Saturday, January 26, 2013

FUNDAMENTALS – the Venice Biennale 14th International Architecture Exhibition

China Central Television Headquarters, Beijing, by Rem Koolhaas & Ole Scheeren of OMA
(Venice, Italy) With the appointment of the dynamic Rem Koolhaas as curator, the Venice Biennale International Architecture Exhibition has dramatically changed its modus operandi as it looks forward to 2014. Originally created as an "imitation" of the Art Biennale, the Architecture section of Biennale is evolving into a major exhibition-research project conducted by the curator, and has become the most important event in the world for Architecture. The opening date has been moved up to June 7, 2014, and it will last as long as the Art Biennale, about six months, through November 23, 2014. Instead of the eight months that David Chipperfield, last year's director, had to prepare, Rem Koolhaas will have nearly a year and a half to organize his theme: FUNDAMENTALS

Paolo Baratta & Rem Koolhaas
President Paolo Baratta explained the evolution of the Architecture Biennale, and consequently the choice of Rem Koolhaas:

We are universally recognized as the most important event in the world for Architecture. We are the place where Architecture talks about itself and meets life and society at large. Over the past few years, our choices of curators and themes have been based on the awareness of the gap between the “spectacularization” of architecture on one hand, and the waning capacity of society to express its demands and needs on the other. Architects are called upon prevalently to create awe-inspiring buildings and the “ordinary” is going astray -- toward banality if not squalor: a modernity lived badly. We have made choices oriented towards addressing the issue of this gap.”

Smithsonian (Tung Walsh)
In a September 2012 article for The Smithsonian, Nicolai Ouroussoff asked: Why is Rem Koolhaas the World's Most Controversial Architect?

"...Koolhaas’ habit of shaking up established conventions has made him one of the most influential architects of his generation. A disproportionate number of the profession’s rising stars, including Winy Maas of the Dutch firm MVRDV and Bjarke Ingels of the Copenhagen-based BIG, did stints in his office. Architects dig through his books looking for ideas; students all over the world emulate him. The attraction lies, in part, in his ability to keep us off balance. Unlike other architects of his stature, such as Frank Gehry or Zaha Hadid, who have continued to refine their singular aesthetic visions over long careers, Koolhaas works like a conceptual artist—able to draw on a seemingly endless reservoir of ideas."

Yesterday, January 25, 2013, President Paolo Baratta and Director Rem Koolhass met with the representatives of 40 countries participating in the 14th Exhibition at Ca' Giustinian, Biennale Headquarters, to present the theme: FUNDAMENTALS. Paolo Baratta emphasized: "It is a theme, not a slogan."  

Koolhaas has stated: 

Fundamentals will be a Biennale about architecture, not architects. After several Biennales dedicated to the celebration of the contemporary, Fundamentals will focus on histories – on the inevitable elements of all architecture used by any architect, anywhere, anytime (the door, the floor, the ceiling etc.) and on the evolution of national architectures in the last 100 years. In three complementary manifestations – taking place in the Central Pavilion, the Arsenale, and the National Pavilions – this retrospective will generate a fresh understanding of the richness of architecture’s fundamental repertoire, apparently so exhausted today.

In 1914, it made sense to talk about a “Chinese” architecture, a “Swiss” architecture, an “Indian” architecture. One hundred years later, under the influence of wars, diverse political regimes, different states of development, national and international architectural movements, individual talents, friendships, random personal trajectories and technological developments, architectures that were once specific and local have become interchangeable and global. National identity has seemingly been sacrificed to modernity.

US WWI Poster for saving stamps
Having the decisive advantage of starting work a year earlier than the Biennale’s typical schedule, we hope to use this extra time to introduce a degree of coordination and coherence among the National Pavilions. Ideally, we would want the represented countries to engage a single theme – Absorbing Modernity: 1914-2014 – and to show, each in their own way, the process of the erasure of national characteristics in favour of the almost universal adoption of a single modern language in a single repertoire of typologies.

Italy WWI - Give money to victory, victory is peace Italian Bank Discount
The First World War – the beginning of modern globalization – serves a starting point for the range of narratives. The transition to what seems like a universal architectural language is a more complex process than we typically recognize, involving significant encounters between cultures, technical inventions and imperceptible ways of remaining “national.” In a time of ubiquitous google research and the flattening of cultural memory, it is crucial for the future of architecture to resurrect and expose these narratives.

Germany WWI - War Bonds help the guardians of your happiness
By telling the history of the last 100 years cumulatively, the exhibitions in the National Pavilions will generate a global overview of architecture’s evolution into a single, modern aesthetic, and at the same time uncover within globalization the survival of unique national features and mentalities that continue to exist and flourish even as international collaboration and exchange intensify…

WWI France - So that your children will no longer know the horrors of the war, subscribe to the National Loan
During the press conference, Koolhaas elaborated on the theme. He said he wanted each country to start with World War I and work forward to 2014 and examine what impact history and events had upon architecture, and how we have arrived at the state of globalized architecture we have today. 1914 was not just the beginning of World War I, it was also about the time that Louie Armstrong came on the scene and when Marcel Duchamp started creating his "readymade" art. Each country in the world has been wrestling with globalization in their own way. We used to have Swiss architecture, Italian architecture, Indian architecture. We used to have a majestic ceiling at the Sistine Chapel created by Michelangelo, and now we just have a ceiling. We used to have different types of doors; now we more or less have the same stuff, a boring, contemporary door. What happened? 

Second Stage Theatre, NYC
Koolhaas worked as a journalist and screenwriter before beginning architecture, and someone asked him whether he considered himself an architect, an historian or a sociologist. He said "I'm an amateur in many different professions, but I consider myself a professional writer. This allows me to talk about everything." I loved that answer because it is truly one of the beautiful things about being a writer -- you can be interested in a cornucopia of different topics, and it's okay.

Interior Seattle Public Library
Someone asked about the presence of the "star system" --  the so-called "starchitects," an elite club of top architects of which Rem Koolhaas is certainly a member. Koolhaas said that "we did not choose that term," and it was imposed upon them by lazy journalists. He said that it implies an architect that doesn't care, does whatever he wants and takes the money. He said "we are not like that," and that the top architects are more sincere and care deeply about what they do.

Another person asked about the word "nationalism," and did it make sense to emphasize different nations at  the Architecture Exhibition. Koolhaas said that the word "national" made sense because it is the way we are organized in the way of space. We all have our own national perspective, and it is interesting how different the reading of the same phenomenon can be. He elaborated by comparing it to "mentality," and how each of our mentalities have been deeply formed by our own individual cultures.

Personally, I think the theme is an exciting one, and the idea of the Venice Architecture Exhibition evolving into a research project will be of enormous benefit to the planet. How different do the years 1914 to 2014 look from the point of view of the United States as compared to Italy? Or Germany? Or China? Or Russia? Or France? Or Argentina? How did we arrive to the point of globalization where we are today? Koolhaas said that earlier in the day the representative from Romania said that Romania was not a modern country. Koolhaas said, "You have light bulbs, don't you? That makes you modern."

And yes, Rem Koolhass is totally cool.  

From Wikipedia:

Prada, Beverly Hills
Remment Lucas "Rem" Koolhaas (born 17 November 1944) is a Dutch architect, architectural theorist, urbanist and Professor in Practice of Architecture and Urban Design at the Graduate School of Design at Harvard University. Koolhaas studied at the Architectural Association School of Architecture in London and at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York. Koolhaas is the founding partner of OMA, and of its research-oriented counterpart AMO, currently based in Rotterdam, Netherlands. In 2005 he co-founded Volume Magazine together with Mark Wigley and Ole Bouman.
In 2000 Rem Koolhaas won the Pritzker Prize. In 2008 Time put him in their top 100 of The World's Most Influential People.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Treasures of Venice - Authentic Murano Glass

Ca' Pisani Mirror by Fratelli Tosi
(Venice, Italy) Murano glass is a work of art, appreciated by the civilized world for nearly a millennium. Throughout the centuries, everyone from the global elite to regular folk has enriched their homes and enhanced their appearance with handcrafted Murano glass.

Now, has gathered sixteen of the most prestigious companies together and created the only e-commerce site authorized and certified by Promovetro, the Consortium of glass producers on the island of Murano in Venice, to sell products with the "Vetro Artistico® Murano" trademark. All great creations have many imitations. This trademark guarantees that you are purchasing an authentic piece of handcrafted Murano glass from Venice itself.

Classic Cubes Necklace by Ercole Moretti
The enigmatic island of Murano is just a five minute vaporetto ride from the center of Venice, yet it is mysterious enough even to Venetians. Remnants from the past can still be felt today, something that makes Murano glass unique. The art of blowing glass is often passed from generation to generation, who are closed-mouthed about the family secrets. Like the Montagues and the Capulets, feuds rage between families, or even between different branches of the same family itself. Techniques are carefully guarded, and competition is fierce, creating an environment that produces unique items of excellence. The Venetian glass industry is of such importance that, in the past, a glassblower who revealed his secrets would be punished, fined and ostracized from the community.

Goto Kaia Drinking Glass Set by Dipi
Because of the enormous amount of heat generated by the furnaces and concerns about fire, Venetian glass blowing was moved from Venice proper to the smaller island of Murano in 1291, where many of the factories are still located today. To keep the glass masters loyal and content, the Doge of Venice bestowed many privileges upon them, and they soon became Murano's most prominent citizens. The Muranesi had their own "Golden Book" which listed the most important families, creating dynasties that still exist informally today, long after the fall of the Republic in 1797 during the Napoleonic conquest. Cloistering the glassmakers on an island, making them take a vow of secrecy, and turning them into aristocrats, practically guaranteed the Venetians a monopoly on the glass-blowing industry.

Diamond Perfume Bottle by Alessandro Mandruzzato
The art of glass making dates back to ancient times, to 3500BC in Mesopotamia. Blowing the glass is a "newer" concept, about 2,000 years old. The earliest written record of glass blowing in Venice dates back to 982AD, although pieces of glass have been found on the nearby island of Torcello that originate two centuries earlier. Throughout the centuries, the coveted information of what ingredients to mix together and in what quantities has been lost and rediscovered.

Schumann Chandelier by Formia International
At the glass museum on Murano, visitors can learn about the evolution of local glass. The main element is silica, most commonly found in sand or quartz. The ancient Venetians dredged their silica out of the Ticino River in the form of pebbles, which were then crushed. Silica becomes liquid at high temperatures. Other elements such as arsenic to eliminate bubbles are added to the mix, which, when cooled, becomes glass. Today, the process of glass blowing on Murano remains much the same as centuries ago except the furnaces are heated by natural gas, not wood, and the ingredients come from different localities. The tools themselves used by the glass blowers date back to the Middle Ages.

Medusa Vase by Simone Cenedese
The word fabbrica translates to "factory" in English, which conjures up the image of enormous assembly lines. However, an Italian fabbrica is often an intimate workplace, with only a few employees not capable of producing mass quantities of goods. Government controls on the glass blowing industry are rigorous and costly, taxes are high, and the price of the top-quality ingredients is steep. So if you happen upon a piece of "Murano glass" for a bargain price, chances are that it is an imitation, and not the authentic craftsmanship that is guaranteed by

Whether you are looking for an impressive gift, or to add a touch of Venice to your home, or a dazzling accessory to enhance your wardrobe, Murano glass is an investment that will retain or increase its value over time. In a rapidly changing world where so much is fleeting, Murano glass is a solid object of beauty created by human hands with knowledge that has been passed down throughout the centuries.

Canaletto Goblet by Seguso Gianni
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Treasures of Venice - Authentic Murano Glass is a sponsored post by

Sunday, January 6, 2013

Magicians and Witches in Venice - Epiphany 2013

Magi bear gifts to an infant Jesus in one of the earliest known depictions. 3rd Century Sarcophagus, Vatican Museums, Rome, Italy
(Venice, Italy) The Three Wise Men star in nativity scenes all over the world at Christmas, and are remembered in song, such as We Three Kings of Orient Are. In fact, many unusual characters appear during Christmas time around different parts of the globe, which is what happens when you lay a new religion over existing celebrations. How Santa Claus and his reindeer bringing gifts got tangled up with the birth of Jesus Christ, the Son of God, is a question that has been examined by scholars and historians for centuries.

Befana in Rome
Here in Italy, there is another element that has been added to the mix, and that is La Befana, who is a witch, complete with broomstick. Like Santa, she gives gifts to good children, and coal to naughty ones. Here is one version of how La Befana met the Three Wise Men, or the Magi, or the Magicians. From Wikipedia:

Christian legend had it that Befana was approached by the biblical magi, also known as the Three Wise Men (or the three kings) a few days before the birth of the Infant Jesus. They asked for directions to where the Son of God was, as they had seen his star in the sky, but she did not know. She provided them with shelter for a night, as she was considered the best housekeeper in the village, with the most pleasant home. The magi invited her to join them on the journey to find the baby Jesus, but she declined, stating she was too busy with her housework. Later, La Befana had a change of heart, and tried to search out the astrologers and Jesus. That night she was not able to find them, so to this day, La Befana is searching for the little baby. She leaves all the good children toys and candy (“caramelle”) or fruit, while the bad children get coal (“carbone”), onions or garlic.[3]

And here in Venice, the holiday has added a watery element that I have written about many times before, starting back in 2009:

Befana Regata and Epiphany

Befana Regata and Epiphany

The Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas, on January 6th is a national holiday in Italy. It is also the day of the La Befana, a witch who hands out candy and gifts for good children, and coal for bad children, similar to Santa Claus.

In Venice, the holiday has morphed into something truly unique. During the Regata delle Befane, male Venetian rowers dress in drag as female witches, and have a little regata, or race. 

Click to continue reading.

It's strange, isn't it, that for more than two thousand years we still celebrate the birth of the controversial figure named Jesus Christ, a being who gave this planet a message of compassion, love, hope and redemption.

Noli me tangere - Titian 1514
 Blessed are they who hunger and thirst for righteousness: for they will be satisfied. Matthew 5:10

Here is an interesting article by Matt Kettman from the December 20, 2012 Santa Barbara Independent entitled Christ the Activist regarding "Jean-Pierre Isbouts, a professor at Santa Barbara’s Fielding Graduate University whose new tome, In the Footsteps of Jesus: A Chronicle of His Life and the Origins of Christianity, was released last month by National Geographic Books."

Sermon on the Mount by Henrik Olrik
Drawing on an extensive collection of multidisciplinary research, from ancient histories to biblical archeology to Greco-Roman economics, Isbouts paints a vivid portrait of the world as Jesus knew it, so scene-setting that Jesus doesn’t even appear as a topic until more than 100 pages into the 300-page book. Among other theories, Isbouts posits that Jesus was born near Nazareth, not Bethlehem; that he was a construction worker who toiled on new Roman cities rather than a carpenter; that he valued women as equal to men; and, perhaps most critically, that his ministry was as much about political and social activism as it was about religious belief. And in that latter discovery, that Jesus’s role was about bringing economic freedom and everyday justice to a land deeply divided between the rich and the poor, there’s much for our contemporary world to learn in this Christmas season, even lapsed Catholics like me.

Happy Epiphany!

Ciao from Venice,

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Happy New Year from Venice!

Basilica di San Maro
Wishing everyone a prosperous, healthy, 
and stimulating New Year,  
filled with joy and serenity,  
and a new spirit of cooperation.

Buon Anno,