Art on Two Continents

Students drink in Venice through the eyes of curator/educator Eric Denker ’75 (back row, third from right). The group was joined by Bologna Program alumnus Tony Bonanno ’68 (far right).

Students drink in Venice through the eyes of curator/educator Eric Denker ’75 (back row, third from right). The group was joined by Bologna Program alumnus Tony Bonanno ’68 (far right).

Alumnus gives students behind-the-scenes tours in U.S. and Italy

By MaryAlice Bitts-Jackson

Eric Denker ’75 was a political-science major when he boarded the ocean liner SS Raffaello to Bologna, Italy, for his junior year abroad. He returned with a new passion—art history—and has since launched a career as a print curator (Corcoran Gallery of Art), senior lecturer/head of adult tours (National Gallery of Art) and adjunct professor (Cornell, Georgetown and Stanford universities) who regularly leads tours in Italy for the Smithsonian Institution and for the Scuola Internazionale di Grafica Venezia.

Over the years, Denker has given back in many ways, as a volunteer, as Board of Trustees member, as president of the Friends of The Trout Gallery and as art lecturer during a celebration for study-abroad alumni. This fall, he also brought his expertise and passion to Dickinson students on two continents, offering them insiders’ views of art beyond the museum’s velvet ropes.

Galleries, gondolas and gelato

On Nov. 11, Denker delivered a lecture to 20 students studying in Bologna on the art and architecture of Venice; the next day, he and Bologna Center staff traveled with them by train to Venice and led a customized guided tour.

After a stop in the Piazza San Marco, where Denker gave students an overview of the city’s political, religious and social history, the group took in celebrated landmarks and major artworks, including the Basilica of San Marco, the Church of the Frari, and Renaissance sculpture and architecture at the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Denker, the founder and president of the Friends of the Scuola, explained his organization’s current cleaning and conservation efforts, shining light on an often overlooked branch of the art world. He also treated the group to a gondola ride across the canal, a pizza lunch and a gelato treat.

“The breadth and depth of his knowledge of the city and its rich history is incredible, and I was truly able to appreciate the artwork we saw because of the context that Mr. Denker provided,” said English major Olivia Poulin ’17.

“If I had gone to Venice on my own, I would have seen and learned about a fraction of what I actually saw and learned on this wonderful trip,” added Kellen Edmondson ’17 (political science, American studies), who returned to Venice soon after, so he could share those sights and insights with a friend.

Curators and collectors

Back in the U.S., Denker led a personal tour of the National Gallery of Art for 22 art & art-history majors, corralled by Associate Professor of Art Todd Arsenault ’99.

Denker highlighted his favorite works and some of the museum’s most popular draws, like the Leonardo da Vinci Ginevra de' Benci. Denker also explained the ways that exhibitions are designed to guide visitors and to contextualize the art—a valuable lesson for senior art & art history majors, as they prepare to curate and present their end-of-year show.

A careerinformation session followed, led by Denker and Jen Rokoski ’12, who majored in art & art history and is working as an administrative assistant in the Center of Advanced Studies in the Visual Arts at the National Gallery. Denker then invited the group to his home to view his personal art collection. He described his experiences with contemporary artists and the process of acquiring works and donating work to the college, giving students a new angle from which to view the current art world.

“It’s nice knowing that Dickinson alumni are willing to help you if you reach out to them and stay in contact with them,” said Rebecca Race ’16 (international business & management, art & art history).

Art & art history major Sara Pattiz ’16 relished the chance to speak with Denker about a recent Castiglione exhibition, which relates to research she’s conducting for the catalog for her joint senior show She was delighted by his useful advice. “As an alum, he wants to offer whatever he can to help, because he is able to relate to our experiences as students, and wants to help us thrive, as he has,” she said.

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Published December 10, 2015