Audio interviews and illustrations below. As we mention particular buildings and views, click on the relevant thumbnail.
The distinguished old master dealer, Robert Simon, held his first exhibition of a contemporary artist this past November and December. Entitled The Third Rome : Allegorical Landscapes of the Modern City, it was devoted to the current work of Pamela Talese, a Brooklyn-based painter known for her haunting views of gritty industrial sites around the Navy Yard and Red Hook. Around 2012, she found that she had exhausted this subjects and everything else in New York City, and she decided to return to Rome for the first time in twenty-two years, applying for an artist’s fellowship at the American Academy and, once there, after exploring contemporary buildings, like Renzo Piano’s Parco della Musica, she began to explore more recent neighborhoods outside the historical center. By “more recent,” I mean areas developed in the 1920s and 1930s, that is, the Fascist Era. Exploring the neighborhoods on her bicycle with her painting box and folding easel strapped on, Ms. Talese felt attracted to certain buildings that stood out for their clean, simple lines and elegant design. These were prime examples of Fascist architecture—modest, functional residential edifices, utilitarian civic structures, and a few public buildings. Virtually none of these appear in the surveys of Fascist architecture—with one notable exception, the Foro Italico (originally called the Foro Mussolini).
When I was in Rome for my post-doctoral work from 1983 to 1985, I used to take Sunday afternoons off from the Renaissance and indulge in passeggiate in some of those neighborhoods. I found something comforting in the quietude of the streets and rather more aesthetic pleasure than I expected in the same simple, elegant structures Pamela Talese, in her paintings, has recorded and interpreted with such assurance, subtle feeling, and generous observation. Impressed by their openness to light and air, and their straightforward functionality, I assumed these buildings were constructed in the post-war years, above all the early 1930s, but no, through this exhibition and conversations with Ms. Talese, I have learned something about their history, i.e. that they belong to Mussolini’s time, and that they arose out of ideas of city planning and architectural style which he and his movement espoused.
Pamela Talese regards Mussolini as the Robert Moses of early 20th century Italy, and in that, I believe, she is absolutely correct. The two had a lot in common. One could easily imagine books on Fascist city planning and architecture and perhaps a few about and by Albert Speer on Moses’ shelves.
You can hear Ms. Talese’s perceptive, nuanced account of this in the two podcast interviews presented here: the first segment concerns her project, which still continues after several years of annual visits, and the second, the historical background of Fascist architecture. These were extrapolated from one, lengthy and very enjoyable conversation, but for coherence and accessibility I have edited it into two.
On one evening during the exhibition there was a brilliant pair of talks and conversation, moderated by Robert Simon, with Pamela Talese and the Luigi Ballerini, Emeritus Professor UCLA, Distinguished poet, translator, food historian, and critic, and author of the essay “The Foro Mussolini and The Marble Boys of Yesteryear” that accompanies the photographs by George Mott in Foro Italico (PowerHouse Books 2003). Professor Ballerini encapsulated my own feelings about the Italian Fascism and its monuments in his observations about the classicizing statues—each depicting a different sport—at the Foro Italico. He described them as ghosts, as lost ghosts of the imperial aspirations Mussolini attempted to foment among the Italian people, embodied in marble statues imitating familiar classical models. (Each province of Italy was obligated to contribute one.) Talese expressed this literally—and poignantly—in her paintings of these figures, above all in Rain in the Foro, in which the athletes from the provinces of Brindisi, Napoli, Aosta, Livorno, and Bergamo seem to convene—their heroic energy long dispersed and now irrelevant—in a group as aimless and impotent as the elderly pensionati who gather in the piazze of provincial towns today.
There is no place for Fascism or people like Mussolini in our world, although certain strongmen have emerged who hope to pick up the mantle. However, architecture and urban design are among its few legacies which have made positive contributions life and art. These structures, as uplifting as they are for us today, are haunted, like the Foro Italico, with the ghosts of the false, unrealistic ambitions of the Fascism. Pamela Talese has touched this lesson in what she sees at a profound experiential level, free from moralizing and didacticism.
Although the exhibition has closed, the paintings can be viewed by appointment. Contact Lydia Melamed Johnson, Gallery Director, Robert Simon Fine Art: firstname.lastname@example.org | 212.288.9712.
Artist Pamela Talese on her Recent Exhibition, The Third Rome: Allegorical Landscapes of the Modern City, at the Robert Simon Fine Art, November 7 – December 21, 2018
Interview Part 1: Pamela Talese on her ongoing project.
Interview 2: The historical background Mussolini, the City of Rome, the architecture of the Fascist Era, and other big issues.
The Third Rome—Allegorical Landscapes of the Modern City—by Pamela Talese