The Art School Director With A Soft Spot For Italian Pharmacies


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“Ciao! I’m Genevieve Martin (@ohbabelah). I live in Park Slope, Brooklyn, and I’m the Director of External Affairs at The Art Students League of New York. In the scope of my job, I work to advance our mission of providing art education to anyone who wishes to pursue it. We offer affordable classes and free programs, and we also put up exhibitions. Our fall show will hopefully open in November, featuring a never before exhibited artist collective called Cinque Gallery. The League seeks to use this exhibition to create public recognition of these overlooked contributors of American art, while investing in the next generation of artists and cultural producers through our affordable classes and free programs. It’s important to me to create a space that encourages challenging conversations, particularly around social justice issues and intersectional approaches to art.

Any seasoned figurative artist in our studios will tell you there’s nothing more mundane than a perfect body. Another fact: a well prepared canvas is the foundation of a good painting. So borrowing from our art studios, my approach to beauty is less about concealing and more building a naturally healthy base. While I believe in the playful and transformative power of makeup, I’m concerned if you’re doing trompe l’oeil on your face daily. There’s a wonderful Italian word sprezzatura, which means studied carelessness. How exhausting effortlessness can be!

Aside from it being in my blood (I'm Sicilian), I've always held an affinity for Italian culture—maybe it's the blend of old and new, the tradition of handmade, or that Italians always seem to find something extraordinary in the everyday. When I was a teenager, I won a travel grant to study fine art in Italy and actually lived and worked in a convent. I made a spontaneous trip to Florence one weekend and encountered l'Officina Profumo Farmaceutica di Santa Maria Novella. It’s often credited as being the oldest pharmacy in the world: Domenican monks began experimenting with botanical treatments made with herbs from their gardens in the 13th century. That tradition of naturally distilling medical balms, perfumes, and toiletries continues today. Instead of washing my face in the morning, I just use Santa Maria Novella’s Acqua di Maggio, a crisp, refreshing, floral tonic. Acqua di maggio means "May water," and is made from the flowers that bloom in May. It has a very relaxing effect, restoring the skin's pH balance while reducing any redness—in the summer I’ll use Acqua Soave instead, which has peppermint oil for the ultimate cool down. Next up is a Moka pot Americano—my boyfriend is German and he’s educated me on the art of breakfast. We take our time with this step. Then the beauty regimen continues with Armani Prima Nourishing Glow Enhancer Oil-in-Gel which gives my skin super intense nourishment and a natural glow. At night, I use Acqua di Maggio again to remove my makeup, and then massage a few drops of Aesop's Fabulous Face Oil on my face and neck.

I’ve been wearing cat eyes since I was a tween. I looked to Sophia Loren, Claudia Cardinale and Isabelle Adjani for beauty secrets—this image of Sophia set a new standard of intentionality and femininity for me as a young woman. I still hold a deep admiration for ‘60s Euro style, and now create my signature cat eye with Glossier Pro Tip liquid liner in Black. I’ll use a brush to apply Kevyn Aucoin’s Sensual Skin Enhancer in shade SX04 all over, followed by a few loving dabs of Beam Cloud Paint on my cheeks. Boy Brow in Brown finishes my daily look.

Once a week I slather my homemade sugar polish all over my body. I swear by it, and it’s just granulated sugar, good olive oil, and a splash of Dr. Bronner’s for lather. I prefer to use the Peppermint or Almond scent. I have several heads of hair and tend to shed, so next up is feeding my locks with Aveda Daily Moisturizing Oil. I dab any extra left on my hands over my lips. Then I blow dry my hair with a round brush and roll it up in a tight bun. If I sleep on it like that, I have big, smooth waves in the morning. No look is complete without a hit of Frédéric Malle’s Musc Ravageur and nails varnished in Essie Russian Roulette. Most people ask me about how I keep my nails so long. My advice is: eat organic seaweed! Nori, Wakame, Hijki… it’s all great for cell growth.

It’s important to take this pause for cultural recovery and renewal. Whatever the field, we’re all asking ourselves the same question: How do we go on from here? For those in the art world, that means really thinking about how we want to operate as both an artistic and civic space. I can already see galleries and museums using this pandemic as an opportunity to reimagine and reformat what wasn’t working before. If you're a regular person spending more time at home, maybe it's made you want to bring art in, even from unknown artists. If you have a little extra cash right now, you can support emerging artists through Art Students League's virtual concours. Or try Artists for Humans, an activist project where artists donate work, and the proceeds go to COVID-related charities. It's OK to mix fine art with craft and stop stratifying—just buy from someone you admire.

While I’ve been fortunate to handle some extraordinary artworks in my career, I’ve never been the type of curator who was particularly interested in just acquiring the most valuable or famous pieces for a show. I think it’s the responsibility of a curator, just as it is the artist, to create combinations that communicate or transport the viewer to the sublime. And I’m a compulsive curator! It’s not just art on our walls—it’s my vanity and even in the kitchen. I mean, can you seriously tell me that this almond-scented Italian glue is not an object worthy of adoration!? I’ll mix grocery herbs with flowers and create little floral arrangements on the floor and atop bookcases. I’m an avid cook and I’ve cooked every meal during COVID (as Sophia Loren said, “Everything you see I owe to spaghetti”), but there’s always got to be a really hardcore mise en place in the kitchen. Everything deserves a place—this inclusive belief system extends to everything I do.”

—as told to ITG

Photos via the author