Modest Modernism and Social Photography at Museo Italo Americano

An exhibit opened this weekend at San Francisco’s Museo Italo Americano is devoted to a shift in the work of still life photographer William Castellana from studies of plants and landscapes toward the social history of his own Williamsburg neighborhood. “Brooklyn & Botanicals,” which runs through early 2017, finds Castellana using pre-focused lenses to record spontaneous moments documenting aspects of the lives of members of the Satmar Hasidic Jewish community in the midst of New York City’s hipster headquarters. The show also features a retrospective of Castellana’s floral series.

Founded in 1978, the Museo Italo Americano, located in San Francisco’s Marina district, has also seen its share of neighborhood gentrification. While it serves as something of community center, offering language, cooking, and genealogy workshops, the museum has a notable archive devoted to Italian-American heritage, and has quietly built a permanent collection of 20th Century paintings and sculptures by, among others, Francesco Clemente and Giorgio de Chico.

William Castellana, Tulip Study #1, c. 2011. Photo: Museo Italo Americano.

Emilio Tadini, Lo Sguardo Del Bambino, 1982. Photo: Museo Italo Americano.

Beniamino Bufano, Elephant, c. 1960. Photo: Museo Italo Americano.

John Grillo, Untitled, 1948. Photo: Museo Italo Americano.

Arnaldo Pomodoro, Tavola della Memoria II, 1961. Photo: Museo Italo Americano.

William Castellana, Shadow / Lee Avenue, Brooklyn, NY, 2014.

Further Reading:

Linda Barrett Osborne and Paolo Battaglia. Explorers Emigrants Citizens: A Visual History of the Italian American Experience. Modena: Anniversary Books, 2013.

Robert Hirsch. Seizing the Light: A Social History of Photography. Columbus, Ohio: McGraw-Hill, 2009.

Posted by Jean Marie Carey

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