October 2017


Peter Benson Miller - Painting in the Contact Zone: American Artists in Postwar Rome

  • Monday, 2 October 2017 - 6:30pm
AAR Lecture Room
Philip Guston, The Tormentors, 1947-48, oil on canvas. San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (c) Estate of Philip Guston.

In the decades following the Second World War, Rome was a productive workplace for American artists and intellectuals. According to the internationally-minded Italian artist Piero Dorazio, one of the founders of the group Forma 1, “Rome was like Paris, it had become the navel of art in Europe. Americans were no longer going to Paris—that had been in the twenties and thirties. In the fifties, Rome was full of artists.” The image of Rome as a “second Paris” was also broadcast in 1952 by an article in Life entitled “Americans in Italy,” which declared that “at the end of World War II artists from all over the U.S. began to head for Italy where, for the past six years, they have swarmed the hillsides and made Rome the rival of Paris as art headquarters.” Awed by historical grandeur and artistic forebears in Italy, American artists also encountered a complex contemporary art world of entangled Cold War cultural politics, ideological struggles, and aesthetic debates. This talk will reconsider several American artists in Rome in this period—focusing in particular on Philip Guston—traditionally viewed in biographical isolation, foregrounding instead the politicized artistic community and the challenges of painting in what cultural historian Mary Louise Pratt has termed a “contact zone.” 

Peter Benson Miller is the Andrew Heiskell Arts Director at the American Academy in Rome. He curated Philip Guston, Roma, which was held at the Museo Carlo Bilotti- Aranciera di Villa Borghese, Rome, and traveled to the Phillips Collection in Washington, D.C. At the Academy, his exhibitions include: Cy Twombly, Photographer (2015); Studio Systems (2016); and Charles Ray, Mountain Lion Attacking a Dog (2017). He is the editor of Go Figure! New Perspectives on Guston, published in 2015 by New York Review Books and the American Academy in Rome.

The shoptalk will be held in English. You can watch this event livestreamed at

Please note: valid photo ID is required for entry into the American Academy in Rome. Backpacks and luggage with dimensions larger than cm 40 x 35 x 15 (inches 16 x 14 x 6) are not permitted on the property. There are no locker facilities available.