Curating Congdon: American Modernist Abroad

On Friday 18 January at 5:30 pm, the exhibition William Congdon: American Modernist Abroad will be inaugurated at West Court Gallery, Jesus College, Cambridge. I have had the honour to co-curate the show together with Dr Donal Cooper, curator of the college’s collection, and Galleria Rubin. This is an incredible opportunity, made possible by the collaboration with the Congdon Foundation, based in the vicinity of Milan where the artist spent his last years. In this post, I will present the exhibition and my role in its organisation. 

As a student of art history at the University of Cambridge, I was the first one to propose using the newly inaugurated West Court Gallery as the exhibition’s venue. Liaising between Jesus College and Galleria Rubin, I negotiated every aspect of the show, from the shipment conditions to the event’s promotion. It has been an exciting opportunity to discover more about Congdon’s personal history and meet great scholars such as Prof. Paolo Biscottini, a leading Italian art historian who personally knew Congdon. I must thank Dr Cooper, who listened attentively to my idea and saw its potential realisation into what is currently American Modernist Abroad. I am also grateful to Galleria Rubin for entrusting me with the delicate task of organising the show.

William Congdon – Niger 7 – 1982 – oil on board

William Congdon was born in Providence, Rhode Island, in 1912. After studying at Yale University in the 1930s, he volunteered for the American Army during WWII and visited Italy. That experience pushed him to return back to Europe in the 1950s, despite the success that he was enjoying in New York thanks to his affiliation with the Abstract Expressionists. He first travelled to Venice, where he met Peggy Guggenheim, and then to Assisi following his conversion to Catholicism in 1959. The exhibition gathers works by Congdon dealing with the theme of travel, following his journeys across the world, from Italy to Greece, Turkey, and India among others. Hence, the show presents itself as a mosaic of visionary landscapes, as vibrant as Congdon’s dense pictorial matter.

William Congdon – Neve 9 – 1985 – oil on board

As a student and scholar of Jesus College, I am particularly proud of bringing Congdon’s oeuvre to Cambridge. The exhibition will present the university as a space of encounters: the encounter between one of England’s oldest institutions and the vibrant Italian art world; the encounter between different cultures, embodied by the international student body and Congdon’s peregrinations across the globe. Furthermore, Congdon shared a personal connection with Cambridge, as he was in contact with Jim Ede, the founder of Kettle’s Yard, where some of his works are still on display. In this regard, I must thank the museum for their collaboration and support in delving into Congdon’s ties with the United Kingdom, presented in the printed catalogue.

William Congdon – Vulture and Dove – 1957 – oil on masonite

The show will open at West Court Gallery, Jesus College, on Friday 18 January at 5:30 pm. If you happen to be in Cambridge, you are warmly invited to take part in the unveiling of the ten works on display. Since the 1980s, when the biennial exhibition Sculpture in the Close was established, Jesus College has become a hub of creativity and artistic appreciation. As such, I am thrilled to add my own contribution to the history of this world-class institution. 

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Alessandro M. Rubin Written by:

Cambridge History of Art alumnus. Passionate early-modernist, curious about contemporary art and aesthetic theory.

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