Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Frank O. Gehry in the Hall of Columns (Sala delle Colonne)

Photo: LUMA/Parc des Ateliers, copyright Frank Gehry and Gehry Partners LLP, 2010
(Venice, Italy) There was a full house this morning for the inauguration of the newly renovated Sala delle Colonne, or Hall of Columns, over at Ca' Giustinian, the headquarters of La Biennale -- they were still putting the finishing touches on the great hall just before people arrived.  The crowd was drawn not only by the chance to see the Sala, but also by the opportunity to view the LUMA Foundation's architectural model for LUMA/Parc des Ateliers. The model was designed by Frank O. Gehry, who was present, as was Maja Hoffman, founder of the LUMA Foundation. Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale, called Frank Gehry a lion, and said that he will always be a lion. I was surprised to discover that Frank Gehry is 81-years-old because his energy vibes so much younger. 

Frank Gehry commented about Maja Hoffman: "In my world, she's a very rare bird." I think Maja Hoffman is a very rare bird in anyone's world these days, but we must be grateful that she does, really, exist -- in fact, was actually here in the flesh -- and Venice was honored by her presence. From a press release:

"More than ever, in this current era of globalization, there are direct relationships between art and culture, human rights, environmentalprotection, education and
Maja Hoffmann, Founder of the LUMA Foundation

The Parc des Ateliers in Arles is a model and a master plan for a new type of cultural utopia. 
Imagined, invented and designed as the ultimate cultural destination by artists, architects, art professionals and intellectuals, in accordance with local inhabitants who have an intimate knowledge of the town of Arles, it is an open campus for creative production, display, study and preservation. Photography and the moving image are its central force and innovative research and exchange are its ongoing mission.
Aligned with the aims of the LUMA Foundation, its founding body, the Parc des Ateliers unites culture, education and the environment, and encourages a fruitful dialogue between disciplines and visions rich in contrast as vital elements of a forward-looking society.
Located in the heart of the city of Arles and surrounded by the unique environment of the Camargue, it acts as a bridge between the industrial heritage and the UNESCO-protected historical core of this multifaceted city. It also recreates the public park that was once the meeting place of every layer of its population, and thus becomes a project for and with the people of Arles.

Gehry stressed that the project was still a work in progress. He said he was working with a new material that came from the military -- very light; used to disperse the blast from weapons; Humvees have this material in their doors -- and he didn't know what would happen in the future, if some micro-organisms might move in and turn everything green. 

Paolo Baratta expressed his gratitude to the Comune of Venice, represented by Mayor Giorgio Orsoni, for its generosity toward the Biennale in general. Baratta envisions the Sala delle Colonne as an elegant conference hall, meeting room and performance space. The hall was originally built back in the 1930s to house a casinò, but protests by a religious organization that was training young priests nearby deemed its close proximity inappropriate. 

Hhhmmm... When I first entered the hall today, it took my breath away. The garden of glass flowers on the ceiling above lit the hall below with a magical light; the columns raised the room to a majestic height.  Even though the hall is young compared to other structures in Venice, it has weight. I thought it was wonderful, and beyond reproach by the religious organization that did not approve of the Sala's geographical location long ago. So, finally, we have a compromise, and it is a good one. 

From La Biennale:

"An important restoration for the Biennale was that of the Sala delle Colonne, which dates back to the 1930’s and features spatial and architectural characteristics that makes it a unique venue, which will serve as a flexible space for lectures, meetings, workshops and exhibitions, in particular for live performances. Ca' Giustinian now becomes a complete multi-purpose centre that can host permanent activities."

When I first started working with La Biennale years ago, Ca' Giustinian was in a state of disrepair. To see it restored back to life, alive and thriving, full of creative people, right in the center of Venice, right on the Grand Canal -- to see a palazzo reborn whose raison d'etre is not just another hotel  -- well, I can understand why Paolo Baratta expressed his gratitude to the Comune. It is proof that Venice need not only depend on mass, mindless tourism, but is capable of creating, once again, an oasis of intelligence and innovation, combining ancient venues with contemporary thought. 

Ciao from Venice,
Venetian Cat - Venice Blog

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