Thursday, April 25, 2013

Manet, Father of Today's Art - RETURN TO VENICE

Luncheon on the Grass by Manet (1863) London, Courtauld Gallery, Samuel Couortauld Trust
(Venice, Italy) Édouard Manet shocked the French public in 1865 with Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (Luncheon on the Grass - painted in 1863) which featured a naked woman picnicking with two fully-clothed men, another scantily-dressed woman bathing in the background. The influence of Italian Renaissance artists on the painter who would become known as "The Father of Modern Art" is the focus of the spectacular exhibition MANET. RETURN TO VENICE that opened yesterday, April 24, 2013, in the Doge's Apartments inside the Palazzo Ducale. 

Portrait of M & Mme Manet (1860)
Édouard Manet first visited The Louvre with his maternal uncle, Edouard Fournier, when he was just a boy. Born in Paris on January 23, 1832 into a wealthy family, Manet's father was a senior executive in the Ministry of Justice, and his mother was the daughter of diplomats, as well as the goddaughter of the Crown Prince of Sweden. His parents had high hopes of Manet following in their footsteps and pursuing a "respectable" career, but -- once again proving that God has a sense of humor -- their son had been born with the soul of an artist. After refusing to study law, and twice failing the entrance exam to become a naval officer, the teenager went to Paris to pursue a career in the arts. He studied with Thomas Couture, and copied works of ancient masters at the Louvre

The Louvre is where the young Manet first met the Venetian artists Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese (and, with a whisper, Giorgione himself), who passed him their paintbrushes like batons through the ether and initiated him into the World of Art. As has been proven century after century, once those Masters get their hands on an artist's soul, there is nothing the material world can do to rip it from their grasp, although, in Manet's case, society gave it their best shot. We can imagine the young Manet wandering through the enormous museum, poised in front of some of the world's greatest masterpieces, the beckoning voices of the enlightened artists drowning out the authoritative paternal voice, encouraging him to break through the dark barrier of the past and into the light of the future.

Tintoretto self-portrait (1588) Louvre
Setting the exhibition inside the Palazzo Ducale in Venice reunites Manet with the Venetian masters who reached out to him in Paris from beyond the grave. After living amongst the ancient masters in the Louvre, the 21-year-old Manet first came to Italy in 1853 and stayed in Venice, then Florence, and perhaps, went onto Rome and experienced firsthand the environment in which they worked. He next visited Germany and Austria, and then returned to Paris, where he copied the old masters. He again visited Italy in 1857.

Manet. Return to Venice focuses, naturally, on the relationship the painter had with Italy in general and Venice in particular. The oils Manet made of the Venus du Pardo after Titian, and the Self-portrait after Tintoretto, are part of the exhibition (the originals are not; I am including them here for illustration purposes), as are drawings of works by Veronese, Raphael, Andrea del Sarto, Fra Bartolomeo, Parmigianino, Luca della Robbia, Ridolfo del Ghirlandaio and Benozzo Gozzoli. It seems remarkable that a 22-year-old could have the depth of character to produce such exceptional copies of the worldly self-portrait that Tintoretto painted as a man of 70, or the lascivious scene of Jupiter cavorting with Antiope that Titian painted when he was around 50, but when you visit the exhibition, you will witness the phenomenon with your own eyes.

Self-portrait by Edouard Manet (after Tintoretto) (1854) Musée des Beaux-Art, Dijon
True to rebellious form, Manet fell in love with an unsuitable woman, the Dutch-born pianist, Suzanne Leenhoff, who was hired in late 1849 by Auguste, Manet's father, to teach piano to Edouard and his two younger brothers. In 1850, Edouard and Suzanne became lovers, keeping the relationship secret, especially from Auguste. On January 29, 1852, six days after Edouard's 20th birthday, Suzanne gave birth to a son, which she named Lèon-Edouard Koella, "probably" Edouard's son -- all this, remember, taking place prior to Manet's visit to Venice. (He began living with Suzanne and Lèon in 1860, but it wasn't until after his upstanding father, Auguste, died of syphilis in 1862 that Manet married Suzanne on October 28, 1863.)

Pardo Venus by Titian (1540-42) Louvre

Manet arrived in Venice in September, 1853, and the exhibit opens with what was going on in Venice at that point in time. Back in France, the next year he produced the copies of Tintoretto and the Titian, obviously inspired by the painters.

Pardo Venus by Manet (after Titian) (1854) Musée Marmottan, Paris
Also in the first section is the controversial Le déjeuner sur l'herbe (see top), which was inspired by Pastoral Concert, a work attributed to the Venetian artists Titian or Giorgione, and, perhaps, by Giorgione's The Tempest. The jury at the Salon, the official art exhibition of the Académie des Beaux-Arts in Paris, had rejected Luncheon on the Grass in 1863, so Manet exhibited it at the Salon des Refusés (Exhibition of the Refused), the exhibition that Emperor Napoleone III had decreed be established to handle the immense output of art being created and rejected by the Salon at the time. When the critics eyed the naked woman lounging with men who were fully dressed in Luncheon on the Grass, their response was savage. The painting created a huge scandal, causing Manet's good friend, the writer, Emile Zola, to jump to his defense:

Pastoral Concert by Titian or Giorgione (1509) Louvre, Paris
"The Luncheon on the Grass is the greatest work of Édouard Manet, one in which he realizes the dream of all painters: to place figures of natural grandeur in a landscape. We know the power with which he vanquished this difficulty. There are some leaves, some tree trunks, and, in the background, a river in which a chemise-wearing woman bathes; in the foreground, two young men are seated across from a second woman who has just exited the water and who dries her naked skin in the open air.
Emile Zola (1868) Musée d'Orsay
This nude woman has scandalized the public, who see only her in the canvas. My God! What indecency: a woman without the slightest covering between two clothed men! That has never been seen. And this belief is a gross error, for in the Louvre there are more than fifty paintings in which are found mixes of persons clothed and nude. But no one goes to the Louvre to be scandalized. The crowd has kept itself moreover from judging The Luncheon on the Grass like a veritable work of art should be judged; they see in it only some people who are having a picnic, finishing bathing, and they believed that the artist had placed an obscene intent in the disposition of the subject, while the artist had simply sought to obtain vibrant oppositions and a straightforward audience...."

The second section of the exhibition, THE FATES OF VENUS is sensational: Manet's controversial painting OLYMPIA (1863) which was condemned as "immoral" and "vulgar" has traveled out of France for the first time to pose dramatically next to source of her inspiration, Titian's VENUS OF URBINO (1538), which, in 1880, Mark Twain called "the foulest, the vilest, the obscenest picture the world possesses" -- it seems he did not know OLYMPIA was on the horizon

Venus of Urbino by Titan (1538) Galleria degli Uffizi, Florence
An interesting choice on the part of the curators was to hang the striking 1860 portrait that Manet painted of his parents (see above) on the wall directly across the room from the two paintings. Also, the well-researched timeline provides valuable insight as to what was going on in history, as well as in art, culture and science throughout the major events in Manet's life. Thus, we are reminded that these were turbulent times in both Europe and the United States, with Italy struggling to form a Kingdom and the US abolishing slavery and starting the Civil War, just about the time that Charles Darwin published the Origin of the Species, Victor Hugo published Les Miserables, and Richard Wagner was in Paris with a new production of Tannhauser in French. Perhaps all this uproar is what inspired Cezanne to quit his bank job and become a painter in 1862.

Olympia by Edouard Manet (1863) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
Then, in May 1865, the Salon did exhibit Olympia, along with Jesus Mocked by the Soldiers which caused all sorts of renewed outrage directed at Manet. This kind of behavior continued throughout Manet's life. In 1886 he painted The Fifer which he intended to win the Salon public of 1886, but the work was not even accepted.

Let's take the time to read an excerpt from the Wikipedia article about Impressionism that sums up the situation. All three paintings I have used to illustrate the article are by Manet, all are here in Venice for the exhibition, and all are from the Musée d'Orsay in Paris, but are not part of the Wikipedia article:

The Fifer (1866)
"In the middle of the 19th century—a time of change, as Emperor Napoleon III rebuilt Paris and waged war—the Académie des Beaux-Arts dominated French art. The Académie was the preserver of traditional French painting standards of content and style. Historical subjects, religious themes, and portraits were valued (landscape and still life were not), and the Académie preferred carefully finished images that looked realistic when examined closely. Colour was somber and conservative, and traces of brush strokes were suppressed, concealing the artist's personality, emotions, and working techniques.

The Académie had an annual, juried art show, the Salon de Paris, and artists whose work was displayed in the show won prizes, garnered commissions, and enhanced their prestige. The standards of the juries represented the values of the Académie, represented by the works of such artists as Jean-Léon Gérôme and Alexandre Cabanel.

The Balcony 1868-69
Some younger artists painted in a lighter and brighter manner than painters of the preceding generation, extending further the Realism of Gustave Courbet and the Barbizon school. They were more interested in painting landscape and contemporary life than in recreating historical or mythological scenes. Each year, the Salon jury rejected their works in favour of works by artists faithful to the approved style. A group of young realists, Claude Monet, Pierre-Auguste Renoir, Alfred Sisley, and Frédéric Bazille, who had studied under Charles Gleyre, became friends and often painted together. They gathered at the Café Guerbois, where the discussions were often led by Édouard Manet, whom the younger artists greatly admired. They were soon joined by Camille Pissarro, Paul Cézanne, and Armand Guillaumin.[2]
Berthe Morisot with Violets (1874)

In 1863, the jury rejected Manet's The Luncheon on the Grass (Le déjeuner sur l'herbe) primarily because it depicted a nude woman with two clothed men at a picnic. While the Salon jury routinely accepted nudes in historical and allegorical paintings, they condemned Manet for placing a realistic nude in a contemporary setting.[3] The jury's severely worded rejection of Manet's painting appalled his admirers, and the unusually large number of rejected works that year perturbed many French artists.

After Emperor Napoleon III saw the rejected works of 1863, he decreed that the public be allowed to judge the work themselves, and the Salon des Refusés (Salon of the Refused) was organized. While many viewers came only to laugh, the Salon des Refusés drew attention to the existence of a new tendency in art and attracted more visitors than the regular Salon."

Although Manet was invited to exhibit his work at the first Impressionist show in 1874, he declined, and never did actually do a show with the younger artists he helped to inspire. In October, 1874, he traveled again to Venice with his wife, Suzanne, this time as a famous, successful artist. 

Portrait of Stéphane Mallarmé by Manet (1876) Musée d?Orsay, Paris

Parnassus was the home of the Muses, the home of music, poetry and learning. Manet was not only friends with other artists, he put himself in contact with all the writers and poets of his time such as Baudelaire, Zola and Stéphane Mallarmé, with whom he transformed the American writer Edgar Allen Poe's poem The Raven into an illustrated masterpiece translated into French, known because Mallarmé taught English. These enlightened thinkers painted, wrote and created music inspired by each other, often using their friends and family members as the subjects of their works. Therefore, no matter how often the establishment heaped criticism upon them, or tried to destroy them, they backed each other up, and left behind a brilliant record of their accomplishments that reaches us today. 

Ironically, Edouard Manet died of syphilis just like his father on April 30, 1883. 

Our fathers laughed at Courbet 
and now we fall into ecstasy before his paintings; 
we laugh at Manet 
and it will be our children who go into raptures before his pictures.
---Emile Zola 

Ciao from Venezia, 


Where: Palazzo Ducale – San Marco 1 , 30124 Venice
When: April 24th 2013 / August 18th 2013
Opening hours: from Sunday to Thursday, from 9.00 am to 7.00 pm
Friday and Saturday, from 9.00 am to 8.00 pm 
(ticket office closes 1 hour before)

For more information: 

Co-produced with
24 ORE Cultura – Gruppo 24 ORE
With the special collaboration of the
Musée D’Orsay in Paris
With the patronate of the
Soprintendenza ai Beni Architettonici e Paesaggistici di Venezia e Laguna
Regione del Veneto
Commissaries Guy Cogeval and Gabriella Belli
Curated by Stéphan Guégan
Layout by Daniela Ferretti
The catalogue will be published by Skira-Milan with texts by: Roberto Calasso, Guy Cogeval, Stéphane Guégan, Gabriella Belli, Flavio Fergonzi and Cesare De Seta.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Crossroads of Civilization - Venice International Literary Festival 2013

(Venice, Italy) The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje is one of the most beautifully written books I've ever read, so when I learned that Ondaatje would be a guest at this year's Incroci di Civilità literary festival here in Venice, I made an effort to attend. I have written about Crossroads of Civilization before:

Venice International Literary Festival - 2012 Crossroads of Civilization - Incroci di Civiltà

The Booker Award-winning novel, The English Patient, of course, was transformed into a film directed by Anthony Minghella that went on to win nine Academy Awards, including Best Picture, with Ondaatje working closely with the filmmakers to bring it to life. It is a supreme example of a single writer's brilliant imagination lifted up by other creative spirits, transforming the original creation into an enormous, powerful energy that can touch the entire planet. Have a watch, and remember:

Michael Ondaatje was accompanied by his wife, the novelist, Linda Spalding, who received one of Canada's top literary awards, the Governor-General’s Literary Award, for her novel, The Purchase, in 2012. The discussion was conducted by Rosella Mamoli Zorzi. The couple both bill themselves as Canadian writers, even though Ondaatje was born Colombo, Sri Lanka (then Ceylon), grew up in England, and then transferred to Canada, becoming a Canadian citizen, and Spalding was born in Kansas, then lived in Mexico and Hawaii before also moving to Toronto. Zorzi asked them why they considered themselves Canadian writers. Spalding said there was a strong community of international writers based in Toronto. Both she and Ondaatje are on the editorial board of the Canadian literary magazine, Brick, a publication that they took over in 1985 and transformed it from one that did book reviews into a solid, national literary magazine. So even though they are not Canadian by birth, they are Canadian in spirit.

Linda Spalding, Michael Ondaatje and Rosella Mamoli Zorzi
Ondaatje said that one of the things he enjoyed most about writing a novel is the act of discovery along the way. "How do I get out of here?" One of my favorite comments was by Spalding, who said that as a child she would watch herself from a third-person point of view: "Now she is walking across the park." As a child, I used to do exactly the same thing ("Now she is walking along the sidewalk, toward home") so I was happy hear of another writer with the same quirk.

I had a cozy feeling listening to the two of them read passages from their novels, thinking how lovely it was that two authors were sharing their lives together, gifting humanity with the benefits of their partnership.

Gilberto Sacerdoti and Stephen Greenblatt

Stephen Greenblatt was also here to talk about his Pulitzer Prize and National Book Award-winning book, The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. Here is a short bio:

Stephen Greenblatt recently won both the Pulitzer Prize and a National Book Award for The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. He’s also the author of the New York Times bestseller Will in the World: How Shakespeare Became Shakespeare, the general editor of The Norton Shakespeare, and eleven other books. He is Cogan University Professor of the Humanities at Harvard and is generally considered the preeminent Shakespeare scholar in the United States today.

More than 2,000 years ago, Lucretius, a Roman poet and philosopher wrote a dangerous poem called, De Rerum Natura, or On the Nature of Things, inspired by Epicurus, who had lived a couple of centuries before. Epicurus was an atomic materialist, who said that the world was made up of atoms, there was no afterlife, that pleasure was the greatest good, and that the absence of pain was the greatest pleasure. De Rerum Natura disappeared for about 500 years until it was rediscovered by Poggio Bracciolin, a Florentine/Roman scholar, writer and early humanist who served under seven popes.

Poggio was also a manuscript hunter, searching for ancient knowledge that had disappeared. One of the manuscripts he discovered was De Rerum Natura in 1417 in a German monastery. On the Nature of Things became all the rage among enlightened thinkers, inspiring the humanist movement, until it disappeared again. About 500 years later, Greenblatt himself discovered a paperback version of the book when he was a young man. Greenblatt spoke about why texts sleep and why they awaken.

Here is an excerpt from a 2012 PBS interview between Jeffrey Brown and Greenblatt:

JEFFREY BROWN: ...In 1417, probably at the Benedictine monastery in Fulda, Germany, Poggio pulled a book from the shelf, the last surviving copy of "De Rerum Natura," "On the Nature of Things." 

We don't know what happened at that moment, but, somewhere, he pulls the book off the shelf and opens it, sees the title, and knows he's got something.

STEPHEN GREENBLATT: He knows he's got something, and he does something crucial, which is he copies it and sends it to his friends. And they begin to copy it, so it begins to spread again.

JEFFREY BROWN: So that's how things get passed on.


JEFFREY BROWN: The book spread, as did its ideas, to artists -- Botticelli's "Primavera" or "Allegory of Spring" portrays a scene from the poem -- to seminal thinkers, among them, Galileo, Isaac Newton, Charles Darwin, Thomas Jefferson, who incorporated concepts such as the pursuit of happiness from Lucretius and other philosophers into his own thinking. and to the young Stephen Greenblatt.

There's a passage late in the book. I want to read to you: "There are moments, rare and powerful, in which a writer long vanished from the face of the earth seems to stand in your presence and speak to you directly, as if he bore a message meant for you above all others."

I mean, I couldn't help but think that this is you, in a sense.


First of all, it's me in relation to Lucretius, as it happens, because I happened purely by accident to come on this text at a point in my life when I was quite young, in which it spoke very powerfully directly to me. I had the eerie experience of something speaking to me, as if the person knew me. And I think anyone who has any experience of an encounter with the ghosts of the past knows what I'm talking about, where it seems impossible. And yet it's happening.

After living for fifteen years in a town inhabited by the ghosts of the past, I know that feeling well.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Fragile? On the Island of the Search for Truth

Mona Hatoum
Drowning Sorrows (wine bottles), 2004
Collezione Pier Luigi e Natalina Remotti        
Courtesy Galleria Continua, San Gimignano / Beijing / Le Moulin
Photo: Ela Bialkowska    
(Venice, Italy) The exhibition Fragile? has opened in the Le Stanze del Vetro, or Rooms for Glass, over on the Island of the Search for Truth, otherwise known as the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Pasquale Gagliardi, the General Secretary of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini opened his statement about the exhibition with the following poem:

Broken Security Glass by Monica Bonvicini 

"See, in these silences when things
let themselves go and seem almost
to reveal their final secret,
we sometimes expect
to discover a flaw in Nature,
the world's dead point, the link that doesn't hold,
the thread that, disentangled, might at last lead us
to the center of a truth."
---Eugenio Montale, The Lemon Trees
(translated by William Arrowsmith)

Mario Codognato curated the show, and I thought it was genius of him to place Marcel Duchamp's Air de Paris in the same display as Ai Weiwei's Dust to Dust.  In 1919, Duchamp claimed that a glass pharmacy vial was filled with the air of Paris.

Marcel Duchamp 
Air de Paris, 1919-1939
Miniature reproduction from the original for the work “Boite-en-valise”
Collection David Fleiss, Paris
© Succession Marcel Duchamp by SIAE 2013
In juxtaposition, Ai Weiwei crushed a Neolithic vase himself and put the dusty remains inside a glass jar that you could buy at Ikea. I was stunned, and surprisingly moved, when I saw the red ceramic dust from another eon inside the contemporary glass jar.  Codognato explains:

"In one of his most popular readymades, Marcel Duchamp displayed a glass ampoule titled Air de Paris (1919). Purchased from a chemist, this common use item became a real work of art thanks to the artist's intervention. In this specific case, the transparency of glass highlights the void within the item itself, paradoxically underlining the immateriality within the material world of manufactured products. Almost a century later, Dust to Dust (2009) by Ai Weiwei, in a completely opposite design, exploited the same potentialities of glass by presenting a jar filled with the dusty remains of a Neolithic (5000 - 3000 BC) vase, and through that, condensing in such a small container one of the most ancient testimonies of the linguistic and historical presence of man on earth." 

Dust to Dust by Ai Weiwei
From the press notes: "These two works, displayed next to each other for Fragile? underline two opposite polarities in today's art world: the emancipation from history on one side, and its recovery on the other."

There are works by 28 different artists exhibited in Fragile? at Le Stanze del Vetro, which is a joint initiative of the Giorgio Cini Foundation and Pentagram Stiftung to promote 20th Century Venetian glass. [NOTE: for a discussion on this topic, please see the comments.] The Rooms for Glass is not just the physical space that houses exhibitions, but an entire enterprise going on over there on the Island for the Search for Truth, with research, seminars, archival documentation, catalogues, and technical and artistic experimentation as part of the program.

Damien Hirst (1965, Bristol, England) has got one of his famous skulls on display in Death or Glory, "a title which carries within it the ambivalence of the artist's work in the precise desire to give rise in the public to a double reaction of attraction/repulsion, to attempt a representation of human transitoriness and at the same time to proclaim the victory of science over flesh."

Damien Hirst 
Death or Glory (DHS 372), 
Private collection
Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates
© Damien Hirst and Science Ltd. All rights reserved by SIAE 2013
Two of my favorite pieces were created by artists that both live and work in Turin, Giovanni Anselmo (1934, Borgofranco d'Ivrea) and Giuseppe Penone (1947, Garessio). Direzione by Giovanni Anselmo is a simple glass jar containing a magnetic needle pointing north, surrounded by a sheet. "The glass vase polarizes the universe thanks to the magnetic needle inside it."

Giovanni Anselmo 
Direzione, 1967- 68
Collection of the Artist, Turin 
Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York 
Courtesy Archivio Anselmo e Tucci Russo Studio per l’Arte Contemporanea
Photo: Michael Goodman
Barra d'aria by Giuseppe Penone amplifies the noise of the outside world within the exhibition space. San Giorgio is so quiet that, in this instance, what is amplified is silence. "The noises of the polis and its political dialectics are amplified within the exhibition space."

Giuseppe Penone 
Barra d'Aria, 1969-1996
Photo: Danilo Donzelli
Maurizio Morra Greco Collection, Naples
© Giuseppe Penone by SIAE 2013
One of the most clever works is by the African-American artist, David Hammons (1943, Springfield, Illinois). Flies in a Jar looks like a nature project that one would make for science class as a child, but on closer inspection, the "flies" in the jar are zippers that zip up the fly on a pair of pants. "The jar that makes up David Hammons' Flies in a Jar (1994), by recalling the playful childish gesture of trapping a firefly, as indicated by the title's pun, talks about the intensely critical and political power of language as isolated within the transparent boundaries of glass."

David Hammons 
Flies in a jar, 1994
Pinault Collection 
© David Hammons
Pasquale Gagliardi said that after he read Mario Codognato's essay "The Truth in Glass" that introduces the catalogue for Fragile? -- an essay about the search for truth through glass -- he recalled that Vittore Banca (1913-2004), the former President of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, said the search for truth was the fundamental mission of the Fondazione Cini itself, calling San Giorgio "the island for the search for truth." Which is why I, as a searcher for the truth, love going over to the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, and strongly encourage all other truth-seekers to head over there yourselves. 

Fragile? presents works by: Marcel Duchamp, Joseph Beuys, Mario Merz,
Gerhard Richter, Giovanni Anselmo, Jannis Kounellis, Luciano Fabro,
Barry le Va, Michael Craig-Martin, Keith Sonnier, Lawrence Weiner, David
Hammons, Gilbert & George, Joseph Kosuth, Giuseppe Penone, Mona
Hatoum, David Batchelor, Ai Weiwei, Pipilotti Rist, Rachel Whiteread,
Carsten Nicolai, Damien Hirst, Monica Bonvicini, Ceal Floyer, Cyril de
Commarque, Matias Feldbakken, Walead Beshty, Claire Fontaine

Production: Fondazione Giorgio Cini onlus and Pentagram Stiftung
Title: Fragile?
Curator: Mario Codognato
Dates: 8 April – 28 July 2013
Open: 10 AM – 7 PM, closed on Wednesdays
Venue: Le Stanze del Vetro, Fondazione Giorgio Cini
Address: Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice
Ticket office: free admission
Catalogue: Skira

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog  

*This post was originally published on Sunday, April 7, 2013 at 4:07pm.