Sunday, 10 February 2019

Giorgione's Painting "La Vecchia" Gets a Facelift Before Traveling from Venice to the USA

Before & After restoration: Giorgione, La Vecchia (particular) © Gallerie dell'Accademia, Venezia
(Venice, Italy) The portrait that the mysterious Venetian artist Giorgione painted of his mother, La Vecchia (The Old Woman), around 1508-1510 is heading to the States after a fresh nip and tuck.

On Thursday evening, February 7, we had the opportunity to see La Vecchia in her new splendor before she takes center stage at the Cincinnati Art Museum in Ohio from February 15 to May 5. After that she is going on the road again to the Wadsworth Atheneum Museum of Art in Hartford, Connecticut from May 14 to August 4. Quite a journey for a painting that is over 500 years old.

La Vecchia by Giorgione - Photo: Cat Bauer
Normally the haunting image of La Vecchia resides at the Accademia Gallery here in Venice, still in its original frame. Unlike the idealized female images of the Renaissance, her face reflects the passage of time. Her soulful eyes connect to ours with a melancholic gaze. Her finger points to her chest. A message written on a scroll is tucked into the cuff of her sleeve: "Col Tempo" -- "With Time." That message from 500 years ago reaches us here in the present and still makes us think.

Giorgione is the rock star of Venetian artists, intriguing because little is known about him, yet his paintings were ground-breaking for the time. Born in 1477 or 1478, he died young, at age 32 or 33, probably a victim of the plague. He was already notable enough at age 23 to meet Leonardo da Vinci, when the great artist came to Venice. And when we contemplate La Vecchia... what young artist paints a portrait of his mother looking like that?

The evening at the Accademia was a chance to see three paintings of Giorgione that were once part of the collection of Gabriele Vendramin (1484-1552); the collection was one of the "marvels of Venice." Gabriele was member of a Venetian family that rose to the aristocracy after helping the Republic during the war against Genoa to recapture Chiogga in 1381. Gabriele commissioned works from both Giorgione and Titan, the founders of the Venetian school of the Italian Renaissance. Gabriele was a descendant of Andrea Vendramin, Doge of Venice from 1476 to 1478.

The Tempest by Giorgione (detail) Photo: Cat Bauer
The restoration of La Vecchia was financed by the Foundation for Italian Art & Culture, a non-profit, US incorporated organization established in New York City in 2003. According to its website, "FIAC's main purpose is to promote the knowledge and the appreciation of the Italian cultural and artistic traditions from the classical period to modern times in the United States and it works in closely with the Italian Ministry of Culture to accomplish this mission." There are some heavy hitters on its Board of Directors, including the Italian writer Alain Elkann, and Armando Varricchio. the Italian Ambassador to the United States, who happens to be Venetian.

We know that La Vecchia was part of the collection of Gabriele Vendramin because an inventory was recorded of his assets after his death, and one entry read: "The portrait of the mother of Zorzon by Zorzon's own hand supplied with a painting of the arms of the house of Vendramin."

The Concerto by Giorgione - Photo: Cat Bauer
The other two paintings from the Gabriele Vendramin collection are The Concerto, generously loaned to the Accademia for five years by its owner, and the elusive The Tempest, a painting that has puzzled humanity for centuries, and is part of the permanent collection of the Accademia. When you look at the dates, it would seem that at around age 23, whiz kid Gabriele had commissioned the evocative The Tempest by Giorgione, who himself was only around 30-years-old! It is astounding that 500 years ago, a young nobleman was commissioning works by young artists -- his peers -- so powerful that they are still considered masterpieces today.

La Vecchia draws a crowd - Photo: Cat Bauer
The crowd at the Accademia was standing-room-only for the event, with many disappointed visitors turned away. So, if you find yourself in Cincinnati from February 15 to May 5, or in Hartford from May 5 to August 4, be sure to take the rare opportunity to see La Vecchia with your own eyes before she comes back home to Venice in August.

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

Wednesday, 30 January 2019

Few Tourists and Lots of Art - Venice is Joyful in January

Agostino Nani Mocenigo - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Venice is joyful in January, when locals mostly have the city to ourselves. Many shops are closed for winter vacations and renovations. The air is brisk and cold. You can see the snow-capped Alps hovering surrealistically in the background. The torrent of tourists has dwindled to a manageable flow, and the vaporetti dawdle on the Grand Canal. It is a brief pause to catch one's breath before Carnival arrives on February 16, and the hordes descend upon the city once again. It's time to relax and enjoy some art.

Agostino Nani Mocenigo at Galleria ItinerArte - Photo: Cat Bauer
Agostino Nani Mocenigo

Count Agostino Nani Mocenigo was a nobleman from one of Venice's most distinguished families who stunned the city when he chose to end his own life in February 2017. I had the privilege of dining with him on more than one occasion, and found him to be sweet, kind, witty and compassionate with that wry Venetian sense of humor.

Agostino was also a Rousseau-like artist whose work captured his fanciful soul in the images of a Venice he painted that existed only in his vivid imagination. A couple weeks ago, Galleria ItinerArte in Dorsoduro inaugurated a posthumous exhibition of Agostino's work, which turned into a warm celebration of his life with lots of friends dropping by, delighted by his whimsical paintings -- an altana (wooden roof-top terrace) dangled from a girder; a palace floated over a canal; a colorful serpent peeked through the greenery from its own little island. As the Prosecco flowed, you could almost feel Count Agostino Nani Mocenigo smiling from the heavens...

Lovers of the City by Svyatoslay Ryabkin
Dream and Reality

Meanwhile, over at Hotel Danieli, the playful imagination of another artist is on display. The Ukrainian painter, Svyatoslav Ryabkin, has brought his fantasies of love and flight to Venice in the exhibition Dream and Reality. On show are five works in the majestic Salone Dandolo. I especially liked his "Lovers of the City," which had a sweet little caption:
Those in love are always in flight. In their poor home they have a paradise and the tractor for them is the best car. It is an idyllic image.
You can enjoy the Dream and Reality exhibition through March 6 in the Bar Dandolo Lounge.

Fire - Marco Martalar at Palazzo Ferro Fini - Photo: Cat Bauer
4444 Water and Fire

4444 Acqua e Fuoco is a project by two different sculptors from the Veneto region who work with wood, exhibited in two different venues here in Venice, Palazzo Ferro Fini and Ca' Rezzonico.

Marco Martalar is from the Altopiano dei Sette Comuni, seven comuni in the Veneto that formed a Chimbrian enclave, which was ethnically and culturally diverse from the surrounding comuni. Martalar belongs to the ancient Cimbri people, who speak a dialect of Upper German. He is inspired by the myths and legends of the forests, and gives fire to his artworks, almost as if through a pagan rite they can acquire new vitality.

Water - Toni Venzo at Palazzo Ferro Fini - Photo: Cat Bauer
Toni Venzo lives nears the river Brenta that flows through a deep valley surrounded by mountains and woods until it reaches the sea on the Venetian coast. Venzo is inspired by water. The harmonious and slow current is reflected in the fluid lines of his artwork.

4444 Water & Fire at Ca' Rezzonico - Photo: Cat Bauer
The "4444" in the exhibition title refers to the number of steps of the Calà del Sasso, the longest staircase in Italy, which has linked the two territories since ancient times. At seven kilometers (4.35 miles) long, it is the world's longest staircase open to the public. The path leads down from the village of Sasso di Asiago towards the town of Valstagna, a province of Vicenza. Next to the staircase runs a gully, which was used to transport timber downhill from Sasso during the Venetian Republic. Once in Valstagna, Calà del Sasso ends near the river Brenta, where the logs were floated to Venice, and used in the arsenal for the construction of ships.

So, 4444 Water and Fire not only links the Veneto to Venice, it links ancient history to contemporary times. And it also links the Comune of Venice to the Veneto Region by displaying one set of artworks at Palazzo Ferro Fini, the seat of the Regional Council, and another at Ca' Rezzonico, part of Venice's Civic Museums.

You can visit both sections of 4444 Acqua e Fuoco through April 1. And if you can read Italian, you can go to Ca' Rezzonico for more information. Otherwise, if you are one of the lucky few visitors here in Venice in this period of calm (or you are a local and are just curious) wander over to Palazzo Ferro Fini and Ca' Rezzonico and take the opportunity to visit a couple of venues you may not have seen before.

Karole Vail, Director of Peggy Guggenheim Collection - Photo: Cat Bauer
From Gesture to Form

Karole Vail, director of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, gave a superb presentation of what 2019 has in store at the breakfast conference on January 25, kicking off the new season with pizzazz. Right now you can visit From Gesture to Form: Postwar European and American Art from the Schulhof Collection, curated by Gražina Subelytė and Karole P. B. Vail. 

The exhibition is a chance to view nearly the entire Schulhof Collection, which was bequeathed to the Guggenheim in 2012, and provides insights into the art movements that developed from around the end of World War II through the 1980s.  

From Gesture to Form - Photo: Cat Bauer
Living artists from both sides of the Atlantic were the focus of the Schulhofs, so artists such as Willem de Kooning, Lucio Fontana, Hans Hofmann, Joan Mitchell, Mark Rothko, Cy Twombly, Donald Judd, Ellsworth Kelly, Kenneth Noland, Robert Ryman, Frank Stella, Andy Warhol and many others are represented. 

Karole Vail also said that since she is a curator at heart, she rearranged the main house a bit:-)

You can visit From Gesture to Form through March 18, 2019. Go to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection for more information.

Soccol - Photo: Cat Bauer
Giovanni Soccol

Venetian artist Giovanni Soccol is at Ca' Pesaro with an exhibition with the weighty title of Soccol - The Metamorphosis of Reality into Myth, or of the Melancholy of the Contemporary Man. Gabriella Belli, who curates the exhibit together with Elisabetta Barisoni, writes in the catalogue:
"Reviewing Giovanni Soccol's entire production as if it were a film editing..., I find that the signs of contemporary melancholy that I saw in 1995 are unaltered over the course of years -- the romantic sense of stupor and at the same time the fight of man who is watching the world, whether it be the ship's prow that becomes an island, a Cyclopean labyrinth, the inside of a basilica, a water door on the lagoon or a horizon of eclipses, choppy seas of the presence-absence of light and darkness. These are the traits of an infinite metamorphosis of reality into myth which is renewed in every Giovanni Soccol painting, conceding us a magic suspension in art territory and in eternity's spaces."
Soccol runs through April 22, 2019. Go to Ca' Pesaro for more information if you can read Italian.

That is just a handful of treasures that Venice has to offer at this tranquil time of year. But one of my favorite things to do is to stroll into a caffè and have a rich, thick cup of hot chocolate. Yum!

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

Monday, 7 January 2019

Vocal Skyline Rocks the Frari on Epiphany - Venice, Italy

Vocal Skyline rocks the Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Vocal Skyline, the Venetian choral group, rocked the Frari on Epiphany, kicking off the New Year with a seismic shift. It was the most astonishing concert I have ever seen in a church on a sacred holiday, with tunes by Michael Jackson, Abba, Queen, Cold Play -- even "Mad World" by Gary Jules -- mixed in with more traditional fare, all somehow fitting profoundly into the theme of the Epiphany, updated for contemporary ears. Thanks to the creative team of  Cristina Pustetto, Marco Toso Borella and Giacomo Franzoso, the sold-out audience was brought to its feet.

It took over a century to build the immense Basilica di Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari, which  was consecrated in 1492 -- back when Christopher Columbus was sailing the ocean blue, just about to discover the New World -- to put things into perspective. The Frari is full of singular masterpieces like Titan's Assumption and the tomb of Canova. The cavernous interior makes for some extraordinary acoustics.

Vocal Skyline - Frari - Photo: Cat Bauer
Vocal Skyline not only sings, they move. The lighting is dramatic. Director Marco Toso Borella is a dynamo -- jumping, clapping, singing, dancing -- conducting the group with one hand in heaven and the other on earth, with Giacomo Franzoso rocking it on the keyboard. The whole production was a refreshing way to celebrate the Epiphany, the day the three Magi visit the Christ child.

Have a listen:

There were plenty of disappointed people outside the door who did not make it inside, so if you are in Venice, check out the Vocal Skyline site to see when they next plan to put on a show. The tickets are free, but to be sure of getting a seat, pick them up at least the day before the performance, if not sooner. 

After Christmas in Venice, there is a short pause before we segue to Carnevale. The show must go on...

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

Tuesday, 1 January 2019

Happy New Year 2019 from Venice, Italy! (And what about that new arrival tax?)

Happy New Year from Venice, Italy - Photo by Cat Bauer

(Venice, Italy) We start the New Year in Venice with the news that a new law has passed, and day-tripping tourists will now be charged a fee from €2.5 to €5 -- up to €10 during the highest season -- to enter the city. It is not yet clear exactly how the fee will be implemented, but anything to ease the burden off residents, to me, is a good thing.

Last year the living situation in Venice was unbearable. Cruise ships, busloads and boatloads full of day-trippers dumped off people in Venice for just the day with more gusto than ever. These somnambulant masses moved through the city in huge hordes led by unorganized tour guides, and clogged up the calli, bought next to nothing, ate fast food, and left tons of trash in their wake. Their goal seemed to be to take selfies to post on social media and score more likes. If these masses paid an arrival tax, it would help to compensate for the destruction they cause.

Luigi Brugnaro, the Mayor of Venice, said the money for the arrival tax will go to increasing the amount of work for trash collectors and street sweepers, the overtime of firefighters and to reduce taxes to encourage more residents to stay put in town and stop the exodus from the historic center. “The arrival tax is now law,” he said. “We will establish a balanced and shared regulation that protects those who live, study and work in the territory.”

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro accompanies workers to collect trash - Photo: Città di Venezia
Due to its unique structure, trash collection in Venice must be done by hand and by boat. It is extremely expensive, and residents have long paid far too much to keep the city clean. There are just over 50,000 residents and about 30 million tourists every year.

The trash collectors in Venice are like family; they come to our doors every morning, rain, shine or acqua alta, with a cheerful greeting to start the day. This has been a pet project for Brugnaro, who wanted to cut down on the amount of seagulls, mice and rats that feast on the garbage. The result has been that, for two years in a row, Venice has scored first place of all metropolitan cities in Italy for separating trash into recyclables; dry waste is transformed into solid fuel and used to produce electricity.

Do I agree with everything that Brugnaro does? No, but I have seen with my own eyes that the city is much cleaner under the new system, and if the mayor does something positive for Venice, it must be acknowledged.

Unlike the dramatic headlines of flooded Venice that blare across the media, this type of positive news never seems to reach the international press, nor is it a topic of discussion by out-of-towners on social media who prefer to quibble over garbled definitions of the "arrival tax" in the English-language press.

Is New York City an "open city?" Is San Francisco? If you want to enter New York City, every vehicle must pay Port Authority a toll every single time it enters; without an E-ZPass it is $15. (It is free to get out:-) That sure sounds like an "admission fee" to me. In addition, NYC has many hotel taxes - Occupancy fee, Occupancy tax, Hotel unit fee - going toward this and that. Or take San Francisco -- it costs between $4.75 to $8.00 to go over the Golden Gate Bridge, which turns a profit. In addition, hotel fees in San Francisco include a 14% occupancy tax, a 0.195% "California Tourism" fee plus a 1.5 to 2.25% "Tourism Improvement District" assessment. Why should Venice be any different? I see no reason why Venice cannot charge day-trippers an "arrival tax," "entry toll," "admission fee," or whatever you want to call it in English for the added costs the huge influx of tourists add to the maintenance of this city. (I would imagine that you would still be able to jog over the causeway and enter for free.) 

In any event, I really hope it works.  It is one step to prioritizing those of us who actually have real lives here in Venice, with real problems, not faraway fantasies conjured up by romance novels and picture books. Venice is the most beautiful city in the world, but it is because a lot of people work hard to keep it that way, and, in reality, that costs money.

May your New Year be bold, bright and beautiful with lots of positive energy and a renewed spirit of cooperation!

Happy New Year from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog