Bright Lights Shine for the Arts in Rome During Four Days in December

During one four-day period in December, the full range and depth of artistic activity at the American Academy in Rome was on display, as an installation artist, a visual artist, an illustrator, two composers and an oboist all presented their work.

On the evening of Friday, 9 December, Royal Dutch Institute Affiliated Fellow Noa Giniger opened her studio to members of the AAR community. Giniger studied at the Ecole des Beaux-Arts in Paris and at Carnegie-Mellon, and has lived in Amsterdam for five years. An installation artist who works in different media, she used her time at the AAR in part to prepare for a solo show in Amsterdam entitled Attachment that explored—as does much of her work—the fragility of connections, in the world, and the human hope for stability and permanence. She is not a studio artist, but instead creates site-specific art, often using ready-mades, and depends on accumulated ideas and on encounters with people, for which reason the atmosphere at the AAR was ideal for her.

During her open studio, Giniger presented an impressive range of projects, including one featuring objects borrowed from the public windows of 21 dwellings in Amsterdam and arranged behind a series of curtains so as to allow for a cumulative effect and featuring no vernissage but only a finisssage. She also spoke about several other installations involving collections of objects, including a shelf of dictionaries arranged to indicate the interrelationship of world languages, a website project entitled "Recalculating Routes" featuring sentences (changed daily) from a horoscope, and a collection of solar lamps (so displayed that they were only able to accumulate energy, never to discharge it) intended to explore the relationship between cyclical energy, depression, and time.

Giniger’s project Still Fata Morgana investigated the possibility of mirage in painted still-life silhouettes (in this case, of two mountains, a lake and a palm tree) as they would constitute one kind of "narrative," to intersect with another "narrative" in the form of the daily passage of the sun’s light through the studio in which the silhouette was displayed. Her installation Everybody Loves Somebody Sometime involved editing out all but the refrain lines from a Frank Sinatra song and combining this audio with video footage tracking the walls and ceiling of an empty studio; her video installation Leaving, Living explored loops, cycles unpredicted narrative gaps and perspectival myopia in the visual history of a distinctive small building in Israel seen at night.

Following dinner on Friday evening, Joseph Brodsky Memorial Fellowship Fund Fellow in Visual Arts Dmitry Kaminker opened his studio, where a twelve-foot-tall cardboard column, a monumental sculptural work in progress called the Rome Sustainable Tower Project featuring both mythological revisions and contemporary commentary, has become a visual and emotional focal point for the AAR community this fall. Indeed, members of the AAR community have contributed poems and even musical scores to this striking and unwarlike revision of the columns of Trajan or of Marcus Aurelius.

Kaminker also showed a documentary film about the residential community of artists of which he is a part, in St. Petersburg, and offered an hilarious running commentary, both on the film and on the translated subtitles accompanying it, explaining, for example, that the parent of a spoiled little boy in the neighborhood once said to her son about the artists' enclave, "Leonardo, get away from that trash-heap," a motto Kaminker repeats to himself whenever he is tempted to pontificate about his own art.

On Saturday afternoon, 10 December, the Friends of the Academy in Italy (FOAI) and members of the AAR community were treated to a "friendly talk" by Andrew and Marian Heiskell Visiting Critic Maira Kalman that was followed by a splendid dessert reception in the Salone. This event was organized by FOAI Chair Elizabeth Minchilli. Kalman, well-known to many for her New Yorker covers (often undertaken with her partner Rick Meyerowitz), provided a delightful retrospective view of her work and spoke gratefully of the influence on her of the city of Rome and the AAR’s community of artists and scholars.

Kalman’s other work has included thirteen children’s books (most recently 13 WORDS with Lemony Snicket/Daniel Handler), illustrations for Strunk and White’s classic The Elements of Style, two blogs for The New York Times and, most recently, graceful and witty illustrations for Michael Pollan’s book Food Rules: An Eater’s Manual. After her presentation, tea and coffee were served along with three lemon cakes (raspberry frosting) by Rome Sustainable Food Project pastry chef Mirella Misenti.

On Sunday afternoon, 11 December, an enthusiastic crowd gathered in the Salone for a recital by composer and Samuel Barber Rome Prize-winner Sean Friar and his partner, oboist Claire Brazeau. This concert was a reprise of one they had presented at Roma Tre University not long before. Born in Los Angeles and educated at UCLA, Friar is Harold W. Dodds Honorific Doctoral Fellow at Princeton University. Born in Michigan and educated at Interlochen Arts Academy, Bard College, and the Colburn School of Music (LA), Brazeau has played with the Debut Orchestra (LA) and the American Symphony Orchestra and New York String Orchestra at Carnegie Hall (NYC), as well as at Aspen and Yale-Norfolk. Works by American masters—Aaron Copland’s Duo at the beginning and Charles IvesVariations on "America" at the end—bookended a program beautifully balanced between solo works for piano and oboe and duos.

Friar himself performed his extremely demanding composition Elastic Loops, which the audience had heard present a significant challenge to soloist Marco Marzocchi during the Nuova Consonanza music marathon at the Villa Aurelia in November. Brazeau performed Luciano Berio’s Sequenza VII, a piece that explored all of the sonic resources of the oboe, followed by Friar’s performance of John AdamsChina Gates. The two musicians joined forces for David Lang’s lend/lease and, without their instruments, for Steve Reich’s early and rhythmically very complex Clapping Music.

The AAR community this year benefits from the presence, not only of its two composer-Fellows, but of three musicologists, including Baroque flutist Kailan Rubinoff, and Takae Ohnishi, who is a professional Baroque harpsichordist. We hope to be able to present more informal recitals in the spring taking advantage of this considerable musical talent.

Finally, on Monday, 12 December, Marcello Lotti Italian Affiliated Fellow in Musical Composition Matteo Franceschini opened his studio in the Casa Rustica for a presentation about his varied body of work. This included an exploration of the relation between soloist and ensemble in a 2011 piece entitled Il risultato dei singoli (The Result of the Individuals), with audio samples of four solo sections for viola, violin, piano and cello, all with ensemble.

Franceschini continued to discuss the role of the singing voice on stage (“Voice on stage means theater”) and the relation between text and music, with audio and video examples from his Exercices de style for double choir and orchestra (the sixth movement, called Précisions) and an excerpt from his laCuna for soprano, vocal ensemble, video and live electronics. He then discussed the difference between musical theater and opera as related to new uses of the singing voice and the use of multimedia elements, and concluded with video excerpts from Iconae (soprano and live electronics), My Way to Hell (“electropera”), and Il Gridario (The Crier) (chamber opera). The cumulative effect of this rich selection was to reveal a young composer actively exploiting many different media, often to powerful dramatic effect.

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