Rome Prize Fellows
The American Academy in Rome awards the Rome Prize to a select group of artists and scholars, after an application process that begins in the fall of each year. The winners, announced in the spring, are invited to Rome to pursue their work in an atmosphere conducive to intellectual and artistic freedom, interdisciplinary exchange, and innovation. Rome Prize winners are listed here with a brief project summary in their own words.
My project analyzes tomb monuments in Rome and its surroundings during the period of Roman hegemony in the Mediterranean (about 200 B. C. E. to 200 C. E.). The goal of this archaeological synthesis is to create the first historical narrative of the imperial capital that is based primarily on funerary culture. Contrary to conventional histories that are oriented towards turning points, my analysis adopts a long-term perspective. It visualizes the continuous growth and consolidation of Rome’s empire and its effects on an urban population that lived and operated close to its center of power. I am using the Rome Prize to document Rome’s changing funerary culture by visiting extant monuments and sifting through photographic and archaeological archives.
The emergence of Rome’s far-flung territorial empire resulted in a sophisticated regime for the storage and distribution of foodstuffs to feed the city of Rome. How did the orchestration of this colossal apparatus impact the people living in the shadow of the epicenter of a Mediterranean empire? To answer this, my dissertation examines the storage and packaging containers for agricultural commodities in west-central Italy during the period c. 200 BCE-200 CE. It argues that by studying these objects and considering them as processes, we start to recognize the craftsmen, the skill, the manpower, and organization of labor required for these activities. My project examines artifacts from Cosa, Pompeii, Ostia, and Rome; iconographic representations; and documentary and literary sources. I combine archival research and study of previously excavated materials to use containers to illuminate the lived experiences and social interactions of the individuals who propelled an imperial food supply.
My project examines garbage deposits in the archaeological record to offer new insight into how urban centers managed the discard, reclamation, and reuse of waste in the ancient world. The deposits, characterized by the heterogeneous artifacts that share little chronological or functional relationship with one another, appear in many urban contexts. By studying the contexts in which the deposits appear, it is possible, I argue, to establish patterns that help explain why waste was so abundant within urban centers. I use the patterns to argue that waste, after discard, was reclaimed and reused as a convenient and abundant resource for construction projects. This model expands what we know about ancient waste management policies and calls for new methods to interpret this type of archaeological evidence. By supporting archival research and site visits, the Rome Prize will allow me to create a body of data that represents a broad segment of Roman urbanism.
As the Roman Republic died, freedom was in a state of conceptual chaos. Cicero and Horace, in successive generations, responded to this intellectual and spiritual crisis with a comprehensive rethinking of freedom. Cicero returns to basics: the human being, at once constrained and free. By founding freedom (libertas) on his view of the human being (humanitas), Cicero develops a consistent theory of freedom across the domains of politics, ethics, and the liberal arts. Horace inherits this project after the Republic is gone. His challenge is to explain what freedom can mean in a situation of permanent constraint, and he too starts with the human being as constrained and free. Scholarship on libertas has tended to focus on conceptual passages about political freedom. I expand the corpus of relevant texts by considering the extensive figurative language of binding and release, and by giving equal attention to political and moral freedom, the liberal arts, and aesthetic freedom.
Jenny R. Kreiger
My dissertation seeks to shed light on the funerary industry in late antique urban contexts in Italy, specifically the influence of funerary laborers on commemorative art and epigraphy. Working with three major catacomb complexes developed between the second to sixth centuries CE (Domitilla, Rome; San Gennaro, Naples; San Giovanni, Syracuse), I examine inscribed burial plaques, painted decoration, and architecture in each complex, employing a range of archaeological, art historical, and philological methods. I argue that catacomb material makes it possible to reconstruct some aspects of the late antique funerary industry, such as workshop organization, labor specialization, the balancing of customization and mass production, and the development and application of site-specific commemorative habits. The Rome Prize will allow me to study archival and archaeological material available only in Rome and to complete a draft of my dissertation in an interdisciplinary environment.
Sophie Crawford Waters
My dissertation uses architectural terracottas to examine the ways in which central Italian communities expressed civic identity through visual culture in the mid-to-late Republic. Cosa and Minturnae, together with their surrounding regions, constitute the principle case-studies for my analysis. Contrary to the Rome-centered perspectives of previous terracotta studies, I examine how architectural terracottas were employed to emphasize local traditions (Etruscan, Latin, Samnite, Auruncan, etc.), and to construct and assert communal identity. Network theory is critical to my approach, as it eschews center-periphery models and instead provides a flexible and data-driven framework for charting cultural exchange across multiple network scales.
Phu Hoang and Rachely Rotem
Contemporary ruins are unfinished or abandoned projects in various states of weather modification. Mutated by weather, new forms and spaces have emerged, with a range of semi-exterior and semi-interior “weather rooms” that offer architectural opportunities not intended by the original architects. Phu Hoang and Rachely Rotem’s work in Rome will focus on the architectural futures of contemporary ruins in which the relationship of architecture to weather is permeable and adaptable. Italy has over six hundred unfinished architectural and infrastructural projects; including incomplete highways, bridges, and buildings. In Rome, these unfinished projects range from a mile-long elevated track for an incomplete tramline to the structural armature of a vast natatorium. These ruins will serve as sites for architectural intervention. Weather drawings—which Phu Hoang and Rachely Rotem have been exploring for years—will be created to generate design proposals that imagine alternative futures for Rome’s contemporary ruins.
Looking beyond the monuments of the city center, I plan to study the abandoned and forgotten spaces of Rome that currently lie dormant. My project will identify a matrix of liminal spaces, such as disused cinemas, factories, markets, or train stations that will serve as settings for site-specific drawing installations. For over ten years I have researched the periphery of architecture, investigating materiality, space and light independent of the typical constraints that accompany everyday architectural practice. This research has resulted in installations that employ drawing to question conventional logic and attitudes about a site, while simultaneously revealing discarded histories pivotal to the narrative of place. These investigations serve as a fundamental contribution to my architectural practice, providing a means to understand my role as an architect in the future of the city.
Though color played an integral role in Roman architecture throughout the centuries, its importance has diminished since Giorgio Vasari first posited a fundamental split between disegno and colore in artistic production, linking the former to rationalism and the latter to intuition and lack of control. The aim of my work in Rome will be to resuscitate a discourse of color within the context of contemporary architectural practice – to give it a viable, precise, and fundamental role in architectural production once more. The investigation will begin with a study of various episodes in the history of architectural polychromy in Roman and Italian architecture, and will continue with an exploration of new analytical methods for drawing and modeling color. Speculations will reintroduce space in a direct way to develop a push-and-pull: a new interdependence between form and color to structure space.
Fellowship in Rome will provide the foundation for research and development of an exploration into an embodied poetics of light and architecture, public and private experiences of space, for a live performance/installation.
The recent demolition of the massive progressive-era Welfare Hospital for Chronic Diseases, renamed Goldwater Memorial on Roosevelt Island NYC (1939-2015) moves me to explore the rich, unknown histories of this radically designed public health hospital, its context and legacy.
The hospital’s designer, Russian Jewish immigrant architect Isadore Rosenfield (1893-1980) is coincidentally my cigar-smoking grandfather. Rosenfield spent the year 1922 in Rome, studying architecture, art and light. My research begins by tracing his itinerary, visiting buildings, sites and artifacts central to his life’s work, first manifest in his design for Welfare Hospital. My research in Rome will form the substance and structure of the project.
I would like to imagine, write, and record a conversation between Bruno Munari and Adriano Olivetti. Munari was an artist who made a concerted, ethical shift towards design, while Adriano OIlivetti was a businessman who switched his focus away from financial gain to imagine a corporation whose cultural obligations were paramount. Both upended the expectations of their respective disciplines and, in the process, expanded what was possible and necessary within them.
This dialogue would form the basis of a short video with a real-time shot of Tetracono (Munari, 1964). Tetracono is a product-sized artwork made of four cones, painted half-red, half-green, attached to four motors. Each turns at a specific speed, and the resulting image is one composite color which moves slowly from green to red on an 18-minute cycle. This transition would be reflected in its accompanying conversation, as Munari and Olivetti develop how art might jigsaw with industry to produce a cultural dividend.
Historic Preservation and Conservation
During my time at the American Academy, I will investigate the materials and techniques employed in so-called ‘Venetian’ enamel objects on copper believed to have been made in the 15th and 16th centuries but whose precise origins and methods of manufacture, including an unusual form of textured gilding, are currently matters of scholarly debate. To reach a better understanding of their significance in the history of art and technology, I will study and document ‘Venetian’ enamel objects on copper in Italian collections, conduct a series of experiments to test theories of manufacture, and research the craft origins as well as the potential influences on later Near Eastern enamels. A soon to be published corpus of 'Venetian' enamel objects, including 60 in Italy, will guide my documentation of individual stamps used for the textured gilding, helping to establish groups by workshop. Experiments in printing in gold and enameling will be undertaken in collaboration with Rome-based goldsmiths and artists.
Rome was the lens through which the Spanish saw the Inca Empire. As the eminent historian Sabine MacCormack has described in her book On the Wings of Time: Rome, the Incas, Spain and Peru (Princeton University Press, 2009), Roman history, religion, and politics became the models with which the Spanish understood the Incas and their vast lands. In addition, Roman architecture and urban planning was used by the Iberians to describe the Inca built environment. During her fellowship year at the American Academy in Rome, Stella Nair will interrogate the relationship between Roman and Inca architecture more concretely. An Inca specialist trained as an architect and architectural historian, Nair will study first hand the ancient buildings that were used to define Inca architecture, as well as the early modern books, drawings and prints of ancient Roman sites that made their way across the Atlantic and had a profound impact on Andean writers of Inca architectural history.
If the city is a network of protocols and operations continuously generating politics, material, and data, it is also a landfill of forgotten spaces and unwanted histories. These ill-fitting gaps and glitches are kept alive by popular memory and paper trails, generating a mythic topology of alternate histories and counterfactual possibilities for the future city. My work visualizes the unfulfilled geographies of these lost worlds, acting as a proxy for their erased or not-yet-realized trajectories. I propose to exhume buried worlds from three sites in Rome: the Cloaca Maxima, the Colosseum and the Tiber revetment walls. I will revisit and recover the more sparsely documented phases of their urban histories, using design to surface speculative scenarios where archival evidence ends or splits. Positioned at the slippage between documented truths, unfinished business and mythic tales, I will use hybrid representation to dissolve markers of past and present, fact and fiction, exposing our quixotic desire for permanence in the face of change.
Urban parks throughout the world are experiencing a design revival: In New York’s Brooklyn Bridge Park and others, vast plantings of herbaceous perennials and ornamental shrubberies provide a dynamic spectrum of seasonality and complex layers of texture, scent and sensuality. Many such styles can be traced back to Italy, from the secret gardens of the Villa Borghese to those represented in Pompeii’s frescos. I propose to investigate the role of plants in Italian gardens, their influence on Western design, and the evolution of these private gardens into public parks today. Through tracing the historical threads that prompted the Italian fascination with flowering plants and later their falling out of favor, I hope to reinvigorate the use of plants in today’s public parks. This research—with direct access to sensory, cultural, historical, and academic markers in Rome’s gardens and archives—will provide a foundation to propel this movement in landscape design forward.
While in Rome, I’ll be working on a novel set in New York during the blizzard of February 1978. The story focuses on the residents of a building on the Upper West Side—two families, in particular, whose intertwined histories are scrutinized by a narrator trying to assemble a working model of her own past. On the night of the blizzard, she experienced a strange act of communion, the examination of which she believes will help her cope with a more recent event, the death of her husband.
Matthew Neill Null
While in Rome, I will work on my novel-in-progress How Much Water Does a Man Need? Centered on the construction of a massive dam project by the Army Corps of Engineers in my birthplace of Nicholas County, West Virginia, the novel examines political corruption, land use, the United Mine Workers of America, and the rise and fall of the Great Society, as seen through the prism of a single, troubled life. Another strand of the novel places it in the greater context of the struggle between anticommunist liberals and pro-communist forces in the first half of the twentieth century, examining how global political forces shape the private lives and social crises of characters who live in distant, even isolated areas, seemingly far from the main stage of history and the centers of power, commerce, and media. History too often overlooks rural places; I seek to correct this omission.
My current book project follows the activities of criminal merchants—pirates and smugglers—who thrived in the thirteenth- and fourteenth-century Mediterranean, in order to rethink the relationship between religion and trade. I approach these figures not as “enemies of all” but rather as central to the making of the late medieval Mediterranean. Grounded in Latin, Romance, and Arabic archival sources, I argue that efforts to regulate criminal activity profoundly shaped the emergence of new legal, religious, and racial boundaries in the late medieval Mediterranean.
Pilgrims visiting Rome in the Jubilee Year 1450 were certain to seek out the wondrous ‘Image of Pity’ (Imago Pietatis). This, they believed, was the original death-portrait (effigies) of Christ made ‘from life’ by Pope Gregory in ancient Christian times. The object of erstwhile pilgrim desire is a Byzantine micromosaic icon of the Man of Sorrows enshrined since ca. 1400 at Santa Croce in Gerusalemme in Rome. My dissertation proceeds from a close study of this icon and its ‘life’ as a cult-object between East and West in the later Middle Ages. Embedded within an extraordinary triptych reliquary and showcased in Santa Croce’s subterranean Jerusalem Chapel, the icon was the centerpiece to a Christological tableau vivant that allegorized Real Presence in the Eucharist and emblematized the Roman Church. My analysis of this spectacle affords insight into newly emergent criteria for what constituted ‘real’ in cult-objects in the Quattrocento, and charts the interdependent functions of an image, its frame, its chapel, and its church in the creation of a New Jerusalem in Rome.
This project examines the physical evidence of one medieval building to probe the circulation of architectural practice in the Mediterranean during a period of expanding commerce and communications. Molfetta Cathedral embodies a discontinuous building process and a heterogeneous repertoire, combining local and foreign structural systems and decorative techniques. In contrast to the emphasis that previous studies have placed on form and style, I use archaeological methods to unravel this work site as an intersection of diverse and shifting practical expertise in the fields of stone-cutting, assembly, engineering, and construction process. This allows me to draw more precise comparisons than before, and, on the basis of these comparisons, analyze the circulation of architectural practice on a map using a Geographic Information System (GIS). The cathedral emerges as a junction of pan-Mediterranean, rather than purely local, systems of church building.
Modern Italian Studies
In the venerable tradition of microhistory, my project uses the disputes over the estate of Nissim Shamama, a Tunisian Jew who died in Italy in 1873, to tell a new story about nineteenth-century Italy and its place in the modern Mediterranean. The case, which revolved around determining Shamama’s nationality, represents a meeting point among Italian, Jewish, Islamic, and European international law. I argue that Italian legal history in the nineteenth century is entangled not only with the history of its internal others, especially Jews, but also with that of the Mediterranean and particularly North Africa. I also show how Shamama’s case demands an understanding of post-reunification Italy beyond the national or even nationalist frameworks in which modern Italian history is usually written.
My dissertation, La Voce della Radio, examines opera programming for the radio in Italy between 1931 and 1961. Drawing on archival recordings of opera broadcasts and the various texts that circulated around those transmissions, I situate radio opera in relation to other forms of national programming. My investigation of promotional materials and documents of reception is complemented by an examination of the ways that evolving broadcast technologies shaped aesthetic expectations and the discourse surrounding new operas for the radio by Futurist artists and broadcasts of canonical operas by Verdi, Puccini, and others. In its early years radio was an important medium for uniting listeners around common opinions and shared aesthetic experiences; the power of radio for the fascist state lay partly in that unifying function. The dissertation grounds claims about the nationalist and propagandistic facets of radio in specific cases, while also considering radio transmission in Italy as an international phenomenon.
Rime Sparse for soprano and piano trio will set select texts from Petrarch's Il Canzoniere. The work, a cycle of five songs, will premiere in 2017 with soprano Julia Bullock and members of the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center.
Todt Durch Dertrunken Gevarn (Death by Drowning) for voices and chamber orchestra, will comprise parables taken from a variety of immigrant cultures – a Syrian folktale, a story from the Eritrean Tigre people, a Mexican tale in which Christ deceives the devil, and the title ‘Chelm’ story, in which an unintentionally recalcitrant fish is sentenced to death by drowning for slapping the Rabbi who had bought him for the Sabbath dinner. The work is inspired by the tradition of transmuting great drama to Yiddish theater to give expression to the trials and tribulations of the refugee community in New York’s Lower East Side in the early 1900’s.
- Isolario: a second book of miniatures for string quartet and electronics, inspired by Italian cartographers of the 16th and 17th centuries. Based on visits to islands around the world, I'd travel to Southern Italy and the Venetian lagoon to make field recordings that would be incorporated into the piece.
- End Words: a setting of six sestinas for six voices and electronics, a Chamber Music America commission for the New York City vocal ensemble Ekmeles.
- Mosaicing: a large-scale work for two ensembles, ICE (International Contemporary Ensemble) and Ensemble L'Itinéraire—a project supported by the French-American Cultural Exchange (FACE), with premieres in New York and Paris—accompanied by live electronics (concatenative synthesis) inspired by the vivid mosaic tile patterns of the Mediterranean.
Renaissance and Early Modern Studies
My project is a study of Michelangelo’s Bacchus. The fellowship at the American Academy will allow me to finish a book in progress that re-interprets the statue, situating it within the patronage of Cardinal Raffaele Riario and the visual culture of curial Rome. After Riario fell from grace, Michelangelo’s biographers erased all memory of the Cardinal from the artist’s career, falsely claiming that Riario’s right-hand-man Jacopo Galli was the patron of the Bacchus. This error was corrected only in 1981, after payment records for the figure were discovered. All scholarship on Bacchus before this date has overlooked Cardinal Riario’s fundamental role in Michelangelo’s career, and interpretations of the Bacchus have as a result been greatly distorted. My book will propose new readings of the statue based on a close examination of many neglected, yet fundamental archival documents and manuscript sources related to Riario and his engagement with art, poetry and theater.
Robert John Clines
My research project is an exploration of the life of Giovanni Battista Eliano (1530-1589), the only Jewish-born member of the Society of Jesus. I am using Eliano’s experiences in order to question to what extent religious conversion in the early modern Mediterranean was more than a moment of crossing or a process of belonging, but was a complex and pervasive cultural problem that forced converts and non-converts alike to grapple with their own unsettling religious identities and to articulate where they stood vis-à-vis their respective religious identities as well as one another. During my year at the American Academy in Rome, I will consult Eliano’s official correspondence and personal papers held in the Jesuit archive in Rome, and I will continue writing the book manuscript.
Leon P. Grek
My dissertation explores the role of translation and displacement in shaping the poetics of Republican Roman comedy and its reception by professional English dramatists of the late sixteenth and early seventeenth centuries. Focusing on plays by the second century BC Roman comic playwrights Plautus and Terence, and on English comedies by Shakespeare and Ben Jonson, I show how English dramatists drew on Roman comedy’s highly self-conscious interest in its translated Greek origins in order to negotiate their own intertextual relationships with both classical and Continental vernacular comedy, and to think through larger problems of vernacularity, authorship and politics. Displacing their audiences from Rome to Athens and from London to the urban centers of Renaissance Italy, these comedies of translation played an important role in both second century BC Rome and sixteenth century London in defining the cultural identity of the rapidly expanding, but still peripheral imperial metropolis.
I make sculptures that memorialize moments in time — of explosion, velocity, spectacle — that might be termed “operatic.” My early inspirations were Harold Edgerton’s strobe photography and the Flow-Motion imagery of science fiction films, but recently I’ve become interested in the sculptures of Gian Lorenzo Bernini. Bernini’s masterful ability to construct a physically seductive space depicting gestures of motion (and extreme emotion — fear, ecstasy), and to make that space a source of architectural strength, the very underpinnings of Rome, is what I want to take inspiration from for the next series of large scale works I embark upon. I believe there’s a place for grand architecture and public sculptures that convey radical emotion and strength at the same time, to express vulnerability and power in the contemporary urban landscape. A concentrated study of Bernini’s shaping of Rome in the 1600s, drawing upon the architectural and formal aspects of his works in terms of scale, materials, composition, and perspective, while making art in a city that prioritizes emotions and sensory experience, will allow my practice to expand and to be influenced by something greater than a purely academic inquiry.
The work I will do in Rome is a counterpart to a video I have constructed over the past year in Los Angeles. Both works are focused on the youth of specific neighborhoods. I work by locating a community, within which I select subjects to help develop a new narrative attached to the place they are from. The work I am currently creating in Los Angeles is based in a neighborhood in South Central that has very little representation existing of it. It is an “unincorporated area” called Athens, adjacent to Inglewood. The videos are written by the youth of the neighborhood that I then film with them.
I have point people already in Rome to help connect me with schools and educators. The process of finding the appropriate school would become part of the story. I begin the process of connecting with the subjects through a workshop, hosted by myself and other filmmakers and storytellers that I know in Rome as I did in LA.
My work explores the interrelated facets between images, objects and language, making work that mirrors the unpredictability of time and circumstance as a means of shaping interpretation and meaning. More recently the space between the artifact and the image has culminated into a working methodology that I see as a kind of physical journalism - a similar activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and sharing information through storytelling.
I will use my time in Rome immersed in research, writing, and exploration by foot of the city. I will document examples of palimpsests forms and ruin structures in Rome, especially new or modified forms and examples of contemporary ruins.
I also hope to have access to the works and archives of the Italian artist Alighiero Boetti at the Archive Alighiero Boetti and the Fondazione Alighiero e Boetti. I am specifically interested in Boetti’s use of language, printed matter, and rug making in his work.
And lastly, I plan to visit the Flower Festival of Genzano Di Roma, known for its yearly ritual of making thematic monumental floral carpets that transforms one of its main streets into a medieval pageant.
I see great potential for creative overlap between Judeo-Christian narratives and lived experiences of black bodies today. Numerous individuals in the Bible function as symbol or icon, and consciously or not we relate to aspects of the greater human condition through these individuals and the stories in which they are imbedded. Contrary to the current idea in visual art that each expression must feel totally new, I argue that looking closely at new forms that arise from modern interpretations of deeply entrenched narratives can create unexpected and also radical painterly outcomes. So as the Dadaist, Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters used strategies of rebellion against entrenched form to create new painterly outcomes, so am I interested in returning to biblical narratives as a path to comment on present day interpretations of the black body, and to communicate about the vulnerability and suffering of human beings today.