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Roberto Rossellini’s Rome, Open City was filmed as WW2 continued to devastate Northern Italy. It was distributed in movie theaters in war-torn Italy, and was received with lukewarm reviews by many Italian critics. Nevertheless, it unexpectedly ended up being a success both in Italy and, perhaps even more surprisingly, in the United States. In New York, in particular, long lines would form in front of the theaters in which it was being shown. As director Otto Preminger said, the history of cinema can be divided into two parts: before, and after, Rome, Open City.

For centuries, Greek and Roman myths have inspired artists. New York University’s Grey Art Gallery is pleased to present a solo museum exhibition of the New York–based octogenarian artist Wally Reinhardt, who continues in this time-honored tradition. On view from January 9 through April 6, 2019 in the Grey’s Lower Level Gallery, Metamorphoses: Ovid According to Wally Reinhardt features some 50 watercolor, gouache, and colored pencil illustrations from a series that numbers nearly 200. Reinhardt, who began working on this project in 1984, has focused solely on interpreting Ovid’s most acclaimed work of Latin poetry, Metamorphoses.

Fritz Ascher: Expressionist is the first-ever retrospective of an overlooked but significant German artist. Characterized by the Nazis as “degenerate” (along with other artists who were banned and persecuted), Fritz Ascher (1893–1970) survived two world wars, and then remained in Berlin where he lived and worked. In addition to painting and drawing, he turned to writing poetry later in life. Organized by the Fritz Ascher Society for Persecuted, Ostracized and Banned Art, Inc., the exhibition comprises some 75 paintings and works on paper, ranging from early academic studies and figural compositions to the artist’s late colorful, mystical landscapes devoid of human presence.

Landscapes After Ruskin: Redefining the Sublime presents in its introductory text an intriguing proposition: “In a world overwhelmed by rapid technological advances, natural disasters, and a heightened sense of anxiety, it is still possible to find unexpected beauty.” Curated by New York photographer Joel Sternfeld and drawing on works from the Hall Art Foundation in Vermont, the exhibition at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery takes as its starting point the concept of the sublime in nature popular in the 19th century.

NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960 poignantly portrays life in Italy through the lens of photography before, during, and after World War II. While neorealism is associated primarily with cinematic and literary depictions of dire postwar conditions, this is the first major museum exhibition to highlight key photographers active at the time. Featuring approximately 175 photographs by over 60 Italian artists, NeoRealismo pairs them with the original publications in which they circulated—illustrated magazines, photobooks, and exhibition catalogues. On view at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery from September 6 through December 8, 2018, the show also includes film excerpts by such notable directors as Vittorio De Sica, Roberto Rossellini, and Luchino Visconti, alongside related movie posters.

Monet’s paintings of wealthy Parisians frolicking in the French suburb of Argenteuil became interesting to me as something more than very pretty objects when I learned about their ideological underpinnings—how Monet carefully excised the visible effects of rapid industrialization from his compositions, presenting his own version of the kind of idyllic landscape that no longer existed. Landscapes After Ruskin: Redefining the Sublime, the current exhibition at NYU’s Grey Art Gallery, pulls a similar trick by reminding us that while depicting landscapes may seem straightforward, event quaint at times, they are subject to the same manipulation and subjectivity as any kind of art, even if they’re painted en plein air. 

When 19th-century painters such as JMW Turner wanted to grapple with the sublime — which they did with obsessive regularity — they turned to nature’s terrors. Art offered Alpine storms, raging whitecaps, floods and earthquakes, all of which viewers could observe in the comfort of the gallery. Just as horror films stoke fear and also provide solace (that can’t happen to me!), the artistic sublime provoked a frisson of vicarious suffering.

The Victorian-era art critic and social activist John Ruskin argued that an artist's principal goal should be "truth to nature" - that all great art should depict the natural world as humanity experiences it. He believed that landscapes should capture not only the beauty of nature but also its threat and terror in order to render an authentic representation of the sublime, evoking feelings of awe and human insignificance. And by speaking out against industrial pollution in the 19th century, Ruskin effectively became one of Europe's first environmentalists.