SVA’s “Art and Revelry” Debuts in Provence
The College’s latest exhibition at a historic monastery features alumni work from various programs
September 25, 2019
by Joyce Rutter Kaye
During the opening night of Journees du Patrimoine (Days of Heritage) on September 20 in Saint-Rémy de Provence, France, hundreds flocked to Saint-Paul de Mausole, a historic monastery, for a merry evening of music, dance—and, above all, art. Flaunting feather boas, fancy hats, traditional costumes and an abundance of joie de vivre, patrons enjoyed an hourlong program of cultural history, claquettes (tap dancing) and sing-along choral music before streaming through the monastery’s 11th-century cloister for the vernissage of “Art and Revelry,” a dual exhibition mounted by SVA and the Valetudo Association promoting the therapeutic value of making art.
“Art and Revelry,” on view through October 31, marks the 10th year of a transatlantic partnership with Valetudo, which runs a women’s residential psychiatric clinic out of Saint-Paul de Mausole, with art and music therapy at its core. The clinic’s location is significant: It’s where Vincent van Gogh was treated for a year (1889–90) and where he was encouraged to paint as part of his healing process. His year at Saint-Paul was prolific and yielded many famous works, including Starry Night and The Irises. Inspired by Van Gogh’s work and the painter’s dream to open an artists’ collective in the south of France, Dr. Jean-Marc Boulon founded the Valetudo clinic in 1995. “The energy that exists in these buildings was an extraordinary impetus to make that happen,” he said. The SVA–Valetudo partnership was originated by Executive Vice President Anthony P. Rhodes and Dr. Boulon in 2010. Although a number of other institutions had approached Dr. Boulon for similar ventures, SVA was the first to demonstrate a level of thoughtfulness and professionalism that was “up to the standards of Van Gogh’s dream,” he said.
Each year, the dual exhibitions bring to life a particular theme, with this year’s “Art and Revelry” emphasizing the joy that comes from making art and sharing it with others. Curated by Francis DiTommaso, director of SVA Galleries, the SVA exhibition features 26 works from alumni working in illustration, design, photography, fine art, interior design, computer art, video and animation. The concurrent show of 33 works by Valetudo patients emphasizes the same spirit, primarily through the artforms of painting and collage. Four additional new pieces were created in a form of collaboration, where prints of SVA alumni art were provided to patients, on which some of them painted or made collages. Gabriella Lincoln’s (BFA 2019 Photography and Video) Soeurs, a black-and-white photograph of two sisters in a field, for example, was playfully transformed into an image of four sisters crossing a street—a collage inspired by The Beatles’ famous Abbey Road album cover. Dr. Boulon worked closely with a patient to complete the piece, and both signed the work.
“Art and culture, as far as I’m concerned, is a universal right,” said Dr. Boulon in an interview in the clinic's painting studio before the opening. “It has the advantage of creating a complementary relationship different than the traditional one between the doctor and the patient. When I’m practicing psychiatry, I’m being the doctor. But when I’m playing music with them or painting alongside them, they see that between the doctor and the patient there is common ground. I’m on their same level because we’re all amateur painters.”
Dr. Boulon reflected on the impact the 10-year partnership with SVA has had on Valetudo, its patients and the clinicians who work there. The institute benefitted immediately from the global exposure that came from mounting an exhibition with professional artists, which enabled it to hold other exhibitions in cities around the world, including a major show in Vicenza, Italy, in 2017, where patient work inspired by van Gogh’s paintings were hung alongside 123 van Gogh originals.
The medical staff benefit as well. “Institutional psychiatry is exhausting for the practitioners,” he said. “When there are complementary things, like films being made here, when TV stations come through, when people visit, and when we hold this exhibition, it foments energy that helps the staff who are otherwise depleted from this work.”
For the clinic’s patients, participating in a public exhibition with established SVA artists amplifies exponentially the sense of self-worth that comes from art-making itself. “One of the major symptoms of depression is to think that one is worthless—those thoughts and the ideas of devaluation, followed by a lack of interest,” he said. “[They’re] not interested in anything anymore. They become withdrawn and socially isolated. Art has a therapeutic effect, because in making art it’s to discover that—because I’ve made this painting, because I’ve sold it, and because I exhibited it with New York artists—I’m worth something.”
“Art and Revelry” is on view at Cloîte Saint-Paul de Mausole, Saint-Rémy de Provence, France, through Thursday, October 31. For information on past SVA–Valetudo exhibitions, click here.