January 27, 2009

The Art of Expatriates

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Skip Ithaca’s sad excuse for Italian food this Wednesday and seduce your date instead with the work of student artists who participated in the study abroad program, Cornell Abroad in Rome, last semester. At Tjaden Gallery, third year students from the fine arts program are exhibiting the work of their independent studies in Italy. Their work covers a variety of mediums from paint to collage to sculpture. Nearly all the works have been influenced by the artists’ experience abroad. As the College of Architecture, Art and Planning’s Rome program is intended to mimic the traditional tour of Europe embarked upon by historic painters and architects, many of the works are inspired by the rich cultural traditions in Italy’s capital.
Yuxiao Du’s works, for example, speak to feelings of alienation and displacement. After having moved to the United States from China, for the second time in her life, Du found herself in a country where she did not speak the language and was not familiar with the culture. Her works explore the sensations of these new worlds: Images of her experiences in Rome are accompanied by the sounds of China. The work of Emily Bloom, comparatively, was influenced by the Catholic traditions of Rome; her prints subvert classical illustrated manuscripts by replacing Biblical tales with re-written versions — all with a feminist bend. This interest in gender also extends to Bloom’s video work, which records the physical reactions of people asked to address words like “bitch,” “woman” and “mother.”
Other artists were influenced by spectacles in Italy; Sarah Carpenter’s prints were inspired by a paradoxical experience of Venice — the works suggest a rapid intake of antique buildings via gondola in the Venetian canals. Andrew Schwartz produced a series of paintings inspired by the visceral colors of Rothko but whose themes are derived from Moby Dick. The paintings recall the scale and glamour of altar pieces from the many Catholic churches in Rome.
It’s been a long time since Gertrude Stein and Hemmingway made being a starving artist abroad oh-so-chic. With the economy the way it is, no doubt for Cornell artists there’s less shiraz and espressos and more struggling to pay the entrance fees for museums. These artists however, explore what it means to be an American abroad in the 21st century. Like the works of the late greats, they are interested in self-consciously examining their own experiences in a foreign place. The results are provocative and subversive — it seems art can happen even without the traditional expatriate lubrications of starvation and (what once was) dirt cheap wine.
The opening for the exhibit will be at Tjaden Gallery at 4:30 p.m. on Wednesday Jan. 28, beginning with a question and answer session with the artists. “Rome Studio Fall Art Exhibition” will be open through the 30th.