Sunday, 16 October 2011

Venice Biennale 2011 The Arsenale, Part 2

The Clock seems to be located at turning point of the Arsenale, after which the works are primarily installations rather than individual works in a gallery. Several national "pavilions" and artist collaboratives occupied rooms in this later section. I was intrigued by the video elevator, Elevator from the Subcontinent by Gigi Scaria of India. After entering the 'elevator' you ride it from the basement to the roof of an apartment building, scaling the socioeconomic classes that might have occupied the floors before ending with a panoramic view of a city from above. While the content, the idea of rising through the classes in India, was not particularly striking, I just enjoyed the sensation of traveling up and down while standing still. Zarina Hashmi from India made some touching delicate drawings and abstract sculptures with gold and silver foil, not especially innovative, but pleasurable just for their abstraction and beautiful execution.

Two sisters from Saudi Arabia, Raja Alem and Shadia Alem made an installation of a large oval mirror that reflected various video images and patterns on the floor behind it. I liked the shapes and colors, especially when they were not representational.

I was very taken by Ayse Erkman's Plan B, 2009, an installation of colorful pipes and cables that turns out to be a water purification system. In a Sisyphusian endeavor, the Turkish artist was pulling water from the canal next to the Arsenale, purifying it, and running it back to the canal. I loved just thinking of anyone making the effort, and the colorful pipes are cheerful and optimistic.

At an outside corner of the Arsenale, the point where one is exhausted and resents having to go out into the heat  and blazing sun and around a corner on loose gravel to get another huge part of the building, I noticed a fenced off area. Often there is something interesting in this blindingly sunny area, so I dragged myself, and Tom over to take a look. The fence surrounds a huge sculpture of a whale, called The Geppetto Pavilion, by French artist Loris Gréaud. I saw tubes coming out of the whale and a sort of manhole door in it, but continued on my way without figuring it out. Only later, checking on the web, did I find that the sculpture refers to Geppetto in Pinocchio being swallowed by a whale.Gréaud invited individuals to spend 24 hours locked in the belly of the whale, so now I imagine that there was someone locked inside while I was wondering what it was. Images online show the inside facilities and the artist's contract for inhabiting it. I only hope it was air conditioned. It's quite amusing and a mild test of the participants' mettle (the interior appears to be adequately equipped), but I'm not sure what else. (On the website he's saying it's all about semiotics.?)  At the Palazzo Grassi later we saw the installation by Gréaud, a room filled with black trees and a big projected moon. Again later I found that the trees are coated with explosive powder. While I'm interested in the creativity and might become intrigued by the danger projected in these projects, I have not found them emotionally moving of intellectually gripping. But they are memorable.

The Italo-Latin American Institute (IILA) occupies a very large room with an exhibition of its own, Between Forever and Never. At least 24 artists from as many countries displayed works, many with piercing political content. For example, there were two works by Regina Jose Galindo from Guatemala. For one, titled Looting, on view were eight tiny irregularly shaped pieces of gold. The artist had a Guatemalan dentist drill holes in her molars and fill them with pure gold that was later extracted by a German dentist in Berlin. The label explains, "Thus with her own body, Galindo reincarnates the operation of plundering that characterized the EuropeAmerica relation during the period of conquest and colonization, by which the original communities, such as the Maya civilization in Guatemala's case, were pillaged from the 16th century onward." In another exhibit, she shows False Leon. In 2005 she won the Golden Lion at Venice as the best artist under 35. For economic reasons, she sold the lion to another artist, who sold it to a collector. Galindo then had a workshop in Guatemala make her a Golden Lion, a fake one. She refers both to the financial precariousness of being an artist and, perhaps not so clearly, to the exploitation of Guatemalan gold in antiquity.

Martin Sastre's video Tango with Obama, 2009 depicts a Latin American person dancing the tango with an Obama look-alike, interspersed with statements about collaborations with and decisions about Latin America from the point of view of the United States, indicating the delicacy of the relationship between the two continents as well as the hypocrisy that continues in that relationship.

Adan Vallecillo from Honduras displayed La Fisiologia del Gusto (The Physiology of Taste), an elegant stainless steel tray piled up with teeth extracted from poor Hondurans by the volunteer teams of dentists who travel to the country to provide free dental care. There is definitely something chilling about seeing this pile of human teeth, especially in the context of having heard about free dental clinics where there is not time or money to do anything about decayed teeth but pull them and knowing that they proliferate in service to the poor in this country as well as others.

Finally, among all the videos and installations in this powerfully expressive exhibition, there was Humberto Velez's La mas Bella, 2010. Velez, from Panama, went to Ecuador and persuaded two villages not far from Cuenca to participate with the Museo de Arte Moderna in Cuenca in a beauty contest for llamas. The project calls attention to the popular and indigenous practice of decorating llamas; it included a parade, and culminated in the selection of the most beautiful llama.I don't know if competitions of this type have a tradition or not, but certainly in a contemporary art museum a llama beauty contest challenges traditional ideas of beauty and of art. The project is also touted for initiating civic collaboration between the two villages and the museum, as well as a different approach to the idea of contemporary art.

I'm interested that this gallery is identified as the "Latin American Pavilion," because there are several individual pavilions in the Giardini dedicated to Latin American countries - Brazil, Uruguay, and Venezuela, and other Latin American countries have individual locations around Venice, for example Mexico and Costa Rica. But the IILA seems to have provided a venue for many other countries if the artists can collaborate in a group show.

Still to go are two substantial group shows - the Italian and Chinese pavilions. Even more egregiously than two years ago, the Italian Pavilion curator seemed to want to show as many Italian artists as possible. The only difference is that two years ago a few of them were good. This looked like a really badly displayed student exhibition and demonstrated extremely well how mistaken one would be to ask various colleagues to serve as the artist selection committee. There was also a large exhibition that was somehow about the Mafia (not the art mafia, but the real one), but it was too obtuse for me, although a few of the works got my interest.
Also as usual, the Chinese pavilion occupied a fabulously beautiful part of the Arsenale, which I enjoy seeing just because it is still filled with rows of huge vats. But it's sometimes hard to find the art. Two works did attract me. Yang Maoyuan, All Things Are Visible, made hundreds of small and tiny clay vessels and grouped them on the floor among the vats. They looked really good for being light colored and of simple design in the midst of remnants of dirty, heavy industry. Of course, reading about his work, I found that it's more complicated: these are traditional Chinese medicine pot. He carved medical prescriptions on the insides of the pots, invisible to the viewer, saying "according to the theory of traditional Chinese medicine, all things are visible, be it acupuncture points, meridians or collaterals; however they do not exist in modern science."

Pan Gongkai's Withered Lotus Cast by Iron, is an installation I almost skipped. You walk between two large walls depicting traditional ink paintings of lotus. Above the black ink lotus images, white texts in English scroll down, but they deconstruct and the letters fall like snow before you can make sense of them. The artist says in the label, "In a literal sense, Western as the shining English characters illuminates Eastern. However, while the English text continuously entering, and illuminating China, it also continuously deconstruct into flakes, falling down like snow, piling onto lotus leaves, and melting gradually. This particular dynamic process is the projection of the process of Western introduced into Eastern... Western continuously export, Eastern very continuously absorb, digest and melt rather than simply import and accept."  Other Chinese offerings were lost on us because we weren't there at the right time.

At the end of the Arsenale is the garden, with additional spaces for art. Here I was relieved by Piet Oudolf's garden, Il Giardino delle Vergine, planted during the Architecture Biennale but flourishing for this one.

 Also in addition to some vaguely interesting videos I was pleased to see the sculptures by Katharina Fritsch, 6 Stilleben, although they had nothing like the impact of her 1993 Rat King, one of those unforgettable Biennale experiences. She has been chosen to do a sculpture for the notorious Fourth Plinth at Trafalgar Square in 2013 titled Hahn/Cock and identified as a cockerel. I know why they don't just call it a Rooster, but still.....It looks like it will be Yves Klein blue.

Katarina Fritsch, 6 Stilleben
Completely unnoticed on my first walk through the exhibition was Swedish artist Klara Liden's Untitled (Trashcan). It's at one of the entrances of the Arsenale and I think I just thought they were functioning trash cans on my first walk through. On the way back I realized that it was an installation of about 10 trash cans from various cities, most of them damaged or covered with graffiti, not at all expressing the idea of cleanliness for which they are intended.

And it crosses my mind to mention what beautiful weather we had and what a pleasure it is to see the water in between art immersions.

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Venice Biennale 2011: The Arsenale Part I

Doing justice to the Venice Biennale is impossible. This year our general response was in agreement with many critics who found it boring and uninspiring. However, now that I'm getting down to it, I'm finding that many more works engaged me than I remembered. No matter how long we stay in Venice, it seems that we can just touch the surface of the contemporary art off erings there, and we have to pass by the extraordinary Renaissance art to see what we do.

In order to get started, I decided just to mention the works that really excited me and to leave out anything that didn't. I thought there would be about three, but there are many more. First the Arsenale, which is both a curated exhibition and a number of national and other pavilions.

The most engaging work at the Biennale was, of course, Christian Marclay's The Clock. I thought I had a lot to say about it till this week when I finally read Zadie Smith's comprehensive, complimentary, and compelling article about it in the April 28, 2011 New York Review of Books (pp. 14-16). She demonstrates beautifully how the work is technically amazing (everyone seems to wonder how he did it), intellectually provocative, and emotionally fulfilling, not to mention impossible to leave. We encountered it about half way through the Arsenale and watched from just before noon to sometime after 1 p.m. and stopped again at 5 for 15 minutes that stretched to 40. Noon and 5 p.m. seem relatively dramatic times for the movies; I still remember the bits from High Noon and the train leaving Paris in Casablanca, but also Sir Lawrence Olivier remembering poor Yorick in Hamlet for a prolonged segment and bits of people making lunch, leaving work, checking the time. Many popular works of art are strikingly unusual but don't seem to have any other important quality. While watching The Clock, I became intensely aware of the time as well as of the idea of time and found that the work itself inspires ruminating about time, mortality, movies, tension, drama, and thinking I'd like to see Casablanca again. It deserved the Golden Lion at the Biennale.
Shortly after we entered the Arsenale, we found what we thought was the actual capsule that had brought 33 Chilean miners to safety last year. The room was quite dark and the capsule looked worn. We all three looked at how tight the space was and I imagined it sliding through a shaft just large enough for it. We talked about how the miners had needed to be relatively thin to fit into it. The rescue seemed more of a miracle. It was only later that I found the label and learned that it was a replica made by Slovakian artist Roman Ondak.

Farther on we found a gigantic monster creature of mixed media, with a skull head, huge wings, and a long meandering tail. It was by Nicholas Hlobo, a South African artist, and the catalogue said that he was referring to the Tintoretto painting of The Creation of the Animals with his own reference to Xhoza folk songs. A few days later we encountered another Hlobo creature in the Palazzo Grassi. They are fantastic and awe-inspiring, as well as being a little scary.

Various places in the Arsenale and later in the Giardini, I found amusing or intriguing relatively small works of art that all turned out to be by  British artist Ryan Gander. First there was a tiny realistic figure of a man who had fallen out of his wheelchair (turns out to be a self-portrait of the artist as toy action figure); he was in the middle of a larger installation of mirrors and cabinets. Then I wondered about a pile of rectangular panels, each painted a bright color. The label explained that the artist separated out all the colored shapes from Mondrian and other abstract painters and laid them against the wall. I guess that's a version of deconstruction. There was a small pair of copies of Degas dancers sitting facing each other on the floor between some huge paintings, just quietly sitting together. Another day, in the Giardini, we found We never had a lot of € around here,  a 25 Euro coin dated 2035 pasted on the floor, representing how much inflation will affect the Euro in 25 years. All these interventions in various modes gently jolted me out of the gallery and into thinking about the world and sometimes about the place of art in my life.

Another major work that I had anticipated relatively eagerly was Urs Fischer's wax copy of Giambologna's Rape of the Sabine Woman from the Loggia dei Lanzi in Florence, which Fischer had made into a giant candle. It stood next to a portrait of his dealer, also as a candle, and what I think was a desk chair candle. At the opening these were whole figures, but a couple of weeks later they had burned down significantly, another way of referencing time, and I don't imagine there's much left of them by now. This was one of the works that may be more interesting to see in the middle of the Biennale's run, than at the beginning. I suppose the passage of time and the inevitability of mortality, or at least change, are evoked by these works, as well, perhaps as something about copies versus originals. I was most interested in the light effects of the candles in the wax.

Giulia Piscitelli's Spica, 2011, a series of warm colored rectangles of silk with subtle images or patterns on them caught my attention and seemed particularly subtle and delicate in the context of the aggressiveness of so much of the Biennale. Finding that she made the images with bleach and hydrochloric acid gave them an unexpected conceptual grit; I still thought they were lovely.

(to be continued)

Wednesday, 17 August 2011

MACRO Museo d'Arte Contemporaneo Roma

The second contemporary art museum I wanted to see in Rome was MACRO. Like MAXXII, it's pretty easy to get to from the train station. I found the building to be striking, but a bit confusing to negotiate till I understood that it consists of two buildings connected by an atrium. The entrance area is a large dark space with a bright orange structure in the center. On the ground floor, this is a lecture hall; above it holds an exhibition.

MACRO first floor walkway
MACRO with Adrian Tranquilli installtion
MACRO atrium from above

There were at least a dozen small exhibitions or installations in the building, all of them with some interest. On top of the orange structure was an installation by Andrian Tranquilli, a model of St. Peter's made of 50,000 playing cards, all variaties of the Joker. He had juxtaposed this with an image of Batman, apparently intending some dichotomy and discussion of the nature of Good and Evil. I thought the card structure was sort of fun, but wished he had actually balanced the cards.

I was very interested to see the installation by Tomas Saraceno, whos installation had quite fascinated me at the 2009 Venice Biennale . His installation here was titled Cloud City: A Wonderful Example of Alternative Universe and was accompanied by a complex description of the 500 dodecahedron-shaped forms made of electric cables that occupied one of the large galleries in the museum. The description says he was influenced by Buckminster Fuller, "who held that the whole world could be connected by a network of energy that went beyond the confines of geography and culture allowing people to communicate, live and travel freely, and the theories of Nikola Tesla, the first to theorize a tower for wireless telecommunications, the Tesla Tower." Visitors are supposed to be "englobed" in the installation. I tried, both on the ground floor and from above on one of the passageways, but the shapes in this installation continued to be much more mundane than those I had seen in Venice. The installation looks much better in photographs.
Tomas Saraceno, Cloud City
The artist I had not seen before and 'discovered' at MACRO is Bice Lazzari (1900-1981) a woman born in Venice who came to Rome in 1935. The gallery dedicated to her had walls filled with her small watercolors, and cabinets with more works on paper inside. It took me a minute to realize that they span most of the 20th century, incorporate her interests in music and poetry in primarily abstract works that connect with the Italian 'informal' movement, and suggest a delicate minimalism. On the internet, I see that she was exhibited at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum in Venice in 2002, but the MACRO display included probably hundreds of her works from the Lazzari archive.
Bice Lazzari, Self Portrait, 1929 (Sorry about the glass)
Selected works by Bice Lazzari in exhibition cabinet at MACRO

Several images of her work are available on the internet. I don't believe she has been exhibited in the United States recently.

Wednesday, 10 August 2011

Grape harvest

Yesterday we havested the grapes. We only had 340 pounds this year, quite a bit smaller yield than last year. But we had only netted three rows of red grapes and before we could get to them the birds had pretty much done in the white grapes. So no grape jelly this year. With the heat and the cold winter, we haven't had blackberries, cherries, plums, or enough peaches to preserve. Fortunately, there is still some jam left from last year.

We net the grapes against birds, mostly. This year only one got caught in the net and died. It was a female downy woodpecker and I was really sad to discover its body in the net. Yesterday morning, however, Tom saw three raccoons in the nets. Two ran away before I got there, but the third, a small one, couldn't get out of the net. It kept running along the trellis until finally Tom could get the net lifted and it lumbered out. They had eaten quite a few grapes from the bottom of the vines, but we think yesterday was their first day. It's good we harvested yesterday, though, because I knew they had found a good thing and would have been back.

That's only the second raccoon I've seen out here. The first one was at night; years ago I heard something in the garage and opened the door in time to see a huge raccoon running away. It had been eating the dog food, no doubt. Nikki, the husky Tom had at that time, was sitting idly by. Perhaps experience had taught her not to mess with raccoons.

Thunder and Rosie used to make a huge racket when they saw a possum and they killed a couple when they were first here. I assume the possums have learned to steer away from our front yard. We think the dogs should have a similar effect on raccoons, but perhaps with all the heat and lack of rain the animals are getting desperate. We actually left a few grapes for the birds.

Wednesday, 3 August 2011

MAXXI and GNAM - contemporary art in Rome

In June we were in Rome for the first time since 1999, when I had attempted to show Tom as much of Rome as I could in about 24 hours. Using taxis, we were able to visit the Vatican, St. Peter's, the Forum, Coliseum, Piazza Navona, the Spanish Steps, the Pantheon and a few churches. I don't think Tom appreciates what I consider a remarkable feat.

 For this trip I wanted to fill in the Borghese Gallery and the Caravaggios at San Luigi dei Francesi. But I also wanted to see the two contemporary art museums that have opened in Rome in the intervening 12 years. We accomplished those goals, plus a several other sites along the way.

We wandered through the Borghese Gardens and happened upon the Galleria Nazionale d'Arte Moderna, a building with a monumental classicizing facade that I had never seen. Inside I found two surprises. At first the exhibition of works by Giacinto Cerone (1957-2004), an Italian sculptor I had never encountered, seemed like a rather conservative show of clay and ceramic sculpture. But the small and larg bright abstract objects with shiny, extremely tactile surfaces caught my attention and by the time we got to the end of the exhibition several monumental and expressive abstract works had made a strong impact on us. Unfortunately, I have no photographs and can only recommend Googling Cerona images.

In the 19th-century galleries I found hundreds of fine paintings by artists whose names were completely unfamiliar to me, a delightful surprise. The 20th century was much easier, with several familiar names and styles, although Pino Pascale, Arturo Martini and others did not ring a bell. The 20th-century galleries were arranged with a whole gallery for one or two artists in a permanent-collection exhibition called "Great Nuclei of Modern Art II," making it possible to get a real sense of the artists' styles. By far the largest space, virtually an exhibition in itself, was devoted to Giacomo Balla (1871-1958) and Medardo Rosso (1858-1928). I'm familiar with Rosso's soft focus post-impressionist sculptures of heads, often in wax that looks like it has melted or been rubbed away, but I had never seen so many at one time, showing such a range of subject and style. In some cases we found both a wax and a bronze of the same subject.

For Balla the Galleria presented the entire range of his work, drawings and watercolors as well as paintings. I know him as a Futurist, and saw a lot of his Futurist work in 2009 in the Futurism shows in London and at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice. But this retrospective approach included both early and late representational paintings, often with great power and touchingly accurate observation. Early works depict people 'on the margins of society' with sympathy and force. The two artists complemented each other unexpectedly well, especially during the period before 1910.

The Rome Gallery of Modern Art was thus a delightful surprise; after looking at a lot of new work and discovering artists and aspects of artists we hadn't known, we had a nice coffee in the outdoor restaurant of the Galleria.

The next day we tackled MAXXI, the renowned National Museum of the Art of the Twenty-first Century by Zaha Hadid. I had wanted to see the architecture as much as the work, having only previously experienced her somewhat tortured building for the Museum of Contemporary Art in Cincinnati, a place where it seemed that it would always be difficult to find appropriate spaces for the art.
MAXXI made me dizzy with its twisting staircase and see-through ramps. Such a building makes me think about how the computer has changed the possibilities of architecture, because I'm sure such complex shapes couldn't be engineered of even conceived without computer help. From above, a model suggests that the building is a series of wide ribbons.

Tom loved the architecture while I attempted to avoid vertigo, but he thought the spaces not flexible enough to show art. I actually disagreed. The galleries either were very large and open or rather small with high ceilings, and it seemed that they could accommodate a wide range of types of art.

Tom particularly liked a large gallery with a window wall that was cantelevered over the plaza below. In it were displayed projects of the Young Artists Program, YAP, a collaboration with the Museum  of Modern Art in New York, to design something for the plaza of the building. The winner was on view outside, and the museum offered a video of its construction process.

One huge permanent collection gallery displays an array of recent art, while the tiered smaller galleries house a retrospective of Michelangelo Pistoletto, Michelangelo Pistoletto, From One to Many 1956 to 1974 (co-organized with the Philadelphia Museum of Art, where it was shown earlier this year), an artist whose mirror works I've seen for decades while never having heard or read much about him, except some negative comments about his shattered mirrors at the 2009 Venice Biennale, which I had actually liked. The first works we saw in this exhibition were piles of rags, followed by two galleries of abstract sculptures and many references to his participation in the Arte Povera movement. I found these objects unengaging, but now I've read that the rags had been used to polish his mirror paintings, they seem much more appropriate. Also, I understand that they may predate the huge number of rag sculptures that have proliferated during the past few years. I began to take interest in some installation works, including a line of candles that had once been lit, a row of suspended light bulbs, and a strip of metal on the floor that reflected light patterns on the wall above it. There were many references to his conceptual and performance activities and an extensive time line that was detailed enough to mention an old friend and colleague, the late Robert Murdoch, who had been the curator of an early Pistoletto show in the United States.

Finally I came to the large gallery installed with dozens of Pistoletto's mirror paintings.  These are both familiar and a fascinating surprise. They were installed in rows, several in front of each other, so that unlike the Philadelphia installation they often reflected in each other. Seeing many of them together enables one to see other people reflected in other images, to see the figures painted on the mirrors reflected in other mirrors, and to see how Pistoletto repeated figures in different contexts. The conceit of painting, and later stenciling a figure or figures on a mirror so that the viewer becomes part of the conversation, or even becomes the subject of the work, comes through much more clearly in the company of many paintings. And the political content of Pistoletto's work also gains force when it is repeated, expanded, and reinforced in several works of art together.

It seems a bit ironic that a museum of the art of the 21st century celebrated a show of art of the 3rd quarter of the 20th.

Getting this essay together has taken so long that I decided to save MACRO for another time.

Sunday, 24 July 2011

Koen Vanmechelen at Venice - nato a venezia

In the 2009 Venice Biennale, we found a strange exhibition by Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen. What seemed to be the main section held a group of composite large birds made of feathers, metal and glass. I didn't like them, didn't find them interesting.
There was also a case with a gold egg in it, which I didn't understand.

But then I read the long label and became fascinated. I think it was only restrictions of time that kept me from saying anything about it here then. Here's some of the text from that label:
"The Cosmopolitan Chicken Project is a ...cross-breeding project with chickens that connects art and science... For his first cross-breeding Koen Vanmechelen chose the 'Mechelse Koekoek' (cuckoo of Mechelen), the pride of Flemish chicken breeding and a relative in name to the artist. The 'poulet de Bresse' (chicken of Bresse) is a first-rate French chicken. Their cross-breeding is the 'Mechelse de Bresse' that went to London, to the Lisson Gallery, to be cross-bred with the English 'Redcap.' This successful race was almost infertile. By cross-breeding with fresh blood it became fertile again...After many years of isolation you get to deal with phenomena such as the Redcap.
"In the meantime the 'Mechelse Redcap', uniting Belgian, French and English nationalities was crossbred with the American 'Jersey Giant' which is not surprisingly the biggest chicken on earth. Only in case a border is actually being crossed, the artist indeed shows the whole breeding process from the hatching of the eggs until the breaking out of the chicks. More cross breedings were made with the 'Dresdner Huhn,' the Dutch 'Uilebaard' and a Brasilean chicken which is a samba chicken. Vanmechelen: 'I am fascinated by the fact that people have bred such chickens. It says something about the origin and the existence of their national conscience. In those chickens one may find the characteristics of a nation.'
"All current chicken races originate from the first, primitive chicken, the 'Red Jungle Fowl,' that still lives near the Himalayas. In Nepal Koen Vanmechelen was able to film a Red Jungle Fowl family. In contrast with domesticated chickens the Red Jungle Fowl is monogamous. As the fowl still lives in the wild, monogamy may be even a stronger characteristic than the polygamous element. The super bastard of Cosmopolitan Chicken is no return to the primitive fowl, but a new start. 'What she will look like is not important,' says the artist.' She will get another sort of beauty. She will have all genes of all chickens in the world. It is an ideal and like ideals it will be full of deficiencies. This chicken is a living work of art that is ready for someing new. The artist's role is almost gone. Everything is on the move. It is a perpetuum mobile.'
"The project already has ten genrations - the latest being the Cuban Mechelse Cubalaya...."

Cases of glass eggs from Cosmopolitan Chicken Project in 2009
This year we were delighted to find that Koen Vanmechelen had additional work in Venice, this time in conjunction with Glasstress. First, one of his glass eggs with chicken legs is at the Palazzo Franchetti.

A significant part of his exhibition, titled nato a venezia [born in Venice]  is in a nearby palace of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, where the Venetian Pantheon, a display of marble busts representing distinguished men who were born or lived for a long time in Venice, is on display.  Positioned among them is Vanmechelen's portrait of the 'Mechelse Fayoumi,' the 15th generation of his Cosmopolitan Chicken Project, a result of the mating of no. 14, the' Mechelse Silky' and the Egyptian 'Fayoumi.'

In shelves behind the Pantheon are taxidermied representatives of the previous 14 generations of the project.

Upstairs in a 'breeding room' are inclubators with eggs resulting from the 15th breeding waiting to hatch. When we asked, we learned that the chicks were due in a couple of days, would remain in the palace for about a day and then be transferred to the gallery on Murano, since the palace wouldn't permit the keeping of live animals.
Also upstairs were several laptops and a researcher working on Vanmechelen's Open Diversity Project, which involves several areas of research on diversity. One was about symmetry and asked the visitor to be photograped. I tried it, but my head was tilted in the photograph so that it would not produce any sensible results in a symmetry project. I tried answering the questionnaire, but missed some questions and couldn't get back to it to complete participation. My personal experience with that combination of art and science was that neither was working properly in that particular context.
Another part had to do with flatworm populations and I wandered away from it.
But we remained fascinated by the chickens and on Murano we made a point of visiting them. We saw the chicks that had hatched earlier

Generation 15

and visited the parents, one of which kept crowing insistently. I gather he was the Egyptian Fayoumi.

I am charmed by the idea of breeding all the chickens of the world together to make one breed, a 'one world' chicken. I see it as a metaphoric peace initiative, although I can imagine other far more negative interpretations. Other aspects of working with chickens  discussed in Washington Post article about Vanmechelen's exhibition there in November 2009 - for example the idea of breaking out of a shell to find oneself in a cage, in a gallery - also interest me, but it's the cosmopolitan chicken that caught and engages my imagination.

Wednesday, 20 July 2011

Glasstress II Murano

The second part of Glasstress on Murano is in a larger, somewhat more flexible but very rough space, a former glass factory. Javier Perez's Carroña [Carrion], a shattered blood red chandelier on the floor beset by stuffed black crows, conjures various aspects of death. in photographs the shards of glass look like spilled blood. I wonder if the near homophone titles of this and his Corona at the Palazzo Franchetti associate them with their surreal references to mortality and pain. The Fred Wilson on Murano is another of his Iago's Mirror series, a beautifully designed layered black mirror in 18th-century Venetian style. It would have fit seamlessly into the Istituto palace and here stands out high on a rough wall.

Tomas Libertiny The Seed of Narcissus
Thomas Libertiny's The Seed of Narcissus is a glass shape covered with honeycomb; a video in the same space documents the bees at work. I wonder how he got the bees to make this, and why he wanted them to.

Marta Klonowska reproduces in prickly glass the animals in Old Master Paintings. Resting atop one of the kilns is Il Miracolo della reliquia della Santa Croce after Vittore Carpaccio, the dog from the Carpaccio painting of a Miracle of the Holy Cross, This adorable dog seems completely independent of the painting's subject.

Marta Klonowska, Il Miracolo dalla reliquia della Santa Croce after Vittore Carpaccio
Antonio Riello's Ashes to Ashes almost disappeared on the rough wall where it was installed, but like many of the works in this exhibition it caused me to think about death, this time the death of loved or important books, absence, and using one thing to stand for another. He actually burned books to make this installation and I noted a few that meant something to me: Le Petit Prince, Madame Bovary, and The Name of the Rose.

Antonio Riello, Ashes to Ashes

Pharrell Williams's Inside Out consists of two skeletons, one winged, and the other not, floating in a dark space. The rapper has chosen a pretty common subject for his contribution to the show, but skeletons are always interesting and they reinforce the unstated theme of the exhibition.
Ursula von Rydingsvard's work is both a surprise and consistent with her channeled wood sculptures. The 2009 work is titled Glass Corrugated, and is a lovely gold color.
Hidden in an upper room that we almost missed was Hitoshi Kuriyama's Life-Reduction, constructed of broken flourescent bulbs, again suggesting aspects of death. Tom informed me after we left it that broken flourescent bulbs emit mercury, which is dangerous.

Also in an outside area I found No Kick, No Touch, a broken glass full size soccer/football goal net by Mauro Bonaventura, a Murano glass artist who specializes in spidery orbs and other shapes.

Through writing about the works that interested me here, I've discovered that most of them make reference to death, breakage, and absence. No doubt this has more to do with my own choices than with the exhibition's curatorial choices, since the curator's stated theme is "the complex relationship that ties art, design and architecture together, reviving critical issues...[like] what makes...a work of art? To respond to the spirit of the time, must a work refer only to itself? Can we say today that the function of a design object is itself enough to make the work alien to the spirit of the time regardless of its formal qualities?" These questions of course, have almost nothing to do with the objects in the show and frankly, have little interest for me in the context of an exhibition. What the works do demonstrate, as Glasstress has indicated is a mission, is that glass can contribute powerfully to the content of works of art simply by virtue of its qualities as a medium.