Saturday, October 7, 2023

A Legacy of Making

at the Calandra Institute, New York City

When you come from an immigrant family, even if you are the child or grandchild of people who arrived here from another country, you live in two worlds: the one that nurtures you at home and the one outside that shapes you with different ideas and cultural norms. This bifurcated reality is so much a part of your existence that you become adept at navigating between two shores, not really thinking about it as navigation but simply as how you live your life. 

                           Panorama from the hallway as you peer through the institute's glass wall 
                                                               I'll take you around, below

The passage of time has offered me the opportunity to reflect on my Italian American childhood and the riches (as well as burdens) it has bestowed on me. I contacted other artists of Italian American heritage and found that we all shared similar stories. I also talked to artists who were born in Italy but make a home here. Then I reached out to artists in the Italian diaspora, in Canada, Australia, and from Argentina. From those conversations I created a website and then a book (links at the bottom of this post). This exhibition sprang from the book.

Welcome to the exhibition. Il Corno by Claudia De Monte greets you as you enter
In Italian folklore, the corno, or horn, keeps the evil away

A Legacy of Making: 21 Contemporary Italian American Artists opened on September 27 at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute in Midtown Manhattan and will run through January 12, 2024. The exhibition is co-curated by Joseph Sciorra, director of cultural and academic programs at the institute, and me. We made a great team, Joseph and I, sharing a vision for what was possible in the institute's relatively small gallery space. We selected the work of 21 artists whose paintings and sculptures reflected one of three themes: Mapping Routes, with a reference to immigration histories and vernacular expression;  A Legacy of Making, which reflects the tradition of handwork in fiber, clay, and wood; and No Accent on the Italian, work that doesn't necessarily speak to an ethnic identity, but whose makers were undeniably informed by the immigrant experience. We didn't install the work according to our categories but rather in a way that allowed for a visual flow. 

Exhibition particulars 
A Legacy of Making is at the John D.Calandra Italian American Institute in  Manhattan
. 25 W. 43rd Street (between Fifth and Sixth Avenues), 17th floor
. Exhibition extended: The show is up through the end of April, 2024
. Hours are Monday-Friday, 9:00-5:00 
. The last in a series of talks will take place on December 13; scroll to the end for specifics
. More information: Calandra Institute website

Nancy Azara, Mary Schiliro, two by Angelica Bergamini, B. Amore

Nancy Azara  Tree Altar, 1994, carved and painted wood with gold leaf

Azara grew up in the 1940s at a time when Italian girls didn't go to college. She did, studying fashion and costume design, but she found her way carving wood on a grand scale

Mary Schiliro, Dip Drip Snip 5, 2020, acrylic on Mylar

Schiliro hews to a rigorous poetry of form. She will tell you that she has been influenced by Giotto's "shallow and compressed pictorial space" 

Angelica Bergamini, Fra Mare e Cielo (Between Sea and Sky), 2020, mixed media, monotype, collage on paper

Born in Tuscany to a family of shipmasters, Bergamini is inspired by the voyage

B. Amore, two by Diana González Gandolfi, Zukowski on pedestal

B. Amore, Following the Thread IV: Concettina De Iorio, 1999, copper, wood, photo, fabric, thread

This assemblage of photos, letters, and objects highlights the life of Amore's grandmother, Concettina De Iorio, who made the journey over in the early 1900s

Diana González Gandolfi, Now We Know Where We Are: 2008 Buenos Aires (Navigated Territories Series), 2017, mixed media monotype on panel, diptych

Born in Argentina to a family that maintained Italian traditions (her great-grandfather fought side by side with Garibaldi), González Gandolfi employs the iconography of the map, which traces her journey from there to here

Diana González Gandolfi, Bearing Witness: 1983 Buenos Aires (Navigated Territories Series), 2016, mixed media collagraph and collage on panel (framed); on pedestal: Lisa Zukowski, three from the Bundle Series, 2015, and Dark Memories, the larger work, mixed media with burlap and string

Below: Zukowski's Bundle Series No 12
Zukowski's wrapped packets recall the string-tied bundles that accompanied so many of our antecedents in steerage on their voyage here

Left wall: Schiliro, Amore, González Gandolfi; pedestal: Zukowski; back wall:  Karen Schifano, Gianluca Bianchino, Timothy McDowell

Continuing along back wall: Schifano, Bianchino,  McDowell, Chris Costan, Carolanna Parlato, Jennifer Cecere (top), Joanne Mattera

Karen Schifano, Something's Brewing, 2022, flashe on canvas

The granddaughter of immigrants and daughter of artists, Schifano paints without an "accent," referencing empty spaces from which forms may emerge

Gianluca Bianchino, Bubbleverse Outward Orange, 2022, mixed media 

Bianchino makes sculptures and relief constructions with a mechanical bent. An arrival to this country with his family in 1980, he says that it's not  the romance of the past that inspires him, but the energy of the present and future

Timothy McDowell, Siren's Call, 2023, oil on panels

Don't let the name fool you. McDowell's maternal family, the Macellari, have lived on their ancestral land for centuries, and McDowell has returned there for part of every year. His work draws from Renaissance painting and current events, here a reference to the recent immigrants to Italy's shores

Continuing around the gallery: Costan, Parlato, Cecere, Mattera, Anna Patalano, Costan; far wall: Elisa D'Arrigo (also on pedestal), John Monti

Two by Chris Costan
Above: I Believe 4, 2023, textile pieces and mixed media on paperer
Below: Glow Worm, 2016, fabrics and sewing notions on paper

Costan's work draws from the tradition of handwork that was taught to so many young women 

Carolanna Parlato, Swipe Up, 2022, acrylic on canvas

Parlato's familial experience includes immigrants on both sides, but her painting is situated in the mainstream of contemporary art

Jennifer Cecere, Red Star, 2011, acrylic on laser-cut ripstop nylon

Cecere learned the needle arts at a young age. Now she makes "lace" from laser-cut nylon--which she may paint with acrylic, as here--or metal, often for public art commissions

Joanne Mattera, Silk Road 338, 2016, encaustic on panel

I learned to knit, embroider, and sew from my maternal aunts. Although I went to art school and became a painter, there is an undeniable textile sensibility to my work

Anna Patalano, Clashing Cs, 2022, oil on linen

The daughter of immigrant parents  who grew up speaking dialect Italian at home, Patalano sees painting as a way to express what she cannot in any other language

Patalano, Costan, D'Arrigo (pedestal and wall), Monti

Elisa D'Arrigo,  John Monti 

Elisa D'Arrigo
Above: Shift into Black, 2007, sewn cloth and mixed media
Below: Elisa D'Arrigo, Double Dyad, 2010, hand-built and glazed ceramic

D'Arrigo works across mediums and techniques, including hand-building clay vessels and stitching rough-hewn hangings. She credits her Bronx upbringing, where in her family "everyone made things"

Elisa D'Arrigo, Double Dyad, 2010, hand-built and glazed ceramic

D'Arrigo works across mediums and techniques, including hand-building clay vessels and stitching rough-hewn hangings. She credits her Bronx upbringing, where in her family "everyone made things"

John Monti, detail of Black Frost, 2021, urethane resin, pigments, glitter

Monti taps the glorious excesses of Neapolitan Baroque for his sculpture

On foreground pedestal: D. Dominick Lombardi with full view below

D. Dominick Lombardi, CCWS 28, 2018, sand, wood, papier mâché, gesso, plexiglass, piano keys, chair leg, acrylic medium, acrylic paint

Lombardi learned woodworking from his father and grandfather, though they might be surprised at how he has applied the skills they taught him 

Another installation view of Lombardi sculpture

Continuing around the gallery with John Avelluto, right

John Avelluto. Due Facci, 2020, acrylic on panel

Avelluto elevates popular hand gestures to an art form--the hand flicked from under the chin in an expression of Me ne frego, I don't give a damn, to the fingers brought to the lips in a grand show of satisfaction

Lombardi, Avelluto, DeMonte; on back wall: Denise Sfraga, Patricia Miranda

DeMonte, Sfraga, Miranda

Patricia Miranda takes handmade and commercial lace, dyes it red, and constructs large-scale pieces she calls "shrouds"--monuments to the women in her family, their labor in maintaining homes and families, and perhaps the blood of so many fingers pricked in the execution of handwork

Denise Sfraga, clockwise from left: Fetish augusta 6, Fetish micro 4, Fetish augusta 1, all 2021, colored pencil on paper mounted on panel; Patricia Miranda, Lamentation for a Reasoned History, 2023, donated hand-dyed lace, thread, dressmakers' pins, paper clay, cast plaster

Below: Denise Sfraga, Fetish augusta 1

Sfraga paints otherworldly forms rooted in botany, suggestive of the life cycle from seeds to growth, to decay

Detail of Miranda's Lamentation for a Reasoned History; far wall, Denise Sfraga, Fetish augusta 6
Photo: Chris Costan

Last view, with wall text
Here's the curators' text in case you can't see it clearly in the photo above:

The work of the twenty-one artists featured in this exhibit offers a richness of form, medium, subject matter, color, and style that is a delight and a revelation to behold. Connections to a discernable Italian art tradition--or for that matter to Italian American aesthetic practices more specifically--vary across the exhibition, ranging from the explicit to the suggestive to the nonexistent. A dynamic tension operates in which a usable past is employed to create not only art of the moment but a reimagined and reconfigured ethnic sensibility. Ultimately such creative diversity is predicated on a heterogeneity of experiences, sensibilities, and understandings that serve as inspiration for transformative acts of beauty.

Below: the two curators with audience. Joseph Sciorra, director of academic and cultural programs at the John D. Calandra Italian American Institute, addresses guests at the start of the exhibition; I'm seated in the front row

Wait, there's more!

In conjunction with the exhibition there will be three evenings of artists talks. All take place on Wednesday evenings from 6:00-7:30. For the first two evenings we invited artists who are not part of the exhibition, but whose inclusion, each with a slide talk, allows us to expand the parameters of the show. I hope you'll attend. If you plan to, please RSVP to Calandra: 212-642-2094

October 18
Paul Fabozzi, painter
Dario Mohr, installation
Don Porcaro, sculptor
Josette Urso, painter

November 8
Milisa Galazzi, mixed media 
Margaret Lanzetta, painter
Wayne Montecalvo, printmaker
Laura Moriarty, sculptor

December 13
Informal conversation with the exhibiting artists in the gallery. This is a good opportunity to see the work up close and hear from the artists who made it

Thanks to painter John Avelluto for his expert hanging of the show; Rosangela Briscese, assistant director for academic and cultural programs


Just published by Well-Fed Artist Press:Italianità: Contemporary Art Inspired by the Italian Immigrant Experience
Features the work of 59 artists--Italian American, Italian in America, and from the Italian diaspora
296 pages
Link here

An Italian American Colloquy in Two Coats of Paint

Short article about the Calandra opening in La Voce di New York

Italianità, the website, which features the work of 74 artists, 58 of whom joined me in the book

Creatività diasporiche: Dialoghi transnazionali tra teoria e arti Edited by Loredana Polezzi and others, in Italian and English, which includes the work of B. Amore, who in is the exhibition, and Luci Callipari-Marcuzzo, who is in Italianità, the website and book

Friday, October 6, 2023

No Treat for Women

Halloween is the modern celebration of the pagan Samhain, in which the veil between worlds is pierced and spirits make their way back into the land of the living. It is a lovely concept, so strongly held onto over the centuries, that even Christianity incorporated the ritual into a holy day, All Souls Day, on November 1.

Here in Salem, Massachusetts, where I live part of the time, Halloween is celebrated all month, mostly by tourists eager to dress as goblins and witches and by the businesses that cash in on the reveling. I hate the traipsing and traffic of the crowds. More than that, I hate the (typically unwitting) celebration of the barbarism practiced by Christians over the centuries.

 Image from the internet

As we crack open our Kit Kats, we might remember that branding a woman as a witch was a way to control her. And what better way to control her than by killing her—by burning, as was done in Europe in the Middle Ages and by hanging, as was done in Salem, Massachusetts. Consider Joan of Arc, who was burned at the stake in 1431 in Rouen, France, for being a heretic, sorcerer, and crossdresser. 

Burning continued in Puritan England for almost 300 years. According to the magazine Historic UK,From 1484 until around 1750 some 200,000 witches were tortured, burnt, or hanged in Western Europe.” 
I remember reading of advice offered to women of the time: Breathe deeply of the smoke so that you will be killed by asphyixiation before the flames char your flesh.


A depiction of Joan of Arc at the stake

Below, an image from the internet showing a baby tossed in for good measure (a reminder that terrorism has long been with "civilization")

The numbers were much smaller in Salem, and the manner of killing different, but the deaths were no less appalling. In a year between June 1692 and May 1693, 19 people were hanged as witches, 14 of them women, including the women whose names you see on the monument at Proctor’s Ledge in Salem. Tituba, an enslaved woman of Barbadian or indigenous South American origin, was reputedly the first woman to be accused. She was not hanged but spent a year in jail after accusing others of the crime. That “confession” was beaten out of her. After she was released, she disappeared from Salem’s historical record. (Of the five men, 81-year--old Giles Corey was pressed to death with heavy stones.)

Contemporary memorial to the women and who were hanged as witches at Proctor's Ledge, on Gallows Hill in Salem, Massachusetts, where the killings took place.
Photo Jim DeGennaro from the internet

Below, a closer view of one stone
Image from the internet

The inquisitioners in both England and Salem had a unique method of determining if a woman was a witch: dunking. They dropped a bound woman into a body of water. If she somehow survived, she was a witch and was burned or hanged. If she drowned, she was innocent.

If she escaped the flames or the noose, there were other punishments in store for an outspoken woman. In 16th- and 17th-century England and Scotland, her head might have been strapped into what was called a scold’s bridle. This was not just a muzzle, but a contraption that contained a metal plate that pressed on her tongue. In its most extreme form, the plate had a spike that pushed into the tongue itself. So much for having an opinion. 

Do I need to add that this unspeakably cruel punishment was meted out only to women?

Worse than being branded with a scarlet A,  the scold's bridle encased a woman's head. Presumably she was still required to keep house and care for her children

Below: the actual bridle was far more sadistic. And note the little bell atop the contraption. Clearly it was designed to add insult to injury, drawing attention to the woman when she ventured into the marketplace

Mussolini had a way to deal with independent women or those whom he saw as not conforming to his fascist ideas about how they should behave: For two decades he locked them away in mental asylums. Their families were so ashamed, that many women were refused return by their own families.

Our rights have always been tenuous and the punishments for our “transgressions” sadistic. The GOP  reminds us of this daily. Fight back! Enjoy contemporary Halloween, but donate--to Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, and to Democratic candidates at the local, state, and national levels. Vote Democratic.

And remember . . .