What Happens After Fulbright?
By Matthew Johnson
Following a year of art historical study, research, and secondary school teaching as a Fulbright Austria combined grantee, I was fortunate enough to receive a prestigious internship at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, one of the world’s most unique collections of modern art, located in Venice, Italy. While employed at the museum, I was astonished to find that my time as a Fulbright student had fully prepared me both intellectually and professionally to engage with art historical research and curatorial tasks and to act as a cultural ambassador in an exceptionally diverse setting.
Peggy Guggenheim (1898–1979) was much more than a collector of modern art; rather, she was a major catalyst of artistic development who acted as a nexus for the major artistic personalities of the early and mid-20th century. Today her former Venetian palazzo, Palazzo Venier dei Leoni, contains artwork that flirts with every major movement within the sphere of modern art, including Cubism, Geometric Cubism, Neoplasticism, Dadaism, Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, and the various respective subgenres of each major movement.
While a Fulbright combined grantee, I was affiliated with the Universität für angewandte Kunst Wien (The University of Applied Arts Vienna) and examined the trajectory of previously overlooked Austrian Jewish artists who fled to the United States as a result of being persecuted by National Socialism. I was particularly interested in how exiled artists—specifically Max Oppenheimer, Wolfgang Paalen, and Henry Koerner—responded to their exile and dealt with trauma through their art. Peggy Guggenheim, herself a Jew, fled to the United States as well along with multiple European-born artists, and her New York gallery “Art of This Century” acted as a meeting point between fledgling American artists on the brink of Abstract Expressionism, such as Jackson Pollack, and exiled European artists. The exposure to more cases of American-bound exile for European artists augmented my previous research and caused me to reevaluate research I had already conducted in a new light.
Furthermore, the supplementary seminars I took as a visiting master’s student at the University of Vienna’s Department of Art History focused on crucial figures such as Marcel Duchamp, Max Ernst, Leonor Fini, Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven, and Alexander Caldwell, all artists who directly interacted with Peggy Guggenheim and now have artwork displayed within the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. A substantial portion of research I engaged in at the museum concerned the female artists Guggenheim represented and collected, including the aforementioned Fini and Freytag-Loringhoven, and I assisted in an upcoming exhibition focused solely on these female artists.
Without Fulbright Austria, I do not believe I would have received the internship or could have carried the opportunity out to the fullest. I am eternally grateful for the opportunities that Fulbright Austria gave me, and I am certain that the experience was the first step toward actualizing my career goal of becoming a museum director.
Matthew Johnson was a combined grantee during the 2018–19 program year and is spending a second year in Austria as a US teaching assistant.