Eternal Metaphors: New Art from Italy

  • Eternal Metaphors, installation view at Everson Museum of Art, 1991.

  • Bruno Ceccobelli, Pala salata, 1987. Courtesy of Jack Shainman Gallery, New York.

  • Alfredo Pirri, Senza titolo, Il rumore, Respiro, 1987. Courtesy of Wessel O'Connor Gallery and the collection of NYNEX Corporation.

  • Eternal Metaphors, installation view at Everson Museum of Art, 1991.

  • Remo Salvadori, La stanza delle tazze, 1985-86. Courtesy of Galleria Pieroni, Rome.

  • Fiorella Rizzo, Per guardare il cielo, 1981. Collection of the artist.

Curated by Susan Sollins

The artists included in this exhibition – Bruno Ceccobelli, Gianni Dessi, Nino Longobardi, Luigi Ontani, Mimmo Paladino, Alfredo Pirri, Fiorella Rizzo, Remo Salvadori, and Ettore Spalletti – participate fully in contemporary international culture and discourse on art. They exist forcefully in the present but, at the same time, seem to navigate the past, layering their work with Italian referents and with legacies of the timeless Mediterranean world and spirit. Their works can be seen as a metaphorical cauldron in which allusions to Christian and pagan iconography, art history, metaphysics, mythology, and religion, as well as contemporary concerns – including the use of unorthodox materials and the investigation of form that in part derived from the arte povera movement – bubble constantly to the surface. Memory and sophistication coexist and collide to create a rich contemporary, and particularly Italian, mix. Each work of art becomes a stage – or staging – in which the present and past speak simultaneously.


The differences in style and medium of each of the artists are significant but, in all the work, there exists a primary faith in the possibility of making a living connection between the specific now and the specific shared past. Rather than rummaging through the closets of art history to scavenge for relics or remnants of that past to be used as self-conscious quotation or as a bank of images, these Italian artists are at ease with their inheritance.


In the same way, with equal ease and without self-consciousness, Italo Calvino has written of the timeless spirit and continuum of literary art and its practitioners – Ovid, Lucretius, Boccaccio, Dante, and Leopardi. Although Calvino discusses “certain values… of literature that are very close to [his] heart” and presents them within view of the millennium close upon us, it is clear that the same universal values can be applied as a framework within which to view and think about the works of art in this exhibition. This is particularly so because Calvino was revered by many Italian artists of the approximate generation of the nine in this exhibition – as a supreme storyteller, inspired writer, reviver of myth and the deep magic of Italian folklore, and philosopher-teacher. His reclamation and restoration of Italian folktales and myths signaled an acceptance of the postmodern position in art and literature: that there is no one modernist line, and that all of our collective resources are appropriate sources for art-making.


– Excerpt from catalogue essay by Susan Sollins, 1990



Susan Sollins

Susan Sollins was co-founder, with Nina Castelli Sundell, of ICI, and its Executive Director from the organization’s inception in 1975, until 1996. In 1997, Susan founded Art21, an organization dedicated to introducing contemporary art to millions of people through television and digital media – in many ways a continuation of her goals in setting up ICI. The documentaries created by Art21 were a new form of dynamic portraits capturing the Lives of the Artists of today, which made Susan, in the words of ICI Board Chair Patterson Sims, “the Vasari of our own times.”

Susan was a member of the senior curatorial team at the Smithsonian’s American Art Museum early in her career, and was visual-arts consultant for Thirteen/WNET’s TV program City Arts. Among the exhibitions she curated with ICI are Art in Landscape (1976–77), New Sculpture: Icon and Environment (1983–84), Points of View: Four Painters (1985–86), Eternal Metaphors: New Art from Italy (1989–92). She also co-curated many ICI exhibitions, including Supershow! (1979–80), After Matisse (1986–88), and Team Spirit (1990–92), co-curated with Nina Castelli Sundell. She contributed to ICI’s Project 35 (2010-12). She received a Peabody Award for “Art:21—Art in the Twenty-First Century” (2007), and great critical acclaim for her feature-length film on William Kentridge, broadcast on PBS (2010). She served on the boards of the MacDowell Colony and ICI. In 2008, she also received the Skowhegan Governors Award for Outstanding Service to Artists (2008).


touring schedule

Art Gallery of Nova Scotia
Halifax, Nova Scotia, Canada
November 29, 1991 - January 12, 1992

Everson Museum of Art
Syracuse, NY, United States
September 27, 1991 - November 3, 1991

The High Museum at Georgia-Pacific Center
Atlanta, GA, United States
April 1, 1991 - May 31, 1991

Grand Rapids Art Museum
Grand Rapids, MI, United States
January 25, 1991 - March 10, 1991

The Phillips Collection
Washington, D.C., United States
November 17, 1990 - January 6, 1991

Boise Art Museum
Boise, ID, United States
September 1, 1990 - October 21, 1990

Bass Museum of Art
Miami Beach, FL, United States
June 28, 1990 - August 5, 1990

City Gallery of Contemporary Art
Raleigh, NC, United States
April 19, 1990 - June 8, 1990

University Art Museum, California State Museum
Long Beach, CA, United States
January 30, 1990 - March 25, 1990

Alberta College of Art Gallery
Calgary, Alberta, Canada
November 23, 1989 - December 17, 1989

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