Move over, Darren Aronofsky: The story of Noah has also inspired “Unanswered Prayers,” the spooky — and timely — photo exhibit on view at the Embassy of Italy through May 22. In Anna Paola Pizzocaro’s surreal, cinematic narrative series, water floods into a modern apartment, disconcerting the flamingos, lions, zebras and other exotic animals that happen to be pacing there. A naked man and woman are also witnesses to this mysterious deluge, and as the water rises higher — turning mirror-bedecked rooms into romping groups for fish and jellyfish — the humans levitate out of the apartment and float like balloons above a nighttime city.
The dreamlike story “came to me like a message,” says Pizzocaro, an Italian artist who is based in New York. Pizzocaro says she became concerned with the issue of climate change after she began spending more time in the United States, about six years ago.
America’s severe weather events grabbed her attention, prompting her to create “Unanswered Prayers” in 2010 as a parable about global warming. It’s one that she says includes “a message of hope,” contained, for instance, in those images of levitating, rather than drowning, humans. (The embassy exhibit, which happens to overlap with the recent release of a high-
profile scientific report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, displays a selection of photos from the “Unanswered Prayers” project.)
Pizzocaro, who has a graduate degree in aesthetics and art history from the Sorbonne in Paris, sees “Unanswered Prayers” as drawing on influences beyond the Noah story. The emphasis on alignment and three-dimensional reach in those flooded, surreal rooms is “influenced by the traditional representation of perspectival space typical of the Italian Renaissance,” she says. She particularly admires Antonello da Messina’s “Saint Jerome in His Study,” a 15th-century painting that, like “Unanswered Prayers,” positions animals (including a lion and a peacock) in and around an interior.
But movies have inspired her, too, not surprising given that she once worked in the European film industry, specializing in post-production tasks.
“My main inspiration comes, of course, from the cinema field, and my favorite director is Alfred Hitchcock,” Pizzocaro says.
In a Hitchcock movie such as “North by Northwest,” she says, a single narrative detail will turn a mundane situation into a landslide of pulse-quickening events. She sees a similar storytelling dynamic in “Unanswered Prayers,” in which an influx of water turns a sleepy apartment into a dreamscape worthy of Magritte.
With a photo project like “Unanswered Prayers,” Pizzocaro first creates storyboards for the narrative, then plunges into a photo-editing and digital composition process. “It’s the story that creates the images,” she says.
Images offer a different kind of story, one about a group of artists who share a country and a certain aesthetic direction, in “Abstraction Abstracción Abstração: Sophistication in Brazilian Art” at the IDB Cultural Center Gallery through mid-May. Works by 16 significant 20th-century Brazilian artists have turned this New York Avenue space, division of the Inter-American Development Bank, into a seemly riot of colors, shapes and textures.
Smudges of rich purple form an almost butterfly-like shape in an untitled 1968 painting by Tomie Ohtake. The tense, intricately enfolded forms in an untitled late-1950s linocut by Antonio Henrique Amaral (who may be better known for his politically charged paintings of — no kidding! — bananas) vaguely call to mind certain works by Picasso. A hazy moon hangs behind a structure of blue and white in “Lua Cinzenta (Grey Moon),” a 1989 work by Roberto Burle Marx, whose biography must itself constitute a fascinating story: According to the “Abstraction Abstracción Abstração” exhibition catalogue, Burle Marx was not only a sculptor, ecologist, singer and jewelry designer, but Brazil’s first landscape architect.
Giving a tour of the gallery, exhibition curator Debra Corrie lingers by “Agonia (Agony),” a 1963 painting by Manabu Mabe in which a patch of fierce red hovers off-center in the blue field.
The coordinator of the IDB Art Collection, Corrie says “Abstraction Abstracción Abstração” is notable not only for the eminence of the contributing artists — three of whom displayed work at the seminal First São Paulo International Biennial of 1951 — but also for its gender balance, with eight women and eight men represented. She also points out that the exhibit hints at the melting-pot dimension of Brazilian culture: Mabe and Ohtake, for instance, were born in Japan.
“Abstraction Abstracción Abstração,” which was organized by the IDB Cultural Center in collaboration with the Art Museum of the Americas of the Organization of American States, nods to the fact that the 55th annual meeting of the IDB’s board of governors took place in Brazil last month. The pieces in the exhibit are drawn from the assets of the Art Museum of the Americas and from the artworks — 1,700 of them — that make up the IDB’s collection.
Unanswered Prayers by Anna Paola Pizzocaro. At the Embassy of Italy, 3000 Whitehaven St. NW, through May 22. Viewable by appointment. E-mail reservation requests to
Abstraction Abstracción Abstração: Sophistication in Brazilian Art at the IDB Cultural Center Gallery, 1300 New York Ave. NW, through May 16. Visit www.iadb.org/en/
Wren is a freelance writer.