Friday, July 12, 2024

Titizé - A Dazzling Venetian Dream Takes Flight at Venice's Goldoni Theater

Titizé - A Venetian Dream - Photo: ©Viviana Cangialosi, Compagnia Finzi Pasca
(Venice, Italy) The historic Goldoni Theater, which was recently revitalized with a 2 million euro nip and tuck by the Venice Comune, transforms into a dreamscape with Titizé - A Venetian Dream. The production is a dazzling world premiere that promises to amaze and enthrall an international audience, old and young.

The show was written and directed by the visionary Daniele Finzi Pasca, one of the founding members of the company of the same name, Compagnia Finzi Pasca, based in Lugano, Switzerland. In its 40 years of international activity the company has created over 40 shows -- including 3 Olympic ceremonies, 2 shows for Cirque du Soleil and 8 operas -- and has graced the stages of around 600 theaters and festivals in 46 countries around the world for over 15 million spectators.

Titizé - A Venetian Dream - Photo: Cat Bauer
Titizé - A Venetian Dream blends the timeless art of commedia dell’arte with impressive acrobatics and contemporary innovations, creating a multi-dimensional spectacle that celebrates the Goldoni Theater's 400th anniversary.

Music, orchestration and sound design are by Maria Bonzanigo; the set design by Hugo Gargiulo; associate set designer Matteo Verlicchi; costumes by Giovanna Buzzi; with a cast of talented and flexible performers: Alessandro Facciolo, Andrea Cerrato, Caterina Pio, Francesco Lanciotti, Gian Mattia Baldan, Giulia Scamarcia, Gloria Romanin, Leo Zappitelli, Luca Morrocchi, Micol Veglia, Rolando Tarquini.

Titizé - A Venetian Dream - Photo: ©Viviana Cangialosi, Compagnia Finzi Pasca

A Venetian Dreamscape

We were treated to a early dress rehearsal to give us a taste of the wonders in store when the show opens on July 18. It runs every Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday until October 10, and lasts for an hour and 20 minutes with no intermission. It will then tour internationally, returning to Venice in the summer of 2025.

The production is inspired by the dreamy essence of Venice, complete with masks, Pulcinella, harlequins, water, jugglers, and fog. The music is hypnotic, the costumes are ravishing -- especially the mermaid soaring overhead with an impossibly long tail of 3 meters -- and the performers are astonishing. I was immediately bewitched by one fit fellow with impressive biceps and triceps who dangled his partner from an elaborate trapeze with just one arm around her waist!

Titizé - A Venetian Dream - Photo: ©Viviana Cangialosi, Compagnia Finzi Pasca
There is no story, and very little dialogue. The 18 different scenes are surreal and tumble into each other the way dreams do, with the magic of Venice holding the performance together. 

The show blends traditional theater with innovative technology, creating some mind-blowing illusions as the actors appear upside down in a surreal rain shower gripping a Mary Poppins up-up-and-away umbrella on a large digital screen on one side of the stage, while, at the same time, the audience witnesses the tech tricks of the live performers, lying sideways, on the other side of the stage. (You have to see it:-)

Titizé - A Venetian Dream - Photo: ©Viviana Cangialosi, Compagnia Finzi Pasca

Titizé - A Venetian Dream is the perfect entertainment for all ages and nationalities on a summer night in Venice. It is an acrobatic theatre show co-produced by the Fondazione Teatro Stabile del Veneto – Teatro Nazionale and the Compagnia Finzi Pasca for the international stage of the Teatro Goldoni in Venice, in co-production with Compagnia Gli Ipocriti Melina Balsamo.

Go to the Teatro Stabile del Veneto for tickets and more information.

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

Sunday, May 12, 2024

I Hear the Water Dreaming by Li Chevalier at the Museum of Oriental Art, Venice. The Swan Song of Paolo De Grandis

Silent Woods II - Inspiration Dvorak by Li Chevalier - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) On Friday morning, I climbed the grand staircase to the top floor of Ca' Pesaro, another vast palace in Venice on the Grand Canal. Ca' Pesaro is better known as Venice's International Gallery of Modern Art, and is part of MUVE, Venice's Civic Museums.

I had been invited to the opening of I Hear the Water Dreaming by the French-Chinese artist, Li Chevalier, curated by Paolo De Grandis and Carlotta Scarpa. 

I went mostly because I wanted to see Paolo De Grandis, whom I have known for years. Nearly everyone involved in the arts and culture of Venice knows Paolo De Grandis. Paolo De Grandis is an institution and a force of nature. Paolo had been ill, and I wanted to know if he was okay.

In quirky Venice, the top floor of Ca' Pesaro, is actually not part of the local MUVE museum system. It belongs to the Museum of Oriental Art (MOAV), one of the largest collections in Europe of Japanese art from the Edo period. The Museum of Oriental Art falls under the dominion of the Italian Minister of Culture. Luckily, that puts it in the hands of Daniele Ferrara, who is in charge of Italian museums in the Veneto, and is very cool.

Paolo wasn't there. So I spoke to Carlotta Scarpa, the co-curator, who is molto simpatica. Paolo was still ill. I became very emotional. We had a profound exchange. I knew Paolo had cancer, but I didn't know what kind. It was lung cancer. Carla said that Paolo would get better. I said I would say a prayer. 

Dark is life, Dark is death
Song of the Earth

by Li Chevalier
Photo: Cat Bauer

This morning, May 12, 2024, on Facebook, Leonardo De Grandis, Paolo's son, posted a beautiful image of dawn breaking over the sea, and said that his father, Paolo De Grandis, had left us.

Today is a significant day in Venice. Not only is it Mother's Day, and Ascension Day, it is Festa della Sensa, the day that Venice marries the sea. If one could choose a day to die in Venice, leaving the Earth on the same day that Jesus Christ ascended to heaven and that Venice married the sea is just about one of the best. (UPDATE: I just learned the actual time of death was on May 11.)

Paolo De Grandis with son Leonardo at "Allegory of Dreams"
La Biennale di Venezia Collateral Event from Macoa, China
Photo: Cat Bauer - April, 2022

I Hear the Water Dreaming

It took me some time to comprehend the complex universe Li Chevalier had conjured up with the 30 ink-on-canvas works she had created as a tribute to Venice, where she had begun her art education. The works were utterly distinct -- not only in the way she created them with ink and canvas and sand and paper, but in combining the Eastern and Western elements of her life. Li Chevalier transported ancient traditional Chinese ink painting into the 21st century. When I grasped the depth of spirit that went into her works of art, I was awestruck.

Born in China on March 30, 1961, Li Chevalier left Beijing in 1984, becoming a French citizen in 1986. She now works between Europe and Asia.

The ink-on-canvas works were inspired by the music of the Japanese composer Toru Takemitsu and the winter mist of the Venetian lagoon. When I asked Li Chevalier to elaborate, she said that the Chinese mind is not a binary "yes" or "no." It is both "yes" and "no" at the same time. It is misty like the fog on a Venetian winter's day when you can't tell where a palace begins and the water ends.

Carlotta Scarpa, Daniele Ferrara, Marta Boscolo Marchi, Li Chevalier
Photo: Cat Bauer

Here are the words of Paolo De Grandis from the catalogue of I Hear the Water Dreaming that I translated to English from Italian and French. The exhibition is poignant and wise, and a beautiful swan song. 

A Voyage to Venice with Li Chevalier
by Paolo De Grandis
Meeting Li Chevalier in 2016 was a moment of deep inspiration. I was immediately fascinated by her incredible personal experiences and her remarkable artistic practice.

From that moment, a close collaboration was born, which gradually transformed into a mutual desire to organize a solo exhibition in Venice.

This ambitious project underwent two crucial stages -- two key moments where the public could appreciate the talent of Li Chevalier and her unique approach to painting: OPEN International Exhibition of Sculptures and Installations in Venice and Trajectory of Desire at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Rome (MARCO).

The enthusiasm aroused by these experiences fueled our determination to carry out a project of a larger and more significant exhibition in Venice, a city steeped in history and culture that inspired Li Chevalier so much in her artistic training.

Now, after seven years of commitment and passion, thanks to the support of Daniele Ferrara, Director of the Veneto Regional Museums Directorate, and the enlightened vision of Marta Boscolo Marchi, Director of the Museum of Oriental Art of Venice, we find ourselves with the unique opportunity to present I Hear the Water Dreaming. It is not just the culmination of years of work and dedication, but a moment of celebration of one of the most profound expressions of intercultural art.

The exhibition is presented in the form of an in situ installation which establishes an unprecedented dialogue with the prestigious collection of the Museo d'Arte Orientale, one of the most important collections of Japanese art from the Edo period (1603-1868) in Europe. The exhibition rooms fuse Oriental works of art with the private spaces of a rococo residence, resulting in an aesthetic experience of extraordinary impact. This mix of styles and atmospheres lends itself magnificently to hosting temporary exhibitions. 

In her recent works, Li Chevalier captures the music of Japanese composer Toru Takmitsu, together with inspiration from the Venice lagoon. In fact, her works on canvas represent the fusion between Chinese ink and the very essence of the composition and peculiar materials of European painting.

The exhibition is a unique opportunity to immerse ourselves in the essence of Venice through the lens of Li Chevalier, a journey that starts from afar and invites us to look beyond the surface of the city... to penetrate the water that supports it... the perpetual motion that laps the shores of the lagoon... to relive atmospheres and sensations of a past that is still alive -- a centuries-old message of serenity and beauty.

You can witness I Hear the Water Dreaming until September 15, 2024. Go to PDG Arte Communications for more information.

Rest with the angels, dear Paolo De Grandis. Thank you for all the beauty and inspiration you brought to Venice from diverse cultures all over the world. You made a great impact on so many people's lives, and touched us deeply with your humanity.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Wednesday, April 24, 2024

Eva Jospin Transforms the Ground Floor of Palazzo Fortuny in Venice into a Fairy-tale Forest

Selva by Eva Jospin - Photo: Cat Bauer
Selva by Eva Jospin - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) I arrived at Palazzo Fortuny just a few minutes before the press conference for Selva started. I was eager to see the show. The invitation to the exhibition on the ground floor, or portego, of Palazzo Fortuny by the French artist, Eva Jospin, had caught my attention. ("Selva" translates to "woods.") 

I wanted to get a taste of the exhibit before heading upstairs to the press conference on the top floor of the palace. So first I dashed through a magical fairy-tale forest created from intricately carved cardboard and wood, framed with silk embroidery. The vast Fortuny portego had become more intimate with the addition of the fanciful forest.

Then I climbed up the rickety steps to the top floor of Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, otherwise known as Palazzo Fortuny.

Silk panels by Mariano Fortuny - Photo: Cat Bauer
Silk panels by Mariano Fortuny - Photo: Cat Bauer

If you've ever been to Palazzo Fortuny, you know the stairs are wooden, steep, and creaky. What is called the first floor in Italy, would be the second floor in the States. And it takes two flights of stairs to reach the next floor. So, by the time I got to the second floor, I stopped to catch my breath.

At the top of the stairs were three silk panels that I had never really noticed before.

"Are those part of the exhibition?" I asked one of the attendants.

"No," she smiled. "Those are by Fortuny."

"Oh!" The logic of the exhibition tumbled into place. "Eva Jospin seems right at home."

I grasped in a flash why the press release had stressed the dialogue between Fortuny and Jospin, two foreigners bewitched by the 15th century late Gothic Renaissance architecture of Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei.

Silk embroidery by Eva Jospin - Photo: Cat Bauer
Silk embroidery by Eva Jospin - Photo: Cat Bauer

Just a quick glimpse of the tangible tapestries explained the rather wordy press release:
“The works at the Fortuny Museum in Venice... dialogue not only with the historical and environmental context that hosts them, Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei, but... the artistic production of Mariano Fortuny.

A dialogue that allows unexpected aesthetic and operational affinities to emerge between the poetics of the two interpreters: a continuous comparison and reference between Jospin and Fortuny on Nature, on creative and experimental processes, which find their maximum expression both in the conception and research on fabric, as well as in the study of artifice and scenic fiction, always inherent to the theatrical universe, constantly reflecting on the themes of perspective, proportions and the visual and emotional relationship between artistic creation and spectator.”
Silk embroidery by Eva Jospin (detail) - Photo: Cat Bauer
Silk embroidery by Eva Jospin (detail) - Photo: Cat Bauer

Or, as they say, "one silk panel is worth a thousand words."

I had a terrific conversation with Eva Jospin about her creative process, and how she progressed from painting -- "I was not a good painter" -- to sculpting magical lands out of cardboard, which slowly grew bigger and more elaborate until now an entire whimsical new world fills the portego of Palazzo Fortuny.

Jospin's work is utterly distinct. I really liked her, and enjoyed wandering through the wondrous world she has created. I found out that we shared the same birthday, July 27, and are lionesses.

Later, at a cocktail party on the other side of town, I was chatting with a French gallerist, who told me that Eva's father was Lionel Jospin, the former Prime Minister of France. To me, that wise inheritance explained the knowledge woven into the works. The gallerist said, ‘But Eva Jospin is a talent in her own right."

Indeed she is.

Mariacristina Gribaudi, President of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia & artist Eva Jospin Photo: Cat Bauer
Mariacristina Gribaudi, President of Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia & artist Eva Jospin
Photo: Cat Bauer




The mystical Palazzo Pesaro degli Orfei casts its spell on many foreigners, as well as Venetians. There is magic woven into the ceilings, the floors, and the walls. You can feel the spirit of Mariano Fortuny so strongly that you almost expect to find him sitting behind his desk. Selva adds another element of enchantment.

Curated by Chiara Squarcina and Pier Paolo Pancotto, you can wander through Selva and Palazzo Fortuny until November 24, 2024. Go to Palazzo Fortuny for more information.

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

Saturday, March 30, 2024

Berlin's Berggruen Museum Takes Us on a Treasure Hunt Through Venice's Gallerie dell'Accademia & Across the Canal to Casa dei Tre Oci

The Yellow Sweater (Le chandail jaune) by Pablo Picasso (1939)
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) You are in for a surprise when you enter Sala I of the Gallerie dell'Accademia. The first thing you see is not the usual room full of artworks from the 14th century. You see The Yellow Sweater by Pablo Picasso, a 1939 oil on canvas he painted of his lover and muse, Dora Maar, on loan from the Berggruen Museum in Berlin. The modern masterpiece opens a stimulating dialogue with the pre-19th-century works of art that are safeguarded in the Accademia museum gallery.

What a clever idea! The Berggruen Museum is presently closed for major renovations. So, this was a chance for 43 modern masterpieces by Picasso, Matisse, Klee, Giacometti, and Cézanne to come to Venice to sojourn with Venetian classics like Giorgione, Bosch, Tiepolo, Ricci, Longhi, and Canova in an exhibition that is laid out like a treasure hunt.

There are 17 modern works sprinkled throughout imposing halls of the Gallerie dell'Accademia, with the rest over at Casa dei Tre Oci on the island of Giudecca, the new headquarters of the Berggruen Institute Europe.

The exhibition is titled Affinità Elettive or Elective Affinities, a term originally used to refer to certain chemical processes. Then the German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe got his hands on the concept and turned it into his famous 1809 novel that examines attractions and connections between certain individuals. In the novel, two guests arrive in the mansion of an aristocratic couple and flip their world on its head. 

Dora Maar aux ongles verts by Picasso (1936) in dialogue with La Vecchia by Giorgione (c.1506)

Likewise, the new arrivals from Berlin are livening up the venerable Old Masters in Venice. The modern works are hung next to Venetian classics, so it seems like the artworks are having a dialogue through space and time.

When you see Picasso's 1936 portrait of Dora Maar with Green Fingernails next to Giorgione's 1506 portrait of The Old Woman — created more than 400 years apart — you can just imagine the conversation the two women are having about how intense it felt to sit for those two demanding artists!

There is no set itinerary. The works of art are spread throughout the vast spaces of the Accademia, so pay attention as you wander through the halls. Here's a clue: there are four visitors from Berlin in the same room with with Jheronimus Bosch's Visions of the Hereafter.

Femme de Venise IV by Alberto Giacometti (1956) in dialogue with
Madam Letizia Bonaparte & Bust of Napoleon by Antonio Canova (1803-1806)
Photo by Massimo Pistrore courtesy of Gallerie dell'Accademia & Museum Breggruen

Museum Berggruen - Neue Nationalgalerie

Heinz Berggruen was born in Berlin on January 6, 1914. He immigrated to the United States in 1936 when things got too dicey to be Jewish in Germany. He moved back to Europe after WWII, eventually landing in Paris, where he met Picasso and other prominent artists of the era. He became an artists' representative and collector. 

Berggruen returned to Berlin in 1996 after six decades in exile. By then, he had assembled a precious collection of modern art with Picasso at its core. He lent, then sold, his collection to the Prussian Cultural Heritage Foundation (SPK), the German federal body that oversees museums and cultural organizations around Berlin. In 2000, 165 works were transferred from Berggruen to the SPK.

The Berggruen Collection has since morphed into the Museum Berggruen - Neue Nationalgalerie, set to reopen in 2026. Starting with almost nothing, by the time of his death at age 93 in 2007, Heinz Berggruen was considered one of the world's greatest art collectors. His family and heirs continue to support the museum and continue his legacy.

Billionaire philanthropist and investor, Nicolas Berggruen, is the oldest of two sons that Heinz Berggruen had with his second wife, German actress Bettina Moissi. He is the founder of the Berggruen Institute. His younger brother, Olivier, is an art historian and curator. His older half-brother, John, owns the Berggruen Galley in San Francisco. His older half-sister, Helen, is a San Francisco-based artist.

Michele Tavola, Gabriel Montua, Lorenzo Marsili, Veronika Rudorfer
in the new conference room at Casa dei Tre Oci

Casa dei Tre Oci - Headquarters of the Berggruen Institute Europe

The Berggruen Institute is a non-partisan, not-for-profit global network of thinkers whose goal is to create a better world. It is funded by the Nicolas Berggruen Charitable Trust. After creating sites in the East in China, and in the West in the US, the Berggruen Institute decided it also needed to have a thought center at the crossroads of civilization. 

Venice has long been a crossroads between the East and West, so the Institute established its center of European activity at the Casa dei Tre Oci, an architectural gem on the Giudecca Canal. Lorenzo Marsili is the Director of the Berggruen Institute Europe.

After closing for restoration, Casa dei Tre Oci reopened to the public with the Elective Affinities exhibition. On display are four works on paper from the graphic collection of the Accademia, and 26 from the Berggruen Museum, including works on paper by Klee, Picasso, Cézanne and Matisse.

Elective Affinities is co-curated by four individuals: Giulio Manieri Elia, Director of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice (who was in New York receiving the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture [FIAC] Excellency Award), and Michele Tavola, Curator; and Gabriel Montua, Head of Museum Berggruen in Berlin, and Veronika Rudorfer, Curator. 

You can visit the exhibition and go on an Affinità Elettive treasure hunt until June 23, 2024. Go to the Gallerie dell'Accademia for more information.

And you can also travel behind the scenes to the Elective Affinities press preview with photojournalist Nally Bellati. Visit the Contessanally visual online diary to see dynamic images of people, art, and nibbles served by Harry’s Bar at the opening.

What is weird is that I just noticed that I happened to be wearing a yellow sweater similar to the one Dora Maar wore in Picasso’s painting…

Seen at Casa dei Tre Oci 
Cat Bauer 
and Fabio Marzari
Photo: Nally Bellati


Ciao from Venezia,

Tuesday, February 27, 2024

The Marvelous Mind of Marcel Duchamp - The Lure of the Copy at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice

Le Roi et la reine entourés de nus vites (The King and Queen Surrounded by Swift Nudes), May 1912

Oil on canvas - 114.6 × 128.9 cm

Philadelphia Museum of Art, The Louise and Walter Arensberg Collection, 1950

© Association Marcel Duchamp, by SIAE 2023

(Venice, Italy) Before you enter into Marcel Duchamp and the Lure of the Copy at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, take a few minutes to watch the short film playing on a loop outside the main exhibition.

"A Conversation with Marcel Duchamp" took place between Duchamp and James Johnson Sweeney, the Director of the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, in 1956 when Duchamp was in his late 60s. They chat about his career, surrounded by Duchamp's artwork at the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

After his early explosion onto the art scene in 1912, Marcel Duchamp (July 28, 1887 - October 2, 1968) said to himself, "No more painting. You get a job." He became a librarian in Paris so he would have enough time to paint for himself and not have to worry about pleasing other people. He did not want to have to depend on selling his artwork to earn a living. 

Duchamp: ...You are either a professional painter, or you are not. There are two kinds of artists -- the artist that deals with society, that is integrated in society, and the other artist, a completely freelance artist ...that has no bonds.

Sweeney: The man in society has to make certain compromises to please them and to live. Is that why you took the job?

Duchamp: Exactly. Exactly. I didn't want to depend on my painting for a living...

Sweeney: ...Marcel, when you speak of your disregard for the broad public and say you're painting for yourself, wouldn't you accept that as painting for the ideal public, for a public which should appreciate you if they would only make the effort to?
Duchamp: Yes, indeed. It's only a way of putting myself in the right position for that ideal public. The danger is to please an immediate public, the immediate public that comes around you, and takes you in, and accepts you, and gives you success and everything. Instead of that, if you wait for your public that should come 50 years, 100 years after your death, that's the right public.
Marcel Duchamp died peacefully on October 2, 1968 at age 81 at his home in Neuilly, France after having dinner with his dear friend, Man Ray, and the art critic, Robert Lebel.

It's now been 55 years after the death of Marcel Duchamp. You have until March 18, 2024 to go over to the Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, the home of another long-time Duchamp friend, Peggy Guggenheim, and see if you are part of his right, ideal public.

Box in a Valise by Marcel Duchamp (1935-41)
Photo: Cat Bauer

Marcel Duchamp - The Lure of the Copy, curated by Paul B. Franklin, art historian and Duchamp expert, is the first exhibition at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection dedicated exclusively to Marcel Duchamp. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

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

Tuesday, February 20, 2024

Culture of Dust at Palazzo Fortuny - Catalan Photographer Joan Fontcuberta Transforms the Decaying Images of Italian Prince Francesco Chigi into a Cosmic Trip

Photographers photographing the photographer Joan Foncuberta at Palazzo Fortuny Photo: Cat Bauer
Photographers photographing the photographer Joan Foncuberta at Palazzo Fortuny
Inspired by the photographer Prince Francesco Chigi Albani della Rovere
Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) "What is the most decayed photographic material you have?" asked Joan Fontcuberta (Barcelona, 1955) after he was invited to be an artist in residency at the Central Institute for Cataloging and Documentation (ICCD) in Rome. ("Joan" is the male name "John" in the Catalan language.)

Since the late 19th century, the ICCD institute has been the National Photographic Cabinet that protects and catalogues the cultural heritage of Italy -- the ICCD is part of the Italian Minister of Culture.

So, as preservationists, it created a bit of embarrassment for the ICCD to confess that it did, indeed, have photographic materials that were in poor condition. But they had a good reason.

Trauma by Joan Fontcuberta - photo of image: Cat Bauer

What the ICCD had were extremely damaged glass negatives from the Fondo Chigi taken by Prince Francesco Chigi Albani della Rovere (1881, Rome - 1953, Rome), a member of one of the most powerful Italian families in history. The illustrious Chigi Family from Sienna, ennobled in 1377,  is rich with prominent members, from bankers to cardinals -- Fabio Chigi became Pope Alexander VII in 1655.

Even though Prince Francesco Chigi came from a wealthy family whose tradition was banking, he was a high school dropout. The youngest of five siblings, he was passionate about nature and the wildlife that populated his Roman villa, birds in particular. 

Francesco was also passionate about the new medium of photography. How could he capture nature?  How could he freeze the vibrant reality he saw twirling around him into photos?

He had the resources to invest in the costly equipment he needed to experiment. He documented his family life and residences, his countryside, his gardens, and his forests, as well as his travels.

Trauma by Joan Fontcuberta - photo of image: Cat Bauer

Years after Franceso’s death, in 1970, his son, Mario Chigi, donated his father’s photographic heritage to the National Photographic Cabinet. The collection contained about 6,000 units, mostly negatives on glass, of landscapes and panoramas, family portraits, mountains and lakes, villas and travels.

And birds. Lots of birds.

After being neglected and stored in unsuitable locations, much of the aging collection was damaged.

By the time Joan Fontcuberta came on the scene, many of the negatives were almost unrecognizable. This suited him perfectly. "This work is about infection," said Fontcuberta. Damaged by bacteria and other elements over the decades, the photographs were aging and returning to dust. Like humans.

Fontcuberta transformed 12 of the "suffering photographs" into new works of art, all entitled "Trauma." Displayed in light boxes inside the dark, vast ground floor of Palazzo Fortuny are riveting images, part Chigi, part Fontcuberta, that seem to come from the cosmos.

Joan Fontcuberta. Cultura di polvere at Palazzo Fortuny - Photo: Cat Bauer

In the catalogue, David Campany explains:
The promise of photography, born at the onset of a rapidly changing modern world, was immortality in the form of the frozen image that would last forever and lend itself to the mastery of history and of progress.

But it was a promise that could not be kept.

It is a cruel if poetic irony that photography, a medium tasked so often with the fixing of appearances and the preservation of history, should turn out to be so materially susceptible.

And, it is perhaps more ironic still that this medium which finds the visual effects of time -- decay, deterioration, mold, putrescence, entropy -- to be so photogenic, should inevitably itself succumb to these effects.

If photographs preserve anything of what they represent, it is only for a short time, and only if the photographs themselves are preserved.

Photography seemed at first impervious and absolute, but it turned out to be human after all: bold, vivacious and unmarked for a while, but eventually frail, decrepit and headed for the grave.

Prince Francesco Chigi original slide - Photo: Cat Bauer

Joan Fontcuberta has taken Francesco Chigi's outcast and unrecoupable photographs and resurrected them from the dust, thrusting them back into the cosmos. He has transformed them into new life forms. It's like he has saved and transmuted their souls.

Be sure to wander into the back room to read the catalogue and gaze at some of the original slides that have been eaten by time.

Joan Fontcuberta. Cultura di polvere, curated by Francesca Fabiani, has been extended until March 25, Venice's birthday, so you have more time to see the other-worldly images for yourself. Go to Palazzo Fortuny for more information. 

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

Monday, January 1, 2024

Comfort & Joy from the Powerful Lion of Venice - Here’s to a Happy, Healthy, Prosperous New Year - 2024

Winged Lion of Venice in Piazza San Marco - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The mysterious winged Lion of Venice on the top of the column next to Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco is a symbol of Venice's patron saint, Mark the Evangelist. It a testament to the strength of Venice's ability to adapt and survive.

The Lion of Venice came to the Venetian Republic from the world of Byzantium in the 12th century. But the core of the ancient bronze sculpture is much older, dating back to around 300 BC, before Christianity even existed. 

In the 1980s, restorers decided most of its body is about 2,300 years old. Its origins are cloaked in mystery.

It is believed by some that the Lion of Venice started life as a mythical griffin, a legendary creature with the body of a lion and the head and wings of an eagle, combining the king of the beasts and the king of the birds into one powerful image. 

It was probably a monument to the god Santa(s), or Sandon, worshiped in the city of Tarsus, which was in the province of Cilicia, in what is now Turkey. It’s where Mark Antony and Cleopatra first met, and where Saint Paul was born. The god Sandon was so powerful that he was worshiped from the 18th century BC to the first century AD.

During the Roman Empire, Tarsus was a "luxurious port city of great wealth and opulence" which became part of the Byzantine Empire until it fell. Luckily, someone snatched the lion and brought it to Venice sometime in the 12th century, saving it from the clutches of the Ottoman Empire -- the precise history is as foggy as the caigo on a Venetian winter’s day.

Then Napoleon came along and grabbed the Lion of Venice, using it to decorate the top of the Fontaine des Invalides in Paris. 

When the Austrians gained dominion over Venice, they and some influential Venetians brought the lion back home to the lagoon. 

The lion was smashed and damaged both on its way to Paris, and on its way back to Venice. After being repaired by Barolomeo Ferrari, it was perched back on its column on April 13, 1816.

The Lion of St Mark on top of a column in the Piazzetta in Venice, seen from the Doges Palace
Author: Peter J.StB.Green
I finally found a scholar who sums up perfectly the feeling I am trying to capture about the Lion of Venice. Thank you Garry Wills! Wills says it started life not as a griffin, but as a winged lion with horns. Here is an excerpt:

"The Lions of Venice"
GARRY WILLS
...Seen up close, its face looks partly simian, partly devilish, partly
human - an effect created in part by the placement of its ears on the sides
of its head, not on top. Was it intended by its creators to be a lion?
Restorers at work on it in the 1980s concluded that it was. Studying many
Near Eastern parallels, they found the closest to be the winged and horned
lions that carry a standing statue of Sandon, the tutelary god of Tarsus in
Cilicia.
When that region became Christian, the lion was shorn of its horns
and wings, which removed its pagan onus. It must, even in this early period,
have acquired some sacred meaning, since ancient bronze statues of this size
were almost always melted down for the reuse of their metal....
...The lion has suffered through all the city's vicissitudes over eight centuries of fame and shame, of downfall and recovery. Its silhouette, at dawn or dusk, in mist or glare, gives Venice comfort. Its eerie grin hides a thousand secrets, carried here from its bizarre beginnings and kept faithfully above the city whose identity it guards.
No matter what challenges the New Year will bring, and it appears there are many looming on the horizon, Venice remains under the powerful protection of the mysterious ancient Lion of Venice.

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, December 27, 2023

Christmas in Venice 2023 - Golden Vespers in Saint Mark's Basilica

Basilica di San Marco, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) If you want to witness the golden spirit of Venice, attend Vespers on Christmas Day inside Saint Mark's Basilica. Vespers is Evening Prayer, and takes place as dusk begins to fall. On a high holy day like Christmas, the Secondi Vespri is pure white magic.

"Vespers" means "evening," which became "evensong" in English. Gold is everywhere, glistening in the biblical stories told by the mosaics scrolled across the walls and ceilings of the Basilica. At the center is the Pala D'Oro, the shimmering panel of gold crafted in ancient Byzantium that frames the high altar. The Pala D'Oro feels like a direct line from Earth to the Heavens.

The Pala D'Oro inside St. Mark's Basilica - Photo: Cat Bauer

The Patriarch of Venice, Francesco Moraglia, leads the proceedings, draped in gold, surrounded by a small tribe of golden-cloaked priests. Incense wafts through the air, swinging, swinging, from a golden censer on a chain. Placed on the center of the altar is an elaborate golden monstrance, a vessel that holds the Eucharist, with beams that radiate like rays of the sun.

The prayers are sung by the angelic voices of the choir, the Cappella Marciana, accompanied by the powerful tones of the organ. The scene is intoxicating. Gazing at the mosaics… breathing the incense… listening to the hymns… you are transported to an ethereal realm of existence. 

And then, as the Vespers come to a close, the Patriarch lifts the golden monstrance above his head and beams its heavenly energy left, right and center directly at the congregation and you are blasted with a stream of Good, Good, Good Vibrations.

Madonna Nicopeia - Photo: Cat Bauer

The coda of the evening is the most beautiful. The Patriarch dons his pointy golden headgear and grips a golden staff. The priests descend from the altar and proceed down the center of the Basilica, a cloud of incense in their wake. As he passes, the Patriarch blesses the congregation.

Then congregation joins in behind the procession. The choir in the balcony chants the same hymn over and over as the group makes it way over to the Madonna Nicopeia, the icon said to have been painted by Saint Luke himself, which I have written about many times before.

The Patriarch takes off his golden headgear, and talks to the Madonna Nicopeia using the familiar "tu" form of address. In addition to praying for the world in general, he asks her for personal blessings for Venice. To keep us safe. And it feels like she is actually listening.

Christmas in Piazza San Marco, Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

There are 12 Days of Christmas that lead up to Epiphany on January 6th and the arrival of the Three Wise Men, the day when the Magi visit the Christ child. So, we are nestled in the warmth of the holiday season. While the rest world seems to be in turmoil this Christmas, inside Venice, all is calm. All is bright. May the golden energy of the Pala D'Oro reach everyone on Earth.

Buon Natale from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, December 18, 2023

Lessons From the Frontline Yet to Learn: David "Chim" Seymour - The World & Venice 1936-56 at Palazzo Grimani

Venice, Italy, 1950 © David Seymour/Magnum Photos

(Venice, Italy) The exhibition, David "Chim" Seymour - The World and Venice 1936-56, at Palazzo Grimani is poignant and haunting, especially with two major 2023 wars currently playing in the world's background.

Chim was one of the co-founders of Magnum Photos, the most respected international photographic cooperative in the world, founded back in 1947. For over 75 years, its photographers have documented profound historical events that have upended the earth.

The Chim exhibition is a collaboration between Palazzo Grimani and Suazes, an Italian cultural organization. Both institutions also co-presented the excellent Inge Morath exhibition at Palazzo Grimani in January, 2023, which was attended by more than 30,000 people.

As I wandered from room to room and gazed at the photos, the same thought played on a loop inside my mind: "Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it." From the Spanish Civil War, to post-World War II Europe, Germany, and beyond, after viewing the horrors imprinted on the faces of innocent children and civilians photographed by Chim, it seemed the only lessons human beings have learned over the decades is how to build more sophisticated weapons. So many of the same old battles are being fought between so many of the same old powers, which occasionally switch sides.

David "Chim" Seymour, Paris, 1956 by Elliott Erwitt
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

David "Chim" Seymour was born David Szymin in Warsaw, Poland on November 20, 1911. His family were distinguished publishers who produced works in Yiddish and Hebrew. At the outbreak of the First World War, his family moved to Russia, and then returned to Warsaw in 1919.

Chim (easier to pronounce than "Szymin" and not sounding as Jewish) left Poland in 1932 to study graphic arts and printing in Leipzig until things got too risky for Jews. He went to Paris where there was an established Jewish community, and studied chemistry and physics at the Sorbonne.

Chim needed to work, and being a photo-journalist was easier than writing articles in a foreign language -- he was an intellectual who knew his way around photography.

In 1934, through Maria Eisner and the new photo agency Alliance, Chim met fellow photographers Robert Capa, and Henri Cartier-Bresson. Robert Capa was born Endre Erno Friedmann, a Hungarian Jew who would go on to be considered one of  the greatest combat and adventure photographers in history. Henri Cartier-Bresson came from a wealthy Catholic family, starting and ending his career as an artist whose passion was drawing and painting, and who used his Leica camera to capture intimate moments of ordinary people, pioneering street photography.

Though there were other founders, this trio, along with George Rodger, would become the core of Magnum Photos. Often set against the backdrop of extreme suffering, and at personal risk, their photographs captured the humanist spirit.
"Chim picked up his camera the way a doctor takes his stethoscope out of his bag, applying his diagnosis to the condition of the heart: his own was vulnerable."
                                                                                -- Henri Cartier-Bresson


Left: David "Chim" Seymour greeting Henri Cartier-Bresson, Paris, 1938
Right: David "Chim" Seymour and Robert Capa, Paris, 1952
Photo: Cat Bauer

Curated by Marco Minuz, "Chim" is divided into nine categories:

1. Celebrity - The exhibit kicks off on a light note before delving into the darkness of war. Chim shot movie stars working on Cinecittà film sets in Rome, like Sofia Loren, Audrey Hepburn, Gina Lollobrigida and Ingrid Bergman, as well as many other celebrities.

2. France, The Popular Front - 1936-39 - Workers' strikes, growing international tensions following the rise of Hitler and Nazi-fascism in Europe -- Chim documented it all.

3. Venice - 1950
- In the early 1950s Chim spent much of his time in Italy. During a stay in Venice, he captured the charms of the lagoon city, including Peggy Guggenheim and her dogs.

4. The Spanish Civil War - 1936-39
- Chim spent 30 months in Spain reporting on a war that grew into a conflict on an international scale. Franco's forces were supported by Nazi Germany and fascist Italy, while the Republicans were supported by the Soviet Union and the International Brigades. Chim's lens focused on the plight of civilians behind the front line.

Spanish Civil War, Extremadura, by David "Chim" Seymour
Spain 1936
Photo of image: Cat Bauer

5. Germany Post-World War II - In 1947, Chim headed back to Europe after the end of WWII and photographed scenes like the ruins of the Brandenburg Gate and the Reichstag, and Dachau concentration camp, and the German people's return to normality.

6. Europe After the Second World War
- When Magnum Photos was created in 1947, the founders decided to "share out the world." Chim chose to focus on Europe, particularly Eastern Europe, documenting postwar Poland, Hungary and Czechoslovakia. In the 1950s, he traveled around France, Italy, Greece, and Israel.

7. War Children - In 1948, Chim was commissioned by UNICEF to document the living conditions of children in Europe three years after the end of World War II. For six months he traveled from Austria and Greece to Italy, Poland and Hungary, taking thousands of photos of children who had suffered severe physical and mental trauma, refugees, survivors of concentration camps, and other hellscapes. In some of the most dramatic images of the exhibition, he recorded the damage of war inflicted on an entire generation of innocents.

8. Egypt, Suez Canal - 1956 - On July 26, 1956, Egyptian President Nasser announced the Suez Canal had been nationalized. Three months later, on October 29, 1956, Israel invaded Sinai and the Gaza Strip with the support of France and Britain, trying to regain the Suez Canal. Chim traveled to Egypt to report on the crisis for Newsweek. He arrived in Port Said on November 7, 1956, by which time the hostilities had ceased. Together with other journalists, he documented the destruction and chaos in the city. These were the last photos he would take before losing his life three days later.

9. Israel - 1951-55 - From 1951, Chim traveled to the new State of Israel every year to document the gradual evolution of the young nation, immortalizing settlers, life on the kibbutzim, rituals and other customs and traditions. He also witnessed the industrial growth, the development of water networks and the expansion of mines and oil pipelines.

"Chim was a deeply cultured, well-read, highly intelligent, and very private person. The emotions that were bottled up in him poured out in this images of the Spanish Civil War: war-ravaged children; the living rituals of religion,; and the establishment of Israel."
                                                                            --Cornell Capa

On November 10, 1956, Chim and Paris Match photographer Jean Roy traveled 50 miles south to photograph a prisoner exchange at Al Qantara, the last post before Egyptian lines. For unknown reasons, they did not stop when Egyptian soldiers summoned them, and continued driving at full speed. As their jeep crossed the Anglo-French lines and headed toward the Egyptian lines, the two reporters were shot dead by Egyptian machine gun fire. Chim died 10 days before his 45th birthday.

David "Chim" Seymour lost his life documenting the realities of human existence on the frontlines so we can witness the repercussions of war and strife. The excellent David "Chim" Seymour Il Mondo e Venezia 1936-56 is at Palazzo Grimani until March 17, 2024.

I have written about Palazzo Grimani in English before, which might provide some interesting background, since the Region of the Veneto Minister of Culture website is (still) in Italian.

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