Saturday, June 25, 2022

American Students Clean Carlo Scarpa Facade in Venice

Carlo Scarpa Entrance to Faculty of Literature & Philosophy of IUAV Venice (before)
Photo: Masegni & Nizioleti Associazione ONLUS

(Venice, Italy) One of the masterpieces designed by the renowned 20th century Venetian architect, Carlo Scarpa (1906-1978), can be found in Campo San Sebastiano. Next door to the 15th century church decorated with treasures by Renaissance artist Paolo Veronese, Scarpa transformed the former convent of San Sebastiano into the contemporary home of the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy of Ca' Foscari University.

The distinct Istrian stone entrance portal reflects Scarpa's genius, connecting the university to the adjacent Church of San Sebastiano. Scarpa unites the architecture of different centuries, and inserts the Renaissance statue of Saint Sebastian inside his trademark 20th century circle. The entrance was completed by Guido Pietropoli after Scarpa's untimely death in 1978 when he fell down a flight of concrete stairs in Sendai, Japan. 
Zachary Scalzo, Italian language instructor at FAU,
sprays water on the offending posters as students scrub
The Masterpiece as a Billboard
Ironically, different "progressive" organizations in Venice think the Istrian stone facade of Scarpa's work of art makes a good billboard and plastered posters advertising various meet-ups across the facade, defacing the masterpiece.

Alberto Alberti - Photo: Cat Bauer

Alberto Alberti, head of Masegni & Nizioleti Associazione ONLUS, a local group of volunteers who keep an eye on Venice's distinct street signs and stones -- and have been cleaning up graffiti since 2012 -- notified me that some American students from Florida Atlantic University would be helping the Venetians tackle the facade clean-up this past Friday. The students had been out to Brion Cemetery near Treviso, another Carlo Scarpa masterpiece, and where he is buried, and wanted to give back to the city that had hosted them for six weeks.

I was curious. How did these American students get here? And how did they hook up with our local Venetian group? 
Dr. Ilaria Serra, Professor of Italian and Comparative Studies &
coordinator of the FAU Italian Program
Study abroad in Venice with genuine Venetian professors D.O.C.
Enter Dr. Ilaria Serra, Professor of Italian and Comparative Studies, and the vibrant coordinator of the FAU Italian Program, which includes the opportunity to study abroad in Venice for six weeks. Ilaria and her husband, Emanuele Pettener, are both Venetians who got married in Venice and moved to the United States 20 years ago. They both teach at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton, while staying closely connected to Venice and their Venetian families and friends.

I love that real Venetians are actually over in the States teaching Americans about the culture and language of Venice and Italy with an innate wisdom that no foreigner can replicate. Check out the FAU Italian Program:
Ilaria is also a friend of Alberto Alberti, so together they organized the Friday Cleaning Day. And that was how the FAU students spent their last morning in Venice -- giving back to the city. Bravi! 

The crew from FAU - Photo: Cat Bauer

And here is the Carlo Scarpa entrance to the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy of the Ca' Foscari University of Venice in Campo San Sebastiano adjacent to the Church of San Sebastiano, after being freshly cleaned:

Entrance to the Faculty of Literature and Philosophy of Ca' Foscari University of Venice
Entrance to the Church of San Sebastiano
Photo: Masegni & Nizioleti Associazione ONLUS

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Wednesday, June 1, 2022

A Deluge of Artists and Artisans in the Venice Lagoon & Lori Weitzner's "Ode to Color" at Palazzo Mora

Alchemy by Lori Weitzner - Photo: Cat Bauer
"So pervasive is the association of gold with beauty, warmth, worth and nobility
that it has become both a substance and a symbol in our everyday lives.
Radiant and rare, gold is a coveted object,
but also a signifier of power, achievement, divinity, adoration.
...These touches do more than beautify; they elevate and inspire,
motivating us to move beyond the mundane, and toward our loftiest goals"

(Venice, Italy) I had been invited to the inauguration of American textile designer Lori Weitzner's "Ode to Color" installation inside the European Cultural Center's Palazzo Mora back on April 21, during the preview week of Biennale Art, but I could not wade through all the openings to get there. That turned out to be a good thing because when I finally did visit the palace, I had the chance to explore Lori's whimsical room for as long as I wanted without the crush of a crowd.

The Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition normally runs during odd years, while the Architecture Exhibition runs during even years. But in 2020, because of the pandemic, nobody was traveling anywhere, so there was no International Architecture Exhibition. Instead, the Biennale artistic directors of all the different departments -- Art, Architecture, Cinema, Music, Dance and Theater -- dug into Biennale's Historical Archives for Contemporary Arts (ASAC) and curated The Disquieted Muses - When La Biennale di Venezia Meets History, a riveting retrospective that marked Biennale's 125th anniversary, opening with a clip from June 14, 1934 -- a pivotal moment in history when Adolf Hitler met Benito Mussolini for the first time at the airport on the Lido in Venice. 

As the Covid pandemic ebbed and surged, and the world argued about vaccinations and whether to wear a mask, it appeared that the Muses had grown even more Disquieted. But those inside Venice lived a different history in the making -- an empty, peaceful city void of tourists with clear water and fish in the canals. 

The International Architecture Exhibition was bumped to an odd year, 2021, which bumped the International Art Exhibition into the even year of April 2022. Everything seemed topsy-turvy. Fittingly, Biennale Arte 2022, curated by Cecilia Alemani, was entitled "The Milk of Dreams," inspired by the 1950s children's book by Surrealist artist Leonora Carrington, about "a magical world where life is constantly re-envisioned through the prism of the imagination."

Not only had Biennale been delayed due to the pandemic -- the massive Homo Faber contemporary craftsmanship event had also been postponed from 2020 to April 2022 and set to run at the same time, overlapping the opening of Biennale Arte 2022. The Homo Faber Event mobilized top artisans and expert craftsmakers throughout Europe and Japan to gather on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in the Venice lagoon, reachable only by boat.

At the beginning of 2022, all around the planet, the creative world swirled into action. Artists, artisans, curators and their entourages, and all their physical works prepared to emerge from a global lockdown to arrive in April in Venice -- an isolated town built on water that borders the Adriatic Sea, connected to the mainland by a single causeway -- for a month dedicated to creativity. It is challenging to transport art and people to Venice in normal times, let alone during a pandemic. But it is also difficult to squish creative people into solitary confinement for prolonged periods of time, and it was time to burst out of the cell.

Out Loud by Lori Weitzner - Photo: Cat Bauer
"Bold and uninhibited, fiercely energetic, powerful, fearless, modern.
This is the world of Out Loud colors, those bright, saturated hues
popularized during the 20th century's technological advancements.
Electric lights, moving pictures, and cartoon animation took nature's palette and amplified it
with an intensity that altered our cultural landscape. ...
the Out Loud color world has been a darling of the avant-garde,
and anyone else for that matter who is unafraid to be noticed, to be heard, to be counted."

As April got closer, and the openings of of Homo Faber and Biennale Arte approached, all the pent-up artistic energy that had been building during the pandemic started to explode throughout the museums, palaces, galleries, workshops and ateliers of Venice in a kaleidoscope of creativity. The town raced to get ready -- global pandemic be damned.

Venice has been putting on a show for over a thousand years, and she had grand plans to open the city back up with a bang. Freshly restored palaces would spew contemporary art; old boat-repair and blacksmith workshops would transform into art galleries; and deconsecrated churches would serve as the backdrops of art installations. There would be art in the streets and art on the walls. There would be art sprinkled throughout restaurants and hotel lobbies. There would be art in the libraries. There would be art everywhere.

In coordination with the international arrivals for the Biennale Art Festival, and the Homo Faber Event out on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, all the local artisans and craftsmakers throughout the calli and campi of Venice planned to throw open their doors and offer the public a chance to meet them up close and personal through a series of live workshops, demonstrations and other events through "In Città" itineraries. 

Plus there would be powerful contemporary art displayed in venerable museums filled with ancient masters like Anish Kapoor at the Accademia, and Anselm Kiefer at Palazzo Ducale. The Peggy Guggenheim Collection would have its first opening since the pandemic began with Surrealism and Magic, with an entire room of surrealistic works by Leonora Carrington, the author of "The Milk of Dreams," who had inspired the whole thing in the first place -- not to mention the opening of the Human Safety Net in the Procuratie in Piazza San Marco for the first time in 500 years. (I am omitting the many new galleries and spaces and palaces that I would later discover because there are too many to mention -- there is an even an art colony growing down deep in Castello.) It felt like Venice was gearing up to be the center of the artistic universe.

Then — shockingly — in keeping with the Surrealism theme, Russia invaded Ukraine on February 24, 2022 and Europe was impossibly at war. Tanks rolled. Buildings exploded. People fled. Russian airspace shut down, causing flight disruptions, making it even more difficult to reach Venice. The muses needed to go into overdrive to help the gods and mankind reach their artistic and intellectual heights.

Yet, somehow the Queen of the Adriatic pulled the whole thing off. Spring arrived, and so did the travelers coming from abroad. As the outside world descended into chaos, inside Venice, wrapped in the protective arms of the lagoon, another world overflowing with openings and inaugurations and bubbles of prosecco existed, so many events that it was impossible to reach everything even traveling on a magic carpet. Out in front of the Gallerie dell'Accademia, as we waited for the boat taxi to take us to Anish Kapoor's new headquarters at Palazzo Manfrin, I said to the artist, "It almost seems like the dark energy of war fuels the bright energy of creativity," and Kapoor called me an optimist. He is probably right...

Fragrant Woods by Lori Weitzner - Photo: Cat Bauer
"Capturing the colors of an ancient forest -- its umber bark, velvet moss, sepia soil and variegated greens --
the Fragrant Woods color world is rustic and grounding, nurturing, timeless.
It contains the sights and scents of our simplest experiences and deepest roots.
It is the blue-green smell of fresh spruce; it is the aged surface of the old oak desk in the study;
it is the weathered finish of worn leather, the noble green of the holly bush in winter
and the deep brown of the scented soil in late spring."

I finally made it to Lori Weitzner's "Ode to Color" at the beginning of May. Amazingly, I had never been in Palazzo Mora before, even though I have known the European Cultural Center for years, but in their other locations. Running simultaneously with the Venice Biennale, the ECC hosts hundreds of artists every year, and has a more commercial vibe than the Biennale. Palazzo Mora had an appealing buzz and a labyrinth of rooms stuffed with contemporary art and clever attendants to guide you.

Lori Weitzner is an American textile and product designer, with work in permanent collections of museums like the Cooper-Hewitt in New York and The Victoria Albert in London. I had met her in Venice at the end of April at a private cocktail party in her honor, and she was delightful. Her work reflects her spirit. The installation in Palazzo Mora is a manifestation of her best-selling book Ode to Color: The Ten Essential Palettes for Living and Design.

The installation was like an Alice in Wonderland of color and scents. There were 10 different transparent cubes filled with objects of 10 different colors, miniature worlds with intriguing themes. There were also 10 different perfume bottles on display with enchanting names like Night Shadows and Earthly that apparently matched the worlds inside the cubes. I spritzed myself with all the scents which was sort of like sniffing wizardry vapors and decided I liked Alchemy, Out Loud and Fragrant Woods the best. 

Then I noticed a screen that invited me to take the Ode to Color Analysis, "eighteen engaging questions that will guide you to the color world or worlds that will best suit your home and work interiors and enhance the way you live."

The questions were engaging and made me think. When I finished, the results were amazing -- the same three worlds I had chosen by their scents were the ones recommended by the Ode to Color analysis: Alchemy, Out Loud and Fragrant WoodsTry it yourself!

The Ode to Color results are in

Lori Weitzner's "Ode to Color" installation will be at the ECC's Palazzo Mora, along with hundreds of other artists, until the Venice Biennale International Art Festival ends on November 27, 2022.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, May 23, 2022

Angels on Earth - Claudine Drai & Wim Wenders Create Présence in Venice

Claudine Drai - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Claudine Drai has been sculpting angelic beings out of tissue paper since she was a child, reaching through the ether to tug heavenly creatures onto the earth. It is as if she can open a portal into the seraphic world and grab hold of some other-worldly material to crinkle into her molds. It is art that must be witnessed to be appreciated -- her paper sculptures radiate something spiritual that a photograph cannot grasp.

The French artist believed the one person who could capture the essence of her art was the German filmmaker, Wim Wenders, so Drai sought him out. Wenders, we remember, directed the magical Wings of Desire.

The synopsis, according to the Wim Wenders Stiftung Foundation:

WINGS OF DESIRE marked Wenders’ “homecoming” and was his first German film after eight years in the USA.

The main characters are guardian angels—benevolent, invisible beings in trench coats—who listen to the thoughts of mortals and attempt to comfort them. One of them, Damiel (Bruno Ganz), wishes to become human after he falls in love with the beautiful trapeze artist Marion (Solveig Dommartin). Peter Falk, played by himself, helps him during his transformation, by introducing him to life’s little pleasures.

The film is narrated from the perspective of the angels, who see the world in black and white. Only when Damiel becomes human does the world of color reveal itself to him. He leaves behind his old friend Cassiel (Otto Sander), who continues to be accompanied by Homer (Curt Bois), the “storyteller of humanity.”

The film has achieved cult status all around the world; in 1998, it was remade under the title CITY OF ANGELS, which features Nicolas Cage and Meg Ryan in the lead roles.

After talking with Claudine Drai and seeing her ephemeral beings, Wenders agreed to work with her -- he did not know her before. Together, they created Présence, a 38 minute film in 3D, which is the core of the current angelic installation.

Claudine Drai works - Photo: Cat Bauer
Claudine Drai and Wim Wenders in Palazzo Polignac 

Now Claudine Drai has brought some of her celestial forms here to Venice, where they were on show at Palazzo Franchetti from April 21 to May 15, which I did not have a chance to see. Fortunately, now they on display inside the Magazzino Gallery at Palazzo Polignac until August 15.

When I first saw them, I felt like I was in the presence of something holy. Both Claudine Drai and Wim Wenders were at the opening on May 20, so we had the opportunity to hear first hand about how the project came to be.

Claudine Drai & Wim Wenders - Photo: Cat Bauer

This was not the first time I've had a chance to encounter Wim Wenders in the flesh, and think there is something honest and refreshing about him, in addition to a dash of heaven in his own work. I reminded him about how he said he'd never be on a jury again when he was the president of the Venice Film Festival jury back in 2008 and the Golden Lion -- the top prize of the festival for the best film -- had been awarded to The Wrestler starring Mickey Rourke. The frustration was that the jury had not been able to award Rourke the prize for Best Actor because of Venice's quirky rule that one film could not win two awards -- since the film had won the Golden Lion, Mickey Rourke could not win Best Actor. Wenders strongly felt that both the film and Rourke deserved to win (the rule has since been changed:-).

Wim Wenders Declares: "I Will Never Be on a Jury Again!" - 65th Venice Film Festival

I also told him how much I had loved his film in 3D "If Buildings Could Talk" about the Rolex Learning Center shown during the 2010 Biennale International Architecture Festival, and how I had wept over its gentle beauty as I watched it over and over again:

If Buildings Could Talk - The Architects are Here! - Venice Biennale 2010

Claudine Drai - Photo: Cat Bauer

Now with Présence, Wenders has again applied his singular brush stroke to a 3D film. The auteur director said that he was deeply touched by Drai's creations as soon as he saw her work.

Here is Wim Wenders, in his own words, from a Sky video, about how the project developed:
"We made this film together over the last two and a half years. It is like nothing I've done before. It's like nothing that exists... It's not a film about an artist by a filmmaker. It's a common creation. And it's not really a movie -- it's a strange thing between an installation and a 3D film.

"It's in three dimensions because these beings that Claudine makes need to be seen in three dimensions with the space... they are very, very... They need the space. ...They live in the space. And you have to be able to participate and immerse in the space of her creations -- her beings, as she calls them. Her êtres.

"My look is something alive. I've seen her work and been touched by her work. And my look is also a translation. The film presents her and her work, and how she works, but it also presents my reception. It presents my look and what I feel when I see these beings and these amazing spiritual creations."

Présence - the art of Claudine Drai - a 3D installation by Wim Wenders is at the Magazzino Gallery in Palazzo Polignac at Dorsoduro 878 until August 15th. If you would like some heaven in your home, her works range from €30,000 to €75,000. She is represented by Antoine Clavé of Clavé Fine Art in Paris.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, May 1, 2022

Homo Faber Revamps the Renaissance - Contemporary Craftsmanship in Venice

The enchanted setting of Homo Faber Event in the Venice lagoon
Fondazione Giorgio Cini on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
Photo: ©Michelangelo Foundation

“I will embroider the world,” declares Alicia Stanska as she pierces a panel of black silk fabric with her needle, a gold metallic thread swooping through the hook. Together with her partner, Tomasz Tarnowski, an architect, Alicia has invented a new form of haute couture for furniture, ceilings, walls and floors – even a hand-embroidered swimming pool – using the Luneville embroidery technique from 17th-century France. She embroiders golden stitches and timeless crystals onto black silk fabric encased in transparent panels made of a secret material described as “liquid glass,” creating the distinct Stanska brand of hand-embroidered architecture.

Embroidered Architecture 

Alicia’s father taught her to embroider by the age of six. Throughout her life, it was a way of relaxation. At the age of 28, after burning through a dozen different careers in the corporate world, she decided to bank on her talent and live off her embroidery skills. 

Seduced by haute couture, Alicia learned the Luneville embroidery technique, a high fashion essential. Instead of applying it to clothing, she was fascinated by its potential for interior design. After meeting Tomasz, they merged their different skills to create a daughter and a brand. Today the Polish couple live and work together in Warsaw, and I, an American expat based in Venice, am talking to them at the international exhibition entitled "Next of Europe" at the massive Homo Faber Event on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, an event that was organized by the Michelangelo Foundation, headquartered in Geneva. 
Alicia Stanska from Warsaw, Poland embroidering her gold metallic thread at the 
Artisan at Work live demonstration in Next of Europe
Curated by Jean Blanchaert & Stefano Boeri
Photo: Nicolò Zanatta ©Michelangelo Foundation

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore 

Going behind the gates of the Giorgio Cini Foundation has always filled me with a sense of awe. Full of history and mystery, I can almost feel the wise phantoms of the past brush past me in the grand corridors of the former Benedictine monastery, an oasis of knowledge in the Venice lagoon. It is the ideal setting for a universal event that aims to craft a more human future.

Occupied since Roman times, the island was christened San Giorgio Maggiore between the eighth and the ninth centuries when the first church dedicated to St. George was built -- the monastery was founded in AD 982. Throughout the centuries, it has hosted kings, queens, and heads of state – twice the G7 Summit was held here. Cosimo de’ Medici, the powerful banker credited for kickstarting the Renaissance, stayed on San Giorgio when he was exiled from Florence in 1433.

Normally closed to the public, during Homo Faber visitors get a
rare opportunity to wander outdoors on the island - Totem  Garden 
Photo: Ginevra Formentini ©Michelangelo Foundation

In 1560, Andrea Palladio, Renaissance architect extraordinaire, came on the scene and left his distinct imprint on the island. He got busy and built the new Refectory for which Veronese painted his masterpiece Wedding at Cana (1563), designed the second Cloister, renovated and enlarged the monastery, and replaced the existing Gothic church with the majestic landmark we know today.

After Napoleon suppressed the monastery and swiped most of its loot, the once-glorious compound became a military garrison and sunk into disrepair – that is, until Count Vittorio Cini, another powerful entrepreneur, blew the dust off Palladio’s original plans and transformed it into the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, an international cultural center, to honor his son, Giorgio, who was killed in a plane crash. Like Cosimo de’ Medici before him, Cini used his great wealth to bring humanism back to mankind.

Master works by "Japanese Living Treasures,"
artisans honored and subsidized by the Japanese government, on show in
12 Stone Garden in the Palladio Refectory, the facsimile of Veronese's Wedding at Cana as a backdrop
 (the original was nabbed by Napoleon and is now in the Louvre).
Curated by Naoto Fukasawa & Tokugo Uchida
Photo: Cat Bauer

The Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship
The Homo Faber Event first arrived in Venice in 2018 on the shoulders of the Michelangelo Foundation for Creativity and Craftsmanship, an international non-profit organization which was founded by two present-day enlightened entrepreneurs – Johann Rupert, CEO of Richemont, the third-largest luxury company in the world with maisons such as Cartier, Van Cleef & Arpels, Jaeger-LeCoultre and Montblanc -- and Franco Cologni, founder of Fondazione Cologni dei Mestieri d'Arte. Both patrons think it’s time for a new Renaissance. “It’s humanity’s creativity, individuality, strong character and perspectives that truly endure over centuries and grow into heritage,” said Rupert.

The fine details of luxury: From Cartier to Hermès to Jaeger-LeCoultre,
15 top maisons reveal the secrets of their crafts with live demonstrations
in Genealogies of Ornament, curated by Judith Clark
Photo: ©Michelangelo Foundation

The founding purpose of the Cologni Foundation is to “accomplish a new Renaissance of artistic crafts and rescue artisans from the threat of extinction.” Its initiatives focus on training the next generation of craftsmakers, which includes providing internships to talented beginners. Selecting San Giorgio Maggiore to host an event dedicated to a more human, inclusive and sustainable future was strategic. Cologni explains: “We chose Venice for this exhibition not only because it is a bastion of culture and a place of unequaled beauty, but also because Venice is today and has always been a European hub for exchange and international connection.”

Blossoming Beauty, a fairy tale garden where 10 floral artists display their arrangements in Murano glass vases
they designed themselves, brought to life by the master glassblowers of Venini
Magical soundtrack by French composer Christian Holl
4 Elements video by filmmaker Olivier Brunet
Curated by Michelangelo Foundation, Sylvain Roca & Venini
Photo: Simone Padovani ©Michelangelo Foundation

Homo Faber Event Celebrates the Cultural Dialogue Between Europe and Japan

The Homo Faber Event cranks up the magic and transforms the island of San Giorgio Maggiore into a wonderland where artisans live in a world pulsing with dedicated people who spin straw into gold with their bare hands. Cushioned by aristocratic cloisters, meandering gardens and cypress trees, this year’s edition sprawls over 4,000 square meters, galvanizing the ancient monastery with contemporary craftsmanship. Master artisans of Japan and Europe, considered “living treasures,” are celebrated in 15 different exhibitions organized by 22 curators and designers featuring 850 works by 400 artisans from 43 countries. You can feel the human energy crackling in the air.

Baldassarre Longhena designed this library for the monastery between 1641 and 1680,
livened up by the white gold of Porcelain Virtuosity
Curated by David Caméo, Frédéric Bodet
Photo: Simone Padovani ©Michelangelo Foundation

The event is also a chance to glimpse venues rarely open to the public. There is porcelain in the 17th century Longhena Library, and Japanese Living Treasures in the Palladio Refectory. International artisans work in the Tapestry Room next door to custom-designed Venini vases spilling with floral arrangements. There are artisans from luxury houses at work in the former nautical school, and everyday objects and handcrafted games in the Artisan tea room. There is even a dramatic installation by American stage director Robert Wilson in the Gandini indoor swimming pool, inspired by his 1993 production of Madame Butterfly at the Paris Opera, complete with original props. From porcelain to paper, flowers to glass, ceramics to leather, gems to wood, it seems that whatever talented human beings can get their hands on they can turn into objects of beauty. 

Wearing two hats as both a Young Ambassador & designer,
Juraj Horňák plays the ancient Game of Ur with visitors in The Artisan:
a crafted tea room where every object tells a story
Curated by Tapiwa Matsinde
Photo: Simone Padovani ©Michelangelo Foundation

Young Ambassadors

We are not expected to navigate this monumental compound on our own.  Young Ambassadors are scattered throughout the grounds and inside every exhibition, eager to share their expertise — I love them. One hundred dynamic young people, screened and selected from the best European schools of arts, crafts, and design, were flown into Venice, fully trained, given food, shelter, a generous scholarship, sneakers from Venetian Heritage company Golden Goose, and some very cool uniforms from Makers Unite, an agency of refugee designers based in the Netherlands. The Young Ambassadors are grateful to be exactly where they are, mingling with the masters, and can answer any question about the crafts on display as if they made it themselves. 

From Young Ambassador to Designer

Juraj Horňák is a rising star. A Slovakian designer and craftsman working on his PhD in architecture, during his studies he started Lebo Mädveď (Beargames) with two classmates, a project that designs educational games.

Juraj was a Young Ambassador in 2018 and challenged himself: “I want to exhibit my work at the next Homo Faber.” He sent a one-minute motivational video along with his application describing his design for the Game of Ur, played in ancient Mesopotamia and believed to predict the player’s destiny. When informed he had been accepted as both a Young Ambassador and an artisan, Juraj scrambled to create two deluxe versions of the game. After playing a cutthroat round with him in The Artisan tea room, I predict his destiny: “You will become powerful like a lion.”

Young Ambassadors on the 17th-century Longhena Monumental staircase
inside the Giorgio Cini Foundation
Homo Faber Event 2022
Photo: Ginevra Formentini ©Michelangelo Foundation

Alberto Cavalli

“What is beautiful — and authentic — will always make you fall in love,“ says chief curator Alberto Cavalli, the powerhouse driving Homo Faber. Also the executive director of the Michelangelo Foundation and director general of the Cologni Foundation, Cavalli is heralded by stakeholders for his ability to keep the massive event running seamlessly, as well as his uncanny ability to materialize at critical junctures. Synchronicity is how we manage to meet for a coffee — I happened to arrive at a time when he had 17 minutes to spare.

Cavalli is a vibrant speaker whose passion for craftsmanship is contagious. “We need to form a common language. Take the word ‘sustainable.’ Is a world without dreams sustainable? Or a world without diversity? Can we sustain a world dominated by banality?”

One of Cavalli’s most important missions is to create a new generation of craftsmakers, which means empowering young people and providing opportunities for them to meet master artisans at the top of their game. “Why do we make things with our hands? Handwork can offer dreams to younger generations. When I was growing up, the future was full of promises. These days, the future can be full of threats. What kind of legacy are we leaving? Craftsmanship gives youth a clear, authentic way of expressing themselves.”

Alberto Cavalli at the Opening Ceremony 9th April Homo Faber Event 2022
speaking in "Lo Squero" auditorium, a one-time boat repair workshop
with a spectacular wall of glass that looks on the Venice lagoon
Photo: Marco Bucco ©Michelangelo Foundation

I ask Cavalli how he measures the success of Homo Faber. “Three ways. First, by ticket sales. We are asking people to visit an event in the Venice lagoon, reachable only by boat. For the inaugural edition in 2018, from September 14th to 30th, we had 62,500 visitors from all over the world. This year, opening weekend was sold out.

“Second, by comments from the participants – the curators, the master artisans, the rising stars – who genuinely appreciate interacting with like-minded people. What is so important for me about craft is the humanity – in the faces, the dreams, the expectations, the talent, the ability – also in the stubbornness of the master craftsman.

“And third, by the attendees themselves. Sometimes I take off my identification and mingle with the visitors, who are everyone from tourists to collectors to designers, and listen to the sparkle in their voices.

“We need to ask ourselves: do we want things that are just things? Or do we want objects that express who we are, what we are. When you surround yourself with goods made by hand, rather than being a passive consumer, you become an active participant. We were born to consciously change the world around us.”

WAITING with Peace and Darkness - American theater director Robert Wilson
transforms the Gandini indoor swimming pool into a stage set
inspired by his 1993 production of Madame Butterfly at the Paris Opera,
complete with original props
Photo: Alessandra Chemollo 
©Michelangelo Foundation

In Città and The Homo Faber Guide

In Città

During the Homo Faber Event, in addition to the main exhibition on San Giorgio Maggiore, visitors could create self-guided tours using In Città, a bounty of handcrafted experiences tucked throughout the labyrinth of Venice. All the artisans and craftsmakers in town threw open their doors and invited the public to witness Venetians in action -- the engine that keeps the city afloat. From shoemakers to costume designers, mask makers to glass blowers, eyeglass designers to local food and wine -- In Città gave visitors the golden opportunity to meet the actual people who live and work in Venice.

Homo Faber Guide

The Michelangelo Foundation has also created the Homo Faber Guide, an ever-evolving digital platform dedicated to craftsmanship that explores featured towns in Europe and beyond. From Greece to Norway, Portugal to Romania, the guide leads curious travelers through a world of artisans and their masterpieces in every corner of the continent, all year round. And with the recent addition of Japan, South Korea and Singapore, the Homo Faber network welcomes artisans from another continent – Asia.

The guide lets you view familiar cities through new eyes by following an itinerary that turns a spotlight on the world of high-quality crafts. Visit galleries and shops that sell singular objects. Explore workshops, ateliers and museums that embrace a human touch. Enjoy conversations and experiences of substance. The Homo Faber Guide aims to connect all the players in the world of fine craftsmanship on an international scale – from rising stars, to seasoned artisans, to astute consumers, and everyone along the way.

Practicing Ikebana, the ancient Japanese art of flower arranging
with Ikebana Ohara School Venice
Photo: Cat Bauer

Homo Faber is Latin for “man, the maker.” The ultimate aim of the Michelangelo Foundation is nothing less than to encourage the growth of a new cultural movement, one which would bring with it both social and economic rewards, most notably increased employment opportunities for artisans.

The Homo Faber Event hopes to return to the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in two years' time, weaving itself into the fabric of Venice as a regular biennale, and helping the dream of a more human future become reality.

Relive the Homo Faber Event 2022 edition.

The Art of Writing -
the joy of finding the handcrafted Montblanc nib
that fits my style
with the help of a pen artisan
Photo: Cat Bauer

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, April 4, 2022

FontanaArte. House of Glass Glimmers at Le Stanze del Vetro in Venice

Illuminated Mirror by Max Ingrand (1955) - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Designs from legendary FontanaArte in Milan, the company that elevated industrial plate glass to coveted home decor in the 20th century, are the focus of the spring exhibition at Le Stanze del Vetro (Rooms of Glass) on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore.

It is Italian design at its finest.
Christian Larsen, the curator who joins us here in Venice from the United States by way of such institutions as Museum of Arts & Design and the Metropolitan Museum in New York, said he was grateful for the "great opportunity" -- that it was difficult to have the final result match the curator's original vision, and that this exhibition was "the best experience in his entire career." 

Curator Christian Larsen - Photo: Cat Bauer
In 1881, Luigi Fontana founded Luigi Fontana & Co. in Milan to manufacture float glass -- a sheet of glass made by floating molten glass on a bed of molten metal -- for the construction industry. The company had a pavilion at the 1906 Milan International Fair where the public embraced its Art Nouveau style.  

Luigi Fontana first collaborated with celebrated starchitect Gio Ponti at the 1930 Monza Biennale of modern decorative and industrial arts (Ponti would go on to design masterpieces like the 32-storey Perilli Tower skyscraper in Milan built in 1958). Ponti's artistic vision merged with Fontana's industrial glass and FontanaArte was born.
The exhibition focuses on the poetic possibilities of plate glass from the time of the company's foundation by Ponti in 1932 through 1996 when Gae Aulenti, one of the few women designing in postwar Italy, was the artistic director. Each director attracted other singular designers to the company. On show are 85 of the most exceptional pieces produced by FontanaArte. 
'Teso' Bookcase by Renzo Piano (1987) - Photo: Cat Bauer

Christian Larsen takes us on a journey through the Rooms of Glass with an overview of the creative production periods of FontanaArte's four great artistic directors:
  • Gio Ponti: 1932-1933
  • Pietro Chiesa: 1933-1948
  • Max Ingrand: 1954-1967
  • Gae Aulenti: 1979-1996

FontanaArte set the standards of Italian design by elevating the everyday object to the art of living. The exhibition kicks off with black and white excerpts from newsreels of industrial glass production in the 1930s when FontanaArte was in its infancy. It's fascinating to watch the early mechanical process with a human touch that resulted in the creation of plate glass. Larsen believes that when consumers understand the way that things are made, we will be a smarter consumers.

From there, the installation is laid out with each gallery focusing on the designs created under each artistic director, climaxing with a grand suite furnished to evoke a dwelling made of glass interiors with staging by architect Massimiliano Locatelli. 

"A secret material, difficult to work with, but so noble and precious, glass seems to be the ideal complement to light, in which it plays by transmitting, by reflecting. It's a perfect combination."
                                                                ---Max Ingrand

My favorite artistic director was Max Ingrand, whose designs had a touch of the spiritual added to their functionality. I absolutely loved his 1955 mirror embellished with cut crystals that catch the light and sparkle like diamonds, making whoever gazes at their own reflection more beautiful.

Grand Chandelier by Max Ingrand (1958) Photo courtesy of Le Stanze del Vetro

Ingrand's Grand Chandelier was made for the 1958 Brussels World's Fair, and was one of the most complex and impressive of any work ever produced by FontanaArte. According to the exhibition, "With 32 bulbs housed in its brass and bronze structure, the cut crystal plates radiate light from the central core with the complexity of an intricately cut diamond."

The exhibition culminates in a 'house of glass,' a suite of galleries meant to evoke a domestic space furnished only with objects by FontanaArte. Massimiliano Locatelli's layout uses mirrors and glass to let us see through and across space, or get tangled up in reflections.

From the press release:

The house of glass has long been a dream of ideal architecture, since King Solomon's palace in the Bible, through to the technological solutions offered by modernist architects such as Taut, Careau, Mies van der Rohe, Johnson, Bo Bardi, and Frey. But it was the avant-garde vision of Luigi Fontana and Gio Ponti to reinvent industrial glass from an exterior construction material to a new luxurious standard for furnishing the interior of the home. To live not just encased in glass, but to live with glass.

FontanaArte. House of Glass curated by Christian Laresen is at Le Stanze del Vetro on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore from April 4 to July 31, 2022. Go to Le Stanze del Vetro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, March 17, 2022

Nearly a Century of Memories: Sabine Weiss, Pioneer Female Photographer Shines at the Loveliest Exhibition Space in Venice, Casa dei Tre Oci

Palazzo Ducale - 1950. Venezia, Italia © Sabine Weiss

(Venice, Italy) Sabine Weiss died last year on December 28th at the age of 97, as the tumultuous year of 2021 cranked to a close. Till the very end, she helped to bring her current exhibition at Casa dei Tre Oci here in Venice alive. Sabine Weiss. La poesia dell'istante celebrates her life-long devotion to photography. Through her images, we are privileged to witness nearly a century of human life caught on camera. What a great way to go!

"To be powerful, a photograph must speak to us about an aspect of the human condition, make us feel the emotion that the photographer felt in the presence of her subject."
                                                                        ---Sabine Weiss
1950. Porte de Saint-Cloud, Parigi, Francia © Sabine Weiss

Sabine Weiss was born Sabine Weber in Saint-Gingolph, Switzerland on July 23, 1924, and took her first photos at the age of 11. Her father was a chemist and inventor, and encouraged the young Sabine to pursue her passion to capture human emotion with her lens, even though she was a girl. After her studies in the prestigious Boissonnas studio in Geneva, in 1945 she produced her first news story featuring American soldiers on leave, which was immediately published in a Swiss newspaper.
Hugh & Sabine, Hotel de Nice, Paris, 1949

Emboldened by the fruits of her talent, Sabine journeyed off to Paris and presented herself to the German fashion and portrait photographer, Willy Maywald, who employed her as an assistant for four years and opened the doors to Parisian social circles. In 1949 she met her great love, the American artist Hugh Weiss, who became her husband and creative partner in life and work.
"Whether she is photographing a dress by Dior or a gang of kids, what is important for her is the struggle with and the control of all the elements in her picture."
                                                            ---Hugh Weiss
1958. Yves Saint-Laurent, prima collezione Dior, for Life © Sabine Weiss

Throughout the years, Sabine photographed everything from the extreme post-war living conditions in Paris, to cigarettes and babies and perfume. Her documentation of the human condition earned her a reputation as a humanist photojournalist, but she was just as comfortable snapping fashion, advertisements and portraits of celebrities -- she didn't like being put into a category. "I could photograph different worlds with very different people -- wealthy people in the morning, outcasts in the afternoon." 

As a pioneer female photographer in a field dominated by men, Sabine always kept her sense of humor even while documenting the darker side of humanity. She worked in every photographic genre, from reportage to artists' portraits to fashion to street photography. The images she captured of the faces of children are riveting. Of all the photographs that she took, the one that haunted me the most was one she took in Paris in 1953 of young children chained to a barge.
Children chained to a barge, Paris, France 1953 by Sabine Weiss - Photo: Cat Bauer
Last year, Nicolas Berggruen, the US-based, Paris-born billionaire investor and philanthropist made headlines when he signed an agreement to purchase the Casa dei Tre Oci on the island of Giudecca from the Fondazione di Venezia and turn it into the headquarters for his cultural thinktank, the Berggruen Institute. Berggruen has dual US and German citizenship, and is the son of Heinz Berggruen, the late German art dealer and collector whose funeral in 2007 was attended by both Chancellor Angela Merkel and President Horst Kohler.
A couple days ago, Nicolas Berggruen hit the news again when it was announced that he had bought another important property here in Venice, Palazzo Diedo, this time in the Cannaregio district. The property is set to be transformed into an exhibition venue and artist-in-residence space as part of the new Berggruen Arts & Culture, kicked-off with an installation by American artist Sterling Ruby. 
In the catalog of Sabine Weiss. La Poesia Dell'Istante, Nicolas Berggruen states: 

"As an institution whose goal is to develop ideas centered on the great transformations of the human condition brought about by changes in the economics of technology and politics, we are very pleased that Sabine Weiss's work is being celebrated at Casa dei Tre Oci.... It is our hope that the exhibition will draw wider attention to her way at looking for the spark in humanity."

Venice Through the Window of Casa dei Tre Oci - Photo: Cat Bauer

Sabine Weiss, The Poetry of the Instant, La Poesia Dell'Istante runs at the Casa dei Tre Oci through October 23, 2022. Curated by Virginie Chardin, the retrospective is sponsored by the Fondazione di Venezia, realized by Marsilio Arte in collaboration with the Berggruen Institute, and produced by the Sabine Weiss atelier Laure Delloye-Augustins, with the support of the Jeu de Paume and the International Festival Les Rencontres de la Photographie d'Arles under the high patronage of the Switzerland Consulate General in Milan. Go to Tre Oci for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog