Monday, May 28, 2018

Top 3 Favorite National Pavilions at #FREESPACE - La Biennale Architecture Exhibition 2018 in Venice

Bed-In by Beatriz Colomina - Dutch Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) As a lay person with no background in architecture except for what I've learned after 20 years of living in and blogging about Venice -- the most architecturally beautiful city in the world -- what appeals to me at #FREESPACE, this year's La Biennale di Venezia 16th International Architecture Exhibition, is probably different from what appeals to professionals in the biz.

I am not including the Vatican Chapels in my Top 3 because it is in a class of its own. There were so many people at the inauguration on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore on May 25 that I just got a taste of it, and must return at a calmer time.


The Dutch Pavilion - WORK, BODY, LEISURE - Photo: designboom
I was just going to buzz through the Dutch Pavilion, but it was so riveting that I got stuck in there for about an hour. Upon entering, you see what appears to be a bunch of orange lockers. But when you tug on the knobs and open the lockers, there are great surprises inside. Some are windows. Some contain images. Some contain text. Some contain drawers filled with news clippings and documents. Others open onto powerful mise-en-scènes. And some are actually doors, with an entire world on the other side.

Commissioned by Het Nieuwe Instituut and curated by architect and researcher Marina Otero Verzier, "the project seeks to foster new modes of creativity and responsibility within the architectural field in response to emerging technologies of automation." The curator invited a potpourri of architects, designers, historians and theorists who take us on a journey through human labor, and how robots will impact mankind's future.

Bed-In by Beatriz Colomina - Dutch Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
As a die-hard John Lennon disciple, I was astonished when I opened one door and walked into a recreation of Room 902 of the Amsterdam Hilton Hotel, the site of John Lennon and Yoko Ono's Bed-In for Peace, held from March 25 to 31, 1969. Beatriz Colomina, the creator of the installation, explained: "Here the bed -- a horizontal architecture for protest, work, production and reproduction -- becomes a 'fucktory,' anticipating the working bed of today." Columina has written an essay entitled The 24/7 Bed, which you can read here.

The Netherlands Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

NUMBER TWO: The Israeli Pavilion - IN STATU QUO

Model of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher
and Surroundings, Jerusalem, 1862
Photo: Cat Bauer
The Israeli Pavilion captured me by illustrating just how difficult it is to maintain the status quo in the Holy Land, let alone try to determine a permanent solution. Subtitled Structures of Negotiation, the exhibition "traces the complex and controversial mechanism of coexistence that was established in the nineteenth century: the Status Quo," and focuses on five contested holy sites.

The pavilion starts on the ground floor with a model of the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and surroundings, commissioned by the Turkish governor, Sureyya Pasha, in 1862, more than 150 years ago -- the same proprietary rights are still in effect today. Which denomination of Christianity owned what was so complicated that Pasha needed a 3D model to explain the situation to his superiors in Constantinople. So he commissioned Conrad Schick, a German Protestant archaeologist and clock maker to build a wooden model to try to make some sense out of the whole thing.

The Holy Sepulcher contains two of the most important Christian sites: where Jesus Christ was crucified, and his empty tomb. It was an effective reminder that it isn't only Muslims and Jews that are fighting over the territory of the Holy Land, but that Christians make strong claims on the region, too, and have been battling over Jerusalem for centuries.

Legend for the different Christian denominations in the Holy Sepulchre - Photo: Cat Bauer (with foot:-)
Rachel's Tomb in Bethlehem is revered as the burial place of the biblical matriarch, Rachel, and is considered holy by all the Big Three: Jews, Christians and Muslims. It used to be that the roadside tomb was open to everyone; it is now surrounded by a 26-foot high separation wall and accessible only to Jewish worshipers.

The other three sites are the Mughrabi Ascent in Jerusalem, the only one of the eleven entrances to the upper level of the Temple Mount that is open to non-Muslims; The Cave of the Patriarchs aka the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron, shared by both Jews and Muslims; and the Western or Wailing Wall Plaza in Jerusalem, which was created after Israel destroyed the 800-year-old Muslim Mughrabi Quarter in 1967 and transformed an intimate courtyard into a vast plaza.

The Israel Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

NUMBER THREE: The Romanian Pavilion - MNEMONICS

Mnemonics at the Romania Pavilion - Photo: Cat Bauer
I loved the Romanian Pavilion simply because it was fun and I got to play with a bunch of kids. Inside the grey and pedestrian pavilion are childhood playground games like swings and ping pong, devoid of any color. I hopped on one of those foot-propelled old-fashioned carousels and was spinning myself around when some little girls jumped on. I hopped off and started spinning them so they could go faster -- but not too fast -- when suddenly the carousel kicked into warp speed after a 12-old-boy hopped on. The kids were just flying, and my memory lit up with colors and swirls and green grass and trees and pine needles and brown earth, and how when we were kids we would spin ourselves right off the carousel, and how much fun that was, which is the simple message of Mnemonics. Fun for grownups, too!

"Mnemonics refers to the power of space to generate strong, vivid memories." The Romania Pavilion on La Biennale site is here.

La Biennale di Venezia - 16th International Architecture Exhibition runs through November 25, 2018. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

Thursday, May 24, 2018

Live! From La Biennale 16th International Architecture Exhibition in Venice

Dorte Mandrup A/S at La Biennale International Architecture Exhibition - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) With founder Dorte Mandrup at the helm, her self-named Danish architectural firm declares it is a "team of die-hard over-achievers." Their installation, CONDITIONS, for the 2018 Venice Biennale Architecture Exhibition certainly lives up to that claim. The firm won an international competition to design the Ice Fjord Centre in Ilulissat, Greenland, a viewing center in the Artic located at one of the world's most active glaciers. The  Icefjord Centre's goal is to attract responsible tourism. 

For the Architecture Exhibition, Dorte Mandrup created something truly amazing. In addition to a model of the viewing center, they also recreated the extreme Artic environment! Howling wind, blinding white vastness, deep purple darkness. By placing the architectural structure in its natural environment, it brought a whole other perspective to the installation. I have not made it over to the Giardini yet, but of all the installations I have seen on my way to the press room, CONDITIONS is the stand out.

Entrance of rop2e - Photo: Cat Bauer
The other touch I really liked was the hanging cords of rope you had to brush aside to enter the Arsenale. During the Venetian Republic, rope was produced in the Corderie, which today is where the Art and Architectural Exhibitions are held. Curators Yvonne Farrell and Shelly McNamara of Grafton Architects intend to impress upon visitors the "heroic dimension of the Corderie with its repeated brick structure and its moody light."
Paolo Baratta, President of La Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
During the press conference this morning, there were a couple of interesting questions, which I will rapidly paraphrase, hoping to capture the gist. One journalist from Spain said, "The theme is FREESPACE. But I think something is missing. You do not address the shootings, the violence that can take place in a public space. What about the dark side of public space?" Shelley McNamara gave a detailed answer about how free space did not necessarily connote public space. Paolo Baratta then said he found the question "fascinating." He said the Biennale should also have a counter-Biennale, but he would need a couple more Arsenales to address the errors -- to make an exhibition of horrors, an exhibition of mistakes. Yvonne McNamara noted it was interesting that the question was asked by someone from Spain.

Then someone from the United States asked the same old headline that we read nearly every month about Venice in the English-language media, which is: "Due to mass tourism, Venice is not free for the Venetians." Or something to that effect. Personally, I am tired of people from the USA who do not live here trying to turn a complex situation into something black and white -- or even worse, trying to control the narrative and foment division on social media -- so I was pleased to hear the answers.

Shelley McNamara responded that they did not feel equipped to answer, and that Paolo Baratta was more qualified. Shelley said that we must also appreciate what Venice IS, and that every time one comes here one learns something. How civilizations can rise and fall and survive. That she finds huge energy in the city.

Paolo Baratta said that the problem of  Venice is not just how to manage tourists and big ships. The problem is what NEW energy to bring. It is useless to complain about tourists unless we can bring something new in its place.

Baratta said he was a great admirer of John Ruskin's Stones of Venice, but prefers the Veins of Venice. We need to find new uses for what has been left by the old Republic, the old, self-sufficient Republic. He said that the Biennale is providing an answer. Veins must be filled with blood, new blood. The Biennale is an example of how it can be done and followed by others. How are we going to FILL the spaces? Why not put a couple of drops of hope in the narrative? Why is the dialogue always conditioned by a desire for pessimism?

Shelly McNamara & Yvonne Farrell - photo courtesy of La Biennale
Another journalist asked about the problem of being female architects in a male-dominated industry. Shelly McNamara said that they were two architects. Not male, not female, just two architects. Maybe it's because they are Irish, but they have never been obstructed or discriminated against (yet). But they are sympathetic to the problem.

Paolo Baratta said he was embarrassed to answer because 75% of the people who work at La Biennale are women, and if he had to comply with a 50-50 quota, he would have to go back decades. 

Yvonne Farrell said, "Unequal pay is disgraceful. But imagination is not a gender issue."

Yvonne Farrell and Shelley McNamara are such a unit that I hope I haven't mixed up who said what. They have a quiet, powerful Irish energy whose subtle influence comes in the form of sunlight and shadows. For a professional point of view, The Architect's Journal is blogging from Biennale.

You can watch the entire unedited press conference on YouTube without all my errors, which I highly recommend:

  La Biennale di Venezia - 16th International Architecture Exhibition opens to the public on May 26, and runs through November 25. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Too Many Events! Venice gears up for La Biennale Architecture 2018

FT Live: Alberto Galassi (Ferretti), Edoardo Caovilla (René Caovilla), Marcantonio Brandolini D’Adda (Laguna B) & Mickey Riad (Fortuny)
(Venice, Italy) These days, Venice, once the Queen of the Adriatic, is a small, provincial town of a little more than 50,000 residents with millions of global visitors. It's an odd mix. Toss the contemporary world of La Biennale into Venice's Gothic and Renaissance backdrop, and you get a surreal experience. In the lead-up to La Biennale Architecture Exhibition, every organization in the city shifts into high-gear, and one can become dizzy trying to get a taste of everything that's going on.

A Biennale for all the senses by Cat Bauer for LUXOS Magazine
Because I've been a contributing editor for LUXOS Magazine for the past couple of years, I was interested in attending the FT Live Business of Luxury Summit on Monday and Tuesday at the Molino Stucky Hilton. Years ago, in 2008, the Financial Times featured my Venice blog in its Weekend Magazine back when hardly anyone knew what a blog was, so the FT has a special place in my heart.

Walking into the Hilton is like walking into an airport in the middle of an ancient, watery world where cars do not exist. It is a time warp.

Luxury has grown into a $2.1 trillion industry. I was only planning to stay to catch the "Venice and the Luxury Renaissance" panel, but I had such a good time chatting with creatures from the outside world, and learned so much, that I stayed all day. My take-away: there is a lot money floating around that nobody knows what to do with. Suggestion: get down in the trenches and talk to the artisans. Quality, not quantity. And Quality takes Time.

Paolo Lorenzoni & Toto Bergamo Rossi in the Hemingway Suite at the Gritti Palace
Tuesday morning kicked off in a dash through the pouring rain to coffee at the Gritti Palace Hotel, where Paolo Lorenzoni, the Gritti's General Manager, and Toto Bergamo Rossi, the Director of Venetian Heritage, a non-profit that is dedicated to preserving the culture of Venice, held an intimate conference. Venetian Heritage has provided a preview of its glamorous goings-on: 
  • the presentation of the book "The Art of living in Venice. Architecture and cuisine "Toto Bergamo Rossi and Lydia Fasoli to be held at the Fondaco dei Tedeschi, Thursday, May 25 from 18.30 to 20.00;
  • the inauguration of the exhibition dedicated to the '900' Barry Friedman & Glass Collection Venetian Heritage "to be held at the Museum of Murano glass, Friday, May 25 at 18.30;
  • Saturday, May 26 at 20:30 will be the Gala fundraising organized by Venetian Heritage in collaboration with The Gritti Palace Hotel with guests including 200 supporters of Venetian Heritage. The donation for participation per person is € 1.000,00. The event is sold out. The seats available were 200. Many corporate supporters who have purchased tables (€ 10,000.00 per table) are: Louis Vuitton, the Acquera Tositti Group, Generali, Michelangelo Foundation, Colnaghi, Tommy Hilfigher, Venini. The Lunelli Family, owners of the famous sparkling wine Ferrari Trento, will offer, as always, their fine wines. The funds raised will be donated to the Monumental Staircase restoration of the Scuola Grande di San Giovanni Evangelista. The evening will continue at the Hotel Gritti Palace after dinner.
Palazzo Ferro-Fini Venice
I have lived in Venice for 20 years and have never been inside Palazzo Ferro Fini, headquarters for the Consiglio Regionale del Veneto, the Parliament of the Veneto. I never realized that the Veneto, one of the 20 regions of Italy, had its own parliament. But of course they do, because a region is of kind of like a US state. However, I am still confused because Luca Zaia, who would be sort of like the governor, has a different palace, Palazzo Balbi, across the canal for his headquarters, and the president of the parliament inside Palazzo Ferro-Fini is Roberto Ciambetti, with his own powers.

I got a brief political lesson from a gentleman who worked inside. If I understood correctly, most of the power controlling the problems of Venice (mass tourism, cruise ships, etc.) comes from Rome, not Venice or the Veneto. Well, Italy just threw Europe into chaos by creating an anti-establishment government. We shall see what happens next.

Nancy Genn in Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer
In any event, I was invited to Palazzo Ferro Fini because Nancy Genn, who is a lovely American artist, has an exhibition inside, and said she felt fortunate to have been able to live "a life well spent." How an American from the San Francisco area landed inside a Venetian palace on the Grand Canal is worth an entire post in itself. What is important is that you have the rare opportunity to visit a palace for free that is rarely opened to the public, and to see Nancy's work. The exhibition "Architecture from Within" is open Monday through Friday from 10 to 5 until August 7, 2018. Be prepared to leave your passport at the door.

Maria Novella dei Carraresi - Photo: Cat Bauer
Maria Novella dei Carraresi, Renaissance woman, has a funky gallery close to the Accademia Bridge on the Dorsoduro side, Rio Terà della Carità 1046. Check it out.

Elena Veronese at Ikona Gallery - Photo: Cat Bauer
Hospital Poetry at the Ikona Gallery in Campo del Ghetto Nuovo is Elena Veronese's dynamic first solo exhibition. Temporarily paralyzed in Berlin, the Venetian artist photographed her experience on the road to recovery in order to self-heal, and to help others.

Renzo Piano. Progetti d'Acqua - Photo: Cat Bauer
On Wednesday, even Luigi Brugnaro, the mayor of Venice, showed up, along with the rest of the city, for the inauguration of the Renzo Piano. Progetti d'Acqua exhibition at Spazio Vedova, Zattere 50. The exhibition will run through the entire Biennale Architecture exhibition, until November 25, 2018.

The preview for FREESPACE, the16th International Architecture Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia starts tomorrow. The exhibition opens to the public on Saturday, May 26 and runs through November 25, 2018. Go to La Biennale for more information.

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

The Impact of Mexico on Abstract Art: Josef Albers at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Tenayuca I by Josef Albers - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) I was mesmerized by the restrained passion of the Josef Albers in Mexico exhibition that opened today at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection here in Venice. Curated by the delightful Lauren Hickson, Associate Curator of Collections at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, Hickson has organized the show to tell a riveting story of how Albers's fascination with all things pre-Columbian influenced his abstract work. The show juxtaposes Albers's art with rarely seen photos he took of archeological excavations that he and his wife, Anni, visited over a period of more than 30 years.

"Mexico is truly the promised land of abstract art." 
---Josepf Albers

Josef Albers was born into a Roman Catholic family in Germany in 1888. He became a student at the innovative Bauhaus art school in 1920, then a teacher, and then a professor. In 1925, he married Anni Fleischmann, a Jewish Bauhaus student who would go on to become one of the world's most prominent textile artists.

When the Nazis shut down the Bauhaus in 1933, the Albers moved to the United States, and landed in North Carolina at the experimental new school, Black Mountain College, where Josepf ran the art program, and Anni taught weaving and textile design.

Josef Albers Mitla (1956)
The Josef and Anni Albers Foundation
©Josef Albers, by SIAE 2018

I am familiar with that neck of the woods. When I was a child, I used to visit my grandparents in Montreat, North Carolina, a tiny town with less than 800 people, made famous by Billy Graham, two miles away from Black Mountain. I would spend hours playing in the creek in the back of their house, catching crawfish and rescuing sticks that I had personified into a family that lived on rocks surrounded by pools of water. In one of my stories, the eldest brother (the longest stick) swam out too far and got caught up in the rapids, and swept downstream. I gave him a little head start, then frantically tried to save him. I also liked to unclog the leaves from the dams the beavers built and watch the current change.

But I think it is because my grandfather was of German descent... and that peculiar German tendency to organize and compartmentalize the abstraction of life... that made the work of Josef Albers strike a deep chord and awaken long forgotten memories.

Study for Sanctuary by Josef Albers (1941-42) - Photo: Cat Bauer

"Art is creation. It can be based on, but is independent of knowledge. We can study art through nature, but art is more than nature. Art is spirit, and has a life of its own."
---Josef Albers
As Adolf Hitler was busy trying to build a new empire, archeologists in Mexico were rapidly uncovering the ruins of an ancient one. The Alberses were already familiar with pre-Columbian art before they ever arrived in America. During their first trip to Mexico in the winter of 1933-34, they were dazzled by the ruins they witnessed with their own eyes, and returned thirteen times throughout the course of their lives, taking thousands of photographs. They tapped into that ancient pre-Columbian energy and transmuted into their art.

Homage to the Square by Josef Albers (1969) Photo: Cat Bauer
Josepf Albers is best known for his Homage to the Square, a series of more than two thousand paintings which he began in 1950, at age sixty-two, and created until his death in 1976. A letter on display from Inés Amor, the founder of the Galerìa de Arte Mexicano dated June 9, 1965, sums it up:

Letter from Inés Amor to Josef Albers - Photo: Cat Bauer
Click to enlarge
An exciting new element that makes the exhibition even more dynamic is the opportunity to listen to a SoundCloud narration as you wander through the rooms. In fact, you can study up and listen to it before you go so you can get a foundation of what you will see.

Josef Albers in Mexico runs from May 19 through September 3, 2018. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

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

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Extended! Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Last Glory of Venice Exhibition at Accademia Galley with Two New Works

Stellar curators together at Gallerie dell'Accademia
Canova, Hayez, Cicognara. The last glory of Venice
Philip Rylands, Roberto De Feo & Paola Marini
Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Accademia Gallery in Venice has scored two new paintings by Fernando Hayez and Lattanzio Querena to add to the excellent Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Last Glory of Venice exhibition, which has been extended until July 8, 2018.

This morning, Paola Marini, the Director of the Gallerie dell'Accademia and co-curator of the exhibition, together with the curator Roberto De Feo, (Fernando Mazzocca, the third curator of the exhibit, was not there) held an intimate conference to introduce the new paintings. It was a special treat when Philip Rylands, the former Director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, dropped in. I loved the way their minds work, and it was a privilege to watch them interact.

The core of the exhibition is the third room with the weighty title The Homage from the Venetian Provinces. An extraordinary collection of contemporary artworks for the Vienna court. This consists of a collection of artworks that has not been available to the public for 200 years.
Admiring the new additions
After Napoleon conquered Venice, there was a lot of upheaval, with precious works of art being looted, and empires rising and falling. When the dust settled after Napoleon was defeated at Waterloo in 1816, Venice was under Austrian domination and Emperor Franz the First took steps to organize the Hapsburg's newest empire. 

One of the tasks Emperor Franz the First attended to was marrying his fourth wife, Caroline Augusta of Bavaria, who was 24 years younger than he was. He asked the Venetian provinces to pay a heavy contribution.

Count Leopoldo Cicognara, who was great friends with the neoclassical sculptor, Antonio Canova, the most important living artist in the world at the time, was then President of the Gallerie dell'Academia -- in fact, Canova and Cicognara basically created the Accademia. In addition to being a theoretician, scholar and historian of international fame, Cicognara was a marketing genius, and could probably give lessons to Trump on the Art of the Deal. 

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 -- but only because he threw in the magnificent statue of Polyhymnia created by Canova. 

So not only did Cicognara barter art to negotiate the tribute, he also managed to market contemporary Venetian art, and promote emerging artists in the same deal. 

One of those promising young artists was Francesco Hayez, who Canova and Cicognara were determined to cultivate into an artist who would renew Italian painting and bring Italy back to its ancient glory.
Polyhmnia by Canova (1812-16)
Before the works went off to Vienna, the Accademia exhibited them in their great hall, highlighted by Canova's Polyhymnia and Titian's majestic Assunta, considered the most beautiful painting in the world, which Cicognara had somehow managed to transport from the Church of the Frari over to the Accademia under the pretense that he was saving it from the humidity. 

It was a rock star exhibition -- the two great masterpieces together in the same room, together with established artists from the Veneto, as well as young emerging artists.

After the Austrian empire collapsed, the group of works were later divvied up by the heirs of the imperial family
. They have been almost completely gathered together again for the first time since 1817 for the current exhibition.  

Since the opening back on September 29, 2017, a couple of items have been returned to the owners, but the Accademia has managed to borrow two new paintings that you can now see: The piety of Hezekiah by Francesco Hayez and Moses invokes the freedom of the people of Israel before the pharaoh by Lattanzio Querena.

Paola Marini in front of Hayez's Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem (1867)
Paola Marini also showed us The Destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem by Francesco Hayez on the ground floor, a masterpiece which he painted late in life when he was 76-years-old and donated to the Accademia to express the gratitude he felt for all the opportunities he was given when he was a student. 

I wrote a much more detailed post about the complex exhibition when it first opened, including a lot the of history, which hopefully will enhance your experience if you read it before you go:

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

Canova, Hayez, Cicognara - The Last Glory of Venice has been extended until July 8, 2018, and is a MUST SEE. For more information, please visit the Gallerie dell'Accademia website.

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