A pleasant little exhibit about Italy has parked itself in the lobby of the Hubert Humphrey building through Nov. 22. It's called "Italy, a Country Shaped by Man," and it's been produced by the Agnelli Foundation, which was created by the family that owns Fiat.
This is an ideal lunch-time respite from the drudgery of official Washington, if only because the entire exhibit is bathed in the relaxing sounds of baroque Italian music: Rossini, Verdi, Vivaldi, Albinoni. The exhibit centers around a 20-minute slide show that neatly juxtaposes images of Italy old and new, all visually soothing.
To the right of the main hall is an exhibit of turn-of-the-century photos by the Alinari Brothers, a trio of workaholics who spent their lives documenting daily life in Italy in much the same way that Cartier-Bresson turned his camera on France. To the left of the hall is a group of contemporary photographs of Italy, which are pleasant enough but lack the depth of the Alinari images. There are, for instance, too many static shots of the stage at the great opera theater, La Scala.
Scattered around the main hall are six other small rooms, each of which focuses on a specific aspect of Italian culture. One tries to dispel the image of Italy as a land of peasants and Mafiosi. One demonstrates how the cultural artifacts of the country's past are being preserved today, with a specific focus on the city of Pompeii. One explores the avant-garde nature of Italian design. One displays a number of 15th- , 16th- and 17th-century everyday objects, all of them emanating a sense of humanistic tradition that the entire exhibit suggests is the core of the Italian heritage. One develops the concept of Italy as a modern industrial nation, where robots are used to assemble Fiats. A final presentation places Italy -- a country with no oil or coal of its own -- firmly in the center of global efforts to conserve energy.
The exhibit, at 200 Independence Ave. SW, is open from 10 to 5 Tuesday through Sunday.