Thursday, December 28, 2017

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World - Teatro Italia in Venice Part 3 - The Story Continues

Teatro Italia in its heyday
(Venice, Italy) One year ago today, I wrote about the controversial transformation of Teatro Italia, a beautiful neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau architectural gem here in Venice, into a Despar supermarket.

Inaugurated on March 2, 1916 as a theater, Teatro Italia was the dream of the Venetian publisher, Giuseppe Scarabellin, along with the designer, Dominico Mocellin. The architect was Giovanni Sardi, renown for designing the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido.

Scarabellin had a vision of how he wanted the building to look, and hired the prominent artists Guido Marussig, Alessandro Pomi, Umberto Martina and Umberto Bellotto, who were all friends, to decorate the interior with their considerable talents, including Pomi's fresco The Allegory of the Glory of Italy in the center of the ceiling, and Bellotto's wrought iron enhancements.

Decades later, Teatro Italia morphed from a cinema into a lecture hall for Ca' Foscari, Venice's university, and then closed in the late 1990s, when it slid into decay and became a home for rats. If it hadn't been bought by Piero Coin and restored, it would have crumbled down.

Teatro Italia before the restoration
By coincidence, a year ago today, I was passing by Teatro Italia on the day it opened on December 28, 2016 in its current incarnation as a Despar supermarket. I went inside, then came home and wrote a post, which you can read here:

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia Morphs into De Spar in Venice

That post caused all sorts of uproar, including opinionated, negative comments on social media by self-proclaimed Venice "experts," who were not Venetian, did not live in Venice and had never seen the interior of Teatro Italia -- nor had they ever visited the Despar supermarket. This was yet another example of outside forces trying to control the narrative here in Venice.

I went back the next day, came home and wrote another post:

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia - Part Two: The Balcony

In January of this year, I attended a press conference presented by Despar, which provided details of the restoration. Executives from Despar were there, and as I have written previously, they are nice people who knew full well that they were taking on a difficult, historic project and made every effort to ensure their restoration was done with care down to the smallest details, and that the supermarket was of the highest quality.

Despar is proud of their recycling program, their bio products, that they are sustainable and that all their energy is green; they installed full LED lighting. The supermarket on Strada Nuova is a showcase for Despar Italia, and they have every incentive to keep the quality high.

Paul Klotz, President of Despar Italia "The Beauty of Sustainability" Photo: Cat Bauer
From the SPAR website: "SPAR is an international group of independently owned and operated retailers and wholesalers who work together in partnership under the SPAR Brand to provide a high quality, value-for-money shopping experience for the communities we serve." SPAR has about 12,500 stores in 44 countries on four continents.

De Spar was founded in 1932 by Adriaan van Well, a Dutch wholesaler who believed that independent wholesalers and retailers can achieve more by working together than working alone. In Dutch "De Spar" means "fir tree," which is their logo, and "Despar" is an an acronym of a slogan created by van Well to describe the organization: Door Eendrachtig Samenwerken Profiteren Allen Regelmatig, which translates into English as: All benefit from joint co-operation.

The group morphed into being simply SPAR ("spaar" means "save" in Dutch), except in Italy, where it is still Despar. Despar Italia is a consortium of six large companies of retailers, one of which is SPAR Austria Group (Aspiag), which is headquartered in Switzerland, and is the largest private employer in Austria.

Teatro Italia Orchestra in the balcony - Photo: Cat Bauer
If you have read my second post, you will know that I focused on the beautiful balcony, and how there would be cultural events in the future. 

Well, the future is now. Back on September 8, 2017, I was invited to hear a concert by the newly-formed Teatro Italia Orchestra - TIO - a group of students from the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello, Venice's school of music, founded and directed by Maestro Dario Bisso Sabadin. Imagine shopping for groceries when, suddenly, the music of violins fills the air.

Actually, you don't have to imagine. I filmed a short video, which you can watch below:

For those who want to educate themselves about Teatro Italia, a book about the history of Venezia Cinema Teatro Italia was recently published in Italian by Marsilio. A limited edition will be published in English in February. I'll keep you posted.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Merry Christmas from Venice! 2017

Merry Christmas from Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

I heard the bells on Christmas Day
Their old, familiar carols play,
And wild and sweet
The words repeat
Of peace on earth, good-will to men!
Then pealed the bells more loud and deep:
‘God is not dead; nor doth he sleep!
The Wrong shall fail,
The Right prevail,
With peace on earth, good-will to men!’

Merry Christmas from Venezia,
Cat Bauer

Thursday, December 14, 2017

The Cosmos Captured in a Venetian Glass Bead - Trade Beads & the Murano Glass Museum Collection

Perle di vetro a lume soffiate, 19th Century
(Venice, Italy) The intricate beauty of Venetian glass beads has fascinated the world for centuries. Worn as jewelry and used to decorate fashion and tapestries, another aspect of the beads is not as well known: Venetian glass beads were also used as currency, known as "trade beads."

We have all heard the story about how the Dutch bought the island of Manhattan from Native Americans for a mere $24 worth of beads and trinkets. There is an excellent article called Keep the Change: The Beads that Bought Manhattan by Aja Raden in the Huffington Post excerpted from her book, Stoned: Jewelry, Obsession and how Desire Shapes the World. It's so good, I suggest you read the entire article. Here is a taste:

Perle di vetro a lume, 19th Century
"The fact that the Dutch paid for New Amsterdam in beads is not surprising or even unique. Venetians had used trade beads as currency in Africa and Indonesia for a very long time before any­one ever ventured to the New World. In fact, many of the bead makers in Holland were Venetians. Glass beads were not only lovely, but glass was a rare commodity outside of Europe.
In fact, in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, beads were valuable and accepted pretty much as universal currency. They were actually created for that purpose and used kind of like Renaissance-era traveler’s checks. It was just as difficult to trade using unrecognizable foreign currency back then as it is now. And, sure, gold and jewels are welcome everywhere, but the jew­els were mostly coming from those distant lands in the first place, making them ubiquitous and far less valuable to their original sellers than to their European counterparts. And though every­body values gold, it’s heavy, difficult to transport in quantity, and easily stolen.
Glass beads, on the other hand, were easy to transport, easy to standardize for value, and most important, they were rare— and therefore valued—everywhere but in Western Europe. There’s a distinct advantage to trading something more valuable to your customer than it is to you. Glass beads were particularly valuable, one might even say invaluable, rare, and exotic, in the New World, where glassmaking technology didn’t exist and no one had ever seen anything like them."
Perle di vetro rosetta, 19th Century
Which brings us to the exhibition, The World in a Glass Bead, at Palazzo Giustinian, the Glass Museum on Murano, which has perhaps the largest collection of glass beads in the world, consisting of 85 sample cases containing 14,182 beads, plus a whole lot more.

In 1861, Abbot Vicenzo Zanetti, a historian and son of a master glassmaker was granted permission to create the glass museum on Murano inside Palazzo Giustinian. Zanetti had a passion and obsession for Murano glass, and did much to breathe new life into the ancient glassblowing profession, encouraging entrepreneurs and fighting for workers' rights. He also painstakingly collected glass beads produced in Murano and Venice between 1820 and 1890, cataloguing as many as he could find.

About 25 years after Zanetti's death in 1883, some "genius" had the "brilliant" idea to move the collection from the museum into a warehouse, losing the records of the history of the beads.

Perle di vetro a lume a inserzione di murrine, 19th Century
Enter Augusto Panini, who has traveled extensively throughout West Africa, deepening his knowledge of the ancient Mali culture, specifically focusing on glass beads and the role they played in commercial and cultural relations between Africa, the Middle East and Europe.

Last month, I had the good fortune to attend a private dinner at which I met Augusto Panini, who presented the host with a beautiful book entitled Il Mondo in un Perla, or The World in a Bead -- all the gorgeous photos in this post were taken by Augusto Panini -- which provided an in-depth look at the exhibition that opened on December 8th at Palazzo Giustinian.

The World in a Bead by Augusto Panini
Panini spent five years researching and photographing the glass bead collection of Abbot Vicenzo Zanetti, gathering together the history that had been lost. Finally, more than 150 years after Zanetti's death, the glass bead collection is back at home inside Palazzo Giustinian, meticulously catalogued by Augusto Panini, as Venetian glass makes yet another comeback.

The World in a Glass Bead is curated by Augusto Panini and Chiara Squarcina, the Director of the Glass Museum. Squarcina says the title "stems from my own personal view of the bead as a multi-faceted cosmos in which skilled hands, particularly those of women, have communicated a concept of grace and perfection giving rise, each time, to a perfect and ideal world."

The World in a Glass Bead runs through April 15, 2018. Go to the Venice Glass Museum for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, December 8, 2017

December 8: The Madonna of the Sun and the Feast of the Immaculate Conception

Harley's Ninth - illustrated by Philippe Lardy
(Venice, Italy) When I created the teen-age protagonist, Harley Columba, I wanted her to have a deep connection to John Lennon, so in my first novel,  Harley, Like a Person, I made her birthday the same day that John Lennon was assassinated, December 8th. At that time, I had no idea what the significance of that day was in terms of Christian history, nor in the history of many other religions.

In my second novel, Harley's Ninth, Harley, who is an artist, has an idea for a goddess of her own creation, and decides to capture her idea in a sketch for an oil painting. She calls her goddess, The Madonna of the Sun. I think Philippe Lardy, a Swiss artist who lives in Paris, and who illustrated the cover, caught the image beautifully. From Harley's Ninth:
I flip open my sketch pad and take a piece of charcoal out of its case. I prop my sketch pad on the ledge of the building. I sketch a woman reclining in the hollow of a mountaintop. Her hair is long, and shaped as if it is the veil of the Virgin Mary. She has wings, Indian-feather wings. The bottom half of her body is nude. Her knees are bent up in the air. Her feet are bare -- with spindly, elegant toes like fingers and semi-circular arches. Suspended between her thighs is a glowing sun; yellow beams shoot out between her legs and into the atmosphere. Inside her womb is a golden egg. The woman's eyes look sideways, right at the viewer. Her eyes are mysterious and wise. There is a tiny smile on her lips, serene and confident. I will call my painting The Madonna of the Sun.
Meeting at the Golden Gate by Giotto (section) - 1305
Years later, after moving to Venice, I learned that December 8th is a national holiday here in Italy, the Feast of the Immaculate Conception. It is one of the most important Marian feast days in the Roman Catholic Church, and is celebrated world-wide. It celebrates the day that Mary, the mother of Jesus Christ, was conceived.

Some scholars think that the great artist Giotto di Bondone captured the moment of the Immaculate Conception in his Meeting at the Golden Gate, when Mary's parents; Joachim and Anne, who were long-married but childless, first met each other after receiving the news from an angel that they would have a child who would grow up to be the mother of God. You can read more about the moment in a post I wrote about Giotto:

The Most Powerful Kiss in Art: Do you know what MAGISTER GIOTTO in Venice is? 


These days, with so many women speaking out against those that abuse their power, and with Time Magazine naming their Person of the Year: "The Silence Breakers -- The Voices that Launched a Movement," I hope that the creative female energy will finally have her moment in the Sun.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, December 4, 2017

Contemporary Art in Venice: Biennale Closes - V-A-C Foundation Opens + Gianni Berengo Gardin

Christine Macel & Paolo Baratta - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The 57th Art Biennale, Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Macel, ended last Sunday, November 27, and was a huge success, with over 615,000 visitors, a 23% increase over 2015. In addition, more than 23,500 visitors attended the three preview days on May 10-12 alone. At the Open Meeting with the Italian and international press, President Paolo Baratta also expressed his satisfaction with the number of young people who attended -- more than a third of visitors were under the age of 26.

Last day of Viva Arte Viva - Photo: Cat Bauer
One journalist asked what the reason for the rise in attendance was. Baratta offered several theories. The Biennale does not advertise except for some local banners in Venice, so perhaps the increase was due to word of mouth and social media. But perhaps it was due to some deeper phenomenon, a growing thirst for first-hand knowledge. Contemporary art has grown more familiar to the public. And many students came to the Biennale on organized trips with their teachers, an activity to which the Biennale dedicates a lot of resources.

Opening for Daniela Delfina Dell'Orto - Photo: Cat Bauer
Personally, I think that young people -- at least here in Europe -- do have a growing interest in contemporary art, a real-life respite from the bombardment of the cyber world. On November 10th, I was at the opening for Daniela Delfina Dell'Orto at the Andrea Tardini Gallery and a group of 20-somethings bounded in, full of energy and curiosity. I asked, "Where are you from? How did you get here?" It turned out they were from Belgium, a group of friends who had come to Venice for the weekend specifically to visit Art Biennale, and were wandering around the city visiting galleries. They had just stumbled into Daniela's opening by chance --which I loved, by the way -- it's on through January 7, 2018.

For months, the thought-provoking Viva Arte Viva was the most visited exhibition in Italy, evidence that it is not only the mindless masses that come to visit Venice, but also enlightened travelers who understand that the city contains a wealth of knowledge. Christine Macel declared that "Viva Arte Viva is an exhibition inspired by humanism."

Go to Biennale for more information.

The Individual is a Mirage by Erik Beltran (section) 2010 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Meanwhile, as Art Biennale came to a close, the opening reception for the new exhibition at the V-A-C Foundation on the Zattare was on November 25. Taking its title from Shannon Ebner's installation The Electric Comma, the exhibition examines the ways in which the distinction between artificial and human intelligence is becoming less clear. From the press notes: "As the majority of our collective histories, memories and imaginations are being digitized, the effects of this on the human condition and on our planet as a whole remain underestimated."

What makes the exhibition even more interesting is that the V-A-C Foundation was founded in Moscow in 2009 by Leonid Mikhelson, said to be the world's richest Russian, and whose mission is cultural diplomacy through contemporary art. With so much uproar in the world these days over the extent to which Russia is influencing other countries, it's nice to have the opportunity to stroll over to Palazzo delle Zattare and see for oneself the image they choose to project.

Inside Diane by Valia Fetisov (2017) inspired by Twin Peaks
"Warning! If you choose to enter, your voice will be recorded, 
anonymized and published" 
Photo: Cat Bauer
V-A-C is dedicated to the development and international presentation of Russian contemporary culture, and has international ties with the New Museum in New York, the Tate galleries in the UK, and the Whitechapel Gallery in London. A version of the premiere exhibition that launched here in Venice, Space, Force Construction, is now at the Art Institute of Chicago with the new title Revoliutsiia! Demonstratsiia! Soviet Art Put to the Test until January 15, 2018.

The current V-A-C exhibition, The Electric Comma, was developed together with KADIST, a French-American private foundation based in San Francisco and Paris, and contains works from both collections. I thought it was intriguing, and they seem to have a sense of humor.

I included the V-A-C Foundation in the "Things to DO" section of the current fall/winter issue of LUXOS Magazine entitled "Art has no passport."

The Electric Comma runs through March 31, 2018. For more information, visit the V-A-C Foundation.

Gianni Berengo Gardin - Photo: Cat Bauer
I finally had the opportunity to meet the acclaimed photographer, Gianni Berengo Gardin, at the inauguration of Gianni Berengo Gardin & Sergio Del Pero - Venise '55/'65 at the Wilmotte Foundation on Friday evening, December 1.

Berengo Gardin has been called, "the most important photographer in Italy in the latter part of the 20th century," and at age 87, is still going strong. In 2015, he caused a lot of commotion when his exhibition about the cruise ships in Venice was banned from Palazzo Ducale, only to open at Olivetti Showroom in Piazza San Marco, a building designed by the renowned architect, Carlo Scarpa, just a couple hundred meters away.

I wrote a post about the whole shebang, which you can read here:

Venice and the Cruise Ships - Blocked Gianni Berengo Gardin Exhibition Opens in Piazza San Marco

It turned out that there were a bunch of outside forces in play during that period in time, which were trying to control the narrative. Judging by some of those in attendance at the current inauguration, I don't think those outside forces have learned anything at all. 

Venise '55/'65 runs through May 18, 2018. For more information go to the Wilmotte Foundation

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Guess who I ran into Today? All the Saints & All the Souls on the Island of San Michele, Venice, 2017

Micromega Arte e Cultura - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I do not usually go to San Michele, the island where Venice buries her dead, on October 31st. I usually go on November 1, All Saints Day. With astonishing synchronicity, most times I have run into Mary de Rachewiltz, the daughter of Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, whom I first met up in her castle in Tyrol.

I have written about this phenomenon before, which you can read here:

Island of the Dead - San Michele, Venice - All the Saints and All the Souls

It is uncanny how often I run into Mary de Rachewiltz on All Saints Day on the Isola di San Michele, Venice's cemetery island. This year, I was far away from the tomb of her famous parents, Ezra Pound and Olga Rudge, when Mary arrived in the afternoon -- usually I get there earlier, and so does she. I was in a completely different section of the cemetery at the tomb of my Venetian nonni trying to light a candle that the wind kept blowing out. After about ten attempts, I decided to go to the florist at the front of the island and buy a wind-resistant candle. I literally almost ran into Mary as she was heading in.

"Mary!" I cried. "I'm so happy to see you!"

"Cat Bauer!" she exclaimed. "I'm running into everybody today."

Now, we are in 2017. I had no plans to go to San Michele today, but I ended up in the general vicinity, and thought I might as well go a day early. Guess who was there? Yes! Mary de Rachewiltz! I said, Mary, you never come the day before All Saints Day, and neither do I. Yet, here we are both again, in the same place, at the same time. It is too much! Mary said something like, well, it is meant to be. We chatted, and caught up on some trials and tribulations, chuckling all the time. Mary is now 92-years-old, and is an Angel-on-Earth, completely in possession of all her clever wits. I really can't explain this phenomenon, but if I had gotten there 10 minutes later, I would have missed her.

Back in 2010, I wrote about how many people felt that Halloween did not have a place here in Italy, and how much I had enjoyed it when I lived in the States. Every year I see the influence grow stronger. This year, out on the Lido, they seemed to be embracing the festival, with little witches everywhere, and candy being handed out at all the shops. Hhhmm... Here's an excerpt from the old post; click the link to read the entire thing:

The Island of the Dead - Venice, Italy

 (ANSA) - Vatican City, October 29 - Halloween is pagan and against the spirit of Christianity, an influential Catholic Church group said Friday. Chiming in with the Vatican's annual warnings on the festival, the (Pope) John XXIII Association said: "Halloween was born as the perpetuation of a pagan cult which evolved over time and linked up with esoteric and occult practices". "We are faced with a sort of revival of neopaganism which, as such, is in open contrast with the spirit of Christianity". 

"Does our society really need all these messages exalting horror," asked the association's head, Giovanni Paolo Ramonda.

"At a time which should be devoted to the holy memory of our saints and souls, people unthinkingly set up 'noir' banquets, crime dinners and afternoons for children in macabre masks. "Everyone should be reminded that Halloween comes from an ancient pagan ritual in the British Isles practised by the Druids, the Celts' ferocious priestly caste".

The Northern League also disapproves:
The Northern League party, which jealously guards northern Italy's Celtic past, also came out against the feast this year, accusing it of being "inauthentic". "Halloween is not part of our identity," said the Northern League's mayor of the town of Calalzo di Cadore, Luca De Carlo.

Personally, speaking as a witch and a pagan, a self-declared Hindu (back when I was a teen) -- a Catholic and Protestant (with strong empathy for Jews, Muslim & Buddhists) -- not to mention the offspring of Freemasons -- as well as an "Angel With Teeth" in the New York City Village Halloween Parade -- I feel that Halloween is not something organic here in Venice, but is a sly attempt to penetrate the culture by outside forces. Good luck with that.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, October 25, 2017

How Venice Handles Migrants Who Go Wrong: Through the Eyes of Children and "Fish of Peace"

Kids Swarm Palazzo Ducale for Pesce di Pace - Photo: Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) What a great idea! Nadia De Lazzari, of the Pesce di Pace or "Fish of Peace" organization here in Venice, gave 501 sheets of paper in the shape of the earth to children on three different continents: Europe, Africa and America.

Fifteen hundred primary school children from Italian, Tunisian, Moroccan and American schools illustrated the globes divided into three equal parts with colorful messages of hope, joy, peace and friendship. On the back, they wrote messages to their peers in their own languages -- Italian, English, Arabic, Berber, Hebrew, and French -- which were translated into Italian by male inmates in prisons in Venice and Trento, many of them immigrants and refugees, with the hope that the childrens' words and images will help transform the prisoners into new men.  

"hi my name is Austin.
I live in Waco texas.
I drew what Chrismas looks like for us In texas"
And today kids from 25 schools in the Veneto and Friuli Venezia-Giulia swarmed into Palazzo Ducale to see their exhibition hanging inside the Doge's Palace, which will run through November 5. Have a look and listen to what all that inspiring kid energy sounds like on a mind-blowing field trip:

There were multicultural speakers: Imam Yahya Pallavicini, Rabbi Scialom Bahbout, Patriarch Francesco Moraglia, Tunisian Ambassador to Italy Moezeddine Sinaoui, and our own Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, to name a few.

In other parts of the world, refugees and migrants might seem like an abstract concept, but here in Italy it is a serious consideration. According to the BBC, last year, 171,000 migrants made the trip across the Mediterranean Sea from North Africa into Italy. Almost 5,000 died at sea. With war, terrorism and poverty wracking many regions, people risk their lives to provide a better one for themselves and their families -- as did many immigrants from Europe to America during the World Wars. According to The Guardian, much of the chaos is due to the unrest in Libya.

There is also a beautiful book illustrated with the kids' artwork, with messages from different religious and governmental leaders (grownups) titled, 501 Disegni a Sei Mani per 500 anni Veneziani - Venezia, Tunisi, Rabat, Hewitt or "501 Drawings by Six Hands for 500 Years of Venetians - Venice, Tunisi, Rabat, Hewitt." The very first book I ever wrote when I was six-years-old was titled, Children of Other Lands, so this was right up my calle.

From Sergio Mattarella, President of the Republic of Italy: "The 501 works in this publication are the fruit of an imagination and mind that is free of any kind of prejudice, coming from children from different countries and cultures. Drawings and messages of friendship that offer an amazing testimony of dialogue and reciprocal respect that these young children have wanted to give to the adult world, using colours."

"Hello my name is Gabriel
i'm in 3rd grade.
I lived in Mexico but I moved to Waco
My favrite color is Blue
My farite wepon is a sword"
From Francesco Moraglia, Patriarch of Venice: "'Make bridges, make bridges in a society that is used to making walls... Where there's a wall, hearts are closed. We need bridges, not walls!": these words by Pope Francis truly seem to be the most suitable to described the spirit and content of this highly appreciated initiative."

From Enrico Sbriglia, Regional Superintendent of the Penitentiary Administration (I wish I had the space to share his entire statement; he is like a poet -- no wonder the prisoners are participating in this project): "Drawings and words, symbols and memories, different languages and skin colours that express the plurality of the world and the thousand ways of smiling and playing, of embracing one's mother and waiting for one's father, of invoking the divine and relying on it -- they all create the web where we lay out our lives. We have to be grateful for the "Fish of Peace," and to the children from different countries who, together with prisoners from just as many different countries -- with the signs and words they are giving us -- remind us that, if we really want, hope and compassion will save the world."

Mohammed Sadiki, Mayor of Rabat, Morocco: "This friendship, which started at school, will help promote peace, solidarity, brotherhood and reciprocal respect between peoples all over the world. This book offers hope for the future and it will certainly be an example to us all."

From Scialom Bahbout, Chief Rabbi of Venice: "Children can be the real Teachers and show how one can live an honest life with simplicity and true faith."

From Abdelaaziz Aamri, a prisoner from the Kingdom of Morocco: "Dearest 'Angels,' for me it is a great honor to participate with you from afar in a project for peace in the world. With the wealth and light that you radiate, you are making space in the dark dominating the planet. We have the task of working hard to make the whole world understand the importance of brotherhood so that it becomes a place of living, co-existence, and reciprocal respect between cultures and religions."

Nadia De Lazzari and her Pesce di Pace are on Facebook.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, October 1, 2017

When Venice's Loot Came Back from France - Canova, Hayez & Cicognara at the Galleria Accademia

Horse of St. Mark's plaster copy - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) When Napoleon forced the Venetian Republic to surrender on May 12, 1797 and ended the 1000-year-old realm of La Serenissima, his soldiers hauled a lot of loot back to France -- the most cherished being the four bronze horses on the outside of Saint Mark's Basilica, dating from antiquity. In 1205, Venice herself had plundered the four horses from Constantinople, capital of the Roman Empire and Christian civilization. Napoleon hoisted the horses up on the Arc de Triomphe du Carrousel in Paris to commemorate his victories.

The French swiped many other precious works of art, and hacked to pieces five thousand winged lions, the symbol of St. Mark, Venice's evangelist. They also nabbed the prized Lion of San Marco that was on the column in Piazza San Marco.

In celebration of the 200th anniversary of the opening of the Gallerie dell'Accademia in 1817, much of the plundered art has been gathered together in an outstanding exhibition entitled Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice, curated by Paola Marini, Fernando Mazzocca and Roberto De Feo. The show offers not only a chance to see some exceptional works of art, but also an opportunity to learn some history about the tumultuous time.

One quibble with the exhibit is that although the history might be familiar to Europeans whose ancestors were used to their lives being disrupted at the will of emperors, kings and queens -- many of whom were related to one another -- those in the English-speaking world might feel a bit bewildered. The timeline is in both Italian and English, as are the descriptions of the art, but the excellent catalogue published by Marsilio/Electa is only in Italian. And at the time of this writing, there is no information about the exhibition on the Accademia's website in either Italian or English, so I'm going to attempt to guide you through it.

Self-portrait by Antonio Hayez - Photo courtesy Accademia
To greatly simplify a complex timeline, after Napoleon's conquest, Venice was put under Austrian domination from October 1797 until December 1805, when the Treaty of Pressburg thrust it again under the French. Napoleon created the Kingdom of Italy -- in addition to the one under the rule of the Holy Roman Empire, in existence since 800AD -- titling himself the "Emperor of the French and King of Italy." The French scattered Venice's heritage willy-nilly, suppressing convents and parishes, and dispersing works of art, hauling much of it off to the Musée Napoleon in Paris -- aka the Louvre.

Museum headquarters for Napoleon's new Italian kingdom was established in Milan at the Pincoteca di Brera, the main building of the Accademia di Belle Arti di Brera.

During all this commotion, in 1807 a commission was set up in Venice to conserve works of art. Venice already had an Academy of Fine Arts, which had been founded on September 24, 1750. Napoleon changed the name of the Veneta Academia di Pittura, Scultura e Architettura to the Accademia Reale di Belle Arti, or the "royal academy of fine arts" and decreed that it be reorganized along the lines of the art academies in Milan and Bologna, creating three national academies in the Napoleonic Kingdom of Italy. Weeks earlier, Alvise Almorò Pisani had been appointed president of the Accademia di Belle Arti in Venice.

The headquarters of the Academy was moved from the Fonteghetto della Farina, next to where Harry's Bar is now and where flour was sold, to its present location at Carità at the foot of the Accademia bridge, which had been the Scuola Grande della Carità and the Church of Santa Maria della Carità, but was one of the religious complexes that had been targeted by Napoleon and disbanded. Napoleon himself showed up in Venice in November 1807 and stayed through December to visit his handiwork.

Then Alvise Pisani, the president of the Academy, died on February 12, 1808, and one of the heroes of our story, Count Leopoldo Cicognara, a theoretician, scholar and historian of international fame, was appointed president. Cicognara was great friends with the neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova, who was considered the pre-eminent living artist, celebrated through all of Europe, and who had already been commissioned by Napoleon.

Rinaldo e Armida by Franceso Hayez (1812-13) Photo courtesy Accademia
The Academy decided to give its top students a three-year scholarship to study art in Rome under the tutelage of Canova. The talented young Venetian painter Francesco Hayez was one of the first winners. Canova and Cicognara were determined to cultivate Hayez into an artist who would renew Italian painting and bring Italy back to its ancient glory -- hence the name of the exhibition, Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - L'ultima gloria di Venezia.

Napoleon was finally defeated at Waterloo in 1815, and then the Habsburg Emperor Franz I of Austria stepped up to the plate.

Things moved swiftly after that. Emperor Franz I demanded that the Louvre give back the plundered artworks in his territories. Canova was instrumental in getting most of Venice's stuff returned, and wrote to Cicognara on October 2, 1815 that "I have the consolation of telling you that our Venetian paintings have been returned and are already being crated for Italy."

One of the next things the Emperor did was give Venice back her beloved horses, which arrived on December 13, 1815 in Piazza San Marco with much pomp and circumstance, to the joy of the Venetians.

Re-situating Ceremony - Horses on the Pronaos of St. Mark's Basilica by Vincenzo Chilone (1815) Photo: Cat Bauer
On March 22, 1816, six crates of art from Paris arrived at the Accademia di Belle Art, all but one piece in good condition. In April, Emperor Franz I arrived with his daughter, Marie Louise, for Holy Week, and to watch the prized Lion of San Marco, which had been damaged, be placed, fully restored, back up on its column in Piazza San Marco. The Accademia then put on a show so the public could view the returned artworks. When it was over, all the works with known original positions went back to their places, and the Academy kept the rest.

In August, the bequest of Girolamo Ascanio Molin (a renowned Venetian Senator, writer and historian, with a precious collection of assorted goodies -- but that's another story) arrived in the Accademia. Then the crafty Cicognara managed to transport Titian's Assunta, considered the most beautiful painting in the world, from the Frari Basilica to the Accademia.

When I heard this, I thought, What? I found one of the curators, Roberto De Feo, during the inauguration, and tried to have a conversation with him even though all of Venice seemed to be there, and we were constantly interrupted. De Feo said Cicognara had moved the painting to protect it from the "humidity." I said that after living in Venice for nearly 20 years, and writing about her culture, I didn't believe that story for one second. (Needless to say, the Assunta has since been placed back up on the high altar inside the Frari, where she belongs.)

Ideal Head of Helen by Canova (1811) Photo: Cat Bauer
In November, Lord Byron, the greatest living poet, showed up on the scene, and added some brilliance, romance, scandal and a lot of wild gossip to a city already throbbing with excitement. He would move into Palazzo Mocenigo on the Grand Canal along with his with 14 servants, two monkeys, a fox and two mastiff dogs. Ah, those were the days!  One of the rooms of the current exhibition is dedicated to Lord Byron, and includes Canova's sculpture of the Ideal Head of Helen, of which Byron wrote:

In this beloved marble view
Above the works and thoughts of Man
What nature could, but would not, do
And beauty and Canova can!

In June 1817, Hayez returned to Venice. Then, on August 10th, Count Cicognara inaugurated the first five rooms of the Gallerie dell'Accademia and the museum was born, while still maintaining its role as an art academy. It is this anniversary that we are celebrating today (give or take a month or two).

Polyhymnia by Canova
By this time, Emperor Franz I had married his fourth wife, Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, who was 24 years younger than he was, and he asked the Venetian provinces to pay a heavy contribution. Our wily Cicognara negotiated a deal where part of the tribute would include works by top artists and artisans in the Veneto, together with young students from the Accademia, for the new empress's rooms -- but only because he threw the magnificent statue of Polyhymnia created by Canova into the deal.

Before the works went off to Vienna, the Accademia exhibited them in the great hall, all dominated by Titian's Assunta -- which was there to ostensibly recover from the extreme humidity of the Frari at the much drier environment at the Accademia, just a couple of campi away.

The group of works were later divvied up by the heirs of the imperial family, but have been almost completely gathered together again for the first time in 200 years for the current exhibition (with the exception of Titian's Assunta:-) in a room dedicated to "The Tribute of the Venetian Provinces to the Court of Vienna."

Altogether there are more than 130 works displayed in ten thematic rooms:

1. The glorious and controversial return of the works of art requisitioned by Napoleon: the Horses of St. Mark and the Jupiter Aegis 
2. Cicognara - patron and promoter of the arts. Friendship and collaboration with Canova. Common trust in young Hayez
3. The Homage from the Venetian Provinces. An extraordinary collection of contemporary artworks for the Vienna court
4. The legacy of Giuseppe Bossi. The arrival of Leonardo and Raffaello's drawings in Venice
5. Masters and students of the Academy between Venice and Rome
6. Byron in Venice and the fascination for Helen by Canova. Isabella Teotochi Albrizzi and Giustina Renier Michiel, queens of intellectual salons
7. The myth of Canova - national glory and universal icon
8. Hayez, the true heir to Canova, creates Romanticism and leaves Venice for Milan
9. The antique molds in the collection of the Gallerie dell'Accademia
10. An interactive "hypertext" of the history of the Accademia
That is a brief summation of all the ultimate glories in store. There is much, much more to absorb when you visit the exhibition.
Practically every private international committee in town has also participated in this project: Venetian Heritage, Save Venice Inc., The Venice in Peril Fund, The Venice International Foundation, Friends of Venice Italy Inc. and the Comité Francais pour la Savegarde de Venice.

Canova, Hayez and Cicognara - The Ultimate Glory of Venice runs through April 2, 2018, so you've got six months to see it.  GOOD NEWS! The exhibition has been extended until July 8, 2018.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, September 24, 2017

Native North Americans in Venice - The Luciano Benetton Collection: Imago Mundi "Great & North"

Luciano Benetton at Imago Mundi Great and North - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Luciano Benetton is one of the creators of the global fashion brand United Colors of Benetton. At 82-years-old, he has the energy of someone decades younger. He is passionate about how art can bring together different cultures, and is putting some of his billions to good use. His Imago Mundi project envisions a world and art without borders. By the end of 2017, there will be more than 26,000 artists who will have participated in the project.

The concept is simple: artists create a work of art using a small 10x12 cm format, like a business card. Established names and emerging artists are shown side by side, all on a voluntary, non-profit basis. There are artists from every continent from 140 countries and Native communities, and more than a hundred collections, with 140 to 210 artists in each collection. Each collection is gathered into a book published by Fabrica.

Introspection by Joseph Sagai (2014) Native American Collection
The exhibition that is currently here in Venice at Palazzo Loredan in Campo Santo Stefano is Great and North, featuring the contempory art of Native North Americans. From the Inuit of Northern Canada to the Native artists from the United States, a cornucopia of works by artists of different disciplines are on display: painters, sculptors, engravers, designers, architects, photographers, writers and musicians.

There are four different collections in the Great and North exhibition, which is described as being "dedicated to the North of the American continent: 759 artists give shape to the contemporary creativity of Central-Eastern Canada, Western Canada, the Inuit and North American Indigenous Artists." 

You can also view the images on Google Arts & Culture, where you can enlarge them to suit your sight. Click to go to the Native Art Visual Visions - Contemporary North American Indigenous Artists Collection.

Artist Cannupa Hanska Luger - Photo: Cat Bauer
Also here was Cannupa Hanska Luger, who grew up in Standing Rock, North Dakota. Engaging, humble and well-spoken, with elite Native American credentials (as well as being easy on the eyes:-), the multi-disciplinary artist is known for his ceramics, sculpture, video and installations. He is also a charismatic leader when it comes to Native American issues, saying "The United States wants to keep us to a historical past. We have the ability to navigate dissident worlds. Adaption is our greatest strength. This was never 'our land.' We are its people."

I had the opportunity to chat with Cannupa. I said, "When I was little, I used to pretend I was an Indian." He said, "When I was little, I used to pretend I was white." And, yes, he was at Standing Rock. The Los Angeles Times did a Q&A with him back in January entitled, The artist who made protesters' mirrored shields says the 'struggle porn' media miss point of Standing Rock

Imago Mundi Great and North will be at Palazzo Loredan - Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti through October 29th. Go to Imago Mundi for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

20 Quickie Reviews from the Venice Film Festival 2017

74 Venice International Film Festival
(Venice, Italy) This year the Venice Film Festival especially felt like you were traveling to another world because of the tight anti-terrorism security. Just to get into the area you had to pass through several cement barriers designed to prevent truck attacks. Every Italian police department seemed to be there; there were cops on horses, cops with bomb dogs, baggage checks and more -- and that was just to walk on the street. To actually get into the Palazzo del Casinò, where the press conferences are held and the press room is located, you had to have the proper accreditation, which was scrutinized. The security was not invasive, but professional, friendly and efficient.

Once you were inside it felt lovely and safe, a happy, relaxed bubble with children dashing and splashing in the new fountain, everyone drinking spritzes (with chips!), fans queuing-up outside the red carpet to see their favorite stars, and creative-types roaming the streets. There were sun-kissed white terraces and deep green parks -- it was idyllic, a cinematic world, far removed from the turmoil on the rest of the planet.

Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale, said: "The world in general is reacting beyond the most positive expectations with a sort of bold feeling of independence to the terrorism threat. Italy is full of tourists. We need to have faith in our institutions and in our selves. And I think that we, like all those who can feel threatened, can be proud of the way we are reacting.”

Kid-friendly fountain at the Venice Film Festival
I could not be more thrilled that The Shape of Water won the Golden Lion this year, and judging from the reaction in the press room when the winner was announced on Saturday night, that was the general consensus. I am sure it will be nominated for major awards in many categories -- including Best Picture at the Academy Awards. Here is the rave post I wrote, which includes links to a few critics' reviews:

The Movie that Everyone is Raving About: THE SHAPE OF WATER at the Venice Film Festival

Go to La Biennale for the complete list of winners.

The Shape of Water poster by James Jean
This year I managed to see 20 films. Since it is impossible to see everything, I tried to focus on American films, or English-speaking films, with a couple of exceptions. Here are my quickie reviews in the order in which I saw the films, and whether you should make the trip to the theater or stay home and stream it. I've linked the titles to the reviews I agree with the most -- not just the reviews from Venice, but also Telluride and Toronto -- so if you want to know more, click the link.

1. ***Downsizing directed by Alexander Payne opened the festival. Starring Matt Damon, it's a science-fiction comedy about a couple who decide to shrink themselves down to help save the planet (and immediately become rich). The best thing in the film was Hong Chau's dynamic performance of a Vietnamese dissident shrunk against her will. Worth a trip to the theater.

2. ***Nico, 1988 directed by Susanna Nicchiarelli, won the Orizzonti award for Best Picture. Starring Trine Dyrholm as Nico long after the singer left The Velvet Underground, the bio pic captures the last two years of the hard-living former beauty's life. The Orizzonti films have their own jury, and is the section "that represents the latest aesthetic and expressive trends in international cinema." See it at an art house, or stream it.

3. ***First Reformed, directed by Paul Schrader stars Ethan Hawke as a Dutch Reformed priest of a remote, historical church, frequented mostly by tourists, about to have its 250th reconsecration. Since it is a Schrader film, it is bizarre and intense, especially when the priest is called upon to counsel a suicide bomber. Definitely worth streaming.

4. *****The Shape of Water, directed by Guillermo del Toro, is an adult fairy-tale, which I adored, as did most critics and the jury -- it won the Golden Lion for Best Picture. See it at the theater, then stream it, then buy it. But you MUST see it.

5. ***Human Flow directed by Ai Weiwei that illustrates and humanizes the refugee crisis on a global scale. An awesome effort. Stream it.

6. ****Our Souls at Night, directed by Ritesh Batra, starring Jane Fonda and Robert Redford. I wrote a post: Robert Redford & Jane Fonda talk sex at 80, raising kids and growing old at Venice Film Festival that sums it up. Unless you are in NY or LA, you will have to stream it because it is a Netflix production, though it would make a great older folks's date night out.

Charlie Plummer in LEAN ON PETE
7. ****Lean on Pete, by British director Andrew Heigh, stars the next teen idol, Charlie Plummer, who is terrific, and won the Marcello Mastroianni Award for Best Young Actor or Actress. Set in the US Pacific Northwest, "Lean on Pete" is the name of a race horse, owned by Del, played by a grizzled Steve Buscemi. Charlie has no mother; his father is involved with a married woman, with unfortunate consequences. A story about a lonely boy and the horse he loves. I thought it was terrific, and hope some clever marketers can figure out how to get both teenage girls and boys into the theater to see it.
8. ***Suburbicon, directed by George Clooney, starring Matt Damon and Julianne Moore. Based on horrific real-life events in Pittsburgh when a black family moves into a white neighborhood in the 50s, the story was merged with an old Cohen Brothers black comedy script. Then real-life sidetracked George Clooney when Trump was elected during the making of the film. It should have been great, but it feels like two different movies stuck into one. Stream it.

9. ***Victoria & Abdul, directed by Stephen Frears, starring Judi Dench and Ali Fazal. Based on a true story that was covered up for decades, Queen Victoria becomes smitten with an Indian clerk shipped over to England for her Golden Jubilee, and promotes him to her to be her "Munshi," or guru. At the press conference, Judy Dench said, "It's good to be the queen." Stream it unless you are in the UK, then see it in the theater.

10. ****The Leisure Seeker, directed by Paolo Vitzi, starring Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren is an American road film by an Italian director with Canadian and British oldster stars. He's got dementia, and she's got cancer, but that doesn't stop them from hauling out the old RV, "The Leisure Seeker," and heading from Massachusetts to Hemingway's house in Florida, escaping the plans of their adult children. I thought it was poignant, witty and wise -- a love story -- and hope folks see it in the theater.

11. ****EX LIBRIS - The New York Public Library, directed by Frederick Wiseman. All the wonders the NYPL offers. It needs some editing, but definitely worth streaming just to remind ourselves how marvelous human beings can be when knowledge is king.

12. ***Michael Jackson's Thriller 3D, directed by John Landis and the Making of Michael Jackson's Thriller, directed by Jerry Kramer. Of interest is you are a huge Michael Jackson fan. Stream it.

13. *****Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, directed by Martin McDonagh, starring Frances McDormand, Woody Harrelson and Sam Rockwell. McDonagh is an Irish-born Londoner, and the film is set in Missouri, which gives the film a different take. After The Shape of Water, I liked this movie the best. McDonagh knows how to get the best out out his actors, taking them to extremes with a heightened, extraordinary vision that works. Frances McDormand is brilliant, and deserves an Oscar nomination -- as does Sam Rockwell. See it in the theater.

14. ****My Generation, directed by David Batty, narrated by Michael Cain. A fascinating history lesson about the class system -- and the reasons behind the 60s when the working class broke through to the top -- not with violence, not with protests, but by sheer talent -- and why the world is in the mess it is today. Stream it.

15. **mother!, directed by Darren Aronofsky, starring Jennifer Lawrence and Javier Barden. This movie was booed in Venice, and called, "a spectacular disaster." People laughed, the way you laugh when a film is ridiculous, so self-important that it becomes silly, and just doesn't work. Usually I like Aronofsky, but this time he seemed almost cruel. Of all the critics, Xan Brooks had the guts to address the elephant in the room: "Aronofksy likes to push his audience to the brink. I’ve heard that he likes to do it to his performers as well. Mickey Rourke – Oscar-nominated for his brilliant performance in The Wrestler – described the director as “an old-style Jew gangster”. He has a reputation for being combative and controlling, for breaking actors down and shooting them in extremis." Jennifer Lawrence, the 27-year-old real-life girlfriend of 48-year-old Aronofsky, dislocated a rib. “I have oxygen tubes in my nostrils, and Darren’s like, ‘It was out of focus; we’ve got to do it again,'” Lawrence said. “And I was just like, ‘Go fuck yourself.'” See it in the theater to get the full effect -- if you must.

16. ***Jim & Andy: the Great Beyond - the story of Jim Carrey & Andy Kaufman with a very special, contractually obligated mention of Tony Clifton, directed by Chris Smith, narrated by Jim Carrey. Like many other fascinating creatures, Jim Carrey is not of this earth, but he is earnest and compelling to watch. Stream it.

17. ***Loving Pablo, directed by Fernando Leòn de Aranoa, starring real-life couple Penelope Cruz and Javier Bardem, based on the book, Loving Pablo, Hating Escobar, by Virginia Vallejo, Escobar's real-life journalist lover. It kept me in my seat. See it in the theater.

18. ***Cuba and the Cameraman, directed by Jon Alpert is a documentary that spans several decades from the 70s and up to Fidel Castro's death. No critic seems to have reviewed this film. Weird. It is a "Netflix original" and labeled "provocative." I thought it was interesting, and definitely watchable, if only to see Cuba metamorphosize. Jon Alpert is the only American cameraman who was allowed to get up close and personal with Fidel Castro. He travels to Cuba over the decades, filming the same places through times of plenty and times of despair. Needs some snipping. Stream it.

Charlotte Rampling at Venice Film Festival press conference - Photo: Cat Bauer
19. ***Hannah, directed by Andrea Pallaoro, starring Charlotte Rampling. Pallaoro is Italian, but the film is in French, and it feels like a French film, which always frustrates me because we must see every little detail of ordinary life, and there is never a clear ending. However, Charlotte Rampling is so riveting and courageous -- she allows us to see every wrinkle on her 71-year-old body -- that I stayed until the end (just to learn that, once again, there is no clear ending, nor is there a clear story). Rampling justifiably won the Volpi Cup for Best Actress. Stream it or see it in an art house.

20. ****Wormwood, directed by Errol Morris. This should count as two movies because I saw 258 minutes (4 1/2 hours) of all six episodes. Morris gets as close as anyone can to proving that the CIA deliberately assassinated biochemist Frank Olson in 1953 because he no longer wanted to do his job, part of which was developing biological weapons for the United States to use in the Korean War. He knew too much, so he had to go. The Feds first said he committed suicide by leaping from a hotel window in Manhattan after taking LSD. His son, Eric, who was 9-years-old at the time, has never bought that story, and has spent his entire life searching for the truth, which has included exhuming his father's body. (Did you know there is a 1953 CIA manual, "The Study of Assassination?!") For 60 years, Eric has relentlessly sought closure. Let's hope this series gives him some peace. Morris wanted the tagline to read: "The LSD was a red herring." It's a Netflix, so you must stream it.

Annette Bening, President of the 74th Venice International Film Festival - Photo: Cat Bauer
It is always difficult emerging from the high energy inside the Venice Film Festival cocoon and going back to the outside world, especially when Annette Bening is the President of the jury. We will be cheering all the contenders that premiered here when it comes time for the Academy Awards.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog