Talking about the Jamaica history is talking about the history of Brera, of Milan, and of last century Italian art.
The neighbourhood, as we know it today, was born here, so alive and heterogeneous, thanks to the artists and the interest about them. Opened in June 1911 with telephone and espresso coffee machine, the place was immediately crowded by the V.I.P.s of contemporary Milan. Among them the director of “Popolo d’Italia”, Benito Mussolini, who dropped in every morning to drink signora Lina’s cappuccino and to correct the pieces of his newspaper. He disappeared one morning in 1922, all of a sudden and without paying the bill, thus opening the list of famous debtors. The actual name was given by the musicologist Giulio Confalonieri. The legend says that the scholar, fond not only of Cherubini and scopone, but also of palms and tropical landscapes, named it so in opposition to the grey Milanese days. Confalonieri would have taken inspiration from a 1939 English movie, “Jamaica Inn”, starred by sir Charles Laughton and Maureen o’Hara and directed by Alfred Hitchcock. Thanks to the success of the movie , released here in Italy at the end of the war, the Jamaica sign became one of the most famous in Italy. A unique atmosphere grew up in the place, contributing to make Milan a capital of culture. That period would never come back and it is not easy to make clear the reason of this. The Proximity to the Accademia had always attracted students and models, but the artists arrived in a great number starting from 1948, when the manager Elio Mainini organized an art exhibition named “Premio Post-Guernica”, joined by some artists of group “Consorzio di cervelli”: Gianni Dova, Roberto Crippa and Cesare Peverelli, and others such as Bruno Cassinari, Sambonè, Ernesto Treccani and Ennio Borlotti.
Among the judges there were Raffaellino De Grada and Alessandro Cruciani. Even Though such daring paintings stirred amazement and also protests from the traditionalist, the exhibition was able to gather at Jamaica many celebrities of Milanese and national intellectual life. The Jamaica became the “artists Coffee shop” in Milan, when coffee shops were really coffee shops and people went there to exchange ideas, to dispute on angels’ sex, to enjoy themselves with friends, with cards, with a glass of something.
These artists, often of the same age of Mainini, were quite different one of the other: there was no common denominator between the young Piero Manzoni who boxed his shits and the grown-up Lucio Fontana who gave up figurative painting to cut the canvases with a razor for the spatialism’s sake. The writers Germano Lombardi and Nanni Balestrini, standard-bearers of “Gruppo 63”, the poets Giuseppe Ungaretti and Salvatore Quasimodo, the narrator Luciano Bianciardi who, then employee, found at Jamaica the alcohol comforts and friendship to face the weight of existence and at the same time to write “La vita agra”, didn’t belong to a literary school or trend yet. The three avant-gardists of the “Consorzio di cervelli” didn’t have any link with the very young Valerio Adami and Antonio Recalcati who with neo-surrealistic patterns chose a recovery of figuratism. Then they were starving. Now many of them are known and famous all over the world. In Those years a method of artistic exchange was born that didn’t have (and won’t have) equivalents in world: paintings for food, hired cameras, work of art lost playing cards, wine sold on credit (such bills most of the time were never paid) by “Mamma Lina”. This old fashioned lady was a strange patron, who gave credit without security and refused to accept paintings as payment in order not to exploit the artists in their need. But the true mind was her son Elio Mainini, who chose the wines and, reading the few American newspapers arriving in Italy, always proposed new cocktails, updating them according to the demands and whims of his customers. He was the one who accepting his friends Arrigo Cipriani and Gualtiero Marchesi’s suggestions, proposed to the Milanese carpaccios and the most sophisticated canapé accompanied by the most refined wines. From his untameable curiosity and from his enthusiasm the by now historical sandwiches, the Cesar’s Salads imported from America and the first Italian school for sommelier, established together with Gualtiero Marchesi, were born.
The Jamaica legend improved when in its smoky rooms crowded with girls wearing a décolleté and artists, appeared also some young men proud to be considered intellectuals. They were press photographers who would later reveal themselves as the best of their generation and, as all the photographers, aspired to be considered artists on the same level of painters and sculptors.
Those young men were: Ugo Mulas, Mario Dondero and Alfa Castaldi. Giudo Aristarco, great master of the Italian film criticism, started in those years the magazine “Cinema nuovo”, inserting in it the “fotodocumentario giornalistico”, reportage genre showing (neo)realistic aspects of Italian Life. So The Jamaica with its painters, its fascinating but a little ragged muses, its Milanese bohème became, thanks to the blessing of the brilliant photo reportages by Mulas, Dondero & C. a crucial point in the Italian cultural life.
The nuclear and spatial painting, that is to say the avant-garde “made in Brera”, came to be well valued by collectors, critics and galleries. At the end of the70’s the acknowledgement of the city arrives thanks to an official merit of the mayor to Mamma Lina: for her Jamaica and above all for her success in creating that bohemièn atmosphere which brought Milan to be a capital of modern art recognized and admired all over the world. In those years even the poet Allen Ginsberg, mouthpiece of the beat generation, used to spend there whole afternoons. Some grew old among those tiles. Someone disappeared forever, such as Pietro Manzoni, without being able to celebrate his own triumph in museums and private collections. Those who are now famous come back, when they drop in Milan, to look for youth and memory allure, perfume of time gone by. Others gave up their art dreams and became CEO or very well paid professionals, but they didn’t loose their mood for fun, discussion, and sometimes also for quarrelling at the tables of Jamaica, obviously. Nowadays what most characterizes the place is the fashion world and the business one; the allure, the memories, the legends, the stories and the history of Milan remain untouched. Even if now Elio Mainini is no longer, tradition remains, carried on with same passion by his wife Vittoria, his daughter Micaela, his niece Carlina.
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