I should state at once that I am not impartial about anything to do with Italy—or with cats, but that’s another matter. I could invoke Baudelaire’s assertion that the best criticism is “partiale, passionnée, politique”— subjective, impassioned, committed—but it’s really a case of incurable Italophilia. Living in Italy, mostly in Rome, during the 1960s, not only honed my perceptions of art, architecture, and the urban environment but shaped my preferences in food, clothing, and almost everything else; essentially it formed me, then in my twenties, as an adult. I’m going into all this to provide a context for my response to the current extravaganza at the uptown Guggenheim, “The Italian Metamorphosis, 1943–1968.”[1]

I went to the show freighted with nostalgia, wanting to like it, and entertaining the possibility of...

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