By visiting exhibits at Italian American museums across the United States, visitors can learn about the often overlooked history of Italian immigrants as they struggled to become Italian Americans. From everyday objects to one-of-a-kind handicrafts, the artifacts on display represent the Italian-American journey.
Most of these museums developed their marks through Italian immigrants who settled in the region, whether city- or state-specific. Exhibits feature a culture represented through personal artifacts and images collected from local residents and then displayed to chronicle the regional Italian-American way of life. Many of these museums also provide exhibition space for today’s local artists.
Two museums, however – one on the east coast and the other on the west coast – define the culture of Italians and Italian Americans through contemporary art. This perspective seeks to expand a visitor’s point of view to an interpretation of the art, instead of seeing the defined boundaries of an object.
About 60 miles north of New York City, the historic town of Cold Spring sits along the Highlands east side of the Hudson River. In 1818 it became the headquarters of the West Point Foundry. During the Civil War, the foundry supplied munitions to the United States Army through its military post, West Point, located a few miles south on the west bank of the Hudson. After the Civil War, Cold Spring’s beauty attracted artists and writers.
With a mission to “create further recognition of postwar and contemporary Italian art in the United States,” Magazzino Italian Art opened in 2017. The concrete and glass building, built for the collections, houses a mix of artworks made from assorted materials. of this time; and the name itself, Magazzino, means warehouse in Italian.
The permanent collection, “Arte Povera” which translates to “impoverished art” in Italian, “was born out of the radical stance artists took in response to their dissatisfaction with the values established by political, industrial and cultural institutions. in Italy”. The 76 works of art present “a variety of formal and conceptual approaches in all mediums” in “an environment dedicated solely to this generation of Italian artists”.
Past exhibitions include the work of Costantino Nivola in ‘Nivola: Sandscapes’, with a selection of around 50 works from the early 1950s to the 1970s, including sand reliefs, sculpted concrete sculptures and rarely seen scale models of his most important architectural commissions. Magazzino’s inaugural exhibition was “Homemade…a testament to the power and resilience of art and its ability to connect us all”.
In addition to exhibitions, “an extensive library and archive of Italian art provide resources for scholars and students”. Visit the website at www.magazzino.art to learn more about the exhibits and grounds.
Founded in 1978, the Museo Italo Americano’s mission is to “research, collect, and exhibit works by Italian and Italian-American artists, and to promote educational programs for the appreciation of Italian art and culture.” Located in the Fort Mason Center on San Francisco’s North Shore, the Museo is in the midst of a fundraising campaign to fund a move to double its size. The largest building – less than three miles east in the North Beach neighborhood – is about the same distance as its current Fisherman’s Wharf location and currently serves as an annex. The area has “a decidedly Italian-American history” and was known as the “Port of Italy”, where Ligurian fishermen moored their feluccas in the latter part of the 19th century”.
The Museo’s permanent collections include many paintings, photographs and “works on paper”, as well as a collection of saints and allegorical figures which can be viewed on its website. Once renovated, the annex will house the museum and the collection of historical archives, “photographs, documents, clothing, household objects and other items that immigrants had brought from Italy or obtained after their arrival here ;” all donated by the surrounding Italian-American community. Past exhibits highlight the varied perspectives of Italian and Italian-American artists through varying forms of artwork.
To learn more about the Museo Italo Americano, visit