • Art & Culture

    ‘Vitruvian Man’ Will Travel to the Louvre, Italian Court Rules

    Veneto’s administrative tribunal rejected an appeal against the loan of Leonardo Da Vinci’s famous “Vitruvian Man,” ruling that the artwork will be allowed to travel to the Louvre and be part of the museum’s highly anticipated exhibition dedicated to the famed Renaissance artist.

     

    Italia Nostra, an Italian heritage conservation group, had tried to prevent the loan, claiming that the work, a drawing dated to around 1490, was too fragile to travel. The group argued that loaning this work would constitute a violation of an Italian law included in the code of cultural landscape and heritage, which states that works from a museum, gallery, archive or library’s principal collection cannot be loaned if they are “susceptible to damage during transportation, or in unfavorable environmental conditions.”

     

    As Italia Nostra pointed out, “Vitruvian Man” - perhaps one of Leonardo’s most iconic pieces depicting the proportions of the human body according to the 1st century Roman architect Vitruvius Pollio - is among the 16 main works of Venice’s Accademia Galleries, where it is not often displayed, as it must be protected from direct light and constantly monitored. However, it was shown earlier this year as part of the worldwide celebrations for the artist’s anniversary of death. 

     

    And, as the Veneto Tribunal noted, others among the Galleries’ 16 principal works have been loaned in the past. The court also stated that, according to two of Italy’s most important restoration institutes, the work could in fact travel provided it be shown for a limited time and under the correct lighting circumstances.

     

    For these reasons, it ruled that the loan of “Vitruvian Man” will indeed take place as part of the exchange agreement between the culture ministers of Italy and France dating back to September 24, an initiative which itself proved difficult to carry out and was met with great criticism. In exchange for the works lent from Italy, the Louvre has agreed to send two Raphael paintings to Rome next year in occasion of the painter’s own 500th anniversary of death.

     

    Italia Nostra was obviously unhappy with the ruling, stating that this was “not a good day for protection in Italy.” Others were more pleased, including Italian cultural minister Dario Franceschini who tweeted “Now the great Italo-French cultural operation of the two exhibits on Leonardo in Paris and Raphael in Rome can begin.” 

     

    But while this issue appears to be resolved, similar debates are sparking regarding other works involved in the Italy-France exchange agreement. A member of the Uffizi Galleries’ scientific committee, Tomaso Montanari, now claims that two Leonardo paintings that have already left for Paris, “Study of a Landscape” (1437) and “The Adoration of the Magi” (1481), are on the Uffizi’s list of “unmovable objects.”

     

    The art historian argues that the fact that they were allowed to travel despite this, is a sign that politicians are now in charge of Italy’s cultural heritage instead of scientists and experts. “Scientific knowledge should have priority over politics,” he said.

     

    Uffizi Director Eike Schmidt replied that the works will obviously be moved and displayed with extreme care and kept under their ideal prescribed conditions. “From a conservation point of view, it made no difference if they are exhibited in Florence, Rome, Venice or Paris,” he said.

     

    Though it is certainly undeniable that such delicate and important works of art should be regarded with great care and attention, it’s hard to shake the feeling that there is more than simple scientific diligence behind the resistence to having works (particularly Leonardos) travel outside of Italy (particularly to France). 

     

    The idea that France “steals” Italian art is a deep-rooted one. It is often cited jokingly amongst Italians but some have been known to take it quite seriously. Most famously, back in 1911, Vincenzo Peruggia stole the Mona Lisa in what is considered one of the greatest art thefts in history, an episode which many argue contributed greatly to the painting’s immense fame. When he was caught with the work in Florence, Peruggia claimed he wanted to bring her back to Italy, her “homeland.”

     

    This same argument is often used by populist and right-wing politicians to feed nationalistic sentiments. In fact, former deputy minister of culture Lucia Borgonzoni of Lega Nord claimed that the Louvre’s exhibition was a way for France to culturally appropriate the Italian artist.

     

    Such arguments go completely against the spirit in which the works they claim to want to “protect” were realized. As a master of the Renaissance, Leonardo is regarded as a Humanist symbol. And Humanism is all about celebrating mankind, its achievements, and the universal values we all share. This is exaclty why Leonardo remains relevant to this day, not just as a symbol of Italian cultural heritage, but as a representation of Human abilitie and values.

     

    As Franco Conte, the lawyer for a consumer’s rights group that opposed the Italia Nostra petition, remarked, the ruling “recognized the fact that art is something that should be shared.”

     

  • Jhumpa Lahiri
    Art & Culture

    Giving New Life to Classic Italian Short Stories

    As Director of Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, Stefano Albertini states in introducing her, the award-winning American author Jhumpa Lahiri has already done so much to promote the Italian language. Her latest project, titled “The Penguin Book of Italian Short Stories,” which she presented at the Italian Cultural Institute Thursday October 10th, is no exception. This anthology contains 40 short stories from 20th century Italian authors, ranging from the most famous, including Italo Calvino and Natalia Ginzburg, to others who are now virtually unknown, forgotten even by most Italians. 

    An endeavor that anyone familiar with the American publishing industry will tell you is not so easily carried out. “Only Jhumpa could get someone to publish Italian short stories in America,” comments Michael Moore, who along with others and Ms. Lahiri herself translated some of the stories in the collection. Many were translated in English for the first time for this occasion, other translations were redone, and others yet were kept. 

    The idea is to bring to the attention of English speakers the breadth and depth of the typically Italian tradition of “racconti” - short stories. In order to do this, over the course of three years, the author met with fellow writers and professors, compiling lists upon lists of Italian writers, then looking for their writings, which were not always easy to find. She recalls spending her Sundays going through the stacks of used books at the Porta Portese flea market in Rome. Engaging in a treasure hunt, sometimes finding first editions, fascinating objects which give a sense of the time they were produced in.

    The fact that she had to hunt down some of the titles just goes to show how timely the publication of such a collection is. These stories and their authors are not only strangers to the American and broader English-reading public, they are also unfamiliar and inaccessible to the majority of Italians.  

    And, in fact, the author chose to publish the book in Italian as well. “I was warned about the negative reaction that some people might have to an outsider discussing Italian literature,” she comments, explaining how her publisher suggested she leave out her commentaries and footnotes in the Italian version. 

    But the more she thought about it, the more she became convinced that she should keep in all her explanations. “There are many assumptions about what anyone who is ‘Italian’ simply knows,” she says, “but I’m not so sure.” Who are these Italians? How do you determine what a true Italian is and inevitably knows? 

    What about people of Italian origin who grew up abroad? What about people who emigrated to Italy? What about people who aren’t Italian but know the language? And even amongst those who were born and lived in Italy their entire lives there are plenty who could still be unfamiliar with these texts. Short stories are seldom, with a few exceptions, taught in school. And many adults might not feel inclined to seek them out on their own. 

    Ms. Lahiri cites the example of an Italian friend of hers who was surprised by some of the authors she chose to include, he thought they were “old”, of the past, associated them with what his parents or grandparents read. “But they spoke to me and now they can speak to anyone all over the world,” she comments. 

    One of those stories is Goffredo Parise’s Melancholy (or “Melanconia”), originally published in 1978 and translated by Jhumpa Lahiri herself, who considers it a “story about wanting to belong.” Though it is set in the context of a summer colony for poor children in post-war Italy, something most of us cannot really identify with, it successfully conjures a highly relatable feeling in just a few pages. 

    The author did preface the Italian version with an “avvertenza,” a warning, in which she states that the book is for everyone who can read in Italian and wants to read these authors in their original language. In maintaining all the explanations, she sends the message that Italian is not a closed language, reserved for a certain type of Italian who attended “liceo classico” and had a specific cultural upbringing. 

     

    And she regards the fact that she was invited to present the book to Italian President Sergio Mattarella as a sign that Italy is a curious and receptive culture, open to outside perspectives. 

     

    In both its Italian and English version, the book is an apetizer, the perfect jumping off point to delve into the rich and varied world of Italian short stories. “It’s not trying to answer anyone’s expectations but my own,” the author says, explaining that she was trying to create a new and surprising anthology, made so that everyone would find in it something they did not know.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    US to Impose Tariffs on European Goods

    On Wednesday October 2nd, the World Trade Organization (WTO) authorized the United States to impose tariffs on goods coming from the European Union. This is the latest development in a 15-year fight over subsidies for aircraft companies Airbus and Boeing

    The United States claims that Airbus, the European multinational aerospace corporation and one of the world’s main aircraft manifacturers, has been receiving illicit subsidies from the EU. 

    “For years, Europe has been providing massive subsidies to Airbus that have seriously injured the U.S. aerospace industry and our workers,” stated U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer. “Finally, after 15 years of litigation, the WTO has confirmed that the United States is entitled to impose countermeasures in response to the EU’s illegal subsidies.”

    President Donald Trump echoed him calling the WTO ruling a “big win for the United States.”

    The same complaint has however been expressed by the EU with regards to Airbus’ American counterpart, Boeing and the WTO had previously determined that both aircraft makers received illegal government subsidies. The case against Airbus’ subsidies simply moved through the system first. The ruling on Boeing’s subsidies is set to take place early next year, at which point the EU will have the authorization to strike back.

    “If somebody is imposing tariffs on our aviation companies, we will do exactly the same.” said European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.

    But resorting to such a tariff war would harm both sides. For one, it puts both the US and Europe at a disadvantage compared to Russia and China, which are both subsidizing their own aircraft makers. 

    Furthermore, duties would raise costs for airlines on both sides of the Atlantic and American airlines already committed to Airbus aircrafts have called out against implementing these measures. “Imposing tariffs on aircraft that U.S. companies have already committed to will inflict serious harm on U.S. airlines, the millions of Americans they employ and the traveling public,” a Delta spokesperson claimed.

    And of course, as EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said, a tariff war “would only inflict damage on businesses and citizens on both sides of the Atlantic.

    The eight-page list of goods facing 25% tariffs, which was published on Wednesday October 2nd is quite varied, covering items ranging from German camera parts to UK-made sweaters, cashmere items and wool clothing. It also includes many food products, amongst them French wine, Scotch whisky, Greek, French and Portuguese olive oil, EU-produced pork sausage and other pork products other than ham, Italian and French cheeses, and German coffee.

    Back in August, specialty food importers had urged the Trump administration to skip the tariffs, saying “there are few to no domestic products” that could replace the imported items.

    Additionally, such measures will drive up the costs of the products imported from either side, in many cases pushing consumers to choose products from other countries instead. This is particularly an issue for Italy, which already struggles to get American consumers to understand why they should pay more for authentic Italian products when they can get cheaper “Italian sounding” ones, which in some cases are made in the US but often come from third-party countries. 

    For example, the US is set to put tariffs of 25% on Italy's Pecorino Romano, Parmigiano Reggiano and provolone cheeses, which according to the Parmigiano Reggiano consortium would take the price of authentic parmesan cheese for the American consumer up from around 40 dollars a kilo to over 45 dollars. 

    For now, Italian olive oil, pasta, prosecco and DOP Mozzarella di Bufala from Campania have been exempted and Italian cold cuts such as prosciutto should be exept as well.

    Overall, Italy seems set to suffer a slightly lighter blow compared to other countries, such as France, Germany, Spain and the UK, which were hit the hardest by the new tariffs. However, the U.S. Trade Representative’s Office said it would “continually re-evaluate these tariffs based on our discussions with the EU.”

  • Francesco Simeti with his work in Civita di Bagnoreggio. Photo by Piotr Niepsuj.
    Art & Culture

    Confronting Reality in Francesco Simeti’s “Imaginary” Worlds

    Palermo-born, New York-based artist Francesco Simeti recently inaugurated an exhibition at Assembly Room, a Lower East Side art gallery whose goal is to build a community of independent women curators. Founded in the summer of 2018 by three international curators, the space hosts a variety of activities including workshops, screenings, talks, and professional advancement programs. The exhibitions are realized by visiting curators as well as by the co-founders themselves. 

     

    For Simeti’s show, which opened on September 13th and will run through October 20th, curator Yulia Topchiy, Assembly Room co-founder along with Paola Gallio and Natasha Becker, turned the gallery into an immersive installation consisting of ceramics and digital prints on canvas. The exhibition is titled Refugium, “a technical term for a biological refuge [...] it primarily designates a landscape where animals and plants pursue lives protected from exploitation and pursuit” according to Barry Lopez in Home Ground, a Guide to the American Landscape.

     

    And that’s exactly what the worlds depicted in Simeti’s canvases feel like. Refuges, in which a variety of plants and animals from across the planet and across the ages come together, layered on top of each other. Beautiful post-apocalyptic visions of what the Earth will be like once we are gone. Suggesting that the same nature we are destroying - and you can discern traces of this destruction in elements such as nuclear explosions, gas raids, and forest fires hidden in the background - will live on, alterned, but ultimately triumphant. 

     

    You can only identify these elements once you get up close, step inside the canvas, scan through all the layers, something that you’ll likely be compelled to do by the unusual disposition of the works, which aren’t hung but rather stacked on top of each other. An intentional decision not simply brought about by size constraints, the curator explains (e.d. the gallery is quite small). “I’ve always had this thing for hiding things, making you look for them,” he explains. This gives the show an interactive, immersive dimension, further amplified by the presence of Simeti’s sculptural works, something which he has started working on more recently, fueled by the desire to go back to using his hands. 

     

    These fascinating ceramics take the shape of dynamic forms, plant-like, animal-like but also parlty supernatural, almost alien. “I have pretty minimal tastes when it comes to furniture, to clothing, but my work certainly has a very baroque quality to it,” he says, and you can clearly see it - perhaps an expression of his Sicilian origins as some including the artist himself have suggested - in its abundance, its twisted natural forms. A wilder, feral baroque.

     

    The pieces seem to be in the process of changing, morphing. Like the canvases, they are crafted through accumulation, their many “limbs” added on as the work progresses. 

     

    Simeti explains his process during my visit to his studio in Gowanus, Brooklyn and the unfinished yet to be assembled pieces layed out on his table - part of a large project for the health department headquarters in Portland, Oregon - perfectly illustrate it. “When do you know a work is finished?” I ask, to which he replies “I don’t. I keep moving pieces around until I have to stop.” 

     

    There are many things inside the artist’s spacious studio, which he currently shares with another person, whom he assures me is the owner of the large stuffed bear I spot upon entering. Among Simeti’s own posessions are numerous botanical books, filled with illustrations of various plants, trees, flowers, one of the major sources feeding the extensive archives he uses to create his complex compositions.

     

    This interest in plants comes from his family. “My father was a university professor in the agrarian department and my mother always had a passion for gardening. We have an agricultural business, which my sister is carrying on in Alcamo, near Trapani,” he explains. 

     

    “When I was younger I had to help out there and I hated it,” he confesses. “Then there was a shift. Now I enjoy gardening. It came about through a strange process, through my artistic practice, which slowly shifted towards nature.”

     

    When he began his artistic career, after attending the Bologna Academy of Fine Art, where he specialized in scultpure, his focus was more overtly political. “I tried to be an artist in Palermo,” he explains, “but it was a very different reality in the early 90s and so at one point I made the leap and came to New York.” 

     

    Though his mother lived in Italy for a large part of her life, she is American, originally from New England so he also has a US passport. When I ask him how this side of his identity influenced his practice he immediately cites the use of wallpaper, a medium he began exploring early on and one not typically found in Sicilian homes.

     

    “For me wallpaper is a metaphor for something that surrounds us everyday but that we don’t really focus on,” he explains. “It echoes the way we look at the wars and crisis that happen all around us deciding not to engage or really pay attention to it all, maybe as a defensive mechanism, and because the media overload turns all of it into white noise.”

     

    And in fact, as he was settling into the city - initially working as an art handler at the Guggenheim, which gave him some access to the art scene, and participating in various programs such as the Bronx Museum’s Artists in the Marketplace initiative, to meet people, gain knowledge of the industry - he focused on exploring themes such as “war, migration, displacement, through our reading of the news, how these things are depicted in the media.”

     

    His wallpapers tend to look like beautiful decorative objects at first, with innoffensive motifs. But, upon closer inspection, you discover they are actually depicting wars, bombings, suffering, people, faces you can’t look away from. And example of this is his 2002 site specific installation at Villa delle Rose in Bologna for a project called Officina America. Simeti created a gorgeous wallpaper matching the colors of the hall’s ornate ceiling. Only when looked at up close, does the work, appropriately entitled Watching the War, reveal to be made of images of the bombings in Tora Bora, Afghanistan.

     

    The following year, Simeti, who still today works regularly between Italy and the United States, realized a similar piece for the RISD Museum, this time adding an additional layer, another reading. This work, titled Arabian Nights, was made after President George W. Bush’s overzealous announcement that he was retiring the troops from Afghanistan. Here, the artist juxtaposes folkloric, naive images of “liberated Afghanistan” added onto a frilly chinoiserie-style wallpaper and what appears to simply be a blue background, recreating the typical 18th century decorative fashion, complete with period furniture from RISD’s decorative arts department.

     

    However, the blue background, the background to the background, is actually a collage of countless figures and faces belonging to migrants, victims of all the wars that were taking place around the world at that time. All the white noise. Representing the contrast between a superficial reading of the facts and what’s actually happening behind the big media headlines.

     

    “‘Classic’ political art like the work of Barbara Kruger are incredible works,” Simeti says, “but in a way they’re not very effective because they’re so explicit and they still allow the spectator to not get implicated. What I do is sort of ‘trick’ the viewer into leaning in and once you see it up close you can’t look away that easily.”

     

    This tactic is present in all of Simeti’s works, even as his practice began to shift focus, in large part inspired by his experience in New York. In 1998, he had his first studio in Soho/Chinatown, at Broadway e White Street. “From there I went to Williamsburg, North 3rd and Bedford,” both incredibly trendy (and pricey) locations nowadays. He’s been in Gowanus, a former industrial area of Brooklyn mostly known for the infamously polluted Gowanus Canal, for quite some time now. Over the past few years, he’s witnessed the area change a lot as well, beginning to turn into a somewhat hip residential neighborhood. 

     

    This informed his shift of focus towards the effect of human activity on nature and landscape. “At one point, I noticed a similarity between industrial structures and amusement parks, which also serve as a metaphor for how we are behaving towards the environment. Lightly, as if it were a game.” 

     

    This reflection prompted the realisation of his 2017 installation Swell at Open Source in Gowanus. An animated three-dimensional version of his canvases or wallpapers, where several layers of varied forms and figures that one would never expect to see together coexist. It all feels very playful, there is a ferris wheel and other amusement park elements, even the toxic smoke sprayed by uniformed workers onto the scene evokes japanese prints with its elegant curls and embellishments. It also features Sludgie, the whale who accidentally entered the Gowanus Canal in 2007 and died 24 hours later, becoming an icon representing the state of the canal. 

     

    Despite the playfulness, or through it rather, the work mimics our own behavior towards environmental issues: we take them lightly, but what we are doing is very serious, we are destroying environments. Gowanus for one was once home to a thriving ecosystem before it was heavily industrialized, polluting the canal. 

     

    Due in part to the themes he explores, Francesco receives a lot of commissions for public art works. “It’s a separate world. It has a lot of visibility where it is but almost none in the art world.”

    With these though, he has the chance to explore different mediums from tiles to stained glass, wood panels, mosaics.

     

    The artist made the stained glass windows of the Bensonhurst subway station in Brooklyn, where he created an imaginary landscape combining imagery of Eastern landscapes and Italian Renaissance gardens, playing with the neighborhood’s mixed identity, Italian on the one hand - Bensonhurst is considered the borough’s Little Italy - and Chinese on the other.

     

    These landscapes are similar to the ones shown in Refugium. They’re imaginary yes, but hint to a very real phenomenon. To how human activity is drastically altering ecosystems and climate change is causing plants to grow where they would not normally be found. 

     

    Apparantly, the artist tells me, investors have started buying land for vineyards in England now because they are expecting the climate there to be ideal for growing grapes 10 years from now. A callous reaction, to say the least, to a clear sign of the rapid evolution of climate change. “They’ll have the land to grow grapes but no people to drink the wine,” he comments.

     

  • Facts & Stories

    'Astroluca' New Commander of the ISS

    Born in 1976 in Paternò, Sicily, Parmitano - known as Astroluca on Twitter, where he posts breath-taking photos from Space - trained in the Italian military and was awarded the Silver Medal for Aeronautical Valour in 2007, before being recruited by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2009. In 2013 he became the first Italian to carry out extravehicular activity, that is walk in space. 

     

    And yesterday, October 2, 2019, he was made the new commander of the International Space Station (ISS), which launched in 1988 and is one of the largest structures built in space over the last 20 years, having received large investments from five space agencies: NASA (United States), ESA (European Union), Roscosmos (Russia), Jaxa (Japan) and CSA (Canada)

      

    The handing over ceremony took place on the station itself, and was live streamed. Parmitano expressed his gratitude towards Alexei Ovchinin, from whom he is taking over, for having successfully lead the mission thus far. He then thanked Italy “because if I am here today it is thanks to the education I received.”

     

    “I can’t wait to get to work,” he continued, “Thanks to all the years of training preparation, I am confident that despite all the tasks we have ahead of us in the coming months, in the end we will look back on today and tell ourselves that our confidence was well placed. I will do my best to be of service and deserving of this honor.”  

     

    Today, October 3rd, expedition 61 begins, the second part of the ‘Beyond Mission’, which is set to last until February 2020 and involves, among other things, repairing the Alpha Magnetic Spectrometer (AMS), a particle detector attached to the ISS.

     

    As Commander, Parmitano will take on a crucial and delicate role, being responsible for the security of all six crew members. He is the one in charge of overseeing and coordinating operations on board, including in case of emergency.

     

    The expedition will consist in carrying out a variety of activities, including the Analog-1 experiment, which includes “driving” a rover in the Canary Islands from the ISS. The aim being to test the ability to carry out remote expeditions, which could be used to explore hostile habitats.

     

    This appointment is therefore a great honor and a source of pride, not just for Parmitano, but for the country as a whole, an example of how Italy’s excellencies are present in all sectors, from art and culture to science and innovation.

  • Facts & Stories

    Francesca Campagna Named New CCO General Director

    On September 25, the Manhattan-based artistic manager and cultural consultant, currently working as an advisor at New York City Opera and as Executive Director of the International Friends of Festival Verdi, Francesca Campagna, was named the new General Director of the Center for Contemporary Opera, effective immediately. 

    Founded in 1982, the CCO is dedicated to creating opportunities for composers and librettists and giving life to new operas. It is known for bringing forward performances and new works that redefine American opera repertoire to both US and global stages. As General Director, Ms. Campagna is responsible for the vision and stragegic plan of the center and will oversee all of its productions in the US and throughout the world.  

    “I can think of no one better than Francesca to continue the work of the Center for Contemporary Opera,” commented Richard Marshall, the founder of CCO. “It demands deep respect for opera and the bravery to keep pushing forward – she will do that brilliantly.”

    Throughout her impressive carreer, Francesca Campagna has built a reputation for both her deep knowledge of opera, and her ability to extend the reach of preeminent artists and institutions to new audiences.

    “Francesca’s terrific reputation with major opera houses throughout the world, combined with her inspiring vision for opera’s future impressed us all,” noted Gene Rotberg, President of the Center for Contemporary Opera’s Board of Trustees.

    After beginning her carreer in Italian Opera with roles at Fondazione Teatro Massimo in her native Palermo, she in fact went on to work on more than 300 productions over 12 years with the most renowned artists such as Franco Zeffirelli, Graham Vick, Claudio Abbado, and Gustavo Dudamel. She then worked to establish the Royal Opera House Muscat, the first opera house in the Middle East, which stands out for the artistic integrity and cultural diversity of its programming.

    “My passion is bringing stories to stages,” Francesca commented, adding that “To me there has never been a more exciting time to be in opera and expand the relevance of this vibrant art form. And at CCO we are uniquely able to do that with new commissions and by bringing contemporary work to new stages in New York and the world.”

    Sara Jobin, CCO’s Artistic Director, expressed her enthusiasm for this new appointment, stating “I know she will support us taking bold and brave artistic direction in our programming.”

    As CCO Founder Richard Marshall pointed out, contemporary opera is still a little known reality, which receives less attention and support than more traditional opera. For this reason, Ms. Campagna’s ability to capture and engage with new audiences offers very welcome and promising prospects not just for the Center but for the future of opera worldwide.

  • Art & Culture

    Arbëreshë, an ‘Anthropological Miracle’

    Albania is a scattered nation, as the executive director of the Albanian Institute in New York Dino Korca explained last night at a perhaps unexpected but fascinating event held at Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò. “There are more Albanians living outside of the country than in it,” he explained, “and there is a varying amount of tension between different groups, particularly those living in the Balkan nations surrounding Albania itself. However, all Albanians share the same fondness and admiration for the Arbëreshë.”

     

    The Arbëreshë - the descendants of Albanian refugees who came to Italy between the 14th and 18th centuries as a consequence of the Ottoman invasion of the Balkans - are in fact a remarkable people, “an anthropological miracle,” a model of integration and coexistence, and the protagonists of not one but two “Risorgimenti.”

     

    The night’s event, a lecture followed by a live concert organized by NYU Professor Giovanni Braico and co-hosted by the Albanian Institute, was in fact dedicated to presenting their distinctive and still little-known history. 

     

    For the occasion, the auditorium was packed with a diverse audience made up of the usual Italians and Americans but also a lot of Albanians, Arbëreshë, and Albanian-Americans, who made their presence known once the band came on, by enthusiastically clapping and dancing along. 

     

    After a few words from Casa Director Stefano Albertini and from Mr. Dino Korca, Professor Braico came onstage, accompanied by his young daughter, who wore a blue and green, generously ruffled traditional Arbëreshë dress. He proceeded to introduce Professor Francesco Altimari, who teaches Albanology at the Università della Calabria and is amongst the leading experts on the subject. 

     

    The lecture’s first slide called the Arbëreshë “an anthropological miracle,” a phrase which the Professor explained was used by Pier Paolo Pasolini, who was struck by their ability to be extremely proud proponents of both Albanian and Italian culture.  

     

    This is a point that all the speakers repeatedly brought up throughout the evening. Once they arrived in Italy and settled in villages throughout most of southern Italy and Sicily, the Arbëreshë managed to fully preserve their culture, even while, back in Albania, it was being erased under oppressive Ottoman rule. They were the ones who cultivated the memory of Skanderbeg, the most important hero in Albanian history. Not only did they use his figure as a unifying force to identify with abroad, they also brought it back to Albania, where it served as a driving force in the fight for the country’s independence. 

     

    Prof. Altimari in fact said that the Arbëreshë were instrumental in not one but two Risorgimenti: first in Italy, then in Albania. He cited several influential Italian intellectuals who, unbeknownst to most, were Arbëreshë and who contributed to the unification of Italy and the country’s subsequent history, the most famous amongst them being Antonio Gramsci

     

    It was then time for the Peppa Marriti Band to take the stage for their first-ever US performance. Prof. Braico introduced them by pointing out how, as one of the most emotional and engaging forms of oral transmission, music has played a big part in the preservation of Albanian and Arbëreshë culture throughout the centuries. 

     

    In their performance, the band guided the audience on a musical journey ranging from the most traditional songs to their own contemporary interpretations. The pieces varied in genre and mood, from melancholic harmonies, to much more rhythmic, upbeat songs. At one point the initial three performers - two men in jeans and a woman wearing a traditional dress - were joined onstage by three others and the show turned into a proper jam session. 

     

    The Peppa Marriti band started playing their own compositions, which mixed the traditional music they grew up with in their hometown of Santa Sofia d’Epiro in Calabria with elements of rock and blues for a more modern feel. They have recorded three disks so far and their songs cover a wide range of topics, from migration, to the joy of singing, to a compilation of popular sayings. All of them play a fundamental role in helping to preserve a language, which, with less and less young people learning it, is becoming at risk of extinction.

     

    The musicians are aware of this and you could see the passion in the way they played, how they danced. The main singer was wearing a t-shirt that read ‘Radio Epiro,’ which he later explained is the name of a pirate radio station from Santa Sofia that broadcasts songs in Italian and Arbëreshë - yet another example of seamless integration. His energy was incredible and his emotion palpable everytime he introduced a song, particularly one that he described as “an Albanian song that is popular throughout the Balkans and brings together these separate countries.”

     

    As if to prove his point, several audience members let out shouts of approval and many spontaneously started clapping to the beat as soon as the song began.

     

    The band then closed the show with a joyful “farewell wedding song,” apparently the last song played at the ceremony as the newlyweds ride away and it was finally time for questions from the audience, the most moving of which came from an American man of Albanian descent. “Thank you so much for coming here, this feels like finding a family I lost centuries ago,” he began, his voice lightly trembling, “I would like to ask you a thousand questions but I guess the most important one is how can you manage to preserve your culture when you emigrate?”

     

    To this, Prof. Altimari promptly answered: “As Arbëreshë history teaches us, you have to be proud of your origins. If you’re ashamed, you lose your culture and you lose yourself.”

     

    And that’s certainly a great lesson we can all learn from the Arbëreshë and one that our world is desperately in need of now: it is possible to simultaneously belong to and love more than one country, to integrate into a new place while also preserving the culture of another. In sum, integration is possible and it doesn’t require assimilation.

     

  • Art & Culture

    Public Meets Private at La Reggia di Caserta

    Starting Monday September 23 and through January 16, 2020, the Royal Palace “Reggia” of Caserta will host an exhibition of 112 paintings from antique dealer Cesare Lampronti’s collection. The show, titled "From Artemisia to Hackert," will feature works by Artemisia Gentileschi, Pietro da Cortona, Rubens, Pompeo Batoni, Guercino, and Canaletto, just to name a few. 

     

    It’s an unusual exhibition for La Reggia di Caserta since it showcases the collection of an antique dealer. Purists might object to the display of works that, unlike traditional museum pieces, are actively on the market and in the hands of a dealer who owns a gallery in London. 

     

    Back in 2012, the roman dealer in fact had to relocate his historical from the Italian capital’s historical center due to “a climate of ostracism and diffidence towards our profession.” Nonetheless conceding that he likes to think of his London gallery as “a window to our art in the global scene.”

     

    This does speak to the fact that, as the prominent Italian art critic Vittorio Sgarbi put it - perhaps a little severely but not wrongly - “the Italian art market has to be more free; today it is subjected to too many prescriptions that make it a minor market.” To this he added that, however, thanks in part to this exhibition, “antique dealers will no longer be viewed as delinquents by this country that doesn't understand artworks are universal assets.” 

     

    One of the goals of this initiative is in fact to bring closer the world of private collections and commercial art galleries to that of public museums. The show aims to disprove the preconception that these two realities are inherently separate by highlighting the connection between the works already present in the museum and the ones belonging to Mr. Lampronti. 

     

    For example, one of the artworks is the view of the Port of Salerno by Jacob Philipp Hackert, the one piece missing from the Palace’s collection of port views by the 18th century German landscape painter commissioned by King Ferdinand IV of Naples. 

     

    Tiziana Maffei, the Director of La Reggia di Caserta, assures that the Lampronti collection, though private, was assembled with  love and passion but also great care and refinement. “Cesare Lampronti comes from a family of antiques dealers,” she explains in an interview with Rai News 24, “[the collection] clearly carries with it a history and, as with all collections assembled over the years, stories are just as important as the works themselves.”

     

    And this collection, which Mr. Lampronti - who was born in 1942 to a Roman Jewish family - had to rebuild after after it was “annihilated” by the Fascist racial laws, and is now making its way back to Italy, certainly has a fascinating story to tell.

     

    As many pointed out, this is truly a generous gift on the part of the dealer, especially considering how, as he explains, few Italian museums are able to acquire and display new artworks. “The most active are small American museums for example and also small French museums,” he says, “Italian museums rarely have the means to buy.” 

     

    But, as this exhibition suggests, things are starting to change and hopefully Italian museums will follow suit in collaborating with the private sector to bring more artworks out for the public to admire.

     

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