Bringing Aspen Idea to Italy |

Bringing Aspen Idea to Italy

Stewart Oksenhorn

Jörg Madlener no longer calls Aspen home. The artist, who came to town in the mid-’90s, left for New York City in 2001.

But Madlener keeps the mountains, and the essence of the Aspen Idea, close to his heart. Three years ago, Madlener founded an arts academy in Toblach-Dobbiaco, a picturesque small town that sits in the shadow of the Dolomite mountains of northern Italy.

The International Academy of Painting and Photography would fit in easily among the Aspen art organizations Madlener was involved with in his time here. There are emphases on the body and the outdoors; students enrolled in the two- and five-week programs spend the weekends in the mountains.

There is also an emphasis on developing a broad vision for the arts. The Grand Hotel, which serves as the center for the Academy, features the Gustav Mahler Concert Hall, and students are encouraged to attend concerts in the evenings. It is a meaningful connection for Madlener: In Aspen, he painted his “Landscape of a Face” series based on the portrait of Mahler. And Mahler himself composed his last three compositions, including the famed unfinished 10th symphony, in Toblach-Dobbiaco.

And in the model of the Anderson Ranch Arts Center and the Aspen Music Festival, the International Academy is guided by a philosophy of fostering dialogue between experts and students.

“The philosophy of our academy is to combine amateurs and professionals,” said Madlener, in Aspen recently for a hut-trip vacation. “Because amateurs are coming from the Latin amara, to love. And the professionals, already in school, are a little cross-eyed – one eye to the work, and the other to the market. It’s good to bring so-called naive people with people who are in a situation of a strategy. Both can learn. It’s a fantastic marriage of two categories of people.”

For the first time, the academy is being subsidized by the Italian government. Madlener has hired four teachers/artists-in-residence, including one American and one Swede. Last year’s class of 30 students is expected to grow to 40 this year. Among the guest lecturers scheduled to appear is Italian writer and scholar Umberto Eco.

This summer’s sessions begin June 19 and run through July 25. For further information, e-mail

Stewart Oksenhorn’s e-mail address is

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