Marist Italy

The Road to Venice

Julia Fishman

The 2019 Venice Biennale is fast approaching and 12 Marist students are gearing up for the experience of a lifetime.

May 24, 2019—Just as 2019 graduates are heading off, another small group of Marist students are embarking on an adventure of a different kind: the Venice Biennale.

Under the direction of Professor of Art Ed Smith, the Venice Biennale is a monumental project for the College. “Marist has created a student experience that’s concurrent with the Biennale proper,” Smith explained in a recent interview. “Marist organizes this event for students from a wide array of colleges and universities.” The Biennale has included student artists from Brandeis, the Paris College of Art, the Institute of American Indian Arts, and many other institutions.

Marist’s ties to Italy are strong. The College has a campus in Florence, which offers a four-year bachelor’s degree program in partnership with Istituto Lorenzo de’ Medici—the only U.S. bachelor’s degree program in Florence.

Professor Ed Smith at the Biennale pre-departure meeting
Professor Ed Smith at the Biennale pre-departure meeting.

Smith noted this structure—a student experience in the midst of one of the biggest art exhibitions in the world—is exactly what makes the Biennale such a life-altering experience for students. They work to produce pieces for a final exhibition.  And during the four weeks they get to immerse themselves in the Biennale, seeing a plethora of art and exploring Venice.

Students are selected for the Biennale through a competitive process. “Simply put, I’m looking for the best and the brightest,” said Smith. He emphasized the program is an intense one. “To some extent this is a post-baccalaureate program—the expectations are very much in line with graduate level work. I look for individuals who will do well in one-on-one studies and can handle independent work.”

Mary McGrail working on a piece at the Steel Plant on the Poughkeepsie, NY campus
Mary McGrail working on a piece at the Steel Plant on the Poughkeepsie, NY campus.

Some of this year’s attendees are Mary McGrail ’20, Amelia Krouse ’21, Sydney Kysar ’21, Claire Szpunar ’20, Gregg Rivas ’20, and Emily Yen ’21. They have varied artistic interests and express themselves through painting, sculpture, drawing and mixed media.

While all the students are excited about the impending trip, they each have different goals. For McGrail, the Biennale represents an opportunity to “learn more about Renaissance and Italian art and to develop more as an artist.”

“My plan is do sculpture and painting,” Rivas explained. “I want to develop a more complex or sophisticated approach to sculpture and painting based on what I will learn in the context of the Biennale and my interactions with my peers.”

Kysar has been preparing for Venice by working hard during the spring semester. “I needed to get my work done so I can focus on my art while I’m there,” she said. Although she’s a digital media student, Kysar explained she firmly believes “in the importance of creating art not just on my computer. So, even though I mainly do graphic design and animation for class, I also spend a large portion of my time painting and with my sketchbook. I plan on making large paintings in oil for the Biennale.”

Emily Yen working on a piece at the Steel Plant on the Poughkeepsie, NY campus
Emily Yen working on a piece at the Steel Plant on the Poughkeepsie, NY campus.

For Yen, a studio art major with a minor in graphic design, Venice represents a major opportunity. “I want to see where my explorations lead,” she said. Right now she’s working with found objects. “I may create an installation for the Biennale.”

“I love drawing and painting,” said Szpunar. “And sculpture is a new passion of mine—I like the hands-on experience.” She’s buying materials now and is excited to “work six days per week in a place with so much artistic history.”

Smith emphasized the six-day-per-week rule in an informational meeting with the students. “On Sundays I kick them out of the studios. They need to get out and explore Venice.”

The Biennale will be Krouse’s first abroad program and she doesn’t have a set plan yet. “I’m waiting to get inspired by being in Venice,” she said. “I’m excited to have the opportunity to make art in a different place.”

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