illy issimo Perks Up the Arts

10/02/2010 03:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

"Oh, art is too hard," Andy Warhol once sighed, perhaps hinting at the struggle most artists endure to create. After all, one's talents and gifts may be great, but the realities of the world often interfere with the process of creation and self-expression.

Which is why, for centuries, artists have depended on the kindness of patronage to support their endeavors. Now, more than ever, as governments slash arts funding to preserve other, more immediately necessary social services, the importance of forms of patronage to developing artists cannot be underestimated.

European companies and institutions have long offered competitions and prizes which support developing artists and this year at the New York City Wine & Food Festival, the five international finalists in illy issimo's AuthentiCity photography competition, in partnership with the School of Visual Arts, will have the opportunity to present their work in front of an American art-going audience.

"It's always great when educational and corporate entities can come together to build new audiences for art," says Charles Traub, chair of the MFA Photography, Video and Related Media Department at the School of Visual Arts. "[We are] well-known for introducing great talent to the world, and our imaginative partnerships with the likes of illy issimo and other community innovators play a vital role in that process."

The AuthentiCity competition challenges competing artists to explore signs of purity and authenticity in urban life. Its five finalists offer unique and original visions on life in America's most populous and international city, New York, at a time when the effects of globalization and the broader movement of people across borders is redefining the urban landscape. Ethnicity not only travels these days--it also establishes new businesses and forms of expression, and, as the hotly debated Cordoba House demonstrates, creates conflicts that the dialog of artistic expression can help to bridge over time.

It is, then, not surprising that patronage like the AuthentiCity project comes by way of international companies looking to expand their reach and redefine their consumers.

"Illy issimo drinkers are passionate about new cultural and lifestyle experiences," says Illaria Presotto, Marketing Manager at ILKO, illy issimo's parent company. "By supporting these emerging artists with AuthentiCity, we are providing our consumer with the ability to experience new perspectives in art and also working to advance the conversation on urban life through photography."

And just as the benefits of these collaborations allow companies like iily issimo to reach new consumers, they also give artists, like the five featured below, the opportunity to reach new audiences and, hopefully, new patrons who will support the continuing expression of the human experience.

The Five Finalists

Carlos Alvarez Montero, age 36, Mexico City (Mexico)


In his own words:
In SCARS I focus on body marks caused by the city in forms of tattoos, self infringe marks that have been part of human nature for centuries. It's uses and meanings have been countless throughout history, from spiritual to vane and as moral or political statements.
For this project I chose to photograph 20 residents of Mexico city that have decided to engrave ink marks on their neck/face (body parts that cannot be hidden) as a statement of their life experiences "good or bad" in one of the largest cities in the world. At the same time this allows them to step out of the crowd, define themselves as unique, and by no means look back. Just forward. With these portraits I intend to create a projection of the city through human maps composed by scars, facial expressions and life marks of its inhabitants.

Carlos Alvarez Montero (b. 1974) is a native from Mexico city. His work focuses on the relationship between appearance and the creation of identity. After 12 years of working in Mexico City for editorial clients, ad agencies and record labels he decided to take his photography to New York, where he roamed the streets capturing the diversity of its inhabitants.

Igor Aronov, age 38, New York (USA)


In his own words:
The city lives. It breathes. It moves. It reflects.
I walked the streets, searching for the elusive purity and simplicity of everyday life of the city and its inhabitants. I was looking for its soul hiding behind the facade of daily bustle. In reflections, I was trying to catch a glimpse of its real face. The buildings became shapes, and the lights transformed into splashes of color. I tried to get really close, as if taking a photograph of someone I see every day and finding new expressions among the familiar features.
And my city revealed itself to me.

Igor Aronov was born in 1972 in Kharkov, Ukraine and immigrated to USA in 1989. He graduated from SVA in 1997 with a BFA degree in Photography. Since then, Igor has been working as a graphic designer and a photographer. He lives in Brooklyn, NY with his wife and three children.

Picture Windows
Matthew Baum, age 36, New York (USA)


In his own words:
Many a New Yorker spends a lifetime within the confines of an area smaller than a country
village. Let him walk two blocks from his corner and he is in a strange land and will feel
uneasy until he gets back.
-E.B. White from the essay Here is New York

Living in New York City, day in and day out, I have become somewhat blind to what surrounds me. I walk the same pathways, visit the same places and see the same people. This routine has arisen out of work and habit - an ant marching I am - but also from a desire to feel at home, enveloped in the comfort of what is familiar. As a photographer, this numbness presents a bit of a conundrum because I rely on my sensitivity to my surroundings for inspiration. I have often thought, "I need to leave the city to see the city", so I travel whenever possible, not only for the excitement of the new but also for the fresh eyes I will have upon my return. Unfortunately, it isn't always practical to leave, and my eyes, my head and my heart - Cartier-Bresson's requirements for making a good picture - are left dulled by the regularity of what I see.
This ongoing series of photographs, Picture Windows, presents a broad spectrum of panoramas that people see from their New York City homes. Taken from different residential rooftops and terraces throughout the city, the project has provided me with the opportunity to jump off my own beaten path and catch a glimpse of someone else's intimately familiar New York. Making these pictures has shown me that I don't need to leave the city to see the city, after all. I have simply embraced the journey into White's "strange land".

Matthew Baum is a photographer and teacher based in Brooklyn, NY. He earned a BA in history from Brown University in 1995 and an MFA from SVA in 2007. Matthew teaches at NYU, SVA and Hunter College and was a founder of the VisuaLife photo education program, working with underprivileged youth in NY.

Giselle Behrens, age 27, Caracas (Venezuela)


In her own words:
The buildings are to a city as branches are to trees. Throughout time each one evolves into a unique form with its own personality. This project is about NYC's spunky spirit, and the representation of the different personalities she shelters under the city's rich architecture. It tells a story by calling upon the classic B&W photography while contrasting with the essence of NYC: a surrealist twist.

Giselle was born in Caracas, Venezuela (6 September 1983). She started taking photos with a Canon AE-1 in 1999, and was self-taught using Ansel Adam's books. She later on delved into the digital photography world and specializes in digital composites. Has a mayor in Business and Marketing, and recently finished her Masters in Digital Photography at SVA, NY.

Lisa and Tin
Caroline Shepard


In her own words:
Influenced by historical painting and inspired by the possibilities of digital technology, I looked to find a way in which I could re-envision contemporary portraiture. I wanted to speak to an audience through an already established visual language, but do so in a way that brought a contemporary perspective to my subjects who are women mostly in their 30's. In referring to various historical paintings, either directly or inferred, I hope to illustrate that our rituals don't necessarily change. Though the circumstances of our historical moment may differ dramatically, art often depicts that which makes us inherently human. Our emotions, needs, frustrations and desires often remain the same. What changes is how we, a contemporary audience, view and understand what we are looking at.

Caroline Shepard was born and raised in NYC, all the while exploring a visual relationship to the city through her various cameras. Her work has appeared in New York Magazine, "O" the Oprah Magazine, Details, INC, Playboy and others, as well as having been exhibited both nationally and internationally. She lives in Brooklyn with her activist husband and two lovely daughters.

The work of the five finalists in the AuthentiCity photography contest is on display at the illy issimo Authenticity Lounge from Monday, October 4 through Sunday, October 10, 2010, at 632 Hudson Street. The winner of the competition's $10,000 prize will be announced on Sunday, October 10, when the Lounge opens at 1pm.

More images from the competition may also be viewed on Flickr, by clicking here.