Conservation of a Modern Masterwork

December 08, 2017

Newcomers to the university may not be aware that one of Italy’s most revered modern artist’s, the late Livio Orazio Valentini, and USC Aiken have shared history.   The relationship between Livio Orazio Valentini and USC Aiken began in 1997.

On a study tour in Orvieto, Dr. John Elliott visited Livio’s gallery on behalf of Partners in Friendship (PIF). Soon after, USC Aiken and PIF committed to co-sponsor the Maestro’s first international exhibition in the Etherredge Center. As a symbol of friendship, Valentini gifted his painting Odissea to the University. 

In 1999, Chancellor Robert Alexander initiated a three-year artist in residence program, during which he commissioned Valentini to create La Principessa, honoring an aged live oak tree in Hopelands Gardens. Galassia was commissioned in 2000 to serve as the centerpiece for the new Convocation Center. Because cost overruns and subsequent redesign left no room for the huge painting, Galassia has been on temporary display in the upper gallery of the Etherredge Center.

Over the years, the condition of Galassia has been a cause of concern.  The location in the upper gallery exposed the painting to too much UV light. There is a noticeable bowing of the wooden frame, and the bolts supporting the metal frieze have loosened, allowing it to cut into the canvas. In addition, the painting is very vulnerable to the touch by our many gallery visitors, especially children.

In order to safeguard the integrity of Galassia, it became imperative that it be moved. The new location, on the partial wall above the downstairs gallery in the Etherredge Center, allows it to be viewed from both above and below, visually connecting the upper and lower galleries, and serving as a symbol of the "Universe of the University."

“We have always thought it could become a recognizable icon, celebrating the spirit of the liberal arts on our campus,” wrote Dr. Alexander.

The move of Galassia fulfills the Maestro’s vision of a great spiritual entity suspended aloft. The view from the balcony will mirror the original design by Livio and the architectural firm GMK.

Born in 1920 in Orvieto, Italy, Valentini lived most of his life in that town. With few financial resources, Valentini became a self-taught artist. Valentini was drafted into military service during World War II when he was 20.  He was captured by the Germans and was held 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.

In April 2018, Aiken will host the South Carolina Humanities Festival. The festival opens with a Gallery Talk and reception at the Etherredge Center which will honor the 20th anniversary of the Aiken/Orvieto partnership. A retrospective exhibit, curated by Dr. Jeremy Culler, will showcase Valentini’s artwork from the collections of his Aiken patrons.

USC Aiken, a comprehensive university in the University of South Carolina system, offers undergraduate and master’s degrees to more than 3,500 students in 50 programs of study. USC Aiken is ranked the #1 public regional college in the South by U.S. News & World Report’s guide "America’s Best Colleges." The 2018 distinction marks USC Aiken’s 20th consecutive ranking among the top three in this category and its 13th time in first place.