From Depero to Rotella: Italian commercial posters between advertising and art—an exhibition at the Center for Italian Modern Art

View of the exhibition From Depero to Rotella at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA).

At the kind invitation of curator Nicola Lucchi, I will be doing a tour on April 28 of the exhibition From Depero to Rotella: Italian commercial posters between advertising and art, that is currently on display at the Center for Italian Modern Art (CIMA) in New York. The exhibition, which focuses on Italian posters from the 1920s to the 1970s, includes a number of iconic designs such as Armando Testa’s tire/elephant mash-up for Pirelli (1954) and Xanti Schawinsky’s photomontage of an elegantly dressed woman resting her arms on an Olivetti MP1 Portatile typewriter (1934). More excitingly, it has many unfamiliar yet fascinating designs. One of my favorites is Filippo Romoli’s poster for Kaly shoe polish (see photograph above) with an ostrich constructed from the product’s tin and shoe brushes. I had never heard of Romoli (1902–1969) before seeing this exhibition, but now I look forward to discovering more of his works.

Poster for Opéra Italien at the Théàtre Champs-Elysées by Enrico Prampolini (1929). From the Merrill C. Berman Collection.

Many of the posters are Art Deco in style, including ones by artists and designers associated with seemingly oppositional artistic movements such as the Bauhaus alumnus Schawinsky and the Futurist Enrico Prampolini. For instance, see Schawinsky’s poster for Illy Caffé (1934) in the photograph above or the Opéra Italien poster (1929) by Prampolini.

There are other surprises in the show such as a 1935 poster for a shipping company by Lucio Fontana (1899–1968), the Argentinian-Italian artist famous for his slashed canvases, and two posters for an upset stomach remedy by the multi-talented Futurist Fortunato Depero (1892–1960). Furthermore, the CIMA exhibition is fascinating for the chance to see the work of several designers evolve stylistically over the course of several decades. The best example of this is Marcello Nizzoli (1887–1969) who has two 1926 posters for Campari and a 1950 poster for Olivetti on display.

Poster for Lexikon Olivetti typewriter (1950) by Marcello Nizzoli. Collection: Civica Raccolta delle stampe “Achille Bertarelli” (Castello Sforzesco, Milano).

From Depero to Rotella is on display until June 10, 2023. If you live in the New York metropolitan region or are visiting the area in the next two months, I strongly urge you to see the exhibition. CIMA, although founded only a decade ago, has already put on a number of design-related shows that rival those of higher profile institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art and the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.