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Building an Idea: McKim, Mead & White and the American Academy in Rome, 1914-2014

May 27, 2014
AAR Gallery
AAR Gallery
AAR Gallery
AAR Gallery
Marida Talamona
Umberto Riva and Emilio Scarano
Christopher Celenza and Peter Benson Miller speaking to guests
Guests in the cortile
Livio Sacchi and Tristano di Robilant
Umberto Riva speaking with Pippo Ciorra and Lexi Eberspacher in the cortile
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Beautiful weather enticed an especially large crowd to turn out for the opening of the AAR Gallery’s latest exhibition. Running until June 29th, the show tells the architectural tale of the McKim, Mead & White Building with plans, drawings, notes, and photographs from Italian and American archives, including the Photographic Archive at the American Academy. In this year of centennial festivities the exhibition forms part of a series of events to celebrate not only the construction of a permanent home for the Academy, but the constitution of a place cementing the union of the American Academy in Rome and the American School of Classical Studies; it was a forward-looking interdisciplinary merger of the arts and humanities forming the basis of the Academy’s continued success.

Orchestrated under the masterful direction of Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Peter Benson Miller and coordinated by Programs Associate Lexi Eberspacher, curated by architectural historian Marida Talamona of Roma Tre University, assisted by Federica Causarano, with an exhibition design by Arch. Umberto Riva, in collaboration with Emilio Scarano, the exhibition is the result of a truly stunning series of individual and institutional collaborations. Informed by comprehensive research in multiple archives, the show draws on material from collections in Europe and America. Gratitude goes to the archives, institutional partners for the project, who contributed plans and drawings to the exhibition, and their respective Directors, Eugenio Lo Sardo of the Archivio di Stato di Roma, Mariarosaria Senofonte of the Archivio Storico Capitolino, and Maria Antonella Fusco of the Istituto Nazionale per la Grafica. Caterina Carletti Galassi kindly granted permission for items from the Fondo Galassi (Archivio di Stato di Roma) to be displayed and reproduced in the catalogue. The exhibition was realized thanks to generous contributions from the Carnegie Corporation of New York and the Gladys Krieble Delmas Foundation.  

Mid-evening, Director Christopher S. Celenza, FAAR’94, and Andrew Heiskell Arts Director Peter Benson Miller gathered guests in the cortile to offer welcoming remarks and extend appreciation to the many people involved. Christopher Celenza emphasized that research for this exhibition revealed the deeper history of long collaboration between the Academy and the people and city of Rome. Peter Benson Miller emphasized that the accompanying volume, published by Gli ori, will be released on June 5th in conjunction with the Open Studios. The most complete resource assembled to date about the design and construction of the MMW Building, the publication gathers important archival material as the foundation for further research. The handsomely illustrated book includes contributions by Academy President Mark Robbins, FAAR’97, Marida Talamona, Barry Bergdoll, Peter Benson Miller, Francesca Romana Stabile, Paola Porretta, former Academy President Adele Chatfield-Taylor, FAAR’84, current Rome Prize Fellow Lindsay Harris, Drue Heinz Librarian Sebastien Hierl, Federica Causarano, and Academy Deputy Director Cristina Puglisi, who has overseen the restoration of the MMW Building since 1991. Thanks to her work and that of many others the McKim, Mead and White Building remains to this day a flexible and dynamic structure hosting a wide range of intellectual and creative activities.

Founded by architect Charles Follen McKim in 1894, the Academy remained without a permanent seat until the inauguration of the McKim, Mead & White Building. Stanford White and Charles McKim died before the realization of this aim, but the surviving partner of the firm, William Rutherford Mead, oversaw the project’s completion from New York, encouraged by the enthusiasm of painter Francis Davis Millet, and financially sustained by John Pierpont Morgan. The exhibition presents three variations of the building elaborated first by Mead in March 1912 and altered by Gorham Phillips Stevens and Filippo Galassi in May-July 1912, and again in October 1912. Photographs and notes document the progress of its construction between 1912 and 1914. The product of an architectural dialogue between Rome and New York, the McKim, Mead & White Building’s Neo-Renaissance style reflects its purpose as a place for the coming together of people, cultures and ideas. The exhibition does not so much celebrate the building as a historic monument, but the enduring idea that it represents.