The Vilcek Foundation Newsletter
The Vilcek Foundation Newsletter
The Work of Pouran Jinchi
Welcome to the inaugural edition of the Vilcek Foundation newsletter. In the eight years since Jan and Marica Vilcek first envisioned a way to honor the outstanding contributions of foreign-born scientists and artists in this country, we've made steady progress in fulfilling their mission. Through this publication, we'll be keeping you updated on all our news.
At the heart of the Foundation are, of course, the Vilcek Prizes, which have been such a success that we considered cloning them. That not being an option, we did the next best thing: we expanded their scope. Starting next year, we will begin awarding the new Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise, to two recipients aged 38 years and younger in fields that reflect the Foundation's mission. For 2009, the Foundation will honor individual achievements in biomedical discovery and filmmaking.
The Foundation is growing in other directions, too, beyond the prizes. To accommodate that growth, in November 2007 we opened the doors to the new Vilcek Foundation headquarters on East 73rd Street. Beautifully renovated by architect Peter Tow, the building has already received the Restoration Award from the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts "for significant achievement in the preservation of the rich architectural heritage and cultural legacy of New York City's Upper East Side." We plan to host a diverse range of cultural programs free of charge in this new and unique space, and already have a number of exciting events on the calendar, including performances by young members of the Santa Fe Opera, and a film series by immigrant filmmakers, curated by the Hawaii International Film Festival. I look forward to welcoming you all on these and future occasions.
Until then, enjoy this first issue of the Vilcek Foundation newsletter. The lead story is a recap of our 2008 Gala, which, I'm proud to say, was a huge success. You'll also read more about the Prize for Creative Promise, as well as the fascinating history of our new building. And our human-interest feature is a profile of immigrant artist Pouran Jinchi, who uses traditional Persian calligraphy as a starting point for her very modern work.
In closing, I want to encourage you to let us know what you think about our newsletter. All comments and suggestions are welcome.
March 26, 2008 From atop the beautiful Mandarin Oriental Hotel in New York, overlooking Central Park, leaders in both the scientific and artistic communities and guests from many walks of life gathered to attend the Third Annual Vilcek Foundation gala, held each year to honor foreign-born scientists and artists who live in the United States and make outstanding contributions to society. This year's honorees were Dr. Inder Verma and Osvaldo Golijov. Dr. Verma, a professor and researcher at the Salk Institute, was the 2008 recipient of the Vilcek Prize in biomedical research, and classical music composer Osvaldo Golijov was the 2008 recipient of the Vilcek Prize in the arts. Each received a $50,000 cash award and a commemorative trophy, created by designer Stefan Sagmeister.
Following welcoming speeches by Marica and Jan Vilcek, cofounders of the Foundation, and Rick Kinsel, Executive Director, Ellis Rubinstein, President and CEO of the New York Academy of Sciences, took the podium to introduce Dr. Inder Verma. He paid tribute, first, to the Vilcek Foundation's work, not just in recognizing the important contributions of immigrants to the United States, but also in serving as an important link between the arts and sciences, the only organization to do so. "In a world riven for centuries by political and religious conflict, the arts and sciences have been forever without borders," he reminded guests. "This is what the Vilcek Foundation recognized when it created these prizes. And both of tonight's prize recipients are magnificent exemplars of the millions of immigrants who have come to our shores to pursue lives of inquiry, who have succeeded here and who—to their great credit—have not forgotten their homelands," Mr. Rubinstein said.
Dr. Inder Verma, one of the world's leading authorities on the development and use of engineered viruses for gene therapy, certainly is an exceptional example of an immigrant whose work here has been of incalculable value to his adoptive homeland. At the same time, Dr. Verma maintains powerful ties to his country of birth, India, where he has been traveling for the past 37 years to give lectures, visit institutions, and advise colleagues, young scientists, and students.
Dr. Verma's primary focus of research is the study of certain cellular genes implicated in breast cancer, with the purpose of developing new techniques for gene therapy. For most of his career, he has carried out his work at the renowned Salk Institute in La Jolla, California, while he remains actively involved in developing the field of bioscience in India.
In accepting the 2008 Vilcek Foundation Prize in biomedicine, Dr. Verma expressed his appreciation for the award by saying, simply, "Thousands of immigrants have made great contributions to our society, so it is great honor to be recognized for my work."
Like Dr. Verma, the recipient of the 2008 Vilcek Prize in the arts, Grammy-award winning composer Osvaldo Golijov, is another cross-cultural success story. Longtime friend and supporter Ara Guzelimian, Provost and Dean of the Juilliard School, told of Golijov's background in an Eastern European Jewish household in La Plata, Argentina, where he was surrounded by classical chamber music, Jewish liturgical and klezmer music, and the new tango of Astor Piazzolla. After studying piano at the local conservatory, Golijov moved to Israel to study at the Jerusalem Rubin Academy, where he immersed himself in the mixed musical traditions of that city. "[Osvaldo's] work grows naturally out of his multicultural experiences," Mr. Guzelimian said.
And what tremendous growth it has been, and continues to be. Golijov counts among his collaborators such talented performers as Dawn Upshaw and Yo-Yo Ma. And his versatility is demonstrated in his recently completed projects, which include the soundtrack for Francis Ford Coppola's film Youth Without Youth and the song Kuai Le (Joy), premiered by Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at the opening of the 2007 Special Olympics in Shanghai. His future holds the promise of still greater diversity, including a new opera commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera.
In addition to recognition by the Vilcek Foundation, Mr. Golijov is also the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship. He served as composer-in-residence for the 2007 Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center, and for the next two seasons will act as co-composer-in-residence, with Marc-Anthony Turnage, at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra.
"I am grateful to this country for allowing us to pursue our dreams and create dreams for the next generation," Mr. Golijov said in accepting the Vilcek Prize in the arts. He also drew attention to the countless immigrants to this country whose contributions are more behind the scenes, but no less important or valuable—the hard-working men and women who labor daily for the sole purpose of serving as the foundation for the accomplishments of future generations.
An individual in the field of filmmaking will be selected as the recipient of the 2009 Vilcek Prize in the arts. The 2009 prize dinner and ceremony will be held in New York City in the spring.
To learn more about the 2008 Vilcek Prize recipients, please visit www.vilcek.org.
Photos © Patrick McMullan Photography
With the success of the Vilcek Prize firmly established, the Vilcek Foundation is expanding the scope of its support of foreign-born scientists and artists to the United States. The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise will recognize the contributions of a younger generation of immigrants working in the arts and sciences. The purpose of the award is to honor and give exposure to the emerging talent of foreign-born individuals who, although still in the early stages of their careers, have already achieved notable measures of success.
“Our artistic and academic institutions are replete with the work of immigrants both renowned and yet to be discovered,” said Dr. Jan Vilcek, President and Cofounder of the Vilcek Foundation. “The Vilcek Foundation is founded on the belief that immigrants have always contributed to, and continue to advance, the fields of the arts and sciences in the United States, through groundbreaking research and artistic excellence. We wish to celebrate and recognize their achievements through the Foundation’s awards and programs.”
Like the original Vilcek Prize, the Creative Promise award will recognize the talent and potential of foreign-born individuals in the fields of biomedical science and the arts, but is restricted to those who are 38 years old or younger as of January 1, 2009. And to address the wide range and diversity of disciplines within the arts and humanities, each year the Foundation will select a different discipline to honor. For 2009, its inaugural year, the Foundation has chosen filmmaking as the Creative Promise arts category.
The Vilcek Prize for Creative Promise includes a $25,000 cash award and a certificate of recognition, designed by Stefan Sagmeister.
Turning onto East 73rd Street between Lexington and Third Avenues is like stepping back in time. On both sides of this landmark block stand carriage houses whose fronts remain virtually unchanged since they were built at the turn of the twentieth century. Designed by some of the most renowned architects of the day, originally they were considered as secondary structures, to function both as stables and as homes to the caretakers employed by the wealthy, who lived in nearby mansions. Today, however, with most of the mansions long gone, these buildings are prized as graceful reminders of another era.
The Vilcek Foundation recently completed the restoration of one of these historic houses, No. 167, to serve as the organization's headquarters, as well as a new multipurpose space where the Foundation will host various public, cultural programs. There was never any doubt the Vilceks would choose Manhattan as the site for the Foundation's new home. "Since our immigration to the United States in 1965," said Marica Vilcek, Vice-President and Cofounder, "we have always lived and worked on this mythical island, and we have developed a strong attachment to and love for it. Most important for our Foundation is that New York City is the heart and soul of this immigrant nation." That No. 167 was once home to a number of foreign-born workers just adds a special poignancy to the move. Previous residents included a Swedish coachman and his wife, Herbert and Emma Foxen; a French chauffeur, George Roux; and a waiter from Switzerland, Goot Huckinger.
Built between 1903 and 1904, No. 167, and its twin at 165, were designed by architect George L. Amoroux, for Henry Harper Benedict, president of the Remington Typewriter Company and patron of the arts. Since then, it has changed hands many times. In 1923, its status as stable was updated to garage by Emily Thorn Vanderbilt Sloane White, to reflect the fact that automobiles were replacing the horse-and-carriage on the streets of the city. In the early 1950s, it held the offices of the National City Bank of New York; and in the late 1970s, it became the studio of Austrian-born photographer and designer Henry Wolf.
The newly-restored façade of No. 167, renovated by award-winning, Manhattan-based architect Peter Tow, has retained its original Beaux Arts style of the early twentieth century, while its interior has been given an extensive, yet complementary, renovation. The motivation behind his design, Tow explains, was twofold: "Our first goal was to be a good neighbor, by providing a historically sensitive restoration; our second goal was to meet the Foundation's programmatic needs." To facilitate the Foundation's wide range of upcoming events and performances, Tow and his team envisioned a "white box" palette, capable of being adapted easily for movie screenings, small exhibitions, poetry readings, and the "other new projects on the horizon" anticipated by Mrs. Vilcek.
The success of the project has already been recognized in the community. In March 2008, the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts presented the Foundation with an award for its distinguished and thoughtful renovation and restoration of No. 167. "The Friends of the Upper East Side applaud the sensitive restoration and adaptive re-use of this lovely Beaux Arts style carriage house located in one of our city's most historic neighborhoods," said Hermes Mallea, architect and Board Member of the Friends of the Upper East Side Historic Districts. "We recognize the excellence of the craftsmen and designers, and we honor the commitment of the building owners whose efforts result in a powerful effect on the fabric of our city."
Before Photos © Eduard Urcia
After Photos © Bjorg Magnea
Peter Tow Photo © Jürgen Frank
Born in Mashad, Iran, Pouran Jinchi's work is deeply rooted in the language of immigration and the experience of integration, of one culture with another. An early interest in traditional Persian calligraphy is today reflected in Jinchi's use of the tools and strokes of Persian calligraphy. "Calligraphy," she explains, "was a totally natural attraction. It was really nostalgia; it went back to my heritage, and it is my reference." In her work, she abstracts the formal characters of the Persian alphabet by deconstructing, layering, and repeating them to create dynamic pieces that are definitively contemporary. In the Derakht ("tree" in Farsi) series, for example, Jinchi repeats and layers that word to render branches, leaves, and trunks to create representations of trees.
Jinchi describes her creative philosophy as a meeting point for the East and West. By converging Eastern and Western culture in her compositions, she hopes to open an honest dialogue to help ease the tension between the cultures and increase understanding of the complex relationship between the East and the West. "It is only through mutual understanding of our differences that we will get closer to peace," she says. At the same time, she remains cognizant of the limitations of this endeavor. "Like any subject," she cautions, "if you overuse it, it becomes cheesy."
Jinchi's path has not always been that of an artist. She came to the United States to study civil engineering, and went so far as to receive her BS from George Washington University. But then her artistic nature emerged, and she went on to study sculpture and painting at the University of California, Los Angeles, and the Art Students League of New York.
Her early work focused on Persian poetry, which she transformed into calligraphic imagery, with the letters covering the canvas in even and controlled strokes, recalling traditional Islamic texts. As her work progressed, Jinchi's compositions and characters became freer and more abstract, which she attributes to her deepening experience of living in this country. "After being here a number of years, I realized there really is no limit. Being exposed to western art, a western way of living—there are no limitations to what I can do."
Jinchi views the creative process as significant as the finished product. "The subject always comes first," she says. "Then you ask, "How am I going to get there?" The process can be agonizing, but once you get to that point, it is very exciting." And the result has been rewarding—her body of work has been well received in the United States, no matter where it is shown. One day, she hopes to be able to show her work in her homeland. But she has not returned to Iran since the 1978 revolution, and her thoughts about making the trip are mixed, for she has bittersweet memories and an acute sense of the difficulties doing so would entail, explaining metaphorically, "I came here with a miniskirt, and it would be difficult to go back." But still, she emphasizes the importance of connecting East and West: "This is what our tie is. If we want to look back, we would see West meeting East, East meeting West. It is a very important element of our time."
An exhibit of Pouran Jinchi's work will be featured in the Foundation's gallery space from June 2 - July 31, 2008.
Viewing by appointment 212.472.2500.
Photos © Courtesy of Art Projects International (API), New York
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