On the night of September 21, the lobby of 66 W. 12th St. was partially roped off as eight men from Crozier Fine Arts unrolled, stretched and mounted a 17x8 foot canvas onto the brick wall opposite the elevators. The canvas is “Ecuadorian Festival,” painted by Camilo Egas, a Latino artist and the first Fine Arts department chair of The New School for Social Research.
Eric Stark and Silvia Rocciolo, curators for The New School’s art collection, knew of the painting’s existence, as it was listed in the art collection’s archives, and in 2005 they discovered it hidden behind a wall in the basement of 66 W. 12th St.
An oil on canvas painting, “Ecuadorian Festival” celebrates an indigenous cultural moment. Egas is considered one of the forerunners of the Ecuadorian modernist art movement that is linked to social realism in the late 1920s. According to Stark, the painting is one of the earliest examples of Latino artwork in the United States, making it a huge cultural asset.
In 1932, Alvin Johnson, the first president of The New School for Social Research, commissioned Egas to create a work of art for the International Style building, which is now known as 66 W. 12th St. The architect Joseph Urban had designed every space in the building with a specific purpose and Ecuadorian Festival, a painting that is full of movement, was meant to play off the Martha Graham Studio in the basement of 66 W. 12th St.
“It was in rough condition [when we found it], covered by a layer of institutional dirt and smoke,” said Rocciolo. The painting was taken down, rolled up and shipped to Peter Tobey, a professional art restorer in Manhattan.
“We used a lot of Q-tips and cotton swabs,” said Tobey in a phone interview. With soapy chemicals and water, he dabbed the painting to remove the dirt. According to Tobey, cleaning the surface was the biggest part of the three-month restoration process. He then patched holes, retouched the color with paint, and lastly added a protective varnish.
Having recently been featured in the (re)collection exhibit at 66 Fifth Ave., “Ecuadorian Festival” now hangs noticeably in the lobby of 66 W. 12th St.
“To put it back across from the Martha Graham Studio would do disservice to the mural and the legacy of Egas,” said Stark, “because the spaces in the building are utilized differently now than in the 1930s.” Rocciolo added that another reason for the change in location is that a plexiglass barricade would have to be erected over the painting if it were to be displayed in its original location, which detract from the viewing of the work.
Daniela Merino, a New School alumna, was especially moved by the installation. Merino had been documenting the restoration process for “Ecuadorian Festival.” Originally from Ecuador, she studied art history in college in Ecuador before getting her masters in media studies from The New School in 2010. Having been apart of the whole restoration process, Merino watched the painting that had been hidden for many years gradually come to life. “I sense a certain South American atmosphere when I look at it,” she said, “I can feel Egas’ passion and nostalgia for this land [the Andes].” Merino feels that with the lobby’s lighting, Ecuadorian Festival will really shine at its new location.
Two days after the installation, some students have noticed that Ecuadorian Festival replaced the multi-colored “sticky note” art piece that originally hung in the lobby. “It’s monocromatic, but coming out of the elevators, you can’t miss it,” said Shannon Swimm, a freshman at Lang. According to Jen Kaplan, a Lang sophomore, the painting gives you something to think about as opposed to the “sticky note” piece was originally there. “[The painting] fits in historically with the political values of The New School,” said Marvin Jordan, a senior at Lang.