Monday, July 16, 2018

"May You Live in Interesting Times" - Ralph Rugoff, the curator of Venice Biennale Arte 2019

Ralph Rugoff & Paolo Baratta - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) This morning the press in Venice had the opportunity to meet Ralph Rugoff, the curator of  next year's La Biennale 58th International Art Exhibition. Rugoff chose the intriguing title, "May You Live in Interesting Times," based on what he initially thought was an ancient Chinese curse. However, after he did some research, he learned that there never was any such ancient Chinese curse, even though Western politicians have made reference to it in speeches for over a hundred years. So, Biennale Arte 2019 is titled after a counterfeit curse -- false information repeated over the decades -- fitting for the times in which we live.

Honestly, the moment I read the press notes, I knew something was wrong. I thought the word "curse," which was in the second paragraph, had been mistranslated. The translator came over and assured me the translation was correct. If I had read through all the notes before reacting, I would have learned the story behind the title. Now that I know the story, I think it is a terrific choice for Biennale Arte 2019, and made Rugoff's decision to keep the title after knowing there was no such curse even more fascinating. 

Rugoff, an American based in London, is the Director of the Hayward Gallery, considered one of the leading public art galleries in the United Kingdom. He said that Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, called him on the phone, and said, "This is Paolo Baratta. Do you know who I am?" and invited him to lunch in Rome. Rugoff said he was thrilled and excited, although he did not know exactly the reason for the invitation. They had an excellent lunch, and Rugoff found Baratta to be a "highly cultured, civilized man."

Rugoff said that he had attended Biennale Arte in the past, and found it exhausting -- there was enough art to see in two weeks, let alone two or three days. May You Live in Interesting Times aims to "welcome its public to an expansive experience of the deep involvement, absorption and creative learning that art makes possible. This will entail engaging visitors in a series of encounters that are essentially playful, taking into account that it is when we play that we are most fully 'human.'"

Ralph Rugoff & Paolo Baratta - Photo by Andrea Avezzù, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
Rugoff is the very first UK-based curator to helm the exhibition, and the first American since Roger Storr in 2007. He didn't give details about which artists he would invite, but said he was committed to doing a great amount of research, to travel around the world and talk to artists."How much can I learn that I don't know now?" He said he was not going to appoint assistant curators, or have a committee, but invite artists based on recommendations of other artists. He said he trusted artists the most, and "every good curator is only as good as their network of artists."

I found Rugoff's energy to be friendly and engaging, an American whose demeanor has been enhanced by years of living abroad. He very much believes that art is a conversation. Hopefully, May You Live in Interesting Times will provoke some compelling dialogue. Who knows what interesting times we will be living in next May?

May You Live in Interesting Times, La Biennale di Venezia 58th International Art Exhibition will run from May 11 through November 24, 2019, with previews on May 8th, 9th and 10th. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

Sunday, July 15, 2018

Feast of Redentore 2018 in Venice - Correcting a few misbeliefs

Redentore - fireworks in Venice 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I was going to write the definitive Feast of Redentore Venice Blog post this year, but after conferring with the head Capuchin friar in Venice, he convinced me that everyone was too busy, and that it could wait. There are many errors floating around the Internet that need to be corrected, which, hopefully will be attended to in the near future. (However, since I am me, I couldn't resist correcting a few right now:-)

Pontoon bridge for Redentore 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer
I am glad that most information has been corrected to reflect that Redentore takes place on the third Sunday of July, not the third weekend, or third Saturday. As I wrote back in 2016, in the year 2001. the first Sunday fell on July 1st -- as it did again this year. Hence, today, the third Sunday of July, was the Festa del Redentore, with the fireworks celebration starting the evening before, on the second Saturday.

Capuchin friars at Pesca di Beneficenza

What is the difference between a Friar and a Monk?


The Capuchins, or the Ordine dei frati minori cappuccini, are not monks. They are friars. Monks live in a cloistered community. Friars are out and about, in service to society. For example, there are monks at San Giorggio della Maggiore. There are friars at Redentore.


Detail of cross inside the Church of Redentore- Photo: Cat Bauer

Catholics believe in Miracles


You cannot be a saint unless you perform at least two miracles. That is a rule.We seem to forget that although an open, international town, Venice is a Catholic city inside a Catholic country -- after all, Italy, however secular it wants its image to be, is where the Pope has his headquarters. Yet Venice has always maintained its own unique form of Catholicism, with a deep connection to Byzantium. Venice has been excommunicated on more than one occasion by Rome.

The Senate of the Venetian Republic were big-time Catholics, in addition to being merchants, who truly believed that building a church to Jesus Christ the Redeemer would stop the plague. Which it did. This miracle is what Venice still celebrates 441 years later.

Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli - Photo: Cat Bauer

The Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli was not torn down to build Redentore


I have no idea how this misinformation has spread, but reality is that the small Church of Santa Maria degli Angeli still stands to this very day. The date on the photo in Roman numerals is: MDXXXVI, which translates into Arabic numbers as: 1536. More about this church in the future.

Winnings at Pesca di Beneficenza Redentore 2018 - Photo: Cat Bauer

What did I win in the Pesca di Beneficenza this year?


And now, most importantly: what did I win in the Pesca di Beneficenza, fishing for charity, or a lucky dip? I won some creme rinse, a useful sponge and, most peculiarly, a pencil emblazoned with the United States of America's Stars & Stripes.

Click on the link to read past posts about Redentore, which I have been writing about for decades:

Feast of Redentore 2017 in Venice - Same as it ever was


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

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Venice books - Two terrific historical thrillers by local author Gregory Dowling

The Four Horsemen by Gregory Dowling
(Venice, Italy) Since my Venice blog readers are passionate about La Serenissima and all her intrigues, and appreciate history, art and culture -- and are very smart -- I have a couple of book recommendations that are right up your calle. The books are also great for people who simply are looking for a good read.

Venice's own Gregory Dowling has begun a series of historical thrillers starring Alvise Marangon, a likeable cicerone, or tour guide, who becomes a reluctant spy for Missier Grande, the chief of the secret service police during the Venetian Republic. Set in the 18th century, the books are compelling and addictive, and will transport you into deep into the inner world of Venice with all its mysteries and conspiracies. In fact, they are so good that I had to completely reassess my impression of Gregory Dowling.

I first met Gregory years ago when we were both writing for the Time Out Venice guide book. I would see him every so often around town, and thought he was a very British, rather conservative professor at Ca' Foscari University. So when I recently read Ascension, his first novel in the series, (published in 2015 -- I'm late to the game) I was surprised to find his entertaining style of writing more American than British, until I remembered that his specialty is American literature. But that still didn't explain the riveting premise of the book, or account for the intricate plot.

Ascension by Gregory Dowling

Amazon's description of Ascension:

"Venice in 1749 - the city has lost its political and financial primacy but has become Europe's pleasure capital, famous for its gambling dens, its courtesans, its hectic carnival, its music, art and theatre - and the most highly organised secret service in Europe."

Alvise Marangon, the protagonist, was born in Venice but raised in England by his actress mother. Alvise has returned to Venice and works as a tour guide mostly for young wealthy Brits on the Grand Tour, together with his sidekick Bepi, a gondolier, wise as only a gondolier can be. Alvise speaks perfect Venetian and English, an ingenious touch that allows Gregory plenty of freedom to be creative with his dialogue and witty observations. Because Alvise is a cicerone, we are also privy to historical insights, told in an engaging way -- far more fascinating than reading a dreary guide book about Venice. Most of the locations are real and vividly drawn, so you can easily imagine yourself traveling around the city, and if you get lost, there is a period map on the inside cover so you can find your bearings. And because Gregory Dowling has a First Class Honours Degree in English Language and Literature from Christ Church, Oxford, the books are supremely intelligent page-turners. It's a tasty combination that I found irresistible. 

Gregory Dowling -  The Four Horsemen book launch at Hotel Saturnia - Photo: Cat Bauer

When I started reading the second novel of the series, I thought I had solved the mystery as to how Gregory had managed to write such brilliant books. In the foreword to The Four Horsemen, Gregory writes:

"After the publication of Alvise Marangon's adventures in Ascension a number of people asked me where I had come across this story. The answer, as so often in Venice, is in the archives. ...The archives contain all the reports drawn up by Venice's legions of confidential agents and spies. ... However, not all the files and folders have been scrutinised. I found on one shelf a folder that had been pushed to the back, bound with a leather strap that seemed never to have been loosened..."

"Ah, ha!" I thought. "Gregory did not think up the plots at all, he translated them!" Even translating ancient Venetian documents into a riveting story for contemporary readers was a feat in itself -- but the foreword was an explanation as to how this staid British professor had suddenly flipped and become so cool. However, I still had many questions: how did he manage to create such a likeable protagonist as Alvise Marangon from those dusty documents? And all those details? Just the amount of research he put into the books was boggling. I wanted to speak to Gregory to learn how he did it.

Amazon's description of The Four Horsemen:

"After reluctant spy Alvise Marangon is arrested in a tavern brawl, he is summoned to meet the Missier Grande, head of the city's powerful secret service. Rather than being expelled from the city, he is coerced into a top-secret investigation of the mysterious death of one of the service's agents and the existence of a mysterious secret society. Formed by four rakish noblemen, it is known as the Four Horsemen and dates back to the Ottoman Empire. As Alvise delves into the case, he finds all the hallmarks of assassination and corruption, and is soon profoundly out of his depth and on the run."

Luckily, in true Venetian synchronicity, Gregory and I both happened to attend Rosella Mammoli Zorzi's book launch of Wonder and Irony, a guide book of Palazzo Ducale told through the eyes of Henry James (Wonder) and Mark Twain (Irony) that was convened inside the Doge's private chapel. We entered through the grand Porta della Carta at about the same time. I dashed up to Gregory. "I just read your books. I borrowed them from (a mutual friend). I love them! I think they are brilliant! But, in the foreword of The Four Horsemen, you said you found documents in the Archives -- "

Gregory said, "Oh, I made that up."

I was astonished. "You invented the foreword, too? You mean you actually invented the plots, and the characters, and then you invented the foreword to explain it all? That is so clever!"

Gregory was grateful for the compliment, but also excited about going inside the Doge's private chapel, which had been long out of the public eye and recently restored. "Yes. Thank you! Isn't this great?" 

Doge's private chapel - Rosella Zorzi's book launch - Photo: Cat Bauer
I am revealing his secret, but I think it should be revealed because it underlines how very talented Gregory Dowling is. It seems I had the wrong impression of him. He's got that Oxford mind, but years of living in Venice have made him Venetian, capable of creating such a likeable narrator as Alvise Marangon, a narrator out of his depth yet still able to conquer whatever Venetian intrigues come his way. There are so many books set in Venice that just scrape the surface, written by people who only know the city superficially. Gregory Dowling's books are a genuine bridge between the inner sanctum of Venice and the outside world. I hope they will soon be translated into Italian so more Venetians can enjoy them, too. 

I cannot wait for the next Alvise Marangon historical thriller.

"Dowling teaches American literature at a university in Venice. It shows. Ascension blends a laconic, amused style informed by American detective literature with a profound knowledge of Venetian geography and history. Stylish, clever and gripping." The Times

"Alvise is a terrific character, the murder mystery is absorbingly ingenious and, if you are a sucker for Venice, the sights, sounds and smells of its streets and canals ooze up from the page." Daily Mail 

"Wonderful...I loved being transported to my favourite time in my favourite city." Andrea di Robilant

"A special thriller set in the Venetian past -- its colours and intrigues so vividly described." Francesco da Mosto

"A wonderful page-turner with a fabulous cast of characters." Historical Novels Society

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

Sunday, June 24, 2018

The Era of Fiorucci dawns in Venice

Era of Fiorucci at Ca' Pesaro - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) If you were alive in the 1960s and 70s, you will remember when the world burst from black and white into color, with Swinging London as the headquarters of the cultural revolution. Almost overnight, the gloomy post-war world seemed to disappear, and a kaleidoscope of art and music bounced along the wavelengths. There were the Beatles and miniskirts, and pop stars and supermodels, and bright, bold, groovy fashions streamed straight into your living room with the amazing new technology: color TV.

And in Italy, there was Elio Fiorucci, who transported Swinging London to Milan, and then Manhattan, which exploded into a global phenomenon. 

Epoca Fiorucci at Ca' Pesaro - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Era of Fiorucci at Ca' Pesaro celebrates the man who injected pop and playfulness into a time in Italy that was dark with domestic terrorism. Born on June 10, 1935 in Milan, Elio Fiorucci was the son of a shoeshop owner. He started designing bright rubber boots and selling them in stores around Milan. In 1967, he took a trip to London, and the idea for his fashion empire was born. Fiorucci would go on to define the look for generations of young people, and basically created the concept store.

Fiorucci revolutionized the jean industry after he saw a woman emerge from the sea, wet jeans clinging to her body, at a party in Ibiza, Spain. He created stretch jeans, using Lycra to transform them into a sexy, seductive garment. The Fiorucci logo -- two cherubs "Made in Heaven" -- graced the derrieres of countless young women. Afghan coats, leopard prints and accessories in Day-Glo colors were classics of the brand. He invented gold lamé trousers and popularized the bikini, and believed everyone should have the freedom to express themselves.

In 1976, Fiorucci opened a global emporium on East 59th Street in New York, which became "the daytime Studio 54," attracting everyone who was anyone -- Elizabeth Taylor, Liza Minelli, David Bowie, Truman Capote, Jackie Onassis, Andy Warhol, Madonna -- as well as artists and designers of all stripes. The legendary Maripol was designing jewelry; the performance artist Joey Arias was the lead salesman. Fiorucci was rock 'n roll, sexy and playful. It was a haven for the cool kids of the world.  

Nally Bellati at Epoca Fiorucci press conference Ca' Pesaro - Photo: Cat Bauer
During the inauguration at Ca' Pesaro on Thursday, which was fittingly at the same time as the summer solstice, I had the opportunity to talk to Nally Bellati, Venice's own photojournalist, who worked with Fiorucci for ten years as a buyer/designer, starting back in 1968. Later, in 1978, encouraged by her husband, photographer Count Manfredi Bellati, Nally's first photographic works were social party portraits for Vogue Italia. Soon after, she scored her first feature for the men's fashion magazine, L’Uomo Vogue: portraits of famous men in their pajamas. She then went on to work with top fashion houses and design companies, and continues her passion today with her blog, Contessanally.

Nally Bellati at Epoca Fiorucci inauguration - Photo: Cat Bauer
Nally was there with Fiorucci in Milan in the beginning. She would accompany him on his shopping trips to Swinging London, her home town, and created some of the signature Fiorucci fashion statements. British born Nally had an English father and Italian mother, so she would translate for Fiorucci who didn't speak English, but communicated instead by instinct and intuition, the language of the heart.

"He was amazing! He was like a kid in a toy shop. We went to London and had no idea what we were doing. We were young and inexperienced. We bought everything retail, the clothes were so cheap, and stuffed them into those big military surplus sacks. Fiorucci had a friend who worked for Alitalia, and we shipped them back to Milan. Then he had them ironed out and put in the store for sale. He was fascinated by everything."

Epoca Fiorucci at Ca' Pesaro - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition is chock full of hundreds of photographs, posters, clothes and fanciful objects, reconstructing the "market of ideas and things." Fiorucci's passion for art and contemporary architecture led to collaborations and inspirations with artists such as Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, and architects like Sottsass, Mendini, Branzi and De Lucchi.


In addition, his passion for art and contemporary architecture led him to mix with architects such as Sottsass, Mendini, Branzi and De Lucchi, who, like him, were major innovators, or artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, from whom he did not request artworks but creative contributions in conceiving places, stories and events where the main role was played by the individual and his or her desires.

http://capesaro.visitmuve.it/en/mostre-en/mostre-in-corso-en/exhibition-epoca-fiorucci/2018/04/19713/the-exhibition-11/
In addition, his passion for art and contemporary architecture led him to mix with architects such as Sottsass, Mendini, Branzi and De Lucchi, who, like him, were major innovators, or artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, from whom he did not request artworks but creative contributions in conceiving places, stories and events where the main role was played by the individual and his or her desires.

http://capesaro.visitmuve.it/en/mostre-en/mostre-in-corso-en/exhibition-epoca-fiorucci/2018/04/19713/the-exhibition-11/
In addition, his passion for art and contemporary architecture led him to mix with architects such as Sottsass, Mendini, Branzi and De Lucchi, who, like him, were major innovators, or artists like Keith Haring, Jean-Michel Basquiat and Andy Warhol, from whom he did not request artworks but creative contributions in conceiving places, stories and events where the main role was played by the individual and his or her desires.

http://capesaro.visitmuve.it/en/mostre-en/mostre-in-corso-en/exhibition-epoca-fiorucci/2018/04/19713/the-exhibition-11
Elio Fiorucci died in 2015 at age 80, but his spirit lives on. Last year, on the 50th anniversary of the brand, longtime Fiorucci fans Stephen and Janie Schaffer announced they would resurrect the label, which has already inspired a whole new generation to wear two cherubs on their chest. So, who knows? Maybe the spirit of Fiorucci is the colorful revolution we need to once again brighten up the world.

Epoca Fiorucci opened to the public yesterday, June 23, at Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art and runs through January 6, 2019. Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information.

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

The Russians are Coming! Exploring "The Explorers, Part One" at the V-A-C Foundation in Venice

Water door of Palazzo delle Zattere - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The V-A-C Foundation in Venice just keeps on getting better. Founded in Moscow in 2009 by Russian billionaire Leonid Mikhelson, the non-profit is named after his daughter, Victoria, an art history graduate. Under the directorship of the delightful Teresa Iarocci Mavica, who is Italian, its core mission is to overcome cultural divisions. It is a platform for open discussions, as well as the development and international presentation of Russian contemporary culture.

Personally, I think it's refreshing, and can get lost in there for hours. With all the drama about Russia influencing everything in the world today, visiting the V-A-C Foundation is an opportunity to see with your own eyes how the institution chooses to present itself, and draw your own conclusions.

Last year, V-A-C arrived with a flourish at their Venice headquarters inside Palazzo delle Zattere, which had been restored by Venetian architect Alessandro Pedron, turning the 19th century palace into a space for exhibitions, events and residencies. The palace faces an impressive view of the Giudecca Canal, and now the garden in the back has been transformed into a very cool eatery called "sudest 1401," enhanced by a new installation entitled "Laguna Viva."

Sudest 1401 - Photo: Cat Bauer
I first tasted Hamed Ahmadi's exotic food back in 2013, so I am thrilled that his Orient Experience, inspired by the dishes of refugees, has teamed up with V-A-C to create sudest 1401. Born in Afghanistan in 1981, Ahmadi and two colleagues came to Venice in 2006 to present a documentary at the Venice Film Festival. They received threats from extremists, and couldn't return to Afghanistan, so they sought political asylum in Venice. From a refugee camp on the mainland, Ahmadi decided to organize a festival, and the festival needed food, so the refugees came up with dishes inspired by their journeys. After many years and a lot of hard work, their efforts culminated in the first Orient Experience restaurant. You can read more about Hamed Ahmadi and his fascinating journey at Vice's Munchies.

Sudest 1401 features traditional regional dishes from the Balkans, the Middle East and Sicily, and honestly, I am reluctant to tell you about it for fear that it will become too crowded. The menu "narrates the geographical and cultural journey undertaken by migrants on their way to Italy." It is open every day from 8am to 11pm, and has indoor seating at the rear of Palazzo delle Zattere, as well as outdoor tables in the peaceful garden -- which brings us to Laguna Viva.

Giles Smith & Jane da Mosto of Laguna Viva - Photo: Cat Bauer
Laguna Viva (Living Lagoon) is the first stage of a long-term strategy to enable Palazzo delle Zattere to engage with the complexities of everyday life in Venice. V-A-C Foundation commissioned London based collective Assemble Studio to develop a project for the garden and indoor area where sudest 1401 is located. Assemble asked We Are Here Venice, an independent organization passionate about Venice's challenges as a living city, to collaborate. Based on the successful experiment by Venice resident and WAHV Executive Director Jane da Mosto for the British Pavilion at the 12th Architecture Biennale, Assemble and WAHV have created an enchanting mini lagoon, complete with salt marshes, in two tanks inside the garden. It is really remarkable -- you can have a special meal, surrounded by the tranquility of the Venice lagoon, while actually sitting inside the garden.

You can read more about the project at Slow Words.

And now for the main show, THE EXPLORERS, PART ONE.

Rite of Spring from Marlinsky Theatre clip - Photo: Cat Bauer
I have always been fascinated by the stories I've heard about the premiere of Igor Stravinsky's ballet The Rite of Spring, commissioned by Serge Diaghilev for the 1913 Paris season of the Ballet Russes -- especially because both men are buried here in Venice on the island of San Michele. Choreographed by Vaslav Nijinsky, it is subtitled "Scenes from Pagan Russia in Two Parts," and famously caused a riot at its premiere, which has been called "the most important single moment in the history of 20th century music."

Nijinsky's original choreography was forgotten by 1920, and was only reconstructed by Millicent Hodson in 1987. It is that choreography performed by the Marlinsky Orchestra and Ballet in 2007 that you can see inside Palazzo della Zattere. I must have watched the two climaxes -- Dance of the Earth in Part 1 and Sacrificial Dance of the Chosen One in Part 2 about four or five times -- I was reading Igor Stravinsky by Jonathan Cross in the next room under the wry eye of Andy Warhol's Cow, and dashed over to see the film when the pounding music compelled me to put the book down. Can you imagine such an environment? It was paradise!

Cow by Andy Warhol (1966) - Photo: Cat Bauer
Two artists and a curator explore masterpieces from the V-A-C Collection in The Explorers, Part One. Lynnette Yiadom-Boakye is a painter; James Richards is a filmmaker; Iwona Blazwick is the Director of Whitechapel Gallery, where the show was first seen in 2014-15. So the artists, who are part of the V-A-C Collection, are curating installations based on other works they found in the V-A-C Collection, and the curator is curating the curators.

And it appears that the V-A-C Collection has a lot of treasures to explore. Yiadom-Boakye's theme is "nature -- natural and unnatural," which is where the Rite of Spring and Cow come in, as well as plenty of other goodies. Within that installation is another video that riveted me, the Estonian artist Jaan Toomik's Dancing with Dad.  Toomik lost his father at the age of nine. As an adult, he visits his father's grave inside an Estonian forest, and lets loose to the wild wail of Voodoo Child by Jimi Hendrix. I was moved to tears.

Dancing with Dad by Jaan Toomik (2003) - Photo of video clip by Cat Bauer
On the second floor, James Richards' installation revolves around a single Francis Bacon work, Study for a Portrait, which he augments with a sound installation, To Replace a Minute's Silence with a Minute's Applause. Iwona Blazwick complements that installation with works by the likes of Renoir, Cindy Sherman and Giacometti.

Study for a Portrait by Francis Bacon (1953) - Photo: Cat Bauer
The V-A-C Foundation is not the only foreign organization in Venice with a dazzling collection to display. We have the French represented by François Pinault with his Palazzo Grassi and the Punta della Dogana, and the United States with its Peggy Guggenheim Collection. One big difference about the V-A-C Foundation is that it is free. There is no charge to enter Palazzo delle Zattere, nor the garden, and the food at sudest 1401 is very reasonably priced. A standard ticket for Palazzo Grassi + Punta della Dogana costs €18; the Guggenheim costs €15. So you can drop into the V-A-C Foundation whenever you like; read a book; sit in the garden; or watch the Rite of Spring over and again.

THE EXPLORERS, PART ONE runs through October 22, 2018. Go to the V-A-C Foundation for more information.

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

Monday, May 28, 2018

Top 3 Favorite National Pavilions at #FREESPACE - La Biennale Architecture Exhibition 2018 in Venice

Bed-In by Beatriz Colomina - Dutch Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) As a lay person with no background in architecture except for what I've learned after 20 years of living in and blogging about Venice -- the most architecturally beautiful city in the world -- what appeals to me at #FREESPACE, this year's La Biennale di Venezia 16th International Architecture Exhibition, is probably different from what appeals to professionals in the biz.

I am not including the Vatican Chapels in my Top 3 because it is in a class of its own. There were so many people at the inauguration on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore on May 25 that I just got a taste of it, and must return at a calmer time.

NUMBER ONE: The Dutch Pavilion - WORK, BODY, LEISURE

The Dutch Pavilion - WORK, BODY, LEISURE - Photo: designboom
I was just going to buzz through the Dutch Pavilion, but it was so riveting that I got stuck in there for about an hour. Upon entering, you see what appears to be a bunch of orange lockers. But when you tug on the knobs and open the lockers, there are great surprises inside. Some are windows. Some contain images. Some contain text. Some contain drawers filled with news clippings and documents. Others open onto powerful mise-en-scènes. And some are actually doors, with an entire world on the other side.

Commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut and curated by architect and researcher Marina Otero Verzier, "the project seeks to foster new modes of creativity and responsibility within the architectural field in response to emerging technologies of automation." The curator invited a potpourri of architects, designers, historians and theorists who take us on a journey through human labor, and how robots will impact mankind's future.

Bed-In by Beatriz Colomina - Dutch Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
As a die-hard John Lennon disciple, I was astonished when I opened one door and walked into a recreation of Room 902 of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel, the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace, held from March 25 to 31, 1969. Beatriz Colomina, the creator of the installation, explained: "Here the bed -- a horizontal architecture for protest, work, production and reproduction -- becomes a 'fucktory,' anticipating the working bed of today." Columina has written an essay entitled The 24/7 Bed, which you can read here.

The Netherlands Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

NUMBER TWO: The Israeli Pavilion - IN STATU QUO

Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
and Surroundings, Jerusalem, 1862
Photo: Cat Bauer
The Israeli Pavilion captured me by illustrating just how difficult it is to maintain the status quo in the Holy Land, let alone try to determine a permanent solution. Subtitled Structures of Negotiation, the exhibition "traces the complex and controversial mechanism of coexistence that was established in the nineteenth century: the Status Quo," and focuses on five contested holy sites.

The pavilion starts on the ground floor with a model of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and surroundings, commissioned by the Turkish governor, Sureyya Pasha, in 1862, more than 150 years ago -- the same proprietary rights are still in effect today. Which denomination of Christianity owned what was so complicated that Pasha needed a 3D model to explain the situation to his superiors in Constantinople. So he commissioned Conrad Schick, a German Protestant archaeologist and clock maker to build a wooden model to try to make some sense out of the whole thing.

The Holy Sepulcher contains two of the most important Christian sites: where Jesus Christ was crucified, and his empty tomb. It was an effective reminder that it isn't only Muslims and Jews that are fighting over the territory of the Holy Land, but that Christians make strong claims on the region, too, and have been battling over Jerusalem for centuries.

Legend for the different Christian denominations in the Holy Sepulchre - Photo: Cat Bauer (with foot:-)
Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem is revered as the burial place of the biblical matriarch, Rachel, and is considered holy by all the Big Three: Jews, Christians and Muslims. It used to be that the roadside tomb was open to everyone; it is now surrounded by a 26-foot high separation wall and accessible only to Jewish worshipers.

The other three sites are the Mughrabi Ascent in Jerusalem, the only one of the eleven entrances to the upper level of the Temple Mount that is open to non-Muslims; The Cave of the Patriarchs aka the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, shared by both Jews and Muslims; and the Western or Wailing Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, which was created after Israel destroyed the 800-year-old Muslim Mughrabi Quarter in 1967 and transformed an intimate courtyard into a vast plaza.

The Israel Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

NUMBER THREE: The Romanian Pavilion - MNEMONICS

Mnemonics at the Romania Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
I loved the Romanian Pavilion simply because it was fun and I got to play with a bunch of kids. Inside the grey and pedestrian pavilion are childhood playground games like swings and ping pong, devoid of any color. I hopped on one of those foot-propelled old-fashioned carousels and was spinning myself around when some little girls jumped on. I hopped off and started spinning them so they could go faster -- but not too fast -- when suddenly the carousel kicked into warp speed after a 12-old-boy hopped on. The kids were just flying, and my memory lit up with colors and swirls and green grass and trees and pine needles and brown earth, and how when we were kids we would spin ourselves right off the carousel, and how much fun that was, which is the simple message of Mnemonics. Fun for grownups, too!

"Mnemonics refers to the power of space to generate strong, vivid memories." The Romania Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

La Biennale di Venezia - 16th International Architecture Exhibition runs through November 25, 2018. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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