Tuesday, 19 July 2011

Glasstress II in Venice, Palazzo Franchetti

(If the spacing in this entry is frustrating and irrational, please forgive me. Blogspot is totally frustrating with images and the ugliness does not show in draft mode.)

While the Venice Biennale seems to have been unusually boring this year, it was still possible to find many engaging contemporary displays and exhibitions in the city. One of them is Glasstress. For a city that is known for its glass industry, I've been surprised that so little focus is put on glass as art in the city. Glass is everywhere, but very little of it can be called art. Two years ago this gap was filled by two exhibitions - one a show of 6 contemporary glass artists in the Venice Pavilion at the Biennale (which subsequently circulated for a long time in the United States) and the first edition of Glasstress. This time we saw Glasstress in two venues, the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti near the Accademia Bridge, and the Berengo Studios on Murano. For Glasstress contemporary artists who are not always known for their work in glass make objects incorporating glass. This is a bit like the residency programs at Pilchuck, where non-glass artists sometimes develop their glass skills.

Chandelier, Palazzo Franchetti

View from Palazzo Franchetti
I love two things about this exhibition. First, many of the objects are intriguing, well-made, and meaningful; second, both the exhibition locations are quirky and encourage looking at the art. The Istituto is a Venetian palace and some of the objects are shown in rooms with huge elaborate chandeliers and views of the Grand Canal. The Berengo Studio is a former glass factory and has the roughness of the Arsenale plus the fascination of empty glass furnaces. You wander into various spaces and discover objects, sometimes prominent and sometimes almost hidden.

At the Instituto the first objects I liked were two heads by Thomas Schutte, distorted cast glass portraits in the stairway of the palace, one green, one red (titled Berengo Head, 2011). Most glass figures have caricatured features or are idealized to the point of caricature, but these had the quality of their clay models, representational in detail, but distorted beyond reality, both mocking and touching.

Zhang  Huan, Ten Thousand Years Old Turtle and Kiki Smith, Milky Way, both 2011
In the first gallery the enormous work by Zhang Huan - Ten Thousand Years Old Turtle, consists of a carapace of glass segments over a large pile of sand.

Jaume Plensa, Glassman II 

Nearby a segmented Jaume Plensa's Glassman II, a deconstructed supine figure with a pool of blood in each body part. Behind the turtle a sparkling wall hanging with a snake slithering up it surprised me as a Kiki Smith.I love the sparkles.

Near the Smith the Javier Perez Corona, a glass crown of thorns on a red and gold pillow, suggests a relic as it calls to mind the Passion of Christ, paintings of the Passion of Christ, and the real pain such a crown would inflict.
Javier Perez, Corona
I neglected to get the title of the Fred Wilson in this part of the exhibition and can't find it anywhere. A white wilted chandelier on a black background, flanked by several framed black glass rectangles with various groupings of holes in them. I didn't understand what they stood for, and in the video Glasstress made of Wilson, he says "no one will know it has anything to do with Wall B, but I will know." I don't know what Wall B is, but the photograph of Wall B appears to have portrait paintings on it. He describes the white chandelier as a figure, with face, arms, and hands.


Michael Joo, Expanded Access, 2011

I enjoyed Korean/American Michael Joo's, Expanded Access, a group of stanchions made of silvered glass. One wanted to move them to a more useful configuration, but of course they would have broken.

South African artist Kendell Geers Cardiac Arrest VIII, glass police batons arranged in a heart shape and his A Rose by Any Other Name VII of paired gold glass police batons in the shape of a cross also made glass objects that are normally not glass, this time with more chilling effect.

Vik Muniz, Hourglass
 The work by Vik Muniz, Hourglass, 2010 is simply a large hourglass with a brick instead of sand. A few brick flakes have fallen to the lower part of the hourglass, indicating that it measures a very long time.It made me think both of stopping time and of the way even a brick disintegrates over time.

Finally, I found the work by Russian artist Oleg Kulik politically charged and amusing.

Oleg Kulik, Deep into Russia

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