At the American Academy in Rome’s New York Gala, held on November 2, three hundred guests gathered to honor three cultural leaders—the artist and filmmaker Sir Isaac Julien (2016 Resident), the philanthropist and art collector Agnes Gund (Trustee Emerita), and Mark Robbins, former AAR President (1997 Fellow)—who exemplify outstanding commitment to scholarship and creativity.
A theme of “Rome refracted” was set as visitors entered the Altman Building in Chelsea under a series of banners designed by Mirelle Roddier and Keith Mitnick (2022 Fellows), with architectural photo-reconstructions of sites in Rome, including details of the Papal Tombs in St. Peter’s Basilica.
Our generous donors raised over $1 million to support the Academy’s programs during a very special evening. The gala was chaired for the third consecutive year by Slobodan Randjelović, a member of the Academy’s Board of Trustees. Mariangela Zappia, Italian Ambassador the United States, was Honorary Gala Chair.
Board Chair Calvin Tsao and AAR President Peter N. Miller gave opening remarks before the dinner. Miller noted, interestingly, that one of the evening’s main dishes, Romanesco broccoli, was invented in the Lazio region, which surrounds Rome, in the fifteenth century: “The Italian Renaissance gave us our dinner.”
First to be honored was Sir Isaac Julien. From Looking for Langston (1989) to BaadAsssss Cinema (2002), his films draw from fiction and documentary. At home in both the theater and museum, Julien presented Once Again . . . (Statues Never Die) (2022), an immersive five-screen installation at the Barnes Foundation that looks at the relationship between Albert C. Barnes and Alain Locke, and Lessons of the Hour (2019), an installation on Frederick Douglass that called for ten screens, at numerous art institutions. Sarah Lewis, a professor of the history of art and architecture and of African and African American studies at Harvard University, presented the Academy’s Centennial Medal to Julien.
Darren Walker, president of the Ford Foundation, introduced Gund, who is president emerita of the Museum of Modern Art and chair of its International Council. Walker spoke of her many accomplishments, which include establishing Studio in a School in 1977, which supports art classes in New York City public schools, and founding Art for Justice in 2017, to advocate criminal-justice reform in the United States. He dubbed Gund “the most important patron of the arts living today,” and accepting the medal, Gund expressed her belief that “the Academy is a symbol of the enduring connection between the United States and Italy, a testament to the power of art, culture, and education to bridge divides and foster understanding.”
The artist Ann Hamilton (2017 Resident) gave the third medal to Robbins, whom she has known for many years. During his leadership as President from 2014 to 2023, the Academy has become more international and its community more representative of American culture and society today. “I am grateful to have had the chance to return to the Academy and to have been a part in sustaining it and seeing it grow as a global institution reflecting the full breadth of the American experience,” said Robbins. “I am honored and touched beyond measure to receive this award.”
The menu, inspired by the Rome Sustainable Food Project and its ethos of sustainability and low waste, was vegetarian and featured seasonal items, including roasted porcini mushrooms, savoy cabbage-wrapped Romanesco, autumn vegetable strata, and braised white beans. Campari sponsored Negronis and other Italian cocktails.
After the medal ceremony, attendees were treated to a multimedia concert from iconic musician and artist Laurie Anderson featuring music, spoken word, and video. She performed a breathtaking rendition of “O Superman,” a song from 1981 that, surprisingly, lifted her from the New York performance scene onto a worldwide stage. (The song peaked at #2 on the UK music charts.) Anderson performed for over thirty minutes and invited the audience to participate—live with her—in a little tai chi. Dancing, downstairs from the banquet hall and deejayed by W. Jeremy, rounded out the evening.
Dozens of Rome Prize Fellows were among the attendees. In particularly strong force were members of the 2023 cohort; twenty-three of them came to the gala. Another reunion was that of the three most recent AAR Presidents—Peter N. Miller, Mark Robbins, and Adele Chatfield-Taylor—who between them represent five decades of leadership.
The Academy extends a gracious thank you to everyone who supported this year’s New York Gala. Additional photographs of the event are available on patrickmcmullan.com. Please visit aarome.org/support in February for details about our next major fundraising event, the McKim Medal Gala, to be held at Villa Aurelia in Rome in June 2024.