Saturday, October 16, 2010

The Irony: Cutting Bridges in Albany

The Indian Summer is sumptuous over there. I have been invited by a Consortium at University at Albany-SUNY to talk about Leo Castelli’s reinvention of the art gallerist’s work. This Consortium includes the Art Department, the French Department, the Museum and the New York State Writers Institute: what a treat! The campus with its Dutch Quad, huge and stunning, brings the “The World Within Reach” to 18.000 students. How gorgeous! On that Tuesday afternoon, some play American football on an incredibly beautiful landscape, with enormous, joyful water fountains, amid sumptuous architectural buildings from the nineteen sixties. “Great! I think, those are the very Castelli years”. Furthermore, the fact that I have been invited by an interdisciplinary group makes me particularly happy. Later, at 7 pm, I will describe the trajectory of Leo the Triestine, who felt a “mission to educate the American public”, who identified, supported, promoted and valorized his artists, who made them visible in a philistine country, and opened wide the gates of the world museums to their works. His secret? The same one as that of the agents from the Medici era, he was well traveled, well connected, with a crucial knowledge of foreign languages and of international routes and trades. Well, before my talk, visiting a very beautiful show -“Courier”- in the Museum, all about letter typing and visual art, I stumble upon William Kentridge “Zeno Writing”, showing in black and white Italo Svevo’s context on very moving Italian soldiers’ songs from Word War One –Castelli’s childhood-, I love “Nothing New Over The Potomac” and many other variations on words and war.

The audience is good, interested, varied and to sum up Castelli’s personality, I end up by quoting the Triestine writer Boby Bazlen “Quello che conosce le lingue ha il mondo in mano” (“He who knows foreign languages, holds the whole world in his hand”)

Well, was all as well as it seemed at Albany-SUNY, on that beautiful Indian Summer day? Not really, because a few days before my lecture, the President had announced that he would “deactivate” the enrollments for the Departments of French, Italian, German, Classic Languages as well as Theater. What an irony! I came here to explain that Castelli transformed the status of the US artists thanks to his intercultural expertise and here they are, in Albany, falling back into the dark ages, regressing, closing the doors to foreign cultures and foreign languages, cutting all bridges to their twenty year old students!!! Is it not all the more since Obama is the first President who ever addressed the Other One in his own language, starting with the famous “Saleh Mahalikoum” in Cairo? On the train between Albany and Buffalo, I notice that European names of the cities I am passing by: Amsterdam, Rome, Syracuse, Ithaca. What would they mean for students who study neither Geography nor foreign languages?

Buffalo is another ball game, the Albright-Knox Gallery was already mythical in the nineteen twenties and in the sixties, collector Seymour H. Knox II was bold enough to purchase from Castelli, Rauschenberg, Johns, Stella, Bontecou at their openings. The building and the collection remain stunning as well as Louis Grachos the director, all the staff and the trustees.

Their reaction to my galloping presentation, after the Annual Board Meeting, their comments make me hope that we might one day manage to fight the Albany decision.