Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s-Present @Hunter College Art Galleries

JTF (just the facts): A group show of the work of 22 Italian photographers, variously framed and matted, and hung in the entry areas and a series of three small gallery spaces. The works were made between 1953 and 2011. The show was curated by Maria Antoinella Pelizzari. A catalog of the exhibition has been published by Charta (here). (Installation shots at right.)

The following photographers were included in the exhibit, with the number of works on view, dates, and processes in parentheses:
Marina Ballo Charmet (2 gelatin silver prints, 1 DVD, 1993/1994, 1995, 1996)
Olivo Barbieri (2 chromogenic prints, 1 archival pigment print, 1985, 2009)
Gabriele Basilico (4 gelatin silver print, 1 book, 1979/1980, 1981, 2006)
Gianni Berengo Gardin (1 gelatin silver print, 1970)
Mario Carrieri (4 gelatin silver prints, 1 book, 1957-1959)
Vincenzo Castella (1 chromogenic print, 1 video, 2009)
Cesare Colombo (1 gelatin silver print, 1961)
Mario Cresci (1 group of 3 prints, 2 lithographs, 1 book, 1975, 1978, 1979)
Paola Di Bello (1 digital chromogenic print on diasec, 1 c-print mounted on diasec, 1997, 1999/2001)
Luigi Ghirri (6 chromogenic prints, 3 books, 1973, 1974, 1975, 1976, 1978, 1984, 1985, 1991)
Guidi Guidi (3 chromogenic prints, 1989, 1991, 2000)
Alessandro Imbriaco (4 inkjet prints, 2007-2011)
Francesco Jodice (1 digital print on Hahnemuhle paper, 1996)
Mimmo Jodice (1 gelatin silver print, 1977)
Armin Linke (1 accordion book of 16 chromogenic prints, 1999/2008)
Maurizio Montagna (1 group of 8 gelatin silver prints, 2004/2006)
Paolo Monti (2 gelatin silver prints, 1953-1956, 1959)
Ugo Mulas (1 gelatin silver print contact sheet, 1969)
Walter Niedermayr (1 chromogenic diptych, 1999)
Franco Vaccari (1 8mm film, 1 collage of 2 chromogenic prints, 1971, 1972)
Massimo Vitali (1 c-print diptych on Dibond, 2004)

Comments/Context: While a handful of contemporary Italian photographers have clearly established themselves in the global art conversation, I've often thought that what has been missing was a wider survey of recent Italian photography to provide some deeper national context for their approaches, choices, and influences. Spanning roughly sixty years and using the "little of each" sampler approach, this exhibit fills in some yawning historical gaps and places key figures amid lesser known artists (at least here in the US), offering a smoother continuum of related aesthetic ideas.

If there is a common theme to this work produced since the 1950s, it is an interest in topographical changes in the land, and the influx of urban sprawl on Italian life. There are no pictures of ornate churches, grand palazzos, historical treasures, or tourist sites included here. These images study the effects of hulking apartment blocks, office buildings, and dense concrete compression, often looking at the edges and intersections of old and new. This skeptical investigation has parallels to similar photographs made in America in the 1970s, exploring the complicated results of our own rapid suburban and industrial expansion.

Through the eyes of Paolo Monti, 1950s Milan was a grubby, alienating place: torn chain link fence, smoky skies, rubble strewn vacant lots. Gabriele Basilico picks up some of this same emotion, albeit in a much more rigorous and formal way, with architectural images from the late 1970s and a more recent monumental portrait of the smog covered expanse of urban Naples. Closer looks at details of buildings range from Luigi Ghirri's intimate and atmospheric color works to Guido Guidi's angular construction sites and sheds. Decades apart, Mario Cresci and Paola Di Bello take on similar city-centric subjects with a more conceptual bent. Even the glossy contemporary works by Massimo Vitali and Walter Niedermayr brush up against the encroaching ugliness: a chugging nuclear power plant looms in the distance behind one of Vitali's blinding beach scenes, and an overstuffed auto graveyard abuts a busy highway as seen from Niedermayr's signature bird's eye view.

All in, this is a smartly edited summary that offers multiple artistic viewpoints and interpretations of the dominant societal trend in Italy in the past half century: the tremendous, ever expanding growth of its cities. The space itself makes this show feel a bit cramped and chaotic, but with some visual patience, the choices here provide a thoughtful progression, both through time and across evolving photographic ideas.

Collector's POV: Since this is a museum exhibit, there are, of course, no posted prices. For those interested in following up on examples of recent Italian photography, a succinct companion show called An Italian Perspective is now on view in Howard Greenberg Gallery's new second space (here), through March 13th. It includes 12 images by Luigi Ghirri ($12000 or $13500 each), 6 images by Gabriele Basilico (ranging from $8000 to $19000 each), 1 image by Massimo Vitali ($39700), and 5 works by Vincenzo Castella (4 single images at $16000 or $28000 each, based on size, 1 diptych at $15000).

Rating: * (one star) GOOD (rating system described here)

Transit Hub:
  • Features/Reviews: New Yorker (here), Village Voice (here)
Peripheral Visions: Italian Photography in Context, 1950s-Present
Through April 28th

Hunter College Art Galleries
Hunter West Building
(southwest corner of 68th Street and Lexington Avenue)
New York, NY 10065

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