Nicola Lucchi came to New York for love. His wife was born in Manhattan and Lucchi, who is now the Managing Director of the Center for Italian Modern Art, met her almost by chance when he was still a teenager. They were pen pals at a time when social media didn’t exist. After he graduated high school, his parents paid for him to travel to the United States. It was the year 2000 when the two of them met in person, and they have never left each other’s side again. That’s when it all started.
To its visitors CIMA looks like an artist’s apartment that has opened its doors to the public. The building on 421 Broome Street, only a few steps away from Little Italy, has been hosting the museum since 2013, when the art historian and collector Laura Mattioli decided to establish it.
On a sunny spring day, Lucchi welcomes us with an espresso. The museum has a large, well-equipped kitchen and a long table with a vase of orange tulips in the middle. When I asked him the reasons behind such an unusual room in an art gallery, he answered smilingly: “CIMA is a house and every house has a kitchen.”
Until June 18th the main room will be housing the “Staging Injustice” exposition, curated by Giovanna Ginex, with 20 pieces coming from Italian museums and private collections of the highest order. The focus of the artworks will be migration, work, protest and social injustice–themes that affected the reality of both Italian and American artists.
“Although the pieces are not well known, we are getting great feedback,” said Lucchi, who was born in Cremona and got his PhD in Italian Studies from New York University. “Many people are able to rediscover moments from a familiar past through the paintings. After all, the great migration of the end of the 19th century is a part of the family history of many Italian-Americans.”
Some visitors are still wearing their masks but at CIMA, as in the rest of New York, the most dramatic phase of the pandemic appears to have passed. Two years ago, in March 2020, activities were interrupted. The gallery closed for ten months, until January 2021, a pause that altered the existing plans. While every exposition used to last nine months, in order to parallel the schedule of university students who can get a scholarship from CIMA, the calendar has since changed. The plan is now to organize two events per year.
“Our target is the entire community. We started as a research institute, so the natural outlet is towards an audience of art historians, experts and university students, but our basic idea is to allow people in the United States to learn about, or rediscover, modern Italian art. This kind of art is sometimes considered ancillary to French art of the same style, although Futurism is actually based on very different premises compared to those of Cubism. It has often been the case that exhibitions we curated have impacted the choices of other museums, in New York and elsewhere.”
Lucchi was referring to some events that got their inspiration from the halls of CIMA. Among these are some important names: from the Depero exhibit, that resulted in a different one planned by the Juan March foundation in Madrid, to that of the Medardo Rosso, that helped the Metropolitan Museum and the MoMA rediscover this Turinese sculptor.
Now that the pandemic is starting to fade away, and the noise in New York City’s streets is getting back to its pre-Covid levels, CIMA is eager to come back and, once again, welcome visitors through its doors. A special focus will be on the youth, art lovers, and those who can find within art love at first sight.
“All of our programs, including guided tours and teaching activities, are always free for schools. The rule includes students who come by themselves, and can get free tickets from us.”
This is a way to introduce them to modern Italian art, allowing them to discover a part of history that they might otherwise have never come into contact with. All of this, in one room.
Then again, as Edgard Allan Poe wrote, “We speak of the harmony of a room the same way we’d speak about the harmony of a painting: because both the painting and the room can be traced back to the same unshakable principles that regulate all artforms.”
Lucchi and CIMA took it literally.
Translation by Emma Pistarino