Articles by: Natalia Nebel

  • Art & Culture

    Carmen and Elettra Stop in Chicago

    As can be imagined, a large, extremely enthusiastic mix of Italians and Americans gathered to listen to Carmen Consoli for a special concert at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago on June 15. As Director Tina Cervone mentioned in her introduction, it certainly isn’t every day that Consoli fans have the opportunity to experience the music one of Italy’s favorite stars in an intimate setting, and also to exchange a few words with her. Consoli talked with individual audience members at length while signing CDs after her performance at the Institute, and graciously posed for photographs with all who asked. 

    Microphone, acoustic guitar, powerful voice and impeccable beat were the only elements required for Consoli to fill the Institute’s gallery with the sound of a full scale concert. Adding depth to her performance were the stories she shared of how Sicily to this day provides her with inspiration and a rich musical heritage made of many cultural threads to draw from.

    “I began studying Sicilian musical tradition and immediately felt something open up inside of me. You could say it completed me.” Consoli sang two songs in Sicilian, expressing herself with a clarity and passion that made the fact that many audience members didn't speak Sicilian completely unimportant.

    Continuing with her description of Sicily, Consoli spoke of its multi-cultural past: “Diversity once meant richness,” Consoli said. “There was a time that many different nationalities and religions coexisted peacefully in Sicily. It was possible once, why can’t it be possible again?” 

    Consoli also pointed out that Sicily is in many respects an extension of Greece. “My bedtime stories were not of ‘Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs’ or ‘Cinderella,’ but of the great Greek myths. Ulysses the wanderer was one of my heroes. I’m a scholar,” Consoli joked, before continuing: “I’m not necessarily as interested in the physical journey as in the mental journey.”  

    Given the importance of Greek mythology to Consoli, it isn’t surprising that the iconic Elektra is the inspiration for the title of her latest album. ELETTRA explores the theme of love in all its guises - from platonic to erotic to filial to obsessive to cruel - and is dedicated to her father who died last year. 

    Consoli spoke at some length about her father’s death and also the strength of his character: “His sense of humor never failed, even in the most painful situations. When he was told by his doctors that he was dying he replied sarcastically, in a powerful Sicilian accent, 'Good fellows, so what do you want me to do, send you a postcard?'" The song she wrote, inspired by his quip, is titled appropriately “Send me a postcard,” and is ELETTRA’s first piece. “South East” and “The Window” are two of the other featured songs on this platinum album that she introduced while at the Institute. 

    Needless to say, the audience was extremely grateful for the time that Carmen Consoli spent with them. Consoli made the appreciation feel reciprocal when she closed her event by saying: "The time I've spent with all of you has been very precious to me.”

    That evening, Consoli played to a sold out crowd at Martyr’s, one of Chicago’s most famous clubs, where she sang her latest songs as well as some of her most well known ones, “Parole di burro” and "The Last Kiss” among them. This is the third time that Carmen Consoli has visited Chicago. Hopefully she will return again soon. 

  • Events: Reports

    Marino Marini in Chicago. International-Italian Art from the 1950s

    Marino Marini is one of Italy’s most renowned 20th century artists. An exhibit of three of his sculptural masterpieces, and thirty of his drawings, lithographs, and prints opened at the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago on March 4. 

    Opening remarks by ICI director Tina Cervone stressed that this exhibit fills the ICI mission by bringing the very best of Italian culture to Chicago. "We're giving those who have always loved Marini's work an opportunity to enjoy it, while also introducing his genius to a new generation of art lovers."

    Artistic director of the Museo Marino Marini, Alberto Salvadori, spoke to an eager audience at the opening, mixing an analysis of Marini's art with the fascinating story of his life. "Marini wasn't a hermit. He was a man of the world who went to the opera with Toscanini, was friends with Ernest Hemingway and Henry Moore. He was part of the 1950s international jet-set." 

    Marini's friendship with Henry Moore was a deep one that benefited both creatively. "Moore had craftsmen execute his designs, while Marini worked directly on his pieces. In photos you see that Marini emerged from his studio covered with dust. Moore in contrast was always neat and dapper."

    Marino Marini sculpted 150 portraits in his lifetime: Nelson Rockefeller, Igor Stravinsky and Mies Van der Rohe were among his illustrious client list.

    The portrait of Mies Van der Rohe on view at the ICI is extremely powerful and not exactly flattering. We gathered around it to listen to Director Salvadori: "Marini's clients occasionally became angry with him because his portraits didn't fit the image they had of themselves. Several of them refused to take delivery of the completed work."

    Director Salvadori also pointed out that themes of iconic female and male figures were constants for Marini. "Venere" (1942) and "Knight," (1953) on display at the ICI, are excellent examples of Marini's fascination with the earth mother "pomone" and the dynamic male rider who is one with his horse.

    Marino Marini's creative spirit never wavered, but his vision of the world changed as he aged. His mood became melancholy. This passage from his writing says it all:  “My work over the past fourteen years has not attempted to be heroic but, rather, tragic... my figures are architectures of an enormous tragedy.”

    The work shown in this exhibit is on loan from the city of Florence's Marino Marini Museum collection, and the Marino Marini Foundation of Pistoia. Prime Realty Group Trust, the managers of 330 N. Wabash, loaned the Mies Van der Rohe bust. 

    Where: Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago ( 500 N. Michigan, Suite 1450)
    When: March 4-May 7 (Monday through Friday/ from 9AM to 1PM and from 2 PM to 5PM)
    Admission is free.


  • Art & Culture

    Chicago Symphony Orchestra. The "Muti Era" Begins

    The era of Riccardo Muti at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra officially began on Thursday, February 25 at Orchestra Hall’s intimate Grainger Ballroom where the Maestro held a press conference before an enthusiastic audience of journalists, donors, and representatives from Chicago’s most important cultural institutions, including Director Tina Cervone of the Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago

    Maestro Muti set a relaxed, jovial tone immediately when he declined to stand and speak behind a podium, saying that he wasn't a priest. Preferring to stand informally behind a table, when he was asked to sit so that the TV cameras could capture him, Maestro Muti joked that people at home were seeing the most important thing - one of his best ties, bought in Naples. To much laughter, he then untucked his tie from his vest so that everyone could admire it.  

    The personal connection that Maestro Muti established made for an extremely constructive atmosphere that, in its delightful spontaneity, was uniquely Italian.

    Maestro Muti referred frequently to Italy and spoke of the mixed feelings he had about leaving his beautiful country for Chicago. “I won’t deny that when I was first approached for this job I was skeptical. After leaving La Scala I had begun enjoying my freedom. I could make music without tending to administrative work.” 

    It was after going on an extremely successful tour with the CSO in Europe, and forming deep personal and artistic connections with the musicians, that he changed his mind. In some ways Muti is continuing a relationship that began thirty years ago when he first directed the CSO. “I’d already had the honor of conducting this orchestra in the 70s. At that time I was a young man with the energy of one who has their whole life ahead of them. I told the musicians that I hoped I hadn’t returned to them as a ruin,” Muti said, again displaying the self-effacing humor that had so charmed the audience. Responding to appreciative laughter he added, “They may call me arrogant, but actually, I’m like good Italian red wine, I only get better with age.” 

    The relaxed, warm atmosphere of the press conference didn’t stop serious subjects from being discussed. Maestro Muti spoke of music’s power to transform the world for the better by touching hearts and souls, providing for a bond that transcends cultural differences. In fact, Maestro Muti has organized musical outreaches in prisons, and spoke of an outreach at which he played the piano for prisoners, choosing composers who had suffered much and died young, like Schumann and Schubert. By relating stories such as this one with great feeling, all of us in the audience were reminded of music's spiritual power, the very thing that had brought all of us there and that united us. 

    As for the CSO's program this year, it will put a spotlight on the relationships between composers. And thanks to the CSO’s extraordinary range, we can look forward to hearing rarely played pieces like Luigi Cherubini’s “Requiem in C Minor” and the world premier of “Danza Petrificada” by Bernard Rands, who joined Maestro Muti at the press conference.  

    To the great fortune of all who live in the Chicago area, from mid-September to mid-October this year there will be a month long CSO celebration, culminating in a free concert in Chicago’s beloved Millennium Park.  The Consulate General of Italy of Chicago, and the Italian Cultural Institute, will collaborate to ensure the participation of the local Italian and Italian-American communities.  

    The press conference ended in an optimistic, happy mood. I think I can speak for everyone there when I say that we all were moved and inspired by Muti’s closing remarks: “The great orchestras of Cleveland, Philadelphia and Chicago can’t close. If they did, it would not only be a huge loss for music, culture, art, but a catastrophe for our society. In a world full of anger and violence, music heals people's souls." 

    (In collaboration with Lidia Catalano)

  • Art & Culture

    Making the invisible visible. Italics: Italian Art Between Tradition and Revolution 1968-2008

    The Italian Cultural Institute had the pleasure of hosting a conference with Francesco Bonami on the night before the show’s opening. Curator Bonami spoke to an enthusiastic audience about the impact “Italics” is having on the art world, the reasons for the curatorial choices he made, as well as the particular problems that Italian artists have in breaking into the international art scene. Italian artists live in the shadow of Italy’s artistic heritage because the focus of Italian government funding for the arts is dedicated to preserving the past, rather than supporting present day innovation.

    “Italics” shines a spotlight on artists who haven’t been recognized outside Italy, and although well known figures like Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, Carla Accardi, and Maurizio Cattelan are represented, there are many less familiar names, 70 artists in all. In Francesco Bonami’s words, the work in “Italics” represents “a kind of suppressed contemporary civilization that has suddenly resurfaced.”

    The artwork is grouped thematically rather than chronologically, with rooms dedicated to portraiture, landscapes, social commentary, mortality, Italy’s geography and Italian identity. I went on a tour of “Italics” guided by Tricia Van Eck, MCA Associate Curator. We began with Maurizio Cattelan’s brilliant All. Made of Carerra marble, the piece consists of nine lifeless bodies that have been covered by white sheets. A memorial to people who have died sudden, violent deaths, its title reminds us that we are all mortal. Tricia Van Eck pointed out that All encapsulates many of the show’s themes – martyrdom, Catholicism, death and transfiguration – while acknowledging artistic tradition in the choice of marble and the visual references to the Renaissance.

    Maurizio Cattelan’s All may be “Italics’” centerpiece, but many of the show’s photographs, installations, sculptures and paintings are just as compelling. Mostly unknown in this country, they require only an engaged, curious spectator. One of my favorite works is titled Invisible, (1971) by Giovanni Anselmo. Consisting of a small projector in a gallery corner, if you take the time to step in front of it, the projector’s shaft of light spells out the word, “visible,” on your body. A metaphor for “Italics,” in that Italian artists are finally being recognized, with help from the viewer. The invisible is made manifest.

    The Italian Cultural Institute of Chicago has an unprecedented opportunity to promote Italy and Italian culture in the United States thanks to “Italics,” which was co-presented by Palazzo Grassi in Venice. In addition to promoting this exhibit, in January the MCA, with the partnership of the ICI, is sponsoring a film series featuring eight Italian movies from the 1970s, and a series of related workshops and seminars connected to this exhibit that shouldn’t be missed.

  • Events: Reports

    Naples Untitled. Thirty-Nine Photographs in Public Spaces

    Made up of thirty-nine photographs by twenty of Italy’s most accomplished photographers, including Mimmo Jodice, the exhibit’s mission is to explore the ways in which public spaces in Naples have been used by Neapolitans over the last forty years. Naples is a city of extremes, famous for its beauty and creative spirit, but also associated with environmental degradation and corruption. In the public’s mind, clichés and stereotypes on both ends of this spectrum prevail over a more tempered, multifaceted reality. In fact, the curators decided to call the exhibit Naples Untitled in order to encourage viewers to look at their city in a fresh way, uninfluenced by predetermined points of view or overt direction from the organizers. The photographs are untitled as well; this leaves viewers free to create their own personal narrative of Naples, narratives that are much more likely to incorporate many aspects of the city’s character by being formed through diverse images.

    A girl in her First Communion dress, a couple embracing amid throngs of commuters, a horseand rider wading out into the ocean, death in the street, a young artist sketching in a great piazza, Mimmo Jodice’s car wrapped in a white sheet in a dark alleyway – these are photographs of innocence and experience, of solitariness and great conviviality: they are haunting and surprising and delightful in turn. Each photographer has captured Naples as it’s lived in by Neapolitans, Naples to be redefined and looked at anew, untitled for now.

    On the occasion of the exhibit’s opening, Nicola Oddati, Cultural Commissioner of Naples, also talked about the International Forum of Cultures, an important UNESCO initiative designed to foster inter-cultural dialogue and debate. As Oddati explained, the Forum seeks to promote values such as a respect for diversity, world peace and sustainable living. A Forum conference is held every three years in a different city, and lasts approximately three months.

    The next conference will be hosted in Naples in 2013, and will feature a different city for every day of the event. The Forum will give Naples a chance to highlight its positive aspects, and showcase the progress it’s made in the last several years in improving its territory, increasing the use of its public spaces, and developing its cultural life.

    This project was made possible thanks to the collaboration of the Museum of Art in Naples, PAN (Palazzo delle Arti di Napoli) which provided the works on display from their collection, and the support of the Department of Cultural Affairs of the City of Naples. It was curated by Fabio Donato, Maria Federica Palestino and Maria Vergiani.

    The exhibition will be on display until February 14, 2010.
    More info on
    Institute Web Site