Looking Back with alumnus Allon Schoener
Allon Schoener was born in 1926 and studied for a year at The Courtauld during 1947 before returning to Yale to complete his degree. Having entered his ninetieth year, Allon reflects on his time at The Courtauld and the work he went on to do.
Enrolled in The Courtauld’s Bachelor of Arts program, I arrived in London in September 1947. I had a BA from Yale, Class of 1946. Living in Belsize Park, I rode my bike from there through Camden Town to Central London among reminders of World War II bombings. When I opened the door to the front hall of The Courtauld’s Adam house on Portman Square, I had one of the most memorable aesthetic experiences of my life. Facing me, inches away, was a grand lonely sentinel, Paul Gauguin’s masterpiece, Nevermore. Spaced throughout the building in rooms adapted to educational use, I was exposed to a trove of masterpieces of Impressionist and Post-Impressionist paintings that had been collected by Samuel Courtauld. At dazzling proximity, I could view: Edouard Manet’s A Bar at the Folies-Bergère, Paul Cếzanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire with a Large Pine, and Vincente Van Gogh’s, Man with Bandaged Ear.
Anthony Blunt, then Director of The Courtauld, was my tutor. Johannes Wilde lectured extensively on Michelangelo, and Ernst Gombrich offered his incisive cultural analyses. Beyond The Courtauld’s library resources, we were provided with access to notable research resources within a reasonable distance. It was at The Warburg Library, recently transported from Hamburg, that I had the most profound intellectual experience of my life.
I learned the benefits of extensive research into related and unrelated fields of complementary information. In tutorial, I was given an assignment to prepare a paper on “The function of line in Trecento Florentine art.” I recall scouring the shelves of The Warburg Library, famous for its collections of books on a bewildering number of subjects. Here, I was offered the opportunity to examine my topic from a multiplicity of viewpoints: geography, economic history, cultural history and fashion to mention a few. That experience developed the foundation for what became my original style of creating books and exhibitions as collages of images enhanced by verbal and visual documents.
My 1969 “Harlem On My Mind” exhibition at The Metropolitan Museum of Art was the first major art museum exhibition to incorporate photographic enlargements, slide projections, sound (music and interviews) along with video. Highly innovative in its day, such interpretive methodologies are now conventional.
Of my book “The Italian Americans,” John Gross wrote in The International Herald Tribune: “The pictures inevitably predominate. Indeed it is hard to see how anything short of a literary masterpiece could compare in impact with the succession of images that confront the reader …”
Allon recently attend The Courtauld alumni LA launch event which included a tour of Cave Temples of Dunhuang at The Getty. You can read his review here: http://www.culturalweekly.com/cave-temples-of-dunhuang-getty/