Research in Naples, Pompeii, Sicily, and the Maramotti Collection in Reggio Emilia

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Yevgeniya Baras is an artist living and working in Brooklyn, NY. Yevgeniya has a BA and an MS from University of Pennsylvania (2003) and an MFA in Painting and Drawing from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (2007). In 2013 her paintings were exhibited at the Barbara Walters Gallery at Sarah Lawrence College; Honey Ramka Gallery in Bushwick, NY; and Real Art Ways Gallery in Hartford, CT. Her recent exhibitions include: "Encounter" at Zurcher Studio, New York, NY; “Centaurs and Satyrs” at Asya Geisberg Gallery, New York, NY; “Materiality" at Allegra LaViola Gallery, New York, NY; “Domesticities” at Bull and Ram, New York, NY; “Foreign Bodies” at Barbur Gallery, Jerusalem, Israel; “HIDE” at ADDS DONNA, Chicago, IL; and “Rich-oo-uhl, Rich-oo-uhl” at Jolie Laide, Philadephia, PA. Four and a half years ago, Yevgeniya co-founded Regina Rex Gallery in Bushwick, NY with a group of fellow artists. She has curated and co-curated numerous exhibitions at the gallery including “Texture.TXT” and “Letters Not About Love.” Last year, Yevgeniya was profiled in Art in America. Yevgeniya’s work can be viewed here.

Prior to this trip I have never been to the south of Italy. I teach art history in New York and quite a few objects, which are part of the curriculum, are located in the south. The trip was saturated with new visual information, beauty, and surprise. I will zoom in on a few encounters.

In Naples I visited the Catacombs of San Gennaro, an incredible underground site. They felt like secrets I was being led into, underground burial sites with episodes of painting. There are early Christian paintings there, some barely preserved, just hints at shapes and lines. In other parts of the catacombs there were fully developed paintings: a more overt statement, a clear visual sentence. What stood out to me as I walked from room to room is the human need to communicate through art that has always been there throughout time. Being physically so close to early mark making is breathtaking. As an artist, I felt a visceral connection to the need to make a mark, to leave a trace, to tell a story. Some stories were overtly related to the Old Testament. Some were making connections between the Old and the New Testaments. And some were obviously leaning on the pagan past. There are places where all three histories collided in one image, which was fascinating. I felt I was present in the moment of the artist processing these histories and this information, trying to locate themselves in these histories. Early Christians were persecuted, and the process of painting was trusted to communicate that which was forbidden. When I speak of mark making, I speak of a variety of ways to express—from mosaic, to fresco, to etching on walls, to a kind of installation that mixes different media. It was thrilling to be present in this preserved moment of visual history. I look forward to conveying this feeling of access to history to my students.

The archeology museum of Naples is rich with Greek and Roman artifacts: the Farnese Hercules, Artemis, Atlas and the Bull, as well as the mosaic collection and the secret cabinet. The Secret Cabinet is a collection of erotic art from Pompeii; moments of desire on every surface. I also visited Museo di Capodimonte, where I saw works that I regularly lecture on: Massacio’s crucifixion, Antea by Parmigianino, Portrait of Farnese by Raphael, the Flagellation by Caravagio, as well as paintings by Titian, El Greco and Bellini. While in Naples, I climbed Mt. Vesuvius at sunset and saw the crater as well as a gorgeous view of Naples from above. I have never seen a volcano before, and ascending a volcano is a different feeling from ascending a mountain: knowing the role that the eruption played in human history and art history contributed to the intensity of the moment, but so did encountering the crater, an open wound at the very top that still contains a sense of danger. There are areas that are still steaming, though the volcano has not erupted since 1944 (and the most well know eruption was in 79 CE).

Another place I would like to describe are the mosaics in Ravenna. I regularly teach these Byzantine mosaics, but as with all art, it is absolutely necessary to experience the objects in person. Ravenna is a town that reminded me of de Chirico's paintings: empty piazzas, architectural wonder frozen in midday silence. The city is small, and walking through it meant encountering very few people—just architecture, shadows, shutters. There are five well known locations of mosaics, and the Basilica of San Vitale was my main interest—that is, before I knew what other treasures are hidden in this city. San Vitale, when one enters it, is solemn and rather undecorated at first sight. It's dark, and when I turned right from the entrance I encountered a nook overflowing with images and patterns curving around the architecture. The nook, filled to the brim with shining tiles, was glowing. The precision, attention to detail, and the overwhelming beauty made me want to sit on the simple wooden bench facing the mosaics and just stop. So much human effort and so much commitment to unfolding a full narrative in front of the viewer. I was extremely glad for the simplicity of the Basilica because the corner with mosaics needed to be juxtaposed with a pause.

In the spirit of this trip where I felt I was getting access to treasures, Maramotti Collection is a true jewel. It is an amazing private collection of art installed in an old sewing factory. What I tremendously enjoyed about this destination venue, which is located in a small industrial town outside of Bologna, are all the Italian artists I was introduced to from the past 100 years. This is work that does not usually travel outside of Italy. This is a places that houses one person’s vision, but also provides incredibly generous opportunities to living artists to develop and exhibit their work.

I am so grateful for the opportunity to have experienced Italy, and am excited to convey what I have seen to my students, as well as to let the experiences seep into my work.