In the Footsteps of Giants: Contemporary Artists before and after Rome

Another day, another project. Today I want to start sowing the seeds of the part of my current research project (provisionally titled: Myths of the Academy: Situating Classics for Contemporary Art) that examines visual artists who have been awarded the prestigious Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome.

What specifically interests me in this project is not only how the experience of spending a year working in the Eternal City has an impact on a contemporary artist’s practice, but also how our experience of the ancient city may be transformed by this artist’s work. (Of course, the former experience may not have been completely positive, as articulated by Henry Fuseli’s The Artist in Despair before the Magnitude of Antique Fragments, 1778-80!).

I am also very interested in connections between these artists, who, from year to year, form a network and a shared experience. For Minus Plato, however, all I want to do is to describe (i) the work of an artist before their Roman residency, (ii) the statement of these artists (on the American Academy website) in which they articulate what they plan to do in Rome for the year and (iii) evidence of what they actually did in Rome and (iv) any future work that they did that seems to look back to their Roman experience. These posts will all have the name of an artist, followed by before and after Rome. My aim in making these comparisons of before, planning, during and in retrospect of these artists’ Roman adventures is not to some how show that these artists either achieved or failed to achieve their plans for their time in Rome. Instead it is a way of understanding how the experience of being in Rome and engaging with the ancient city specifically, has the power to disrupt plans for creative work that may have been set by the the idea of being in Rome, rather than the reality. This projection of the Roman experience is especially intriguing, especially where the ancient city fits into it. The American Academy website has lists of artists and their statements back to 2010, but I will be expanding my research to artists from previous years, perhaps all the way back to 1949 when Philip Guston was a fellow and who would return in 1970-1971. To whet your appetite, here is Guston’s work Rome from his second stint.

2 thoughts on “In the Footsteps of Giants: Contemporary Artists before and after Rome

  1. Ellen Finkelpearl

    Hi Richard,
    Very interesting stuff. Vague thought here: I think Robert Venturi had the Rome prize in architecture somewhere in the 40’s and was profoundly influenced by the experience with his post-modern architecture and even before he went post-modern. Not sure of the details, but maybe worth checking out. Ellen

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