Centennial Events in Celebration of an Idea

Giugno 10, 2014

As the current exhibition on show in the AAR Gallery demonstrates, the construction of a permanent home for the Academy represented a significant American-Italian collaboration and constituted a union of the arts and humanities that would become the hallmark of this institution. Last week the Academy marked the close of an academic cycle and the 100th anniversary of the inauguration of the McKim, Mead & White Building in the company of Trustees, Fellows, Residents, friends, and returning Alumni. The Academy welcomed the city to its annual Fellows’ Concert, Reading and Open Studios and hosted a discussion on “The Future of the Arts and Humanities” in the latest installment of its Conversations That Matter series.

Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Peter Benson Miller introduced Eric Nathan and Dan Visconti to capacity audiences at the Villa Aurelia for the annual Fellows’ Concert on May 27th. The AAR Musical Composition Fellows shared the inspirations behind a program developed with oboist Peggy Pearson and members of the Jack Quartet, one of the most sought-after ensembles that perform contemporary music in the United States. Juilliard/ Damrosch Rome Prize Fellow Eric Nathan arranged a program of four pieces, including a madrigal for five voices by Carlo Gesualdo and transcribed by Nathan. Samuel Barber Rome Prize Fellow Dan Visconti introduced a program of three pieces infused with the blues and inspired by textures.

On June 4th the Academy hosted a panel in the cortile to discuss the “The Future of the Arts and Humanities” as part of an ongoing series of Conversations that Matter, which was moderated by Director Christopher Celenza, FAAR’94. New York artist and critic Jed Perl, Professor Tim Parks of the Independent University of Modern Languages near Milan, Professor Simon During of the University of Queensland, Australia, and Mellon Professor-in-Charge of the School of Classical Studies Kim Bowes, FAAR’06, offered their views on how artists and humanists should negotiate debates about the contemporary relevance of their respective fields. Jed Perl argued that a kind of intellectual intimacy between human beings is the unique and valuable aim of what some call the “high” arts. Tim Parks reminded us that those who engage in the humanistic disciplines from outside the English language often face insurmountable cultural and linguistic obstacles in being able to participate and contribute to what is purportedly an international debate. Simon During reiterated some of the points made in his article entitled, “Stop Defending the Humanities,” wherein he argued that the humanities are a world comprised of many worlds that cannot be defined in terms of their parts or seen to share a single project. Kim Bowes argued against accepting the dichotomy that is often established between STEM and humanities disciplines, learning instead to speak of the humanities as dealing in questions that don’t always offer immediate or numerical answers, but as a practice of complexity, problem solving, and mental agility. Among the many topics addressed were the increasing importance of community colleges, issues of class division and mobility, and the need for the arts and humanities to become ever more collaborative and communicative enterprises.  

At the busy Open Studios visitors explored all corners of the McKim, Mead and White Building, welcomed with wine and taralli into the creative spaces of the sixteen artists, designers, architects and landscape architects who comprise the current community of Rome Prize and Affiliated Fellows. On show at the ground level were Reynold Reynolds’s experimental films, Catherine Wagner’s photography, Anna Betbeze’s textile sculptures, Thomas Kelley’s investigations into the character of architecture and the current AAR Gallery exhibit Building an Idea: McKim, Mead & White and the American Academy in Rome, 1914-2014. Installations by Catie Newell and Vittorio Montalti in the Cryptoporticus provided a backdrop to the Fellows’ Reading in the AAR Lecture Hall where John Guare Writer’s Fund Rome Prize Fellow Peter Bognanni read selections from his prose and Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize Fellow Peter Streckfus shared his poetry.

On the second floor Rome Prize winners in Historic Preservation and Conservation Thomas Leslie, Thompson Mayes and Max Page illustrated investigations into Pier Luigi Nervi, “Why Old Places Matter?” and “The Arc of Memory,” respectively. Visitors also perused Giuseppe Stampone’s collages, Dan Hurlin’s Futurist projects, Bradley Cantrell’s explorations of the relationship between ecology and urbanity, Hamlett Dobbins recent painting and drawings, Nicholas de Monchaux’s lyric renderings of spatial reuse and redundancy in Rome and the phantom geometries of Thomas Kelley’s architectural studies. In the uppermost studios Elizabeth Fain LaBombard covered her walls with projections of Roman land use for the 2025 Jubilee, Catie Newell displayed the black geographies of Involving Darkness (2014) and Petra Noordkamp projected a documentary film on the remaking of Gibellina, Sicily.  

Since the doors of the McKim, Mead & White Main Building opened in 1914 the Academy’s cross-cultural and interdisciplinary modes of scholarly engagement have only become more vital. Last week’s sequence of public events invited the extended Academy community and the city of Rome to share in celebrating a hundred years of such vibrant collaborations.