|Should you go?
|Best thing I saw or learned
|Many years ago I saw Punt e Mes listed on a menu at a fancy cocktail bar described along the lines of “If you know, you know.” Punt e Mes is an excellent Italian vermouth. Its name is dialect for punto e mezzo, a point and a half— meaning one part bitter, half a part sweet. This poster elegantly depicts the concept. If you didn’t know before, now you do.
How did I not know about the Center for Italian Modern Art? I love Italy and I love art. I am reasonably fond of modernity. And centers are generally okay with me, too. This is one of those places that has been quietly doing cool things just a bit under my radar. In fact, I only know about it because I received a Poster House email announcing a tour of the current exhibit.
The Center for Italian Modern Art (inevitably, “CIMA,” but at least it’s pronounced “chee-ma”) occupies a light-filled fourth floor SoHo loft space. I expect it is a coincidence that it’s just around the corner from the last vestiges of Manhattan’s Little Italy, which has been eroding steadily since well before I moved to New York City. Still, it’s an interesting confluence of things Italian.
CIMA’s exhibition space is compact, consisting mainly of a gallery area that boasts lovely wood floors, an appropriately sleek and modern ornamental fireplace, and huge windows. A hallway widens into a smaller rear gallery, passing a beautiful modern kitchen with a plethora of Pantone espresso cups. Offices and a coat room are tucked behind discreet doors.
Although limited in square footage, it’s comfortable, with chairs and couches and that very nice kitchen lending a homey touch.
The exhibition when I visited the Center for Italian Modern Art focused on posters made between the 1920s and the 1950s. It examined the interplay between the worlds of high art and commercial advertising, starting with the Italian futurists and cubists. It concluded with two pieces by Mimmo Rotella, who was something of an Italian anti-Warhol, taking actual posters and folding, spindling, and mutilating them into artworks that say things about capitalism and consumerism. Not generally positive things.
Arranged chronologically, the exhibition touched on tremendous changes in advertising from the pre-war period, the rise of Italian Fascism, and through to postwar reconstruction.
Although there was little in the way of wall texts, CIMA is part of the growing network of organizations that leverage the Bloomberg Connects app, and so offered descriptions of key pieces via mobile. There was also a catalog for sale.
I want to go on about the variety of techniques Italian midcentury poster designers used (some cool photomontages here). I could also reflect on the changing dynamics between corporate brand identities and creative artistic impulses But mostly I want to rave about how awesome these posters were. Not to fixate on alcohol, but an early, cubist-inflected Campari advertisement definitely caught my eye.
The show also included a poster by Lucio Fontana, who is far better known as an artist than a graphic designer. His 1935 poster for Lloyd Triestino ship lines sleekly conveys speed and modernity. And it also hints at the linear slashes in canvas that would later make him famous. (Apologies for the inadvertent selfie in my photo.)
I could go on… I haven’t even mentioned Olivetti yet, and that’s a shame. Only an Italian company could make a typewriter into a fashion accessory.
Andare o non andare?
The Center for Italian Modern Art puts on two shows a year. Its hours are limited and moreover it requires an appointment, so no just dropping in spontaneously in the midst of a SoHo shopping spree. Its smallish space means anything CIMA does will be focused and fairly limited in scope.
That said, I was extremely impressed with the curation of the poster show — not to mention the beauty of the pieces they selected. Flipping through CIMA’s past catalogs left me vexed that I missed this place on my initial list of New York museums. On the brighter side, I’m happy that I know about it now. I will keep an eye on CIMA and I’m looking forward to seeing what it puts on next.
Anyone who likes cose italiane, or modern art, should look out for this place as well.
|421 Broome Street, 4th Floor, Manhattan
|General Admission: $10; $15 for a tour. All visits by appointment only
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