Friday, May 26, 2023

The Core of Africa -- Journey into "The Laboratory of the Future" at the 18th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice

Lesley Lokko, Curator &
Demas Nwoko,
Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement Award
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Blue. The color blue is the first thing you see when you enter "The Laboratory of the Future," La Biennale's 18th International Architecture Exhibition set at Arsenale, where Venice once built her ships. 

Blue — and these words:

The Blue Hour. A period of time just before sunrise or sunset when the sun casts a diffuse light from below the horizon and the sky takes on a vivid blue tone. The landscape is wrapped in a muffled and suspended atmosphere. It only lasts a few minutes, half an hour at most, but it represents a rare chromatic beauty. In photography, it represents the ideal condition to highlight colour contrasts that would otherwise be invisible. The Blue Hour is sometimes marked by a subtle melancholy or a moment between dream and awakening. It is also considered a moment of hope.
Lesley Lokko
Curator of the
18th International

Lesley Lokko, the Curator of Venice's International Architecture Exhibition, was born in Dundee, Scotland about 60 years ago. Her father was from Ghana and her mother was from Scotland. Lokko grew up in both countries. In addition to being an architect, she is a university professor and best-selling novelist -- she took 14 years off from architecture to write. There are touches of her wise words sprinkled throughout the exhibition. 

Those With Walls for Windows - Rhael "Lionheart" Cape
A meditation & exploration into the 'laws of freedom'
Photo: Cat Bauer

Lesley Lokko: "In South Africa -- where fierce battles
over language, custom, ritual, and memory are still being
fought -- a unique opportunity exists for architects, and
architecture, to play a different role, using different tactics
and tools to stitch together conflicting accounts,
possibly even to resolve them."

Lokko has put Africa firmly in the center of the show. Africa is the youngest continent in the world in terms of age; the average citizen is 20-years-old. "The Laboratory of the Future" includes 89 participants, over half of whom are from Africa or the African Diaspora. The exhibition focuses on the mighty themes of "decarbonisation" and "decolonisation." Instead of featuring the usual wooden models, it aims for a light touch, incorporating other mediums like digital, performance, and drawings, and re-using the infrastructure of last year’s Art Biennale. 

Architects are pragmatic artists, capturing an idea and interpreting it with physical nuts and bolts — different, than, say, a musician. Here, instead of their practical side, we see their artistic inspiration -- the essence of the structure made visible….the invisible spirit of architecture expressed by the installations. We get a glimpse of the core of Africa.

Lokko said something that made me think: "The Black body, the African body was Europe's first unit of energy. The first unit of labor." It is as if that ethereal energy has finally been revealed.

From Lesley Lokko's statement:

    "For the first time ever, the spotlight has fallen on Africa and the African Diaspora, that fluid and enmeshed culture of people of African descent that now straddles the globe. What do we wish to say? How will what we say change anything? And, perhaps most importantly of all, how will what we say interact with and infuse what ‘others’ say, so that the exhibition is not a single story, but multiple stories that reflect the vexing, gorgeous kaleidoscope of ideas, contexts, aspirations, and meanings that is every voice responding to the issues of its time?

        It is often said that culture is the sum total of the stories we tell ourselves, about ourselves. Whilst it is true, what is missing in the statement is any acknowledgement of who the ‘we’ in question is.

        In architecture particularly, the dominant voice has historically been a singular, exclusive voice, whose reach and power ignores huge swathes of humanity — financially, creatively, conceptually — as though we have been listening and speaking in one tongue only.

        The ‘story’ of architecture is therefore incomplete. Not wrong, but incomplete. It is in this context particularly that exhibitions matter."

Lesley Lokko's mission is to be an agent of change. She feels architectural schools have been too rigid to allow for really new knowledge to emerge and hopes that more renegade schools spring up.

During the press conference, Lokko attributed a quote to Oprah Winfrey. I checked, and it was actually Oprah Winfrey quoting Maya Angelou, although it seems no one is really sure who said it first. In any event, it's a good quote: "Nobody remembers what you said or what you did. People only remember how you made them feel."

How did Lesley Lokko's architecture exhibition make me feel? As I moved through the installations, I heard new voices I'd never heard before and saw things I'd never seen. I felt deeply moved and intrigued, as if I had been given the opportunity to pull back the curtain and see ancient knowledge that was new to me, but part of the very fabric of the earth.  

Not only does Lokko offer us a new way of looking at the world with her singular African-Scottish perspective, she is a woman in a profession overwhelmingly dominated by men -- she is only the fourth female curator of the architecture exhibition. It felt like Lokko took a huge chunk of material that has been missing from architecture -- missing from the world -- and added it to the foundation.

Like any good novelist, she has rewritten the story and improved the ending.

Biennale Architettura 2023 - The 18th International Architecture Exhibition opened to the public on May 20 and runs to November 26, 2023. Click for more information and tickets.

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2023

A Rose for Venice Redux - April 25, 2023, the Celebration of the Feast of Saint Mark

A Rose for Venice - April 25, Feast of Saint Mark - View from the ground - Piazza San Marco
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) There was a deluge on the morning of April 25, 2023, the Feast of Saint Mark, the day we celebrate Venice's patron saint. Italy is in the midst of a severe drought, so it would have been like a gift from the heavens -- just not on that day.

That day, at 12:30 PM, the Venetian artist Elena Tagliapietra and the Venetian author, Alberto Toso Fei were planning to recreate a Bocolo Umano or "Human Rose Blossom" in Piazza San Marco -- the same extravaganza a thousand citizens of Venice had magically manifested nine years ago, back on April 25, 2014.

April 25 is a national holiday for all of Italy -- Liberation Day, to commemorate the end of the Fascist regime and Nazi occupation. But in Venice, long, long before there was a united Italy, it was always a day of celebration.

During the Festa del Bocolo, men have been giving a single rose to the women they love for more than a thousand years.

Behind that tradition is a wonderful -- and poignant -- Venetian legend...

Human Rose Blossom April 25, 2014

On my way over to Piazza San Marco, I stopped by Rialto to see my friend, the mask-maker Sergio Boldrin, in his tiny shop at the foot of the Rialto Bridge. I was wearing a short red dress because it was the only red outfit I had.

I was soaked. I stood dripping in the doorway.

Sergio laughed: "What are you doing, Red One?" Sergio calls me "Red One" even when I'm not dressed in red because of the color of my hair. But today it seemed especially appropriate.

Me: "Remember when we made the human rose in Piazza San Marco back in 2014? This year we're doing it again."

Sergio peered out at the downpour. There were just a few hardy souls on the street. "How many people do you need for the rose?"

Me: "I think about a thousand."

Sergio: "You can always have a spritz." (If you've never been to Venice, a spritz is a traditional Venetian cocktail. It, too, is red.)

Cat Bauer in red for Festa del Bocolo 2023, Venice
Off I splashed. I was running late and the rain seemed determined to impede my progress.

When I finally made it to Piazza San Marco, there was nobody in the square. I ducked into an empty ATM inside the Procuratie Vecchie and checked the group's Facebook page to make sure it was still happening. "WE WILL ALSO DO IT IN THE RAIN!! THE COLORS WILL BE CREATED BY THE FREE UMBRELLAS."

I did not see a mass of red or green umbrellas anywhere in the piazza. I asked a police officer where everyone was. He wanted to practice his English and I wanted to practice my Italian. Together we figured out in each other's languages out that neither one of us had a clue.

Bewildered, I wandered through the crowd packed inside the Procuratie Vecchie, sheltering from the storm. I got about halfway through when I realized that most of the crowd was at a standstill, divided into about 20 groups clustered around a person holding a number.

Ah, ha! The human rose was crammed inside the Procuratie Vecchie! I forged towards Group 2, which was the last one to the end.

I greeted my comrades. They were young and old, male and female; people who lived in town and people who had sloshed in from the mainland, despite the weather. My name was checked off the list. I was handed a red umbrella. Yay!

Alberto Toso Fei tells the story of the Bocolo

Then I saw a familiar face, Alberto Toso Fei, walking along the crowd with a megaphone, telling the legend of the Festa del Bocolo. The story dates back to the 9th century, and goes something like this:
A noblewoman, Maria Partecipazio, called "Vulcana" because of her flaming red hair, and a troubadour, Tancredi, fell in love. But Maria was the daughter of the Doge, and marriage to a troubadour would never have her father's approval.

In order to overcome the social class differences, Tancredi went off to war to find glory and raise himself to the higher social level of his beloved. 

Tancredi served as a valiant soldier under Charles the Great (Charlemagne) in the war against the Moors, but was mortally wounded. As he lay dying in a pool of blood by a bed of red roses, he plucked a rose for Maria Partecipazio and asked his comrade, Orlando, to take the blossom to his beloved Lady in Venice, stained with his blood. 

Orlando kept his vow, and arrived in Venice the day before the Feast of Saint Mark. He gave the rose to Maria Partecipazio as the last message of love from the dying Tancredi.

The next morning, Maria Partecipazio herself was found dead, the red rose lying on her heart, finally joined with her beloved in the celestial world.
Since that time, Venetian lovers use the symbol of the red rose blossom to pledge their love.

Alberto Toso Fei & Ermelinda Damiano, City Council President
Photo: Cat Bauer 

I don't remember where I found that version of the legend. I tried to fact-check it along with other versions of the story. As the writer and historian John Julian Norwich said, "One of the most infuriating aspects of early Venetian history is the regularity with which truth and legend pursue separate courses."

Agnello Participazio became Doge in 811 and died in 827. Charlemagne died in 814. So for this story to work, it would have had to taken place between 811 and January 28, 814. But the war against the Muslims, the Battle of Tours, took place about 80 years earlier in 732, and was won by Charles Martel, who was Charlemagne's grandfather.

I was curious to know which version of the story Alberto Toso Fei uses, but the scene was too hectic during the Festa del Bocolo to ask him.

Just before 12:30, the rain had lightened to a drizzle. We scrambled into Piazza San Marco to create the human rose as cameras from the Campanile and drones photographed us from above.

Right on time, Saint Mark worked his wonders. The rain stopped completely after about five minutes and the sun poked its head out.

I was surprised (but not really) at how many people had turned out in the tempest to celebrate the day! We shared a sense of joy and community as we chatted and bounced our red and green umbrellas to create a human rose. It was a beautiful moment and a moving realization of how deeply locals love Venice, no matter what challenges the gods -- and the tourists -- throw at us.

Do you really think that Saint Mark would let some rain spoil his special day? Whether the story of the rose blossom is actually true, it is a bittersweet love story dating back over 1,200 years and a remarkable element of Venetian culture. The belief in the story is felt so deeply by the locals that a thousand people will splash into Piazza San Marco to manifest the Festa del Bocolo in human form. 

That is reality.

Venice sends a message of love to the world, embedded in tradition.

Una Rosa per Venezia - A Rose for Venice 2023 - Photo: Venezia Serenissima

Thank you to Elena Tagliapietra and Alberto Toso Fei for bringing everyone together with all your powerful projects throughout the years. You keep Venice alive! Un grande abbraccio.

Elena Tagliapietra & Alberto Toso Fei

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

Friday, March 31, 2023

Nikos Aliagas - "Regards Vénitiens" - Venice Through the Lens of a Newcomer

Traghetto Canal Grande - Venezia, 2022 by Nikos Aliagas - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) I am happy that the insightful and delightful Nikos Aliagas photography exhibition at Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro in Palazzo Vendramin Grimani that was set to close on April 2 has been extended to November 26, 2023. The ancient palace was recently restored and is full of promise.

Palazzo Vendramin Grimani is located on the Grand Canal right off Campo San Polo, which is my old 'hood, and many of the local images captured by Nikos's lens are faces and places familiar to me. I found his attitude refreshing:
"...Being here is an honor and a responsibility, too...
...You feel small when you first arrive in Venice...
...Everyone wants their share of Venice..."

Nikos Aliagas in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Nikos Aliagas is a well-known Greek-French journalist and entertainer who hosted "Star Academy," the French version of "America's Got Talent," featuring guest stars like Beyoncé, Rihanna, Madonna, etc. So I was surprised to discover that he was one of the few people on this planet who had never been to Venice before, even though he's in his 50s and based in Paris -- you'd think he would have stopped by a bit sooner. 
"I had never been to Venice before the summer of 2022, and I had a strange apprehension, a fear of arriving after the party, of wearing the mask of the intruder who sneaks into a setting where tourists and onlookers are swarming, eager for souvenirs and selfies." 
Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro itself is new, born in 2019 with the aim of bringing the ancient Palazzo Vendramin Grimani back to life as a "cultural salon with an international outlook, a crossroads of exchange and creativity."

Dans le vent - Venezia, 2022 by Nikos Aliagas - Photo: Cat Bauer

I was puzzled when I first saw the photos -- before speaking to Nikos. To my jaded eyes, they were the same old images that could have been taken 30 years ago -- laundry in the calli, people crossing the Grand Canal in a traghetto -- yet there was something both innocent and wise about them.
"Images and mirages, and always this impression of being observed from behind the shutters; the show seems to come from within, intimate and mysterious, from the apartments of the high-ceilinged palazzi, with their sculpted beams and crack-varnish paintings. I can sense silhouettes from another time that peer out over the Grand Canal. I lose myself like a pilgrim in the alleyways that all resemble each other, only to find myself in their field of vision behind the lens."

Les mains de l'artisane Gabriele Gmeiner,
Campiello del Sol, San Polo Venezia, 2022 by Nikos Aliagas
Photo: Cat Bauer

I slowly realized that these vibrant images that Nikos had captured were of the singular life that still exists in Venice. That the Venice mystique that had captivated me a quarter of a century ago still thrives in the lagoon for those who have eyes to see it. 
"What do you think, that we are waiting for you? Nobody is waiting for you here. The place is so much more powerful than you. You can only try to melt into its universe."
Nikos Aliagas "Regards Vénitiens"is at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani until November 26, 2023. Go to Fondazione dell'Albero d'Oro for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, February 26, 2023

Simon Berger Pushes Glass to its Breaking Point: "Shattering Beauty" on the Island of Murano, Venice

Shattered Glass Lion by Simon Berger - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Swiss artist Simon Berger uses a hammer as a paintbrush. His canvas is glass. He paints with the blows of a hammer. The closer and briefer the blows of the hammer, the stronger the contrasts and shades. Simon Berger has somehow figured out how to hammer glass with a mystical force that shatters the transparent panes into powerful portraits of human and animal faces.

At the time I actually took that photo, above, I saw no majestic lion in the splintered glass cubes arranged in the exhibition space of  the Murano Glass Museum. I saw only shattered glass, the way a windshield would look after a car accident. It was only when I was reviewing which images I wanted to use to illustrate this blog post that the tower of broken glass on my iPad magically transformed into the dramatic face of a lion. By chance, I had photographed the shattered glass cubes at an angle that had captured the lion's portrait.

The shattering stroke liberates beauty.
-- Simon Berger

The Museo del Vetro of Murano in Venice is hosting a solo show by Simon Berger from January 28th to May 7th, 2023. The exhibition, entitled "Shattering Beauty," features around twenty original artworks that explore the fragility of the human condition through the splinters of the fragile glass canvases.

Curated by Sandrine Welte and Chiara Squarcina in collaboration with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia and Berengo Studio, the exhibition is conceived as an immersive installation where visitors are invited to lose themselves among glass cubes and sculptures of varying dimensions.

The show features numerous glass portraits created using Berger's singular technique of "morphogenesis" that has put him in the international spotlight: smashing glass with a hammer with such utter precision that the splinters form haunting portraits… almost as if the blows of his hammer releases an image trapped inside the glass.

 "The difficulty of working with glass is also what gives rise to my artworks: its fragility. The material does not allow for corrections. If one hammer blow is not right, I have to discard the whole work. Of course, there is a nervousness when I start a new work. My expectations of myself and the fear of not meeting my requirements sometimes even stops me from starting. In these moments, I try to block out these thoughts and concentrate on the essentials -- my passion for making art and the and soul I put into it."

Shattering Beauty by Simon Berger - Photo: Cat Bauer

Trained as a carpenter, Berger's artistic journey began with a fascination for different materials like wood and metal. He became a street artist, using cans of spray paint as his medium, then started using the carcasses of junked cars as his canvas. As he pondered what to do with the laminated glass windshields, he had an ah-ha moment, took up his hammer, and started carefully cracking the glass into portraits. From the hammer of a carpenter, his remarkable technique was born. 

Simon Berger & Sandrine Welte - Photo: Cat Bauer

I wanted to know how Berger arrived on the Island of Murano in Venice, so I tracked down Sandrine Welte, the co-curator. She told me that Adriano Berengo, President of Berengo Studio, had stumbled upon a YouTube video of Berger cracking his glass and told her to find him -- Beregno Studio is a glass studio on the Island of Murano; Berengo Foundation is an art foundation; and Glasstress is an internationally acclaimed exhibition, all headed by Adriano Berengo, a Venetian entrepreneur who is determined to revive the ancient tradition of Murano glass by infusing it with contemporary energy.

From the Berengo website:
After the success of the exhibition Tony Cragg: Silicon Dioxide at the Museo del Vetro in 2022, Berengo Studio is delighted to be partnering once again with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia to bring a new exhibition to the island of Murano: Shattering Beauty.

I mentioned to Sandine that Tony Cragg and Simon Berger had the same birthday, April 9th -- I knew this because it is also the birthday of my ex-husband, and I had written about it years ago. They are all Aires, and they are all artists of a kind. To me, using a hammer to crack glass into works of art is the perfect creative use of the headstrong ram-energy that Aires is known for. (I don't know what astrological sign Adriano Berengo is, but I would be curious to find out!) 

Simon Berger in action

Berger's artwork is visually stunning and provocative, and the exhibition is a unique and immersive experience once you figure out that the portraits look different with the naked eye than they do through the lens of a camera. If you don't witness the glass portraits from the correct perspective, it just looks like a bunch of broken glass. I think Simon Berger is some kind of genius. 
"What I like about the face as a motif is that faces are universally recognizable. Everyone knows what a face looks like. It takes very little visual information to make a face recognizable; it is a universal language."
Berger created a shattered glass portrait in front of us by looking at the image of a female in his smartphone held by his left hand while, at the same time, shattering glass with a hammer held in his right hand. Afterwards, I asked Berger which way he saw the image while he was creating it -- the way it looked through the camera lens or with the naked eye. "Both. I see portraits everywhere." I asked him who the female was. He said he didn't know. To him, it was simply an interesting face.

Shattering Glass by Simon Berger - Photo: Cat Bauer

Simon Berger's work serves as a testament to the power of creativity and imagination. Through his innovative use of shattered glass, he transforms a symbol of destruction into something beautiful and thought-provoking. "Shattering Beauty" is at the Venice Glass Museum until May 7, 2023. Take a trip across the Venice lagoon and explore all the voices of glass on the island of Murano, from ancient traditions to contemporary artistic expressions.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Thursday, January 19, 2023

Never Before Seen In Italy! Venice Photos Shot in 1955 by Inge Morath, Pioneer Photographer, at Palazzo Grimani in Venice

Inge Morath, Venezia, 1955 ©Fotohof archiv/Inge Morath/Magnum Photos

(Venice, Italy) The pioneer female Austrian photographer, Inge Morath, was one of the first girls to play with the boys -- she was one of the first women to gain entrance into the esteemed Magnum Photo agency, an international photographic cooperative owned by its members who are, to this day, mostly men. 

Morath visited Venice in 1951 during her honeymoon with her then-husband, the British journalist, Lionel Birch. She was the daughter of two scientists whose careers transported the family to different laboratories and universities throughout Europe. Her mother had given Morath a camera that had once been screwed to the top of her microscope after she got a new one. Morath dragged the camera around on her travels, but never used it. 

It was raining in Venice during Morath's honeymoon -- the same weather we had at the press conference on January 17 for Inge Morath - Fotografare da Venezia in poi (Photographing From Venice Onward) at Palazzo Grimani, an exhibition that commemorates 100 years since the birth of the artist on May 27, 1923.
"The light was beautiful; the rain had covered everything with a gliss."
Morath was already in the publishing game before she went on her honeymoon, working as a journalist and translator -- she spoke German, English, French, and Romanian fluently, and would later add Spanish, Russian and Mandarin to her repertoire. In 1949, she had been invited to join the newly-formed Magnum Photos agency in Paris as an editor by co-founder Robert Capa, "the greatest combat photographer in history." Her work included writing captions to accompany contact sheets of the elite male photographers in the agency.

But it was on that rainy November day in Venice in 1951 that Inge Morath decided to plunge into the boys' club and become a photographer before she even knew how to use a camera:

"I didn't really know how to use it; it got lost, and yet somehow I always managed to get it back... It was raining in Venice. The light was incredibly beautiful, and suddenly I was convinced of the need to photograph it: someone had to photograph it. I called up a few photographers. No one was interested. Bob Capa in Paris simply said, "Why the hell don't you take a picture yourself, you idiot?"

...It was like a revelation. To realize in an instant what had been simmering away inside you for so long, capturing it the moment it took on the shape I felt was right.

After that, there was no stopping me. I went everywhere, standing on bridges, in church entrances, on corners that looked promising. And then there was no film left. I bought another and decided there and then to become a photographer."

Inge Morath in Connecticut, 1986 - portrait by daughter Rebecca Miller
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

Inge Morath divorced her husband and returned to Paris to pursue her passion. After becoming an associate member of the Magnum Photos agency in 1953, she completed a reportage dedicated to Venice on one of her first assignments as a photographer -- she contributed photos to the illustrated volume Venice Observed, that provocative examination of La Serenissima by American author, Mary McCarthy.
"I am especially interested in photographing in countries where a new tradition emerges from an ancient one. I am more attracted to the human element than the abstract."
In the autumn of 1955, by then a full member of Magnum Photos, Morath returned to Venice on assignment for the art magazine L'Oeil, to take photographs focused on the daily life of the city. She was so enchanted by Venice that she managed to stretch her stay into three months with the help of a painter who found her a cheap place to stay. She roamed the calli and campi, capturing hundreds of images of ordinary Venetians going about their everyday lives -- about 80 photos of the 1955 Venetian series are here in Venice on display. The images were eventually printed as thumbnails onto contact sheets, but were never developed into actual photographs until about 10 years ago. Where were they hiding all that time?
Contact sheet of Inge Morath's first photos taken in 1951 - Photo: Cat Bauer

Enter Kurt Kaindl of the Fotohof gallery and publishing company in Salzburg, Austria, and one of the curators of the exhibition, who had plenty of personal anecdotes about Inge Morath to tell. Kaindl had met Morath when he interviewed her as a journalist for an article, and they became friends and colleagues. Fotohof, which was supported by the Austrian government to encourage photography on a national level, acquired part of her archive. Kaindl happened upon the contact sheets taken in Venice in 1955, and thought they would make an interesting compilation. Before Morath died of cancer on January 30, 2002 at the age of 78, they began the project based on those early Venetian photos that we can witness in Palazzo Grimani today.

Inge Morath, Marilyn Monroe on the set of The Misfits, Nevada, 1960,
©Fotohof archiv/Inge Morath Foundation/ Magnum Photos
Those first photos in Venice were the foundation of a career that spanned the globe -- there are about 200 photos taken over the course of Morath's extraordinary life on the first and second floors of Palazzo Grimani. One of the images of the exhibition that intrigued me the most was the photo that Morath took in 1960 of Marilyn Monroe silently rehearsing her moves on the set of The Misfits, a film written by Monroe's then-husband, the celebrated playwright, Arthur Miller. It took a real woman to capture the real essence of another real woman, concentrating on her work.


After meeting Arthur Miller on The Misfit set, Inge Morath would go on to become his third wife -- she married him on February 17, 1962, about a year after his divorce from Marilyn Monroe was finalized on January 20, 1961. Months later, Monroe would die on August 4, 1962.

Inge Morath and Arthur Miller had two children, Rebecca and Daniel, and lived a life in the "rurals" of Connecticut, with neighbors like the sculptor, Alexander Calder. Their daughter, Rebecca Miller, would grow up to become a filmmaker and novelist and Lady Day-Lewis after marrying the acclaimed and elusive actor, Daniel Day-Lewis.

Forgotten Shoes by Inge Morath
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

Inge Morath captured everyday life in Venice in 1955, glimpses of which I was fortunate to witness myself when I moved here in 1998 when there were still elderly women weaving lace in the courtyards and gossiping in the calli and plenty of butchers, cheese vendors and fishmongers selling essentials and school children walking around free, guarded by the watchful eyes of neighbors while the aristocracy got up to their own shenanigans on the Grand Canal. A Venetian colleague said that Morath's photos of what life was once like in Venice made her sad.

Morath never lived to see an exhibition of the 1955 work she did in Venice -- but she can see it now from the heavens. Kurt Kaindl said she would be very happy to have her early work shown in Venice, where the whole thing began.

Inge Morath - Fotografare da Venezia in poi runs from January 18 to June 4 2023 at Palazzo Grimani, a museum house that I have written about before. Go to Palazzo Grimani for more information -- if you can read Italian!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Saturday, December 31, 2022

The Spirit of Venice, a Beacon for Civilization in the New Year 2023

Palazzo Polignac far right; Salute Church far left - Photo: Cat Bauer from the Accademia Bridge

(Venice, Italy) It has become a happy tradition to kick off the New Year in Venice with a late morning concert at Palazzo Contarini Polignac on the day of New Year’s Eve when an international crowd is here. Music keeps the palace alive and humming — as it did during the days of the salon of the American heiress Winnaretta Singer aka Princess Edmond de Polignac, one of the heirs of the Singer sewing machine fortune (Isaac Singer had 24 kids!). Winnaretta's protégés included Debussy and Ravel. Both composers were on the program today. It was the best of all cultures.

Full house at Palazzo Polignac for New Year’s Eve Day concert

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m grateful that Venice remains a civilized city despite all the nastiness and deceit confronting the world these days. (Especially those who still try to cyber-influence Venice’s narrative from afar by way of social media, trying to create the illusion that they actually live here. Suggestion: Run the gauntlet and try to get a resident visa — it’s not easy. Really come and live here — see if you can make it. Or else get a real life.)

Today's New Year’s Eve Matinée invitation was worded like the good old days when people were cordial even if they disagreed:

This year there were two pianos, eight hands and a string quartet. The audience in the palace responded with applause and goodwill. Here is the program:

As long as there is music in the palaces of Venice, there is hope for the world. #LoveWins. #TruthWins.

Love is so powerful that it always wins.
Truth is so powerful that it always wins.
All it takes is Time.
——Cat Bauer

Happy New Year 2023!

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Sunday, December 25, 2022

Venice Is a Gift to Humanity - Merry Christmas & Buon Natale 2022!

Christmas in Venice 2022 - Photo by Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Venice is full of light this Christmas. From the twinkling lights in Piazza San Marco to the sparkly smiles of the locals as we greet each other in the street, the Christmas season is serene and full of tides of good cheer -- not tides of acqua alta and flood waters of destruction.

Just three years ago, in November 2019, Venice was hit by a disastrous flood. Then, in February 2020, came the global pandemic. Shop windows brimming with traditional Venetian masks of mystery and seduction were usurped by sterile hospital masks that covered the noses and mouths of pedestrians in the streets. (It will be interesting to see if Venetian artisans have found new inspiration after the most recent quarantine to incorporate another dimension into their 2023 Carnevale repertoire.) 

The Four Black & White Aquitaine Marble Columns of the Portal of San Pietro
Basilica of San Marco, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Venice has miraculously recovered after each calamity the gods want to fling at her. Instead of slowing dying a salty death from erosive seawater, the Basilica of San Marco in Saint Mark's Square is now tucked safely behind a wall of glass, and is prepared to face its third millennium. A post from 2019, before the flood:

Looking Far to the Future: San Marco - The Basilica of Venice in the Third Millennium

MOSE - Consorzio Venezia Nuova via AP

And MOSE, one of the biggest civil engineering projects in the world, actually functions when no one believed it ever would, including me. The underwater gates of MOSE astonishingly rise up to protect the rest of the city from flooding during high tides. I still cannot wrap my mind around the fact that humans engineered an underwater wall that surfaces to hold back the angry force of the Adriatic Sea and floats back down when the mission is accomplished.

At Christmas -- as at all times -- Venice is a gift to humanity filled with treasures and wisdom. Remember to be gentle with the wrapping paper when you open your gift.  

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

Wednesday, October 19, 2022

The Heart of Canova Beats Inside the Frari - Venice in Peril Fund Restores Burial Monument

Burial Monument of Antonio Canova inside the Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) Antonio Canova was considered the greatest sculptor of his time. When he died in Venice just before his 65th birthday, the super-star artist was mourned throughout the world. Born in the Venetian village of Possagno in the foothills of the Dolomites on November 1, 1757, he died 200 years ago on October 13, 1822. To commemorate the anniversary, Venice in Peril Fund, a charity based in the United Kingdom that conserves projects in Venice, restored his imposing burial monument inside the Frari church, which is in the startling form of a pyramid.

The monument is a cenotaph, which is a word derived from the Greek "kenos taphos" and means "empty tomb." However, the Cenotaph of Canova is not entirely empty. His heart is interred in the small burial chamber behind the half-open bronze door on the front of the pyramid. It is a tomb that Canova designed himself -- but not for himself.

Where is Canova's heart? Behind the bronze door - Photo: Cat Bauer

Canova was a Freemason, and his enormous cenotaph constructed from blocks of Carrara marble is embellished with symbolism. Erected in 1827 by his pupils five years after the sculptor's death, it was inspired by Canova's own designs for the cenotaph for Titian, the celebrated Venetian Renaissance artist who had died centuries earlier on August 27, 1576 at about age 95 from the plague. Titian wanted to be buried in the Frari -- and he was, but without a memorial marking his grave.

It took more than 200 years, but in 1790, Canova was finally commissioned to create Titian's mausoleum. When Napoleon's forces occupied Venice in 1797, it became impossible to erect Titian's tomb, so Canova's commission was never completed. (Poor Titian! Annoyances like deadly plagues and the collapse of the Venetian Republic kept getting in the way of him having a proper tomb.)

Today, you can visit Canova's models for the Titian tomb at the Accademia Galleries inside the newly restored ground floor rooms of the Palladio Wing, along with lots of other Canova goodies.

Model of Monument to Titian by Canova (c.1792) - Photo: Cat Bauer

Model of Monument to Titian by Canova (1795) - Photo: Cat Bauer

It wouldn't be until several decades later, years after Canova's own burial monument was constructed, that Titian's completely re-designed tomb was erected around 1850 directly across from Canova's cenotaph inside the massive Frari Church, thanks to Ferdinand I, the Emperor of Austria. After being on Venice's "to-do list" for nearly 300 centuries, Titian finally received a burial memorial that commemorated his vast talent.

Mausoleum Dedicated to Titan

Titian was the first person who inspired Canova's pyramid tomb art, but he was not the last. After the collapse of the Venetian Republic in 1797, Venice was tossed back and forth between the French and the Austrians. While under Austrian domination in 1798, Duke Albert von Sachsen-Teschen asked Canova to design a cenotaph for his wife, Duchess Maria Christina of Teschen, who had died earlier that year, and was buried in the Imperial Crypt in Vienna. Canova incorporated many of the same elements he had designed for Titian's tomb onto the cenotaph for Maria Christina, which was completed in 1805, and is inside St. Augustine's Church in Vienna.

Cenotaph of Archduchess Maria Christina, Duchess of Teschen
Photo: Diana Ringo

I've written several times about Canova, whose life paralleled world events that shook the planet, from the Napoleon conquests to the founding of the United States of America. Everybody who was anybody wanted Canova to preserve them in marble. By reading some of my previous posts, linked below, you can get a good sense of what was happening around the time of Canova, and gain some history. Just click the links if you'd like to read the entire posts.

One of my favorite posts is about Canova's sculpture of George Washington as a Roman general. Since Washington was already dead at the time of Canova's commission, he had to use his imagination by first creating a sculpture of George Washington in the nude. From 2014:

George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer
George Washington in the Nude by Canova - Photo: Cat Bauer

George Washington in the Nude - Sublime Canova - Revival of the Famed Sculptor in Venice

(Venice, Italy) I was astonished to learn that Antonio Canova (1757-1822), the renowned sculptor from the village of Possagno in the Veneto, had been commissioned to create a sculpture of George Washington by the North Carolina General Assembly back in 1816 for their State House when the Carolinians were feeling euphoric after the War of 1812.

Thomas Jefferson himself urged that Canova, whom he considered the greatest sculptor in the world, create the neoclassical statue, which was delivered to the United States on a war vessel, and arrived in Raleigh on December 24, 1821. Canova's depiction of Washington as an enlightened Roman general became "the pride and glory" of North Carolina, attracting visitors from near and far to their state capitol, including Washington's close friend, Lafayette. Keep reading.
George Washington for North Carolina
General Assembly

Then in October 2017, there was a fantastic exhibition at the Gallerie dell'Accademia entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice. I wrote two posts about the show:

Horse of St. Mark's plaster copy - Photo: Cat Bauer

When Venice's Loot Came Back from France - Canova, Hayez & Cicognara at the Gallerie Accademia

(Venice, Italy) When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in 1817, much of the plundered art has been gathered together in an outstanding exhibition entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice, curated by Paola Marini, Fernando Mazzocca and Roberto De Feo. The show offers not only a chance to see some exceptional works of art, but also an opportunity to learn some history about the tumultuous time.

Extended! Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Last Glory of Venice Exhibition at Accademia Galley with Two New Works

Canova Temple in Possagno - Photo by Cat Bauer
Canova Temple in Possagno - Photo: Cat Bauer

Canova's right hand used to be inside the Accademia di Belle Arti, and many sites on the Internet still erroneously say it is there, but it is not. In 2010, it joined the rest of his body (except for his heart) up in his hometown village of Possagno in a magnificient Temple that Canova designed and paid for himself-- in fact, he laid the cornerstone on July 11, 1819. He did not live to see it completed. He entrusted the work to his half-brother Giovanni Battista Sartori, who became a bishop and consecrated it himself on May 7, 1832.

It is well worth a trip to Possagno to experience the Temple, as well as Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa, filled with many of the wondrous plaster casts created by Canova -- including George Washington in the nude!

The Canova Museum & the Gypsotheca wing designed by Carlo Scarpa - Daytrip to Possagno from Venice

(Possagno, Italy) During his lifetime, Antonio Canova was the most celebrated artist in Europe. The neo-classical sculptor carved images of the gods into human form, and carved exceptional humans into marble gods. He immortalized both Emperor Napoleon Bonaparte and President George Washington in marble, depicting Napoleon as "Mars the Peacemaker" and Washington decked out as an ancient Roman general, complete with sandals. Canova captured love and beauty and courage and strength, and carved those noble attributes solidly into stone.

...A day trip to Possagno is a wonderful way to enrich a stay in Venice and gaze upon some works of genius far from the maddening crowds. First, visit the Correr Museum in Piazza San Marco and the Accademia Gallery to see what Canova treasures are in La Serenissima herself. (The original Canova marble monument to Admiral Angelo Emo is inside the Naval Museum, which is being restored.) Then, head up to Possagno. If you don't have a car, take the train to Bassano del Grappa, and then the bus, which drops you off right in front of the door.

Go to the Gypsotheca and Canova Museum for more information, and be sure to read my other two posts about Canova to get a more complete picture about the sculptor who turned humans into gods.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer