The splendid high-ceilinged studios in AAR’s McKim, Mead & White Building and its pavilions are supposedly a legacy from the time when Fellows designed colossal or equestrian statues. Fellows don’t do that so much anymore, but the soaring spaces inside studios remain, and can be both an inspiration and a physical and psychological challenge to their inhabitants. During the AAR’s Open Studios on Tuesday evening, what was evident was the ingenuity with which several Fellows in the School of Fine Arts engaged with the vertical space they had been given. Landscape architecture Fellow David Rubin, for instance, who has been contemplating issues of sustainability and the AAR’s gardens, positioned a large living pomegranate tree in the middle of his studio. Angie Co, an architecture Fellow, who has been working on domes, positioned a large glistening plastic bubble in her studio, and invited visitors to duck under it into an interior space that included a trestle table that she and her partner Jesse Le Cavalier had designed and built. Design Fellow Colin Gee, who has worked in clowning, mime, and physical theater, had created in his studio the lineaments of a raked stage (making use of branches downed in the Villa Sciarra during one of the past winter’s snowstorms) that amounted to a striking perspectival study. And architecture Fellow Lonn Combs and his wife and partner in practice, Rona Easton, had on display in their studio a complex domed structure made all out of interlocking paper elements.
Other Fellows exploited the possibilities of horizontal running wall space. In the Art Gallery, conservation Fellow Beatriz del Cueto (with her husband and partner Kosta Pantel) created a spectacularly dense photomosaic or photomontage of their travels and work called 188 Days in Italy. Returning Italian Affiliated Fellows Matteo Franceschini (musical composition) and Carolina Fois (design) also welcomed people to their installations in the gallery. Italian Affiliated Fellow Marinella Senatore, unable to be present because of a professional commitment, nonetheless had her work on display in her studio. Elliott Green presented a striking series of recently completed abstract oil paintings, while Siobhan Liddell and Jenny Snider both presented beautiful and cohesive combinations of sculpture, painting, or drawing. The visual artist Mary Reid Kelley and her partner, Visiting Artist Pat Kelley, showed their new short film The Syphilis of Sisyphus as well as other work and a segment of a documentary focusing on their work as part of season six of Art in the Twenty-First Century, presented by Access ’12. The design fellow Jiminie Ha’s open-studio material continued the exploration of the margins between art, design, and architecture that she had presented in the season’s final Fellows’ Shoptalks on May 17, and the landscape architect Sean Lally, who had started the spring 2012 series of shoptalks, presented an impressive montage chronicling his ongoing explorations of “conditioned” and “unconditioned” space and their applications in design and architecture. The Fellow in historic preservation and conservation, Albert Albano, opened his apartment-study and conversed with visitors about his work. On Wednesday, Albano led a walk entitled “Visit to the Sistine Chapel, Raphael Rooms, and the Vatican Restoration Laboratories.”
Almost four hundred people circulated through the McKim, Mead & White Building for three hours on a beautiful May evening. To the studio visits were added a poetry reading by William B. Hart Poet-in-Residence Robert Hass, who has been at AAR for the month of May. In an homage to Rome, Hass read from his own poems about cities, including San Francisco, Seattle, New York, Warsaw, Bangkok, Leiden, and Berlin. In addition, Visiting Artist and oboist Claire Brazeau, Visiting Artist and harpsichordist Takae Ohnishi and Visiting Scholar and Baroque flutist Kailan Rubinoff offered a reprise of a recital they had presented to the AAR community in February of 2012, in this case performing music by Antoine Fourqueray and Georg Philipp Telemann in the Salone.
On Wednesday, May 30, a capacity crowd gathered in the Sala Aurelia for the Fellows’ Concert, the culminating event of a year of musical activity that has seen work by musical composition Fellows Sean Friar and Lei Liang performed by such Roman institutions for new music as Nuovi Spazi Musicali and Nuova Consonanza (in the fall) and by the Scharoun Ensemble of the Berlin Philharmonic (earlier this spring). Particular excitement attended upon this year’s Fellows’ concert because it included a video installation by Patrick Kelley of a shifting kaleidoscope of the interiors of more than one hundred Roman churches, creating a scoured and ghostly effect similar to that in certain Alberto Giacometti paintings.
Samuel Barber Rome Prize winner Sean Friar and Elliott Carter Rome Prize winner Lei Liang each presented four pieces—the dates of their composition ranging from 2002 up to the present moment—which were performed with elan by the new music Ensemble Alter Ego (Manuel Zurria, flute; Paolo Ravaglia, clarinet; Aldo Camgagnari, violin; Francesco Dillon, cello; Luca Nostro, electric guitar; Oscar Pizzo, piano; and Fulvia Ricevuto, percussion). A listener at this concert could not help but emerge from it with a radically expanded sense of the sonic possibilities and acoustic properties of many traditional orchestral instruments. In one piece, a kind of percussive tonal music was achieved by the flutist without breath, simply by depressing the keys and pads of his instrument; in another piece, the English horn was made to sound like an intimate and louche jazz saxophone, and in Liang’s evocatively titled Some Empty Thoughts of a Person from Edo (2011), a two-manual harpsichord, through varyingly stifled or rippling sonorities, approximated the improvisational music of plucked instruments in Chinese and Korean music. A certain yearning across the disciplinary and even sensory boundaries of different artistic media was also clear, during the concert, as in the case of Kelley’s video imagery accompanying Liang’s In Praise of Shadows (2005), for solo flute, or the composer’s opening piece Aural Hypothesis (2010), in which the combined forces of flute, clarinet, violin, cello, piano, and vibraphone strove to provide a sonic approximation to the varyingly delicate or bold brushstrokes of Chinese calligraphy.
Sean Friar’s masterful and ingenious solo cello piece Teaser (2010), which many in the audience had heard performed in March by Richard Duven of the Scharoun Ensemble, was repeated with great success by the cellist Francesco Dillon; the piece seems sure to become a standard in the solo cello literature. The composer was joined by his partner, the oboist Claire Brazeau (playing English horn) for a work-in-progress called Etudes. A very large onstage percussion kit was exploited brilliantly in realizing Liang’s Trio (2002), for piano, cello, and percussion, which, as the composer writes, originated “when I was taking a walk around Fresh Pond in Cambridge, Massachusetts during a snowstorm. I can never forget the scintillating sound of thousands of snowflakes quietly and violently hitting the dry leaves and pine needles....” The evening concluded with Friar’s Velvet Hammer (2009), for flute, clarinet, cello, piano, and electric guitar—in this case, a Fender Stratocaster ably played by Luca Nostro, representing a return to Friar’s own compositional roots, which he has said lie in early rock and blues piano improvisation.
The annual Fellows’ Reading, presented on May 31 by Joseph Brodsky Rome Prize–winning poet Matt Donovan and John Guare Writer’s Fund Rome Prize–winning fiction writer Suzanne Rivecca, once again brought a full house to the Sala Aurelia. Donovan’s poems tend to braid up together narrative threads from widely differing fields of study or historical periods; his poem “Resurrection & the Common Merganser” combined facts from life and artistic practice with the Ovidian myth of Aesacus. He also read “Charlie Chaplin Dug Up & Ransomed: a Prayer” (about the bizarre episode of the theft of the famous actor’s body from its grave), “Elegy with Mistakes All Through It” (a wide-ranging meditation on art, in the form of a memorial for the poet’s music teacher, who worked on connections between the music of Scott Joplin and that of Bach), and “Rapture & the Big Bam” (a poem about parenthood and Babe Ruth, concluding that “the wondrous and the useless are the same”). Of particular interest was the excerpt Donovan read from “Villa of the Mysteries” in a genre he describes as the “lyric essay,” combining poetry and prose. The passage he read arose out of his research at Pompeii, and its subject was the “desire to give oneself over to larger spiritual or aesthetic experience,” and contains a beautiful inset fantasia on the annual sight of starlings massing over Rome in the autumn.
Rivecca offered her first public reading at AAR, in the Sala Aurelia, and presented a section from her Rome Prize project, a novel about the 28-year-old Walt Whitman living in New Orleans. The passage she read—spoken in the voice of Whitman, but recounting a tale told to him by another—concerned a twelve-year-old girl named Evelyn who goes missing and then returns to her family uncannily transformed, perhaps touched by voodoo or some other near-death experience. Her family thereafter hides her away from public view as if she were mad, but as Rivecca suggests, Evelyn’s experience is in fact part of the human condition: “She meant, but did not say, that she had encountered her soul for the first time.... Evelyn recognized her soul when it was too late to save it.” Rivecca followed this passage with part of a short story, “Redemption Narrative,” that constituted a parable about art’s parasitic or voyeuristic relationship to life, in the form of an account of the consequences of a young artist’s decision to paint a portrait of a homeless person.
After the reading the Fellows Certificates and Rosettes Ceremony took place on the steps of the McKim Mead & White Building. This tradition marks the presentation to the Fellows of lapel-pins that confirm them as Fellows and members of the Society of Fellows; Affiliated Fellows and Residents received certificates. On the receiving line, in addition to AAR chairman of the board William B. Hart, president Adele Chatfield-Taylor, and director Christopher S. Celenza, was United States Ambassador to Italy David Thorne, who was able to join the festivities on an impromptu basis.
The ceremony was also the perfect opportunity to salute Corey Brennan (1988 Fellow), who will be ending his tenure as Mellon Professor-in-Charge on June 30. Celenza and Chatfield-Taylor spoke about Brennan’s three years of dynamic and imaginative leadership of the School of Classical Studies. And since the business of the evening was pins, Celenza, assisted by Heiskell Arts Director Karl Kirchwey, presented Brennan with a commemorative pin from the 1960 Rome Olympics (one of Brennan’s recent areas of study) as well as a handsome bronze Olympic participant’s medal. Brennan, who was met with thunderous applause, briefly shared some of the highlights of his three years at the Academy. Many of his fondest memories as well as his "Rome Top Ten" list can be found in this recently published website feature, Corey Brennan Reflects on His Three Years as Mellon Professor.