When in Rome (or Paris, or Marfa!): Study Abroad at CCA

On a crystal-clear June evening in summer 2013, the sun is setting in Marfa, Texas, and a dozen CCA students -- together with a dozen more students from two art schools in the Netherlands -- are settling into the evening rhythms of their tent city.

The tents are cozily nestled in the courtyard of a former officer’s club, long abandoned by the US military. Elsewhere in the building complex, an old bar has been converted into an ad hoc Internet lounge. A spookily empty ballroom houses a broken-down old piano. The kitchen has accommodated the making of many a communal dinner.

Today they’ve been on a field trip to Big Bend National Park. Yesterday they toured the Donald Judd and Chinati Foundation collections. And the day before that they visited many of the artworks by Judd and his contemporaries that are permanently installed all over this small West Texas town.

The CCA students are being led by Grad Fine Arts faculty member Shaun O’Dell, who in summer 2014 will return to Marfa for another summer session, this time accompanied by Lindsey White.

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Though technically domestic, the Marfa course operates under the umbrella of “study-abroad,” and it really is very international in flavor. The participating students hail from more than 12 countries, from the United States to Brazil, Hungary, Tasmania, and France, and the town itself is truly an international art destination, welcoming visitors from the four corners of the Earth, every day.

“It gets hot in the summer in Marfa,” reports O’Dell, “and some days I’ll hold my class not just at the swimming pool, but in the swimming pool. Or we’ll head out to Balmorhea State Park, which has the largest freshwater pool in the US, and have class there.

“Marfa is a fascinating town, and the students get to know it far better than the average tourist, since they are there for three whole weeks. There’s just no other art destination like it, except maybe Dia:Beacon.

"And it’s got so many bizarre juxtapositions: for instance a border patrol station jammed up next to a Judd concrete artwork installation next to a trailer park. There are very poor people in the town, and also people with literally million-acre ranches.”

From Italy to Istanbul

Diversity Studies faculty member Mariella Poli has been leading an annual summer study-abroad trip to Italy since 1996. Students visit major art and architecture in Florence, Venice, and Pienza. But the course is much more than simply a Grand Tour of essential Italian art and culture.

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“Today, Italy faces political questions that reflect the pressures of modern globalization,” remarks Poli, who was born there and has exhibited all over the country (as well as internationally). “We learn not only about Italian art and culture, but also about contemporary life and politics.”

Poli is also very excited about another international exchange she has begun facilitating in the last few years, with art schools in Istanbul. In 2013 she coordinated with Marmara University, and the participating students at each school examined the geopolitical and cultural heritage of a particular neighborhood in their respective cities.

It all took place under the auspices of Poli’s course “Locality & Global Discourses.”

Happily, works by four of the participating CCA students were selected for inclusion in Connecting the Dots, the 6th International Student Triennial exhibition at the prestigious Pera Museum in Istanbul. The exhibition dates coincided with the first week of the 2013 Istanbul Biennial, which meant that Jaime Bernal (Architecture 2014), Alan Hayes (Architecture 2014), Candice Jae (Photography 2015), and Mimi Sano  (Jewelry / Metal Arts 2013) gained invaluable international exposure.

Berlin Biennale

In summer 2014 faculty member Karen Fiss will lead her second trip to Berlin. This year the course coincides with the Berlin Biennale, and the students will get an insider’s view of this sprawling show happening in numerous venues.

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“We also visit studios, artist residencies, and galleries, including some of the immense new galleries around Potsdamer Strasse,” says Fiss. “And when exploring Berlin’s diverse neighborhoods, we do so with artists and curators based in those neighborhoods.”

Fiss, who holds both German and American citizenship, has written extensively on German cultural politics and National Socialism, and is currently researching the use of historical sites and contexts in contemporary art and exhibitions.

Consequently, the summer class looks closely at the relationship between Germany’s tumultuous history and contemporary culture -- through personal narratives and interactions whenever possible. They meet with a diverse range of people -- artists, politicians, historians, activists -- who either lived through important events in German history or are directly engaged with their representation in the present.

“Last year we toured the parliament buildings and contemporary art collection with staff members of Memet Kiliç, a Green party representative and the only Turkish-born member of the German national assembly. We were guided through the former East German Stasi prison with a historian who works with former inmates there. We learned about the Afro-German movement from one of its founders, Abenaa Adomako.”

Of course, there was also time for bike riding around the palaces of Potsdam, dinners in the beer gardens, performance events, and shopping at Berlin’s amazing flea markets.

Illustrating London, Paris, Madrid, Barcelona

Other exciting international study-abroad opportunities scheduled for summer 2014 include “Tapas to Tàpies,” a trip to Spain led by Illustration and Painting/Drawing faculty member Mark Eanes.

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In addition to visiting museums, monuments, and cathedrals, the students explore what Eanes describes as “the smaller, more authentic moments of daily life.” They develop a rich travelogue, compiling drawings, painted studies, texts, and photographs to be used as source material for more fully developed stories.

Indeed, storytelling is at the heart of what Eanes is hoping students will take away from the experience: “The beauty of illustration is in the power of story. And there is no better way to expand the boundaries of one’s storytelling imagination than to travel.”

Also under the aegis of Illustration, Randy Chavez will lead a trip to London and Paris.

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In London, at the Victoria and Albert Museum, the British Museum, and elsewhere, the class studies the Arts and Crafts movement and sees firsthand the impact of 19th-century Japanese woodblock prints on Art Nouveau.

Then they take the train to Paris through the Chunnel. In the City of Light they encounter the marvelous Carnavalet Museum (focusing on Alphonse Mucha’s art nouveau work) and the Musée d’Orsay (looking in particular at Honoré Daumier’s playful clay caricatures). They spend afternoons in the Louvre and have lunch along the Seine.

In Paris, Chavez particularly loves to introduce students to the Franco-Belgian style of comics (known as bande dessinée), which offers new frames of reference for aspiring graphic novelists. The class browses in bookstores filled with titles not available back home, then actually gets to meet some of the artists behind the products on the shelves.

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