Monday, May 29, 2017

The Peace of Venice? Some Surprises on Festa della Sensa 2017

Festa della Sensa
(Venice, Italy) Christians believe that about two thousand years ago, Jesus Christ physically ascended into Heaven. The Feast of the Ascension is celebrated on the fortieth day of Easter, or Holy Thursday. Some venues celebrate the holiday the Sunday after Holy Thursday, which is what Venice does, and calls it "Festa della Sensa."

The ancient Venetians worked the special celestial energy released around Christian holy days into their calendar, using divine power to accomplish great missions. In addition to Jesus rising to Heaven, Venice commemorates two historic events that happened 177 years apart:

1. On May 9, 1000, Doge Pietro Orseolo II rescued the Dalmatians from the Slavs. This was such a great victory that it was decreed that every succeeding Ascension Day -- the anniversary of the departure of Doge Orseolo and his fleet -- Venice would sail again out to the Lido to give thanks.

This was the prayer they said:

'Grant, O Lord, that for us and for all who sail thereon, the sea may ever be calm and quiet.'

This prayer actually seems to work because, if I remember correctly, it has been a beautiful, calm, sunny day every Festa della Sensa for the nineteen years I've lived here, and yesterday was no exception.

2. In 1177, Venice accomplished a great feat: getting Emperor Frederick Barbarossa to prostrate himself in front of Pope Alexander III in Piazza San Marco and accept him as pope, a treaty which was called the "Peace of Venice." Since Pope Alexander was in town, he attended the famous Festa della Sensa ceremony which, by that time, Venetians had been celebrating for nearly two centuries. The newly-recognized pope handed Doge Sebastiano Ziani a consecrated ring, saying:

"Receive this as a pledge of the sovereignty which you and your successors shall have in perpetuity over the sea."

I have written about the Festa della Sensa many, many times before. Here's a post from 2015 with links to several previous posts:

Longest Marriage in History: Venice and the Sea - Festa della Sensa 2015

We can only imagine US President Donald Trump, the closest thing we have to an emperor these days, prostrating himself in front of the current Pope Francis. However, President Trump and Pope Francis actually did meet for the very first time on Wednesday, May 24, 2017 the day before Ascension Day.
Festa della Sensa

Which brings us to Festa della Sensa celebrated on May 27 and 28, 2017. These days Venice has added more spice to the mix. It gives a ceremonial ring to a "twin" community; last year it was Florence, which has now given back the ring. This year it is the Dolomites and the Agordina Community, connecting the lagoon to the mountains, looking 20 years to the future, imagining a different way to move and use energy.

Like the US, Venice has a billionaire running the show, Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, elected in 2015, who used Twitter and behaved erratically long before Trump became President of the United States. I know how weird it can get because he attacked me personally on Twitter after I, and several others, were interviewed about rampant tourism by the International Business Times.

Brugnaro has since flipped on whom and what he supports; I made peace with him during the Schiavone exhibition in December, 2015. He seems to have a sense of humor. I think he has switched tactics and is now using a spoonful of sugar, which, as Mary Poppins says, helps the medicine go down. Maybe I am wrong, but I think that after he got a feeling for the job, he is now trying to protect Venice's interests against many powerful forces in his own billionaire way.

One of the most surprising things Brugnaro has done was to award Jane Da Mosto, Saverio Pastor and Michele Bugliesi the Osella d’Oro prize on Saturday, an award named after the gold coin that Venetian doges once gave to senators. Saverio Pastor makes traditional oars and forcole, or oar locks; Michele Bugliesi is the rector of Ca' Foscari, the University of Venice, and a Computer Science professor. And Jane Da Mosto is, according to Anna Somers Cocks of The Art Newspaper, "a leader of the activist generation of Venetians who have refused to stand by and let their city die", which you can read here:

At last: the mayor of Venice recognises the role of the private citizen in defending Venice

Associazione Masegni & Nizioleti -  Photo: Alberto Alberti
Yesterday was also Cleaning Day, when a group of concerned folks gets together to clean up the graffiti and other forms of destruction in Venice. Here's a post from back in 2012 that explains more about Cleaning Day and the organizations involved:

Cleaning Day in Venice

Here's hoping that Venice truly becomes a leader when it comes to manageable tourism, climate change and renewable energy.

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

Thursday, May 18, 2017

Art World Jolts Venice - Viva Arte Viva! Biennale 2017

Korean Pavilion - Venice Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) When the World of Art arrives in Venice for Biennale's International Festival of Art every two years, it jolts the system with creative energy. During the opening press conference, President Paolo Baratta said that Biennale wanted the trust of the world "for the work that we do," and to induce the desire for art and architecture in the general public.

Baratta said that we are complex creatures, and that art can restore human beings. Through art we can find out about us. There is a silent battle the World of Art carries on with courage, not indulging in banalities or in ordinary life. It is an examination of the human condition.

If there is a crisis, it is in our minds. The drama is already here, and we should not fall into the trap of over-simplification. We ask artists to help us rejoin our selves with ourselves. Being human means accepting the complexity and dealing with it. We cannot be reduced to a single reality, and must reconcile ourselves to a complex reality. There is a tendency to over-simplify the world; the modern world is a complex thing we must understand.

Everything is being reduced to very few truths and very few words. We are being asked to reduce ourselves to symbols. If you deny complexity you will fall into frustration and inaction.

Baratta said that visiting the Biennale can change one's perspective on life, art, and what you think about human beings.

Ernesto Neto, Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place) Photo: Cat Bauer
Curator Christine Macel said that art has been her passion, if not obsession, forever. It is important to put the voice of the artist in the center. She embraces the artist's right to ozio, or free time -- the right to do nothing at all, the moment in which you are yourself, creating.

Much has been written about the 57th Venice Art Biennale; here's a review I like by Laura Cumming at The Guardian:

"The main international exhibition, curated by Christine Macel, director of the Pompidou Centre, steers clear of the political propaganda that dominated the last Biennale; indeed you could be forgiven for thinking it’s all rather comfortable and picturesque. Artists hang about, making music, chatting, sleeping (real and depicted beds predominate). There are tapestries, embroideries and quilted hangings everywhere; you can stitch mementoes into David Medalla’s sail or run your fingers through cascading gold mesh. So many threads can only lead straight to Ernesto Neto, another Biennale fixture, and sure enough here is another of his voluminous dangling nets. Inside sit actual members of the Brazilian rainforest tribe to which his installation is dedicated. This shocks somewhat – art as ethnographic zoo?"

Laboratory of Dilemmas - Photo: Neon
My favorite pavilion was the Greek Pavilion, and George Drivas' Laboratory of Dilemmas, a winding dark labyrinth with bits and pieces of sound installations and video clips along the way that eventually leads to the main show, a riveting video starring the fabulous Charlotte Rampling. Drivas was inspired by a piece of classical Greek theater, The Suppliants by Aeschylus (c. 470 BC), which posed the dilemma: Do we save the Foreigner or maintain the safety of the Native? And if you're thinking, Oh, not another refugee crisis installation, it is absolutely not that.

Freesa from the Tunisian Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
I became surprisingly emotional after standing in line at the kiosk and applying to receive my Freesa during The Absence of Paths at the Tunisian Pavilion. A Freesa is a Universal Travel Document that allows me to go anywhere I want on the entire planet. It's Tunisia's first appearance at the Biennale since 1958; they are also issuing Freesas at Marco Polo Airport.

The document opens with a poem by Maulana Rumi, a 13th century Persian poet, Muslim and Sufi mystic whose influence "transcended national borders and ethnic divisions," and whose wise words written 1000 years ago sums up the 57th Venice Biennale International Festival of Art:
Whoever Brought Me Here

All day I think about it, then
at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what
am I supposed to be doing?

My soul is from elsewhere,
I'm sure of that, and I intend to
end up there.
This drunkenness began in some
other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I'll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I'm like a bird from anther
continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
but who is it now in my ear who
hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes?
What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an
answer, I could break out of this
prison for drunks.

I didn't come here of my own accord,
and I can't leve that way.
Whoever brought me here, will have
to take me home.

Maulana Rumi
Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

Monday, May 8, 2017

Fabulous! Philip Guston & the Poets at Accademia in Venice - To Ernest, with Love

The Line by Philip Guston (1977)
(Venice, Italy) I have eagerly anticipated the arrival of Philip Guston and the Poets. When I lived in the hills of Los Feliz, a section of Los Angeles, one of my dearest friends and neighbors was Ernest Lieblich, a wealthy German Jew who was a great supporter of the arts. One day, Ernest insisted that we dash to the City of Hope hospital to see a mural he had discovered. He drove, speeding down the freeway at age 82, to a decrepit building. After we entered the doorway, Ernest demanded, "Now turn around!" On the wall surrounding the door was a dramatic mural in poor condition.

From Ernest's 2009 obituary in the Los Angeles Times (which I recommend reading so you can see the fabulous life Ernest led):

"Ernest Lieblich, a businessman and philanthropist with a passion for the arts who financed the painstaking restoration of a valuable 1930s-era mural and helped uncover the true identity of one of its creators, died April 4 at his Los Feliz home. He was 94.

One of his most notable efforts was the recovery of a faded floor-to-ceiling mural at the City of Hope medical center in Duarte. The experts he assembled to restore the mural by Reuben Kadish and Phillip Goldstein found that Goldstein was actually Philip Guston, a leading Abstract Expressionist painter who achieved prominence after leaving Los Angeles for New York in the late 1930s.
Philip Guston - Reuben Kadish mural City of Hope
The mural, painted in 1935-36, depicts 30 draped and nude figures representing vigorous youth to frail old age. Although cracked and grimy from decades of neglect, its beauty made Lieblich gasp when he saw it for the first time in 1996.

"He used his famous word, which was 'Fabulous!' " recalled Robert J. Reid, who was then City of Hope's vice president for donor relations. "He said, 'We must do something about this.'"
Lieblich was so buoyed by the discovery of a forgotten piece of local art history that he agreed to finance the renovation of the entire Spanish revival building that housed the mural and is now a visitors center."
Kosme de Baranano, Curator and Paola Marini, Director of Accademia - Photo Cat Bauer

Now, here in Venice, Philip Guston has a major exhibition at the renowned Galleria dell'Accademia, a city and museum which left a deep impression on the artist -- Guston loved the Italian Renaissance painters, but, with a few exceptions, didn't care much for the work of his contemporaries.

Philip Guston and the Poets was born in an unusual way. The curator, Professor Dr. Kosme de Baranano, is a Guston scholar who wrote a rich essay about the artist's work through the lens of five poets of the 20th century: D.H. Lawrence, William Butler Yeats, Wallace Stevens, T.S. Eliot and Eugenio Montale. So, the essay is the inspiration for the exhibition, and the poets the foundation of the essay -- though the words of the poets were not always the inspiration for Philip Guston.

In the press notes, Dr. Baranano writes:

"...His images are carriers of desire and of memory, but they are also a treasury of previously unformulated ideas. Guston's pictorial work may be understood in relation to the poetic thought of five great literary figures of the twentieth century, poets who also sought to express ideas not previously formulated. Perhaps they may, like artificial light, precisely illuminate his paintings so as to draw us into them."

East Coker - T.S.E. by Philip Guston (1979)
In one particular case, however, there is a direct connection between the poet and the artist, and that is in the haunting painting East Coker - T.S.E., an homage to T.S. Elliot and a meditation on death. East Coker, a poem in Elliot's The Four Quartets, was written in 1943. Guston painted his East Coker in 1979 after suffering from a near-fatal heart attack. "I wanted to paint a man dying."

Now that's courage.

Philip Guston died the next year.

At the end of the exhibition is the Pantheon, and some thoughts from Guston's daughter, Musa, from her memoir, Night Studio: A Memoir of Philip Guston:
"...In this painting, the names of five artists hover in the anxious air of the studio: Masaccio, Piero, Giotto, Tiepolo and de Chirico. My father would sometimes tell a story, his half-joking, half-serious fantasy of meeting the great masters in heaven, when he had gained acceptance into the confraternity, of one of them patting him on the back and saying, 'Not bad, sonny. Pas mal.'"
Pantheon by Philip Guston - Photo: Cat Bauer
I hope the whole group is up there together in heaven, including Ernest Lieblich, smiling down on Philip Guston and the Poets here on earth.

Philip Guston and the Poets at the Galleria dell'Accademia opens to the public on May 10 and runs through September 3, 2017. Go to the Accademia for more information.

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