Wednesday, 10 April 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.


  1. 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.

  2. ok , beautiful and internationally arty-chic, but the promotion of the venetian glass , the written philosophy of le stanze del vetro ?

    1. Excellent comment, Anonymous. You read my mind. Here is the statement from Marie-Rose Kahane, Chairman of the Pentagram Stiftung, in its entirety, which, perhaps, offers an explanation:

      "Carlo Scarpa. Venini 1932-1947, Pentagram Stiftung's first exhibition of its ten-year programme with the Fondazione Cini, was an apotheosis of the brilliant young architect and of the Venini family -- a marriage between futuristic vision and courageous experimentation with old and new glass-making techniques. In that same period Marcel Duchamp would transform a simple pharmacy cruet, from being just a container into becoming an "object d'art" and taking this a step even further by not creating just an "object d'art", but an idea: invisible air inside a transparent glass container.
      Duchamp's Air de Paris symbolizes the path that Pentagram Stiftung has taken. Thanks to the work of leading curator Mario Codognato, the viewer of this mew exhibition, Fragile?, will discover many unexpected aspects of an incredibly versatile material: glass as a metaphor, shattered panes as traces of a history filled with violence and aggression, mirrored pieces gently reflecting space, large industrial sheets as dividers and light filters, writings in softly bent illuminated neon, shards with dangerously cutting edges, anonymous containers containing ceramic dust with a strong political message, windows to protect from the outside and windows to be smashed, the crystal clear sounds of shattering and the most abstract of uses: the word glass, as written on a wall.
      With this exhibition designed for Le Stanze del Vetro, Codognato takes us on a journey miles away from the perfect hand-crafting and beautiful forms of Murano glass to the overpowering, mind-opening noise and the ironic violence of Pipilotti Rist's smashing gesture of glass destruction."

      To me, it might have been interesting to weave some examples of what was going on in Murano (Lino Tagliapietra, Carlo Scarpa, Pino Signoretto, Simone Cenedese) during the same time period.