USC Aiken Celebrates Life and Legacy of Italian Painter

Written and compiled by Michael St. John

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AIKEN, SC (01/29/2018) For 20 years, the University of South Carolina Aiken has boasted of a strong connection to the ancient Etruscan city of Orvieto, located in central Italy.

This spring, that bond will be celebrated with an exhibition from March 20 to April 26, in the Etherredge Center, featuring the works of Orvieto native Livio Valentini. Additionally, Valentini's biography, Livio Orazio Valentini: An Artist's Spiritual Odyssey, written by Chancellor Emeritus Dr. Robert Alexander and Professor Emeritus Dr. John Elliott will be released as part of the S.C. Humanities Festival, on campus, April 12-14. The carefully researched illustrated volume highlights the early years of Valentini's life; his suffering in a concentration camp; his later residency at USC Aiken; and his lifelong search for spiritual freedom.

On a study tour in Orvieto in the 90s, Elliott visited Valentini's gallery on behalf of Partners in Friendship, a local non-profit with a mission of increasing cultural understanding and awareness. Soon after, USC Aiken and PIF, under the leadership of George Custodi, committed to co-sponsor the Maestro's first U.S. exhibition. As a symbol of the newfound friendship, Valentini gifted his painting Odissea to the university.

"Valentini shared the noble vision of bridging cultures between the old and the new world," said Alexander.

In 1999, Alexander initiated a three-year artist-in-residence program, during which the university commissioned Valentini to create La Principessa, honoring an aged live oak tree in Hopelands Gardens.

A year later, Alexander commissioned the artist to create a piece to explore "the Universe of the University." The result was Galassia, which Valentini dedicated to the students of USC Aiken while paying tribute to the victims of 9/11 and all those who suffer the violence of war.

Initially, Galassia was to serve as the centerpiece for the new Convocation Center. During the construction and redesign of the building, it became evident there would be no room for the huge painting. Therefore, Galassia has been on temporary display in the upper gallery of the Etherredge Center. Over the years, the location and condition of Galassia has been monitored closely, and in order to safeguard its integrity, moving it became a priority. On Jan. 18, crews carefully relocated the masterpiece to the wall above the downstairs gallery in the Etherredge Center.

"This unique position allows it to be viewed from both above and below, visually connecting the upper and lower galleries and fulfilling the Maestro's vision of a great spiritual entity suspended aloft," stated Dr. Sandra Jordan, USC Aiken chancellor.

The view from the balcony will mirror the original design by Livio and the architectural firm GMK.

"We have always thought it could become a recognizable icon, celebrating the spirit of the liberal arts on our campus," said Alexander.

Now, almost two decades later, Aiken will have an opportunity to rediscover Valentini during both a month-long exhibit featuring his works as well as the South Carolina Humanities Festival.

The Etherredge Center will display the largest collection of Valentini works since 1997 as part of the retrospective exhibit, curated by Dr. Jeremy Culler. It will showcase the university's Valentini collection as well as artwork privately owned by many of his Aiken patrons. A reception will follow where the biography can be purchased and signed by the authors. All proceeds will go toward the Valentini-Partners in Friendship Endowed Scholarship Fund for USC Aiken students.

Born in 1920, Valentini lived most of his life in Orvieto. With few financial resources, Valentini became a self-taught artist. At the age of 20, Valentini was drafted into military service during World War II. He was captured by the Germans and held initially at the Buchenwald concentration camp. The experience of hard labor and confinement had a profound impact on Valentini, which was later reflected in his works of art.

Several USC Aiken students have connected with Valentini by participating in archaeological digs in Orvieto and meeting some of his relatives. Additionally, some have interned with Vetrya, an Orvieto-based global digital communications corporation.

"These unprecedented opportunities for students who have never travelled abroad began with the unique partnership the university fostered with this famous Italian artist," said Alexander.