To celebrate the 40th anniversary of the Studio Art Centers International in Florence, Italy, SACI Alumni from across four decades gathered and attended four days of events, including a tour of SACI’s two Renaissance palazzi, a studio visit at the home of Founder and Director Emeritus Jules Maidoff, alumni lunch with members of the SACI Board of Trustees at Trattoria Mario, and a concert by the ensemble Vocum Concentus at the Conservatorio di Santa Maria degli Angiolini. In addition, alumni met to develop and deploy SACI’s new Alumni Association, and in so doing cultivate an international network of artists, curators, educators, and researchers.

As a 2011 alum of SACI’s conservation program, I contributed to the formation of the Alumnni Association through critical discussion as well as documenting the event by photography as well as video and audio recording.

Below are select photographs of the extraordinary artistic community of the Studio Art Centers International, as well as select transcriptions from my sketchbook as I returned to Florence–a record of that which I saw as I saw it.



View of The Cattedrale di Santa Maria del Fiore (The Duomo) at night


Sunday, 26 April 2015: Florence, Italy

Palazzo Medici Riccardi: Lavender. It smells of lavender. In this contemplative garden of the Medici family, a space that has observed historic events of significance, as well as significant observations now historic, it smells of lavender. Cool, wet, blossoming lavender. A girl from India re-applies her gloss beside a Florentine Hercules. A boy draws the gaze of his partner with gesture in a palatial room of mirrors and golden thread. A girl extends her iPhone to document in a single click artwork as well as presence.

In these palatial rooms, a contemporary artist shows her work. She as particular is unknown to me, though her method of magazine collage, her subject of woman, her aesthetic of fashion, and her narrative structure of the surreal, is a familiar point of departure. In present, I speak of my own work in digital media within a taxonomy and through a typology of curating, and at times of the choreographic, though I acknowledge both collage and montage heritage (and may at a time locate my focus there).

There is an exhibition catalogue available for purchase. The man from whom I purchase this memento vita does not speak English, and I not Italian. Through gesture, he requests that I sign the book log, a weighty trans-exhibit volume. I frame my written words with a care that goes noticed. Through gesture, he introduces me to his wife Martina Sarti, the artist. Through gesture, I communicate my congratulations to her on her 1993-2014 retrospective. At least, I believe that I do. And indeed, her pleasure confirms a successful communication. She then traces her autograph in my copy of her exhibition catalogue. I give her my card, and she recognizes a fellow artist. There is an exchange of excited gesture. Two artists. Two cultures. Two who know what it is to need an audience.



Alumni luncheon at Trattorio Mario



Palazzo Medici Riccardi


Palazzo Strozzi: “Potere e Pathos: Bronzi Del Mondo Ellenistico” (Power and Pathos: The Bronze of the Hellenistic Age), a special exhibit in cooperation with the Getty, the Louvre, et al. These are bodies in which I see some likeness and so whom I like (Hume), representations of a body sculpted as much by mind as by physic (Aurelius). These are bodies advertised by Gardner’s, known in every survey course–iconic iconography. Male nudes blue as their bronze flesh touches air. Many restored to oneness from their intermediate state as separated. Many found beneath the earth or beneath the sea (in route to?). In these galleries is exhibited the hero’s journey, with imagings of emperors, heroes, athletes, and the boys that would become such men on display. Some eye sockets remember gems now lost. Faces are expressive with an aesthetic paradigm as much as an individual self. These men smell of sterilizing agents. The space they inhabit tastes cold.

As stated on the foyer didactic, the curator’s intent is to bring together works of art that have not previously been exhibited together, and to create a conversation between these works. Bilingual texts in Italian and English tell stories of attribution, identification, and location. On the wall: a map of archeological finds, of where these men were recovered by time. In an alcove: a tactile station to explore the ‘lost wax’, product reunited with process. Through the exhibit: each statue on a pedestal, in the round, a community of the atomized. And in the curatorial footnotes: touchscreens, a reading room, role-playing game for families, no photography permitted. What role does this stage entrust to exhibit visitors? Are they–am I–viewer? Student? Interactor? Witness? The living are silent in voice and body.

Upon exit through the gift shop, the exhibition catalogue curates a dozen scholarly articles. Each male body is pictured in high gloss, provided its own page, and contextualized within the negative space of a homogenous Photoshopped picture plane. Printed as it is in the US, this memory souvenir can be delivered by Amazon rather than through customs (a tragedy of the heart but not for the shoulders). Why does not a single image appear in the exhibition catalogue of the exhibit itself? It is a touring exhibit, yes. The book was prepared in advance of the opening, yes. But why is the exhibit as event as well as the artworks as gestures not a subject of discourse? Why is the context for the conversation not a part of the conversation itself?
One more turn about the exhibit. And look: a spider has woven her web of opalescent fibers under, over, and about the thigh, penis, torso, and neck of one of these hero’s now naked bodies. Her strands glimmer beneath UV bulbs. No museum staff has addressed this place where organic meets inorganic, vegetable meets mineral, circle meets square, space meets line (hence the causal logic for my projection of the arachnid’s gender). No visitor has commented (but have they observed?). The spider has woven a connection between points, with a before and an after, has woven a between that leads to a conversation, has woven the curatorial thesis. Good spider. Now where did you go?



Jules Maidoff, Founder and Director Emeritus of SACI, in his home studio, Sunday 26 April, 2015


Monday, 27 April 2015: Florence, Italy
The 40th Anniversary of the Studio Arts Centers International pauses in its festivities for the first ever alumni association meeting. Sitting as a circle in the lecture hall at Via San Antonio are individuals who are Australian, Danish, Finish, Italian, and Slavic, with Americans from Boston, California, New Orleans, and New York. But twenty of us are in attendance of some ten thousand graduates of the course of the past forty years. We introduce ourselves. Some biography their careers. Some anecdote their passion. Some speak of how the course of their lives shifted with their time at SACI. We are each of us respectful in our listening, our priority to teach, support, and nurture, for together we form a community of individuals. Then, to business: Jules Maidoff (Founder and President Emeritus, French scarves and good cigars–I assume they’re good at least, my olfaction not attuned to measure such a quality) prepares the next generation to inherit his project.



Robbie Shackelford, Director of Harding University, and Kathy Smith, Chair of the Division of Animation and Digital Arts at the School of Cinematic Arts, University of Southern California, at the first meeting of the SACI Alumni Organization



Palazzo Strozzi


For much of the luncheon at Trattorio Mario, my attention attends to my immediate neighbor at table Kathy Smith (Chair of Animation and Digital Arts at the University of Southern California, an Australian by birth and by identity) as we discuss theory (art), education (protocol), and politic (the statistics regarding the quantity of mail that reaches Austria by way of Sydney really are quite dazzling). Then, an expression commands my full attention:

The girl, aged ten or so and daughter to an alumna, has been accompanying the group on its calendar, and has by our communal valuation found her place at the head of table. She has, until the point of this expression, been sharing her Florentine sketchbook (her first). And the alums of the Studio Arts Centers International view the sketchbook’s content of fashion designs, inspired by a visit to the Gucci Museo, with a nurturing excitement. For each of us understands that in that sketchbook ‘artist’ begins. In that sketchbook each of us, whatever our age or nationality, sees both mirror and Einstein-Rosen Bridge. The volume is of a specific make, distinct to the paperies of Florence while at the same time commonly available in museum gift shop. Each alum has kept just such a sketchbook when this girl’s age, parallel in form and in function. Each alum has kept just such a sketchbook during their first travels to Florence. And each alum continues to keep these sketchbooks as mementos of where the journey to become an artist began. (I, for example, have archived a shelf of them in my studio closet, the very making and modeling of that presented by this young girl.)

But then the girl’s expression changes. Food begins to arrive. Here in this wine cellar. Steaming dishes. Recipes a cultural heritage in and of themselves. Ingredients untouched by genetic engineering or chemical additive. Yet, as quickly becomes apparent, the girl can not partake of much of this fare. Joy becomes sadness. This girl who designs fashion and dances ballet has her allergies. And so she is separated from the group, unable to participate as she wants to. I recognize her. I say: “You know, I eat like you eat. I have those allergies too. And I won’t be eating the things you don’t, and I will be eating the things you do.” And we eat together. And we talk about dance.



David Davidson, Dean of SACI, introducing a concert by the Vocum Concentus ensemble at the Conservatorio Santa Maria deli Angeli. A Florentine Baroque chapel fully restored by Studio Art Centers International Conservation students and faculty between 1996 and 2006, it is this program in conservation that I studied in when I attended SACI in the spring of 2011.



Palazzo Medici Riccardi


Text and photographs © 2015 Devon Schiller. All rights reserved.

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