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