By Zachary Small
Italian neorealism is rooted in the bloodied soil of Fascism. When postwar life arrived for the artists, filmmakers, and photographers who had trudged through the Benito Mussolini years as propagandists, their work had to evolve from goading the nationalistic fervor that drove Italy toward war. Shaped by an era of denouement, Italian neorealism diffused the belligerence of warmongering into a romanticization of the country’s laborers and emerging middle class. Accordingly, the genre became a dynamic negotiation between the realities of postwar recovery and the impulse to render la belleza della vita, the beauty of life, no matter the material conditions of this recovery.
NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960 is a comprehensive survey of how photography transitioned from a propagandistic tool to an ethnographic document of Italy’s changing sociopolitical landscape. The exhibition, on view at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery mostly lives up to the difficult task of untangling that complicated historiographic knot with approximately 175 photographs by over 60 Italian artists.