Tuesday, June 24, 2014

ART NIGHT VENEZIA - Venice Celebrates Summer Solstice with Free Art

“Art or Sound”- Fondazione Prada
Photo: Attilio Maranzano - Courtesy Fondazione Prada

(Venice, Italy) Art Night Venezia, the night Venice throws opens her doors and invites the public to view her treasures for free, is now in its fourth edition, and it gave me the chance to revisit some of the city's hippest happenings, plus take in a few I hadn't had the chance to see. This year, Art Night Venezia fell on June 21, the summer solstice, and it was invigorating to see masses of people strolling about the city until all hours, making the rounds to museums, galleries, foundations and other notable venues, clambering up and down the steps of ancient palaces to feast on a boundless supply of contemporary creativity.

“Art or Sound”- Fondazione Prada
 Singing Bird Cage With Clock, circa 1785 by Pierre Jaquet-Droz
Orchestrion Accordeo Jazz, circa 1920 by Amelotti
Photo: Attilio Maranzano - Courtesy Fondazione Prada 
I was at the cocktail reception for "Art or Sound" over at the Prada Foundation on June 4th, and it seemed like everyone in town for the opening of the architecture exhibition was there, too, so I welcomed the opportunity to visit under calmer circumstances.

In June 2011, the Fondazione Prada reopened part of Ca' Corner della Regina, the 18th-century palazzo that was built on the ruins of the palace where Catherine Cornaro (1454-1510), the Queen of Cyprus (and one of Venice's most fascinating historical figures) was born, after an impressive restoration. With "Art or Sound," the public finally has access to the stately second floor.

Curated by Germano Celant, the exhibition is like wandering into grownup fairytale with two floors of the palace packed with more than 180 artifacts based on sound -- paintings and sculptures, musical clocks and birdcages, a fairground organ and music machines, real and imaginary musical instruments that date back to the 1500s, and up through today. The craftsmanship of a stunning white marble with guitar with intricate black marble-paste inlays (1680) by Michele Antonio Grandi made me marvel at the exquisite capacity of human beings to create.

The exhibition examines the influence of sound on art for the past 500 years or so; particular attention is paid to artists of the 20th century. Ulf Linde's 1963 replica of Marcel Duchamp's ball of twine With a Hidden Noise (1916) is there; Man Ray's photograph of a metronome Indestructible Object (1923) is there, as is Salvador Dali's chalk-on-paper Métronome (1944); John Page's musical score for Variations I (1958) is there; one of the coolest objects is Laurie Anderson's phone booth, Numbers Runners (1979) where a line of visitors wait their turn to pick up the phone and listen to what's on the other end of the line.

"Art or Sound" runs through November 3, 2014 and is a MUST SEE. Click for more information.

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore
I didn't have time to visit my favorite island, the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, during Art Night Venezia, but I had practically been living there during the opening of the architectural exhibition; the superb exhibition The Santilanas at the Stanze del Vetro is always free. Hiroshi Sugimoto's "The Glass Tea House Mondrian" is located in front of the Rooms of Glass; both were open late during Art Night Venezia.

Glass Tea House Mondrian by Hiroshi Sugimoto
During the press conference on June 4th, Pasquale Gagliardi, the Secretary General of the Fondazione Giorgio Cini emphasized that the mission of the foundation was to be a bridge between the East and the West, and The Glass Tea House does just that, bringing the ancient Japanese tea ritual to Europe. Sugimoto, who lives in New York, said that the Japanese were very different from Americans, who put all their wealth in their house. When invited into a Japanese tea house, only a very few select art objects are on display, precisely selected by the host for the guest. There is no talking; it is a graceful, silent ballet performed on one's knees as the tea is prepared and then drank.

Hiroshi Sugimoto
According to Sen no Rikyu, the Buddhist monk who established the tea ceremony rules in the sixteenth century, the basic principles are harmony, seen as proportion and relation; respect, seen as dignity and communion; purity, seen as openness and willingness to welcome and serenity, seen as meeting and sharing.

Sugimoto designed a limited edition glass tea bowl specifically for the exhibition, which was blown by the Murano maestro Simone Cenedese. Sugimoto has agreed to return to Venice in the fall to work with the Murano glass blowers.

Click to go to the Stanze del Vetro for more information.

The Goldoni Experience
I finished up Art Night Venezia over at the Teatro Goldoni for the free 10:00PM performance of The Goldoni Experience, which I previously wrote about here.  Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright, specialized in poking fun at his fellow citizens. The play is set on the last evening of Carnival, and the last night before the playwright, in the form of one of his own characters, the merchant Anzoletto, leaves for Paris. For anyone interested in Venetian culture and commedia dell'arte, it is a MUST SEE. The show is in the Venetian language, but it has English subtitles -- actually super-titles, as the translation is projected above, not below, the action -- which makes viewing the production a bit of a challenge, but opera fans should have no problem.

I really enjoyed watching all the Venetian machinations that don't seem to have changed much to the present day; it is in the Venetian character to conspire and manipulate; I think they are born that way. Servants plot against themselves and their masters; aristocrats cheat on their wives; wives plot revenge. After all the comical exploitations, the show ends on a dramatic note as the fourth wall breaks down and the 21st Century bursts onto the stage. It is a heartbreaking love letter from the Venetians to the world.

June through September:

Every Tuesday at 7pm
Every Friday at 8pm

Click to go to the Teatro Goldoni for more information, or read my previous post:

Venetians Put on a Show(s) - Ancient Designer Sunglasses, a Playwright and a War Hero 


Art Night Venezia
Art Night Venezia 2014 included more than 400 free events, with about 100 cultural institutions opening their doors for free, and was organized by Ca' Foscari University and the City of Venice. With strong solidarity, the cultural institutions of Venice united and gave everyone in town a night to remember. The website of Art Night Venezia is in Italian, but if you click the word sedi at the top, that will take you to the venues or locations, and if you click the word eventi... well, that is the same word in English -- events -- except that the male plural in Italian uses an "i" instead of an "s."

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, June 16, 2014

Venetians Put on a Show(s) - Ancient Designer Sunglasses, a Playwright and a War Hero

18th Century Goldoni-type Sunglasses with Mocenigo Coat of Arms (Vascellari Collection, Italy)
(Venice, Italy) Two hundred years before John Lennon made wearing round lenses all the rage, Venice was busy setting a fashion trend all its own. Long before the rest of the world discovered the danger of ultra-violet rays in 1870, Venetian opticians were 120 years ahead of the curve, producing emerald-colored sunglasses to protect the eyes of the nobility and Commanders da Mar (of the sea) from the harmful glare of reflected light as they navigated the waters that surrounded them.

For the first time in the history of spectacles, the exhibition "Spectacles Fit for a Doge" at the majestic Sale Monumentale in the Marciana Library gathers together glasses from museums and private collections to examine a vital point in the history of eyewear.

The Doge was the ruler of the Venetian Republic, and a pair of sunglasses, complete with carrying case, which bear the Coat of Arms of the aristocratic Mocenigo family are featured in the exhibition, dating back to the time when Doge Alvise Giovanni Mocenigo was the leader from 1763 until his death on New Year's Eve, December 31, 1778.

Goldoni-type horn-rimmed spectacles with eyelet-shaped temple pieces and silk sunguards. Venice, 1760. (Vascellari Collection, Italy)
Venetian opticians were the first in Italy to produce eyeglasses with temple pieces that reached to the ear, holding the lenses more comfortably on the nose. To offer more protection, pieces of silk were attached to guard against the sun. No one knows for sure why they were called "Goldoni" glasses, but it is assumed that Carlo Goldoni, the famous Venetian playwright, was known for sporting a pair of the hip glasses as he tooled about town, much like John Lennon did two centuries later.

Oval lady’s-glass painted in Venetian lacquer colors using decoupage technique already fashionable among Venetian carpenters at the end of the 17th century. (Ingrid and Werner Weismueller, Germany)

The vetri da gondola or da dama (for ladies) were mounted in a frame similar to a hand-held mirror, and probably evolved from a monocle; they were modified to be used by wealthy women and children to protect their eyes while on outings in a gondola. The exhibition also features glasses created solely for entertainment, such as the vetri da avari (glasses for misers) with a kaleidoscope effect that turns one coin into many,  and the "Parisian," scissor-type lorgnettes named after Parisian dandies that stopped people on the street and blatantly gave them the once-over through a pair of comical lenses.

"Spectacles Fit for a Doge" is curated by Roberto Vascellari.

Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana Sale Monumentali
Sunglasses in Eighteenth-Century Venice
June 14 to July 13, 2014
Venice, Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana, "Sale Monumentali"
Click for more information

Promoters and Organizers
Comitato Venezia
Museo dell’Occhiale
Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana
Stazione Sperimentale del Vetro

Teatro Goldoni
Meanwhile, over at the Carlo Goldoni Theatre, another all-Venetian production is getting underway. The "Goldini Experience" is an homage to the great Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni. Set on the last night before the scribe left for Paris, and the last night of Carnival, Giuseppe Emiliani, who directs the show, has taken chunks of Goldoni's own text and compiled the prose into a collage of comical encounters between Goldoni and people who stumble into his orb. Using the original Venetian language, the show will also have English subtitles, making it accessible to both locals and tourists alike.

The Goldoni Experience opens on June 21, Art Night Venezia, (when most of Venice's museums, churches, galleries and foundations will stay open until 11pm or midnight with free entrance!), with free two shows at 7:30 and 10:00PM, and runs throughout the summer, with additional shows in October and November. After June 21st, full price tickets are €35, with sizable reductions for residents, students and families and may be purchased at Teatro Goldoni and Hellovenezia.

Press conference for the GOLDONI EXPERIENCE

June through September:

Every Tuesday at 7pm
Every Friday at 8pm

June 21 - 7:30pm and 10pm
June 24 - 7:00pm
June 27 - 8:00pm

July 1, 8, 15, 22 at 7:00pm
July 4, 11, 12, 18 at 8:00pm

August 5, 12, 19, 26 at 7:00pm
August 1, 8, 15, 16, 22, 29, 30 at 8:00pm

Sept. 2 at 7:00pm
Sept. 5, 6 at 8:00pm
Sept. 7 to be announced

Oct. 31 at 8:00pm
Nov. 2 to be announced

Fresco of Venice
Scenes of Daily Venetian Life in the 18th Century
Teatro Stabile del Veneto Carlo Goldoni
Click for more information

Bust of Sebastiano Venier by Alessandro Vittoria
"Many small things make many great things."

Sebastiano Venier (1496-1578) is one of Venice's most beloved historical figures. After defeating the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto, he became Doge. They say he died of a broken heart when a fire heavily damaged the Doge's Palace. Now, thanks to the efforts of the Venice Club of the International Inner Wheel, one of the world's largest women's organizations, the marble bust of the Venetian hero has been restored and stands proudly once again inside Palazzo Ducale over the Staircase of the Censors, in front of the door of the Armory. Manuela Savoia Rizzoli, the President of the Venice Club expressed the desire that Venetians return to their heritage and said, " It's a small thing, but, for us, it's a big thing."

Palazzo Ducale - Doge's Palace
Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

2014 Venice International Architecture Festival - Rem Koolhaas Resets the World

The Sky Over Nine Columns by Heinz Mack - Photo: Cat Bauer Venice Blog
The Sky Over Nine Columns by Heinz Mack - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Giorgio Orsoni, the Mayor of Venice, was arrested for corruption on June 4th, the same morning I was arrested by the golden grandeur of The Sky Over Nine Columns by Heinz Mack on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, one day before the preview of the 14th Venice International Architecture Festival.

The divine beauty of the monumental columns was an enlightened contrast to the dark forces that constantly seek to debase Venice, the most beautiful city in the modern world. When asked to comment about the mayor's arrest during the opening press conference, Rem Koolhaas, the Director of the Architecture Exhibition, said, "It is an incident that fits perfectly in the overall picture."

Winner GOLDEN LION for Nat. Participation  - Republic of Korea Pavilion. Image © Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
This year, for the first time, the 65 nations that participated were asked to focus on a common theme: Absorbing Modernity 1914 - 2014. Koolhaas said that he wanted to take the liberty to look at subjects that are not normally examined. Each nation had complete freedom within the theme. As the research progressed, it became clear that every single nation had been destroyed and rebuilt at least once, and that absorbing modernity was more like absorbing the blows of an opponent.

South Africa Pavilion. Image © Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
I've grown to love the architecture exhibition -- over the years it has developed into something wondrous. As a lay person living in Venice who knows next to nothing about architecture, it is fascinating to take a glimpse into that world.

Every other year, when the architects descend upon Venice, they breathe fresh, creative life into the city: businesses stay open late, hotels and restaurants are packed with interesting and exciting energy, the streets are filled with zippy conversations -- even the vaporetto driver popped open the front window and started singing as he zoomed across the lagoon.

From yachts to backpackers, wizened wise ones to the mini-skirted chic, the joint is jumping with openings, cocktails and parties. It is a stark contrast to the armies of zombies dumped off by the monstrous cruise ships who follow mindlessly behind a guide holding a contrivance-on-a-stick.

Winner SILVER LION for National Participation - Chile Pavilion. Image © Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
How to create an architecture exhibition that appeals to both the professional and the general public has always been a challenge. It's not like film, music, theater or dance, mediums where an audience is used to being entertained. By incorporating those elements of La Biennale -- theater, film, music and dance -- plus focusing on research and a common theme, Koolhaas and La Biennale have found a genius solution to create an exhibition that appeals to all.

Special Mention: Canada Pavilion Arctic Adaptations: Nunavut at 15
Koolhaas made an interesting remark during the press conference -- that the nations found working together on the same theme a "relief," and that it became an orchestra of different voices.

After wandering around the exhibition, I began to understand what he meant. Each nation found a way to tell their own story about the events that had occurred in the past 100 years that shaped them into what they are today, and which is reflected in the architecture -- dreams that were never completed, compromises that were built, and the occasional creation that fulfilled the original idea.

Subjects that have been taboo for decades were openly addressed. The heavy hand of war and politics upon existing cultures that, in turn, affect architecture was emphasized. I was struck by how much influence governments and their policies had upon architecture, something I've never really thought about before.

Special Mention - France Pavilion. Modernity: promise or menace?  Image © Andrea Avezzù, Courtesy of la Biennale di Venezia
The Russians were hilarious, all decked out in hot pink, mimicking an international trade show called "Fair Enough," with sales people and stalls that showcased 20 different Russian companies, such as a travel agency that organizes international tours which focus on the influence of Russia around the globe, or a company that specializes in contemporary "neo-Russian" architecture.

I loved the "Dacha Co-op," a company that believes "that all people deserve storage space that they can live in that's customizable to their own tastes and located in a relaxing atmosphere outside the city." In other words, a tiny second home.

I spoke to an architect from New York, and she said she thought Russia was the best exhibition she'd seen; in fact, everyone seemed to appreciate the sense of humor -- because, really, with Russia's critical situation in the world today, a little humor goes a long way. The jury seemed to agree, and gave Russia a Special Mention "for showcasing the contemporary language of commercialization of architecture."

Special Mention - Russian Pavilion Fair Enough: Russia’s past our Present
As as American, I was riveted by the US pavilion, OfficeUS. Its mission is to "critically reflect on the production of US architectural firms abroad, while simultaneously projecting a new model for global architectural practice open to all of us."

The pavilion is set up like an office, in fact, is an operating office, its walls lined with hundreds of folders in chronological order detailing US projects abroad during the last 100 years. The curators say it is “an active, global, experimental architecture office that researches, studies, and remakes projects from an onsite archive of 1,000 buildings and the 200 U.S. based architecture offices engaged in their construction.”

US Pavilion. Image © Nico Saieh
I was born in 1955, so I opened a folder and began to read an article from the January 1955 edition of Architectural Forum, a publication now defunct (1892-1974):

"The year 1955 finds the US building industry hard at work in almost every country of the free world. Our architects and planners are creating whole new towns from teeming India to tiny El Salvador. Our engineers and contractors are building new dams and power plants in Turkey and Afghanistan, new refineries in Sumatra and Ceylon, new highways in Columbia, new hospitals in Iran and Peru. We have opened gleaming new embassies and consulates in a dozen capitals, big luxury hotels in a dozen more. 

What is the significance of this tremendous activity?

First, it means we are building up the basic welfare of other nations, creating climates unfavorable to communism, readying countries for industrialization and democratic independence, making them prosperous enough to buy more of our products.

Second, our industry and commerce are expanding in search of new sources of raw materials, new markets for finished products. To serve increased travel and trade, hotels and stores are springing up along the new commercial routes.

Third, we are helping build defenses for ourselves and our allies.

And fourth, we are keeping up strong governmental and public relations through our official missions: new embassies, consulates, libraries, information services."

WHOA.  I could not believe that I was reading about a scheme in a publication written nearly 60 years ago that clearly and precisely outlined what the United States was doing abroad -- it seems like it would have "Confidential" marked all over it today. The sections called ECONOMIC AID and POINT FOUR were especially pertinent to current affairs in Afghanistan:

"By late 1948, thanks to the Marshall Plan, Europe fairly crawled with members of the US construction industry. Architects went abroad to advise on the planning of industrial plants and housing to give the benefit of their experience in expanding the US wartime industrial machine.

... In some instances, the various US aid programs overlap. For example, in Afghanistan, a $75 million project calling for construction of two dams was largely funded with Export-Import loans while Point Four financial assistance to the same country has been showing previously nomadic Afghans how to use the 400,000 newly irrigated acres that dams will create. 

This project, begun in 1947 by Morrison-Knudsen, is just winding up and is typical of the kind of situations that US firms find themselves in when they work on aid project. Examples: 1) M.K. used 60 local workers for every US national employed and had some unusual problems to contend with as a result. For instance, the Afghan version of the coffee break consists of two prayer periods each day on company time in addition to three prayer sessions on the workers' own time. 2) The transportation difficulties were enormous and getting 17,000 tons of equipment into the middle of this backward Asian nation accounted for about 25% of the project's cost. 3) Despite Point Four work in Afghanistan, M.K, found it necessary to start its own model farm in one area just to show local farmers how to use the new land -- certainly an unusual venture for a construction crew."

Which particular businesses were booming abroad?

"...In the field of manufacturing and assembly plants, General Motors is probably the leader of all US investors abroad with its 27 plants in 17 nations and its $191 million expansion plan for Europe alone. Other fields marked by other blue-chip investors: Pan American (through Intercontinental Hotels) with its 15 foreign hotels, Readers Digest with its publishing plants in 14 countries, E.B. Squibb (today Bristol-Myers Squibb) with 17 factories around the world and (my personal favorite) Coca Cola with its ubiquitous bottling plants."

HOW BIG THE FUTURE? pretty much sums up the Foreign Policy of the United States of America back in 1955 -- not much seems to have changed:

"Although the scope of our private operations abroad seems large, it is actually small when measured against the undeveloped state of most of the world and the prewar investments made by Britain when she occupied our present position as leader of the Western Alliance."

The curators say, “We are setting a stage for the architects and visitors to address and respond to the most pressing architectural anxieties of the last one hundred years," and I found their attitude refreshing. Looking at the policies of the United States abroad in terms of history really gave me a new perspective on why our country is in the position that it is in today.

Sonnets in Babylon by Daniel Libeskind - Venice Comune
Despite the mayor's arrest, the opening of the Venice Pavilion, Sonnets in Babylon by Daniel Libeskind went smoothly. Libeskind is a Polish Jewish architect and artist, who holds both US and Israel citizenship, and is the master plan architect for the reconstruction of the World Trade Center site in Lower Manhattan.

"Some never-before-exhibited drawings by Libeskind, created by hand from pen and sepia-toned washes of coffee, comprise the principal element of the pavilion." Libeskind said his exhibition was dedicated to the citizens of Venice, "the most fantastic city in the world," and emphasized that "cities are made out of people."

Fundamentals, the Venice Biennale 14th International Architecture Festival directed by the brilliant Rem Koolhaas runs from June 7 to November 23, 2014. Click here for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog