NeoRealismo

The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960

September 6–December 8, 2018

NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960

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Here, we highlight the 49 gallery shows (from a 20th-century mystic and abstract painter to a Facebook diarist–painter–photographer) and museum exhibitions (including disruptive surveys, post-war artist retrospectives, and a massive show featuring more than 60 black artists) we’re most excited to see this fall, and how long they’re on view.

In post-Mussolini Italy, artists and photographers were left to make sense of the shattered ruins of a culture that had once developed their crafts into a well-oiled machine of nationalist propaganda. In this fascinating profile by Hyperallergic on a new exhibition at the New York University’s Grey Art Gallery, titled NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932–1960, these pivotal years of rebuilding Italy's cultural influence after World War II are explored through the lens of photography.

Enrica Viganò, an independent curator, spent nine years searching through the archives of individual photographers to assemble the 174 prints in “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932-1960.” There are no institutions in Italy that, like the Center for Creative Photography in Tucson, Ariz., hold the archives of important photographers, so Ms. Viganò sought out her subjects one by one. In fact, the point of the exhibition is to establish photography as a significant art form in a country where it has never ranked with painting, literature, music or, more recently, film.

In 1932, to commemorate the first decade of Fascist rule in Italy, Benito Mussolini inaugurated the Exhibition of the Fascist Revolution in Rome. The exhibition, which consisted of 23 rooms filled with myriad forms of art, historical documentation, and artifacts, stayed on display for two years. It proved a massive success, drawing more than 2.8 million visitors.

The word realism conjures the everyday, the unfussy, the small. But what’s real when the world has gone mad? It’s a question that gripped Italian photographers, directors, journalists, and writers around World War II and is surely worth asking again. This exhibition heralds artists who captured quotidian life in an era of daily shocks.

How should photography respond to Fascism and its aftermath? An ambitious exhibition, which opened September 6 at New York University’s Grey Art Gallery and Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò, features images made by 60 Italian photographers in the period from the height of Mussolini’s rule through Italy’s post-war economic boom. Curated by Enrica Viganò, “NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932-1960” has already toured Europe.

New York University’s latest photography exhibit showcased at Grey Art Gallery, titled NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932-1960, features a collection of 174 images from over 60 Italian photographers. As the title references, the photographs are from Italy before, during, and after World War II. The concept of neorealism was a cinematic and literary movement that showed the disastrous postwar conditions, helping inspire this collection.

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.

Consider these names: Fellini, Antonioni, Olmi, De Sica, Rossellini, Pasolini, Visconti, Scorsese, Coppola – the most compelling film artists of modern times, in this country and in Italy, not to mention the rest of the West. And yet the image world out of which they grew, the photographic milieu that nurtured all of them, that connected the diaspora Italians in New York (and Buenos Aires, among other places) with the home country, has never been explored in depth in the United States. Until now.

Italy, 1930-1960. A country divided before it was even really united. The Italian population was fragmented, turned out by the war, slave of a regime. It was desperately seeking freedom, it was desperately looking for its own identity. At that time Italy needed to be real, needed to look in the face the desecration of its beauty perpetuated by strangers’ hands and ultimately by the Italians themselves. It was first chaos, then war, then misery, then triumph, then rebuild, then rebirth.

Grey Art Gallery/NYU will open its doors to an exhibition portraying life in Italy through the lens of photographers before, during and after World War II in NeoRealismo: The New Image in Italy, 1932-1960. Featuring 175 photographs by over 60 Italian artists, NeoRealismo displays the photos with the original publications in which they circulated ~ illustrated magazines, photobooks, […]

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.

Why photographers, who were in the vanguard of these efforts, are so unknown outside Italy (and even within it) is one of the mysteries that curator Enrica Viganó and the essayists in the catalog have sought to answer and to redress. The illuminating exhibition will be a crash course in post-war Italian cultural history for most Americans, introducing them to dozens of unfamiliar names.

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.

The second world war left Italy in a shambles that proved fruitful for art. A republic was born amid the rubble and, after decades of fascist mythmaking, a new artistic frankness thrived. Yet one form of stylistic narrowness gave way to another — novelists, film-makers and photo graphers subscribed to the tenets of neorealism and united around a common project: to portray their devastated country unsparingly, with all its squalor, toughness and hope.