Unsure of how to entertain your parents in New York this weekend? Bwog staffer Mariela Quintana suggests Casa Italiana, where you can put your Art Hum skills to use. 

Between the dank Amsterdam overpass and SIPA’s bleak backside, stands the alabaster Casa Italiana, home of the Italian Academy for Advanced Studies in America. With an imperious entryway articulating the ground floor and high arching windows coursing across the second level, Casa Italiana epitomizes the architecture of the Italian Renaissance. 

Under the auspices of Michael I. Sovern and Francesco Cossiga, presidents of Columbia University and the Republic of Italy respectively, the Italian Academy was established in 1991 to ostensibly promote the study of Italian culture and society.  Thanks to their courageous demands, the Italian Academy intends to promote the place of Dante, Boccaccio, Michelangelo, Verdi and other Italian masters in the academy. (Though it’s been said that the palazzo was a gift of Mussolini, more affectionately known by scholars and party members alike as Il Duce.)

Despite the incriminating rumors, the Italian Academy website justifies its relationship with the university as follows, “Given its international scope and its long-standing commitment to all aspects of Italian culture and society, Columbia was seen as an especially appropriate context for such a venture.” 

Though recent trip to see “Eyes on Piemonte” a photography exhibit currently on display in the Casa Italiana marble salone, was somewhat strange.  Given the attendant’s incredulous greeting and the pile of dusty exhibition programs, it’s clear that there have not been many visitors. Although its collection of photographs is small, the exhibition offers an opportunity to see free culture on campus and a funny corner of Columbia. 

The press release focuses on the renowned photographer, Henri Cartier Bresson, and in doing so immediately wins points with the aesthete in us.  But be forewarned, “Eyes on Piemonte” contains none of Bresson’s work.   Instead the exhibit is comprised of about fifteen photographs, the majority of which are unmemorable.  But the work of Alex Majoli stands out.   The exhibit intends to portray the region of Piemonte.  In this endevour, most of the photographers have produced somewhat interesting shots of light and shadows on Piemonte’s palaces and architectural details.  But Majoli distills the spirit of Piemonte’s people.  

In Big Screen at Piazza Castella, Majoli focuses on the anxiety and dedication of Italian futbol fans.  Shot at night in a crowded plaza, the image is grainy and the blacks and reds of crowd contrast with a Technicolor vibrancy. But Majoli’s large aperture freezes the street lights against the dark background and renders them emanating, almost star-like, specters of light. Majoli’s camera angle captures the fans awed upward gaze and instills the atmosphere with religious reverence that verges on the sublime.  

In The Beach, Majoli again uses a wide-open aperture to silhouette a woman against a dark crowd.   A helicopter looms on a projector screen in the background and offsets the intrigue of the woman in the foreground.   Majoli’s images are by far the strongest in the exhibition, but neither of them evoke the atmosphere Italy or Piedemont. And it is for this very reason – a mysterious, indefinable ambiance – that these images are so striking.  

Although the exhibition is small, Majoli’s images alone are worth the trip across Amsterdam. And if you’ve got  friends and family in town for Commencement festivities, a postprandial browse through Casa Italiana’s salone is an affordable and convenient way to entertain the troops.