Sunday, October 16, 2011

A famous face turns and smiles broadly. A camera clicks. A bulb flashes. A moment in time is preserved forever. This ritual occurred countless times in 1950’s Italy. The paparazzi, who would not be so named until Fellini’s La Dolce Vita film in 1960, chronicled every celebrity arrival, shopping spree, bacchanal, stolen private moment and eventual departure. The Italian public, still recovering and psychologically escaping from the ravages of WWII, seemed to have an insatiable appetite for the celebrities in their midst. Celebrities symbolized an Italy moving forward, progressing toward a better future. Not only did Italy send its famous to Hollywood, but Hollywood also came to Italy, specifically to film at Cinecitta’.

La Dolce Vita – 1950 – 1960; Stars and Celebrities in the Italian Fifties is a photographic exhibition celebrating this unique period. Italy was reveling in the peace of the mid-20th century. It had time to be frivolous and a strong desire to distance itself from the horrors of war. It feasted on the wild and wealthy lives of the famous. This hunger was fed by a steady diet of movie magazines, fattened by gossip columnists and photojournalists.

Photographs are tricks of light. They capture the image in front of the camera, but that’s only the beginning. Photographs also reveal something about the person behind the camera and the society in which they both exist. At the Dolce Vita exhibition, all of these elements are in play. At first glance, the images are captivating because of the celebrities they showcase. But with closer inspection the images reveal what is around the celebrity: the fans, the looks of adoration, the autograph books offered in hope of capturing in writing what the camera captured in light.

The women’s dresses, jewelry, shoes, gloves and purses and the men’s shirts, ties, suits and sweaters tell a story. And not only of the celebrity but more interestingly, of who surrounds them. They perch on vespas, sit at cafĂ© tables, dance in nightclubs. They look happy, surprised and a little uncomfortable. This is Italy at a unique moment, on the cusp of an era that would move faster and faster toward an unknown future. Fascinated by images and stories of celebrity decadence, what scandalized Italians then feels almost quaint now. This is an Italy that existed for a time and is no more.

The exhibition is curated by Marco Panella, promoted by Ministro del Turismo, Cinecitta’ and Artix. Consisting of 84 black and white images, most have never been seen in public before. They are on display throughout Eataly, 200 5th Avenue in Manhattan, hanging from the ceiling rafters throughout the store. The exhibition lasts until November 14.

After you’ve been beguiled by the Italy of the ‘50’s, delight your stomach with dinner at nearby SD26 located at 19 East 26th Street. This is the latest restaurant run by Tony and Marisa May, the same father/daughter team who served New York at San Domenico’s Restaurant on Central Park South since 1988. SD26 serves contemporary Italian cuisine with a 750 labels Wine List. When I dined there I met Matt Dillon. Maybe I brought some of that celebrity-vibe with me from the Dolce Vita exhibition.

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