Sandro Manzo (in front, with glasses) and friends at Juliano's. Photo courtesy of Michele Willens
He cuts a rather dashing figure. Strolling the streets near his home on 91st and Park, Sandro Manzo is typically dressed in casual slacks and bright colored sweaters. Who would know that this soft-spoken man of Italian descent has lived a rather remarkable life, filled with famous names, (though he has to be persuaded to drop them) impacting the world of artists in this country as well as his native one?
On September 20, he will be the special guest at Casa Italiana at NYU, where, along with his wife, art journalist Fiamma Arditi, he will discuss his autobiography, “La Stanza Verde,” (translation: The Green Room) that was published (so far only in Italian) earlier this year.
It has been quite a year for the 77-year old Manzo, who also just became a U.S. citizen after owning a home here for some 30 years. And he has faced, and seemingly conquered, recent health challenges: “I have broken bones and got a new valve,” he says proudly. He and Arditi also have an apartment in Rome, the city where he ran a gallery, Il Gabbiano, for more than 45 years.
That gallery became the place to be, not only for those whose work he exhibited (some 200 shows of artists of all nationalities), but for film directors, writers, philosophers, and politicos. The title of the book, by the way, refers to the room in the back of the gallery (“more of a club, the soul and nerve center of the gallery,” he writes) where much of the talking, debating and drinking happened. Three years ago, Manzo finally shut it down, but it comes vividly back to life in the pages of his book.
There you read about the exhibit he did for then-upcoming artist Robert Rauschenberg in the late 80’s. “They had to close down the street,” recalls Manzo, “because there was so much excitement about the show. Rauschenberg was so nervous, he hid in the bathroom. Years later, when there was something for him here in New York, and no one could find him, I said ‘try the men’s room.’” Over the years, gallery-goers included cinematic figures like Bertolucci, Antonioni, Visconti, and actors, including Audrey Hepburn. “She was exactly the way she seemed, “says Manzo, “sweet, kind with a rather lost air about her.”
Such recollections fill the autobiography. “The book is a breezy read about a boy from Naples who follows his heart and lands smack in the middle of the art world, at a time when Rome was an intellectual and creative capital,” says Patrick Smalley, an East Side neighbor who is mastering Italian.
Smalley met Manzo at Juliano’s, a far-from-glamorous coffee house on 91st Street. It has become a true neighborhood community (it is where I first met Manzo), and the ambience was exactly what he was seeking. “Especially when my gallery closed, I wanted some place where people just sat around and discussed issues and their lives,” he says. The spot has even made it into his book. “When Sandro arrives in the morning at Juliano’s, dressed like only a man from Italy can, in bright colors, casual and elegante at once, I’m immediately transported to La Stanza Verde,” says Smalley.
The Upper East Side book celebration was hosted by Dan and Margo Sinclair, friends in the neighborhood. “Though we haven’t known Sandro and Fiamma a long time, they are those unique and special people that make you feel as though you have,” says Margo Sinclair. One of the guests was film producer Caroline Baron, whose film “Bel Canto” is opening this month. About Manzo she says, “he’s the most lovely, beautiful, generous man who has never lost his curiosity.” Adds Baron’s husband, Anthony Weintraub, “Sandro loves the good things in life but more then that he loves to share them. Sandro is a famous gallerista, a passionate voice for artists with a discerning eye and a salesman’s gusto.”
Manzo’s work in the art world is greatly reduced these days, mostly managing the career of close friend, the successful painter Mel Bochner.
“I fell completely in love with New York, and this neighborhood, when I first came here all those decades ago,” Manzo says. “Then, when we decided to make this our main home, I realized that I was different but New York was the same.”
Many would say the opposite: New York is different but Sandro Manzo, fortunately, has stayed the same.