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CIMA Closes its Summer Film Series with Mario Schifano’s Short Films

The pop artist's "Reflex" and "Souvenir", on loan from the Cineteca Nazionale di Roma, give us a peek into his celebrity-like rock and roll, drug-filled reality

by Sofia Zamboli

Mario Schifano. Photo: Wikipedia

The Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA), is a 501C3 public nonprofit with a mission of making Italian art accessible, especially to students and researchers. CIMA was established in 2013 by Laura Mattioli, who developed a love of art in the home of her collector father Gianni Mattioli.

Entrance to Elizabeth Street Garden screening area.

Their home was often opened to the local community as a place to see art.

Adapting her father’s example, Laura chose to house CIMA in a loft on Broome Street and usually mounts two intimate shows a year. As the events and education manager Nicola Lucchi says, this relaxed environment gives “the collector experience where you can sit on a couch and just take in the works at different times of the day with different light conditions.” Currently on exhibit is Facing America: Mario Schifano 1960-65, curated by Dr. Francesco Guzzetti.

Mario Schifano, the Italian artist, was inspired by the likes of Warhol, Rauschenberg and Johns but was not necessarily a Pop artist. Attracted to America, he spent time in NYC from December of ‘63 through the first few months of ‘64.

Lucchi said that Schifano “connects Italy and the US in a way that resonates with CIMA and our own mission.” Schifano worked with various media including painting, photography and film, but he felt that film was the most American medium of all. He also produced music and had a rock band called Le Stelle di Mario Schifano.

The event that CIMA hosted on Wednesday, August 18th at Elizabeth Gardens was a screening of Schifano’s two short films, Reflex (1964) and Souvenir (1967), on loan from the Cineteca Nazionale di Roma. This was CIMA’s last of the summer film screenings held in tandem with the exhibit. These events were free and open to the public, thanks in part to the auction house Christie’s, who sponsored them.

The screening in Elizabeth Garden.

The screening was intimate and Elizabeth Street Gardens was the perfect location. About 50 seats were set up amongst the garden’s marble sculptures and under the shade of the trees. A full house watched Schifano’s experimental films under the moonlight.

The event was introduced by Ph.D. candidate Biancalucia Maglione, a fellow invited from the University of Pisa. She described Schifano as “an artist always in motion. He shoots the world around him.”  Schifano’s films gave the audience a peek into his celebrity-like rock and roll, drug-filled reality.

 Reflex was the first film that was screened. A nine-minute-long film, it follows a day in the life of the American photographer Ben Richardson. This film really represents well the 60’s and Pop Art with its Twiggy-like models posed and styled by Richardson.

At one point a model is framed perfectly taking a swig from a Coca-Cola bottle, a symbol of American Capitalism and Consumerism. Richardson also flirts with the woman, and the models wink and smirk at the camera. Schifano often turns the camera 90 degrees, which “makes it very hard to continue watching because it’s just disorienting,” said Lucchi.

This is just part of the charm of Schifano. It is hard to peel your eyes away as the rock music blasts in the background. As you watch, you feel like you are privileged to be having an inside peek at an exclusive photo shoot.

Souvenir was the second film that was screened at the event. This eleven-minute film features Gerard Malanga dancing around tourist sites in Rome, including the Colonnade at the Vatican. The audience sees tacky tourist shops and monuments from various parts of the city.

As Maglione said, this film comments on “blasphemy versus sacredness” as Malanga dances around one of the holiest sites in the world but shoots up heroin at the end. Malanga reads poetry in the background, providing a strong contrast from the lighter feel of Reflex.

Schifano’s films have no real plot and are purely experimental. They are a peek at his perspective of the world. He takes note of seemingly insignificant details and monumentalizes them. This seems to be a theme in much of his art, including his paintings. Lucchi said that Schifano “creates a painted frame on the canvas that provides the space to work within that secondary frame.”

Schifano is an important Italian, multifaceted artist with paintings that are fun and political and films that are strange and poetic. Facing America: Mario Schifano 1960-65 will be on view at CIMA through November.

Reservations are required in order to visit.

421 Broome St., 4th fl., New York, NY 10013
Tel: 646 370 3596


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