Once upon a time The America of the Modern Age, the “everything’s possible kingdom” where prosperity and fictitious collide, conceptual and urban grids coexist, and individualism, celebrities, and myths evolve. And, then there was its “shadow side” with irony and contraction, madness and melancholy–suspended atmospheres, alienating suburbs, and apocalyptic landscapes. Two faces of the same coin that turn back a century, and continue to capture us in the vortex of its clichés.
When Olimpia Zagnoli and Emiliano Ponzi met The America of the Modern Age, they observed and described it – each with its own style. Zagnoli’s pop touch produced iconic and super-flat imagines, hypnotic as well as attractive, with bright colors and sharp geometries. Ponzi, in a complimentary way, displayed Hopper scenery, while describing a three-dimensional and voyeuristic approach, and pausing on details. In essence, both producing a combination of smooth lines and backgrounds shaded tone on tone.
While continuing to reside in Milan, in a few years the very young Italian illustrators entered the collective imaginary of New Yorkers thanks to increasingly frequent commissions: from covers for The New Yorker, Penguin Books and Tachen, to collaborations with The New York Times, New York Magazine, The Guardian and Washington Post among the others.
During the brutal winter of 2013, I remember falling into hysterical laughter at a glimpse of Ponzi’s cover for Time Out New York entitled: “Winter Preview,” in which the unlikely dialogue between a dog leash and a cocky penguin was animating a snowy High Line populated by careless tourists and polar bears.
And, then, there was the memorable timepiece, “New York View” designed by Zagnoli for the MTA New York City Transit. The poster portraying an Afro-American woman was shown in the subway for long time, as a constant luminous presence inside the gray wagons.
After years of hard work and much visibility, the American story of Zagnoli and Ponzi is celebrated at the Italian Cultural Institute Of New York until March 11 with an exhibition that features their most recent illustrations produced in the United States.
The postcard of the show recalls the cover of the catalogue published by Corraini and compares the two styles through the image of the Empire State Building. Her version is on the left: a mixture of contrasts and symmetry of white, fuchsia, and purple – A building envisioned as a sequence of geometric and summer flavored patterns. Instead, and his version is on the right: light and dark pink, violet and blue– the architecture created at the sunset while transmitting solitude.
In a crowded opening reception, the curator Melania Gazzotti, tells me how the idea of the show came out – “I noticed that there are a lots of Italian illustrators working in the United States while continuing to live in my country. This motivated me even more to investigate their biographies and tell their stories. Italians have a relevant tradition in the field of illustration and they are admired, not just because of their skills on drawing – which is to transpose a concept in an image, but also because of their cultural background. Their art transmits something that is immediately perceived beyond their talent.”
Una Storia Americana is on display January 29th – March 11th.
The Italian Cultural Institute of New York
686 Park Avenue New York, NY 10065
Writing by Veronica Santi