Standing in front of Pontedisole, one of the paintings in Italian-American artist Pasquale Cuppari’s recent Enter Utopia exhibit, I could not help but feel peaceful. The exhibition was held in the Greenwich Village’s First Presbyterian Church, in a second-story room with arched windows through which sunlight illuminated the swathes of glitter (among other unconventional materials such as gold chips) that are strewn across the canvas of Pontedisole. The series of abstract works on display, which invite viewers to enter a sublime made up of color, texture, and twinkling light, alleviate at least for a moment the stresses of a world less certain and faster-paced than ever.
However, it was also the guide I had on this gallery tour that contributed to the serenity of Enter Utopia. Pasquale Cuppari is a genial man whose long career as a painter is apparent in the ease with which he moves among the airy exhibition room. His long career has been a successful one, too, with his art appearing in private collections as prestigious as that of the Rockefeller family and shows as prestigious as a Sotheby’s New York gala. As he showed me around the exhibit, the excitement with which Pasquale explained the story behind each painting was palpable. Breathlessly, he described the inspiration that overtook him during the creation of his current series: “[The paintings] were coming to me unbelievably. One after another, one after another. I couldn’t sleep. I painted all twelve in a month and a half. I was driven. There was something that needed to come out.”
This frenzied, impassioned artistry reflects something larger about Pasquale’s creative process: the emphasis he places on deep emotional resonance rather than stuffy formalism. “When I work, I never worry about composition. I don’t worry about the technical part. I want to connect to the painting. I let the painting tell me what it needs, what it wants.”
Stopping by one of the older paintings in the show, Luna Nera (from his 2013 Red Planet series), a bright red haze populated by foreboding spheres of shimmering gold and glossy black, Pasquale took on a more somber tone, discussing the work’s function as an omen. “It’s all burning up,” he lamented. “The planet is warming.” Luna Nera reflects the environmentalism and sustainability that are integral to Pasquale’s ethos as an artist. His deep connection to the natural world started in childhood––he worked the land on his father’s farm in Calabria, Italy from the ages of five to ten.
This connection persists decades later, with the environment impacting almost every painting he completes. He paints many of his works outdoors, his process a conversation between his materials and the sunlight. “Everything is about the sun. The sun is bouncing across the surface of every painting I create. I love the sun, I love water, I love the shimmering of wet sand. I take it all in.”
Regarding Pontedisole, one of three paintings that make up the “Door to Utopia” centerpiece of Enter Utopia, he explained the purifying effect he hopes the painting carries. “If you cross the sun-bridge” (Pontedisole in English) “you can cleanse yourself to enter the main door to utopia and the sublime,” he murmured, gesturing to the four-panel Sentesidautunno next to Pontedisole. Pontedisole and the third “Door to Utopia” painting Scoiogliendosi flanked Sentesidautunno, which sat at the center of the trio as the eponymous entryway to a better world. Sentesidautunno, made up of sparkling, horizontal bands of gold, silver, yellow, and magenta, feels like the arrival of order and serenity after the chaotic storms of color and texture in Pontedisole and Scoiogliendosi. “You have to remove your malice, your doubt, to achieve [the sublime],” Pasquale said.
Pasquale’s innovative artwork was not the only thing that makes Enter Utopia so unique. The show was facilitated by Cuppari Mondo Bello Piazza d’Arte, an arts management organization directed by Pasquale’s daughter Heidi Cuppari with the help of other family members such as Pasquale’s niece Stefania Cuppari. Stefania is the marketing and sales manager of Cuppari Mondo Bello and she showed me around the gallery space with Pasquale when I visited.
“It’s been very fun and exciting. Being a millennial, knowing a little more about technology, it’s been helpful in running the social media and advertising,” Stefania said of her work with Enter Utopia. “It’s been fantastic, she’s been such a help!” Pasquale chimed in. “I’m happy I could help. It’s family and we really like to stick with family,” Stefania chirped.
One of Cuppari Mondo Bello’s primary projects has been the minting of non-fungible tokens of Pasquale’s work as a new avenue through which his paintings can be sold––an effort that has been spearheaded by Heidi. The Door to Utopia NFT series, dropped in conjunction with Enter Utopia’s opening, is currently for sale in a virtual gallery. A few days after my visit to the Enter Utopia show, I had a conversation with Heidi about this intersection between arts management and cryptocurrency.
“Why is there the term ‘starving artist’? That does not make sense,” Heidi opined during our Zoom call. Having been involved in the art world since 2003, she had always been disturbed by the lacking monetary recompense artists receive. Coupling her art expertise with a passion for social entrepreneurship, she turned to the emergent world of crypto. “I found that blockchain, NFTs, Web3, the creation of interoperable, community-owned metaverses…all of these tools are really meant to allow every person to be a creator,” she explained. “If we can help people create art that is valuable to the world, [through NFTs] they now have a revenue stream that can be sustainable. That uplifts society.”
NFTs can uplift on an individual level, too. “We set out to do this to cheer up Nonno [Pasquale]. ‘Let’s make NFTs and a virtual art gallery to cheer up Nonno during COVID,’” Heidi said of the origins of Cuppari Mondo Bello’s NFT venture. This family quarantine project has expanded into “Door to Utopia” over the past two years, with buyers becoming members of the Cuppari Mondo Bello online community. In Heidi’s eyes, this doesn’t make Cuppari Mondo Bello any less of a family affair. “We want to invite more people into the family! Let’s just expand the family. [Cuppari Mondo Bello] is not just our family or your family: it’s a fun place to work on art that elevates consciousness and hope, that allows access to the sublime.” Because there are 111 NFTs available for each painting, micro communities spring up around each artwork. “Everyone who owns Farfallone [one of the Enter Utopia paintings] had a similar experience with Farfallone,” Heidi enthuses.
In terms of the future of Cuppari Mondo Bello, Heidi looks forward to using some of the proceeds from “Door to Utopia” to invite more artists on. She hopes that the organization will become a facilitator of connection between buyers and artists. She is also excited about the more sustainable crypto ventures that are on the rise. “There are new, sustainable blockchain protocols where you can mint with much less impact on the environment. We’re going to bridge little by little.”
Heidi was also sure to emphasize the collaborative nature of both Enter Utopia and Cuppari Mondo Bello as a whole. Pasquale’s grandchildren, Ava (18) and Anthony (21) Acciani had their artwork featured alongside that of their grandfather during the Enter Utopia launch. Another of Pasquale’s grandchildren, Giovanni Acciani, helped run the check-in desk with his cousin Cody Gould (Heidi’s son) who also works on cryptocurrency art and virtual reality design for Cuppari Mondo Bello. Summer Gould, Cody’s sister, built Pasquale’s website and helps Stefania run the Cuppari Mondo Bello social media. Ria and David Acciani, parents of Ava, Anthony, and Giovanni, helped Heidi (Ria’s sister) at the launch. Daniela Cuppari, Stefania’s sister, helped with private gallery tours. Other family members were at the launch to provide support, such as Franco (Pasquale’s brother) and Nunzia Cuppari. Maria Vizzoni drove with Heidi across the country to attend the event.
Chandra Meltzer helped produce Enter Utopia and obtain the FPCNY exhibit space; her family Jeff, John, and Jackie also hosted some of the out-of-town Cupparis in New York the week of the exhibition launch! Brandon Cope, a friend of the Cuppari family, helped with the Enter Utopia installation and production logistics. Another family friend, Rosemary Moura, also helped with the launch. Dr. Ginny Butera, an art history professor at Saint Elizabeth University in New Jersey and the curator of the university’s Maloney Art Gallery, helped Pasquale curate Enter Utopia. Rachel Beck, LinkedIn influencer, public speaker, and author of memoir Finding Your Way is helping promote Cuppari Mondo Bello and Pasquale’s artwork. FPCNY staff Audrey Webber, Paul Schnabel, Barbara Sherman, and Joe Diaz were also integral to the success of the exhibit.
Though the FPCNY Enter Utopia show closed at the end of July, Cuppari Mondo Bello is keeping up its momentum as 2022 winds down. An Enter Utopia piece is currently on exhibition at LUXNY Atelier, a workshop that specializes in Italian artisanal goods, fine art, and luxury experience––there will be an RSVP-only Cuppari Mondo Bello event at LUXNY in the fall. Additionally, paintings from Pasquale’s aforementioned Red Planet series will be on display at the Walter Wickiser Gallery during the month of October.
As NFTs continue to revolutionize the world of art management and art collecting, it is artists like Pasquale and organizations like Cuppari Mondo Bello that illustrate the scintillating potential such an evolution carries.