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AAR Showcases Milton Gendel’s Ingenious Iconography in Roman Retrospective

October 24, 2011
Visitors to the AAR opening of Milton Gendel: Portraits (Photo by Corey Brennan)
Milton Gendel (at left) pictured with Andrea Monorchio, former Ragioniere dello Stato, in the AAR gallery (Photo by Corey Brennan)
Anna Laetitia Pecci Blunt, Marlia, 1967 - Milton Gendel
Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Long Island, 1981 - Milton Gendel
Evelyn Waugh, Lady Diana Cooper, and Georgina Masson, Villa Doria Pamphilj, Rome, 1963 - Milton Gendel
Co-curator Peter Miller (Photo by Corey Brennan)
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Approximately two hundred Romans and AAR community members filled the Cortile and the Art Gallery on the evening of Wednesday, October 19 to celebrate the opening of the photography exhibition Milton Gendel: Portraits, the second part of a two-part retrospective dedicated to the work of the long-time American expatriate in Rome that began on October 4 with the opening of the show Milton Gendel: una vita surreale (Milton Gendel: a Surreal Life) at the Museo Carlo Bilotti. Milton Gendel himself, now 92, was in excellent form, accompanied by his wife Monica Incisa della Rocchetta. Also present were the three curators who had created the shows, Alberta Campitelli, Barbara Drudi, and Peter Benson Miller, and catalogue author Marella Caracciolo Chia.

Appearing in simple white frames on the imposing walls of the AAR Gallery, Gendel’s black-and-white images appeared to great effect, chronicling sixty years of cultural and social history, with a particular focus on Italy and Rome. The power of Gendel’s photographs derives from the combination of apparently contradictory strategies: on the one hand, his images have a spontaneous documentary power and a grainy dailiness to them; but on the other hand, his subjects become nearly mythological figures, as each photograph invites us to understand the person featured by means of certain attributes, whether of dress or of surroundings, that also give the photographs a painterly sense of composition.

Thus J. Paul Getty stands in front of an ancient stone basin, John Pope-Hennessy in front of a quattrocento Sienese or Florentine altarpiece, and the Italian collector Giuseppe Panza di Biumo next to a George Segal sculpture. The Italian artist Toti Scialoja (whose niece is Barbara Drudi) is shown reading La Stampa in 1962 in Piazza di San Bartolomeo all’Isola, on the Tiber Island, where Gendel had established the Rome-New York Art Foundation Gallery in the basement of his own apartment building. The photographer Elisabetta Catalano appears with her Rolliflex beside artist Fabio Mauri in Venice in 1962, and the Italian senator Mario D’Urso lounges in front of a high-gilded wainscott in the Palazzo Reale in Turin in 1997, sitting in the Savoy dynasty throne, with its lion-paw feet. Both Catalano and D’Urso were present at the AAR reception.

Beyond such ingenious iconography, however, Gendel’s photographs constitute a valuable documentary record. Princess Margaret (holding a hat stand in front of her face) and Harold Acton; Mario Praz (in Palazzo Primoli, which now houses Gendel’s apartment and archive) and Salvador Dali with his whimsical mustache; Leo Castelli (posing in front of one of Jasper Johns’s flag paintings) and Elaine and Willem de Kooning, as well as Italian artists such as Alighiero Boetti, Piero Dorazio, and Enzo Cucchi: all are here. And some of Gendel’s most intimate studies achieve, by their composition and tonality, a great emotional depth.

In this context it is worth mentioning a 1979 photograph of the writer Iris Origo reading in bed (her grandson Seboo Migone, a painter, was present at the reception), as well as a portrait of writer Patrick Leigh Fermor seated at a rickety writing table in his sun-washed Greek olive orchard. The British painter and printmaker Stanley William Hayter is depicted in bathrobe and bare feet, his hair sleep-tousled, heating something on the stove. And in a splendid pyramidal composition, Evelyn Waugh, Lady Diana Cooper, and Georgina Masson are depicted together in the Villa Doria Pamphilj in 1983. One can even read the hour on the pocket watch worn by Lady Diana Cooper: it is 1:55 PM, and time for the picnic lunch Masson is unpacking. These photographs by Gendel are both of their time, and beyond it.

Milton Gendel: Portraits
at American Academy in Rome
AAR Gallery hours: open Friday, Saturday and Sunday, 5:00pm - 8:00pm, free admisson
Closing: Wednesday, 30 November, 2011

Images:

  • Visitors to the AAR opening of "Milton Gendel: Portraits" (Photo by Corey Brennan)
  • Milton Gendel (at left) pictured with Andrea Monorchio, former Ragioniere dello Stato, in the AAR gallery (Photo by Corey Brennan)
  • Anna Laetitia Pecci Blunt, Marlia, 1967 - Milton Gendel
  • Elaine and Willem de Kooning, Long Island, 1981 - Milton Gendel
  • Evelyn Waugh, Lady Diana Cooper, and Georgina Masson, Villa Doria Pamphilj, Rome, 1963 - Milton Gendel
  • Co-curator Peter Miller (Photo by Corey Brennan)