Thursday, 18 April 2019

The Battle Between Carnival and Feast - Adrian Ghenie at Palazzo Cini Gallery in Venice

Adrian Ghenie, Figure with Dog, 2019, Oil on canvas, 250×200 cm (98,4 x 78,7 in)
Courtesy Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London· Paris, Salzburg
© Adrian Ghenie
(Venice, Italy) The new season at Palazzo Cini Gallery kicks off with the celebrated Romanian artist Adrian Ghenie, whose paintings not only engage with the history of painting, but also with "painting the texture of history."

As did painters before him, Ghenie fuses grand themes and narratives with contemporary figures and current events. The Battle Between Carnival and Feast, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, presents nine recent paintings, some painted specifically for this exhibition. The paintings focus on the conflict and turmoil caused by today's geo-political issues united by the theme of water. Here are the titles:

  • The Wall (2019)
  • The Raft (2019)
  • The Drowning (2019)
  • Figure with Dog (2019)
  • Self-Portrait with Animal Mask (2018)
  • Self-Portrait with iPhone (2018)
  • Untitled (2018)
  • Untitled (2019)
  • Untitled (2019)

The Raft by Adrian Ghenie - Photo: Cat Bauer
The Raft, the largest painting in the group, reveals a floating life raft surmounted by a mass of "vulnerable, naked legs and feet, set against a tumultuous sea and sky." It reminds us of the images we see in today's news of the perilous journeys that refugees are forced to make to escape conflict.

The subject of the three Untitled paintings is easily recognizable...

Untitled 2018, 2019, 2019 by Adrian Ghenie - Photos: Cat Bauer
The Palazzo Cini Gallery in Dorsoduro was once the house of the 20th century industrialist and philanthropist Vittorio Cini (1885-1977). The second floor, where you will find Adrian Ghenie, is devoted to exhibitions and cultural events. The first floor recreates the charm of Cini's residence and a glimpse into his private collection.

Adrian Ghenie The Battle Between Carnival and Feast runs from April 19 to November 18, 2019, and is free to residents of Venice on April 25. Please go to the Giorgio Cini Foundation for more information.

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

Tuesday, 16 April 2019

Rare Chance to see Leonardo da Vinci's "Vitruvian Man" at Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice 2019

Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (1490)
(Venice, Italy) One of the most famous drawings in the world, Vitruvian Man by Leonardo da Vinci (1452-1519), whose home is the Gallerie dell'Accademia in Venice, is rarely put on display because of its fragile nature. Now, to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Leonardo's death, the Accademia has mounted an exhibition entitled Leonard da Vinici. Model Man of the World, which features the delicate ink on paper drawing.

Leonardo da Vinici. L'Uomo Modello del Mondo - Photo: Cat Bauer
The exhibition showcases drawings by Leonardo that once belonged to the collection of the artist and writer Giuseppe Bossi (1777-1815), which was purchased in 1822 by the Gallerie dell'Accademia, the owner of the largest public drawing archive in Italy. The Accademia has 25 of Leonardo's folios, ranging from his early pieces made in Florence to his final works in France. The exhibition allows the visitor to get up close and personal with the genius of Leonardo, down to every stroke of his pen.

The focus of the show is Leonardo's study of human proportions, which culminates in the Vitruvian Man, "a superb combination of art and science, the fruit of an unparalleled summary of the harmonious representation that symbolizes the classical perfection of the body and mind, and a human microcosm that reflects the entire universe."

Head of Christ with crown of thorns by da Vinci (1500) - Photo: Cat Bauer
Leonardo came to Venice in March 1500, accompanied by his good friend, the mathematician Luca Pacioli, where they rubbed shoulders with the likes of Giorgione, Jacopo de'Barbari and Albrecht Durer. Putting on his hat as an engineer, Leonardo even created a defense system to ward off the threat of a Turkish invasion, which was never built.

Eleven original drawings are also on loan from the Royal Collection at Windsor Castle, the Fitzwilliam Museum in Cambridge and the National Gallery of Art in Washington, as well as seven by Leonardo's students, a sculpture and volumes documenting his research.

LEONARDO DA VINCI. L'UOMO MODELLO DEL MONDO is curated by Annalisa Perissa Rorrini and Valeria Poletto, and runs from April 17 to July 14, 2019. Go to the Gallerie dell'Accademia for more information.

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

Sunday, 14 April 2019

Looking Far to the Future: San Marco - The Basilica of Venice in the Third Millennium

Sala del Maggior Consiglio - Great Council Chamber - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Power. Glory. Wealth. The sheer magnificence of the Great Council Chamber inside Palazzo Ducale is overwhelming. The immense hall was where the noblemen of the Great Council of the Venetian Republic convened, the 1,000 to 2,000 aristocrats who composed the most important political body of Venice and who were the guardians of the laws of State. The Great Council met for the first time in the Sala del Maggior Consiglio in 1423.

After a fire on December 20, 1577, the structural damage was quickly restored and the gilded room was decorated by the greatest artists of the time, such as Veronese, Palma il Giovane, Francesco Bassano and Jacopo and Domenico Tintoretto, whose gigantic Il Paradiso is one of the world's largest paintings. On the walls, historic battles and triumphs bombard the eyes with the glorification of Venice. Portraits of the first 76 Doges run in the frieze under the ceiling.

Great Council Chamber - "San Marco - The Basilica in the Third Millennium" Photo: Cat Bauer
Yesterday, April 13, 2019, nearly 600 years after the Great Council first met in the Sala del Maggior, a conference was held here to discuss the fate of an even more ancient Venetian structure: "San Marco - The Basilica in the Third Millennium." With the Tintoretto Il Paradiso as the backdrop, the setting for the conference shows the importance that Venice still places today on the condition of St. Mark's Basilica, which was first built in 832, rebuilt in 978 after it was burned in a rebellion, and whose current structure was consecrated on October 8, 1094. When you've got sacred architecture still standing for nearly a thousand years, the challenges that Venice will face far in the future, in the Basilica's third millennium, are not taken lightly.

Basilica of San Marco

According to John Julius Norwich:
"Nowhere in the Western world, not in Ravenna or Aachen or even in Rome itself, had so sumptuous a monument been raised to the Christian God..."
"La Basilica di San Marco di Venezia. Arte, storia, conservazione," a beautiful three-volume book published by Marsilio, was presented at the conference. It includes essays by more than 60 different experts written in a language accessible to a wide audience about "the splendor of a basilica suspended halfway between East and West which contains priceless treasures of faith and art." If the expert wrote their essay in Italian, as did most of the experts, Marsilio published it Italian. However, if the expert wrote in English, it was published in English, so you will find both languages in the books, in addition to exclusive photos.

With images that peek into the most secret corners of the Basilica, the book covers the history of thirty years of restorations, and is also a starting point for new ideas.  

Pala D'Oro & tomb of St. Mark on high altar of Basilica - Photo: Cat Bauer
The office of the Procurator, whose duties were to attend to St. Mark's Basilica, was established in the ninth century. These days the Procurators are still in charge of administering the Basilica under the authority of the Patriarch of Venice. Carlo Aoberto Tesserin, the highest Procurator, was on the opening panel, as was Mons. Francesco Moraglia, the Patriarch of Venice, as well as representatives from the State -- Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's mayor, Gianluca Forcolin, the Vice-President of the Veneto Region, and Vincenzo Zoccano, the Undersecretary of State.

Climate change and the increasing frequency of acqua alta (high water) is one of the greatest challenges that the conservation of the Basilica faces. Another is mass tourism. In 2018, a whopping 5.5 million visitors entered the Basilica. Zoccano said, "Politics cannot divide such important issues. The government wants to be close to the Venetians and their city, which is a world heritage. We will not draw back from this responsibility." They also want to make it easier for private donations to receive greater tax deductions.

To me, one of the most fascinating speakers was the Byzantine scholar, Peter Schreiner, from the University of Cologne and Munich, who was on the round table held after the refreshing coffee break in the Sala dello Scrutinio. He spoke about the origins of the Basilica, and how Venice was influenced by Hagia Sophia in Constantinople. He said that it was important to remember that the Roman Empire in the East was Greek and pagan, not Latin, as in the West. I wrote an extensive post about Istanbul aka Constantinople in 2016, which gives more details about the long, complex history:

From Venice to Istanbul and Back

La Cappella Marciana - Photo: Cat Bauer
After an excellent Cocktail Dînatoire by Venetian stalwart Rosa Salva, again in the Sala dello Scrutinio, we went down to the courtyard and through the door that connects Palazzo Ducale to the Basilica of San Marco. Inside, we were treated to the heavenly voices of La Cappella Marciana conducted by Marco Gemmani, a vocal chorus directly descended from the more than five-century-old cappella of the Doge. It is considered the oldest professional music group that is still active. Here is a taste. Listen:

On the evening before Palm Sunday, the voices of the chorus filled the Basilica with the music of the angels. The Pala D'Oro beamed its golden wisdom. The mosaics on the walls and the domes and the apses whispered their ancient stories. The deep spirituality of the Republic of Venice washed over me, and lifted my spirits.

Afterwards, I said to a Venetian friend, "I feel... clean."

"Purified," she replied in English.

"Yes. Purified is the word."

For the sake of the planet, the Basilica of San Marco must prepare for its Third Millennium. 

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

Monday, 8 April 2019

La Biennale Dance 2019 & Paolo Baratta's Profound Remarks

President Paolo Baratta & Director Marie Chouinard - Photo by Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) ON BEcCOMING A SmArT GOd-dESS is the title of the 2019 La Biennale di Venezia International Festival of Contemporary Dance, directed by the effervescent Marie Chouinard. It runs for 10 days, from June 21-30, with 29 shows by 22 choreographers and companies from all over the world in venues throughout Venice.

Towards the end of the press conference today, President Paolo Baratta made some profound remarks about the nature of La Biennale itself, which I will attempt to paraphrase.

This institution, La Biennale, is relevant for the life of a society. We are all challenged to have have an existence between the order that is necessary and the undisciplined part of us that art represents. The arts can have a radical impact when the established order becomes too hardened. Art challenges excessive order.

The World of Art is the inner voice, the undisciplined part of us. It might be seen from time to time as an enemy. In fact, it is an enemy that fights against the established order.

This is our job.

It is very interesting that La Biennale is a public institution created by the State. We are part of the establishment. This is, perhaps, European.

We are here... this permanent revolution... this permanent remembrance...

That is just the gist of what I could compile together from my scribbled notes -- President Baratta was much more eloquent. But if you think about it, how astonishing is it that a governmental organization of the Arts is in place to constantly challenge the established Order of society?

In 1893, the Venice City Council passed a resolution to establish a biennial exhibition of Italian art to celebrate the silver anniversary of the Italian King and Queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia. The First International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice opened on April 30, 1895. Throughout the decades, two World Wars, student revolutions and other disruptions, the organization constantly evolved to arrive at what it is today, a thriving cultural institution. These days, the president of La Biennale is appointed by the Minister of Culture of the Republic of Italy. Paolo Baratta has been its President since 2008, and before that from 1998 to 2001.

For a general overview of the different sectors of this "cultural colossus with a conscience," you can read my LUXOS article, A Biennale for all the Senses.

And for more information about the exciting Dance program that was presented in Venice today, please go to Biennale Danza 2019.

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

Friday, 5 April 2019

Food, Glorious Food! San Giorgio Café with Filippo La Mantia opens in Venice

San Giorgio Café with Filippo La Mantia - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) The Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, one of the loveliest, most peaceful and spiritual islands on the globe, now adds great cuisine to its offerings with the opening of the San Giorgio Café and food created by one of Italy's most renowned cooks, Filippo La Mantia.

With origins that date back to the ninth century, the Benedictine monastery on San Giorgio hosted Cosimo de' Medici when he was exiled from Florence in 1433. The Gothic church, Refectory and second Cloister were designed by the great architect Andrea Palladio himself. It hosted the Papal Conclave in 1799. After being transformed by Count Vittorio Cini as an homage to his son, Giorgio, who died tragically in a plane crash, it hosted the G7 summit twice, in 1980 and 1987.

I have been writing about happenings on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore and the Giorgio Cini Foundation for more than a decade. Here's an article I wrote for Luxos Magazine which will give you an overview:

San Giorgio Maggiore: A Heavenly Island in Venice - where Humanism meets heaven

Filippo La Mantia at San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
The only thing missing from the island was some good food. Now, with the opening of San Giorgio Café, it is practically perfect. This "gastronomical project" was conceived by the Giorgio Cini Foundation "to optimize the reception services of the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore," and was designed and created by D'Uva, a digital interpretation laboratory that offers interactive experiences and collaborates with museums and churches with Ilaria D'Uva at the helm, together with the dynamic Sicilian cook, Filippo La Mantia.

Filippo La Mantia was born in Palermo in 1960, and used to be a press photographer for crime columns, documenting the mafia war in the Sicilian capital in the 1980s. At age 42, he flipped his life around by moving to Rome and becoming a cook. He calls himself a "oste e cuoco" -- a "host and cook" and serves up traditional food with a Sicilian approach -- but there are some Venetian dishes, like risi e bisi (rice and peas) on the menu, which also includes La Mantia's specialty, caponata di melanzane (eggplant 'caponata') that was so good I had two portions. And I learned what it really means to eat pasta "al dente."

Filippo La Mantia in the kitchen of San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
In Filippo's own words:

...I've tried to make it simple, captivating and traditional. I've played around with my own tradition and the Venetian one because I respect all the regions of Italy even though I always give precedence to my own Sicily, starting from Palermo. For example, I've read that rice was brought to Venice by the Arabs, and in fact a typical dish will be risi e bisi, or rice and peas. It will always be on the menu along with spaghetti with tomato and spaghetti with clams.
In my opinion, people coming to Italy must absolutely eat Italian. The menu will vary continuously; it must be a kind of prolongation of home, like "I'm going shopping, then I'll cook," and that's it.
I hope to be able to make frequent use of the kitchen garden of the Benedictine monks, our neighbors, and use all their produce which is grown with such care and love. In the end every project to do with hospitality and food is an act of love. I want everyone sharing this adventure with me always to have a smile on their lips. Hospitality, art and food are the elements which best represent Italians all over the world...

Personally, I think Pasquale Gagliardi, General Secretary of the Giorgio Cini Foundation, is a genius. Over the past 20 years, he has overseen the enhancement of the island, including Le Stanze del Vetro (Rooms of Glass), where you can visit a continually revolving, rich program featuring blown glass, and the new Lo Squero auditorium, where you can enjoy concerts with a stupendous view of the lagoon in the background.

Upstairs interior San Giorgio Café - Photo: Cat Bauer
The new San Girogio Café with Filippo La Mantia is the only refreshment place on the Island of San Giorgio with 80 place settings (about 50 outdoor) where you can enjoy a decent meal from morning to evening, or simply relax with a cocktail and watch the sunset. The interior is warm and friendly, with décor by Studio Architetto Paolo Richelli, and especially welcoming when the weather is not fine.

The kitchen is open all day every day except Wednesday, starting with breakfast at 10 AM. For now, dinner is available on Fridays and Saturdays or on request for special events. There will also be a €25 Buffet (not including drinks) with about 12-15 different offerings -- vegetarian cous cous, fish, chicken, pastas, rice, vegetable dishes, salads, etc.

The San Giorgio Café opens to the public on April 6, 2019. Go to San Giorgio Café, the café/restaurant of the Island of San Giorgio for more information.

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

Wednesday, 27 March 2019

Ocean Space throws Open the Doors of the Ancient Church of San Lorenzo in Venice

Ocean Space - Moving Off the Land by Joan Jonas
(Venice, Italy) The Church of San Lorenzo, a towering structure with exposed bricks and no elaborate facade, sat alone and closed for more than a century except for a few temporary installations. For years, stray cats were its only friends. Its roof was leaking and there was a gaping hole in the floor. The current church was built in 1592-1602, and deconsecrated in 1810 after the invasion of Napoleon's troops and the fall of the Venetian Republic.

In the early 20th century, a series of archaeological excavations were conducted to search for the remains of the great Venetian explorer, Marco Polo, who was rumored to have been buried in the church. They didn't find Marco Polo, but they did find remnants of an original 9th century church.

The Church of San Lorenzo has been the site for temporary installations over the past few decades, most notably Renzo Piano's architectural intervention for the presentation of Luigi Nono's opera Prometheus as part of the Biennale di Venezia International Music Festival in 1984, and a sonic intervention by artist Ariel Guzik for the 2012 Mexican Pavilion of La Biennale International Art Festival. Then it was closed again.

Enter TBA21-Academy, who, in 2016, took out a long-term lease and has been working to make repairs in order to transform the enormous space into an embassy for the oceans. 

Inauguration of Ocean Space at Church of San Lorenzo - Photo: Cat Bauer
On March 23, 2019, the ancient doors of the Church of San Lorenzo were thrown open to the public for the inauguration of "Moving Off the Land II," a video installation by the celebrated American artist, Joan Jonas and the opening of Ocean Space.

If that piques your curiosity, I wrote an article for LUXOS Magazine, which will give you a lot more information:

Ocean Space - The Wisdom of Science Unites with the Magic of Art

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Venice Biennale Art Exhibition 2019 "May You Live in Interesting Times" - The Press Conference + List of Collateral Events

(Venice, Italy) At the press conference today, March 7, at Ca' Giustinian, La Biennale's headquarters, Ralph Rugoff, the curator of the 58th International Art Exhibition, said that in the age of Twitter we are actually getting less information. People group up and follow like-minded people, and block those who have another point of view. Rugoff gave his presentation with a twinkle in his eye.

The title of this year's exhibition is "May You Live in Interesting Times," which had been described as an ancient Chinese curse, and used by prominent individuals like Winston Churchill, Bobby Kennedy and Hillary Clinton. But the phrase is "fake news." In reality, there is no such curse, which Rugoff thought was an apt title for the times in which we live.

The feeling that we are living in a period of crisis is always with us. There are no alternative facts, but there are alternative points of view. Artists have alternative perspectives. In his written statement, Rugoff said, "Let us acknowledge at the outset that art does not exercise its forces in the domain of politics. Art cannot stem the rise of nationalist movements and authoritarian governments in different parts of the world, for instance, nor can it alleviate the tragic fate of displaced peoples across the globe... But in an indirect fashion, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in 'interesting times.'"

This year's Biennale has no theme. The exhibition will let the audience have a conversation, and they will decide the thesis.

There are 79 invited artists, less than previous years. The same artists will have works both at Arsenale and Giardini, but these works will be completely different in each venue. You will have no idea that they are made by the same group of artists.

Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta - Photo: Cat Bauer
President Paolo Baratta said that twenty years have passed since, in this same location, he presented his first Exhibition as President after the Biennale underwent major reform in 1998. "Let me tell you, they have been very interesting times."

During these years, the number of visitors has increased, and La Biennale found a new partner, Swatch. The increase in numbers has allowed La Biennale to cut back on the need for partners. "Our visitors have become our main partner; more than half of them are under 26 years of age. Calling notice to this result seems to me the best way to celebrate the twenty years which have passed since 1999."

President Baratta asked Curator Rugoff what the reaction of the artists was when they were invited to participate in the Venice Biennale. Rugoff said that there are so many Biennales these days that many of the artists have become jaded -- but not when it comes to the Venice Biennale. When they learn they are invited to participate, they are excited.

Ralph Rugoff, Curator 2019 Venice Art Biennale - Photo: Cat Bauer
There are also 90 National Pavilions that will participate this year, and 21 Collateral Events. Someone asked me to post what the Collateral Events will be, which are often just as interesting the main shows at Arsenale and Giardini. Here they are:

Collateral Events:

Palazzo delle Prigioni, Castello, 4209, San Marco
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Taipei Fine Arts Museum of Taiwan

AFRICOBRA: Nation Time
Ca' Faccanon, San Marco, 5016 (Poste Centrali)
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: bardoLA

Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum
Complesso della Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti, Fondamenta di Cannaregio, 910
8 May - 24 November
Promoter: The Brooklyn Rail

Baselitz – Academy
Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia, Dorsoduro, 1050 (Campo della Carità)
8 May - 8 September
Promoter: Gallerie dell'Accademia di Venezia

Beverly Pepper – Art in the Open
Spazio Thetis, Arsenale Novissimo, Castello, 2737/f
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Fondazione Progetti Beverly Pepper

Catalonia in Venice_to lose your head (idols)
Cantieri Navali, Castello, 40 (Fondamenta Quintavalle)
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Institut Ramon Llull;

Förg in Venice
Palazzo Contarini Polignac, Dorsoduro, 874
11 May - 23 August
Promoter: Dallas Museum of Art

Future Generation Art Prize 2019 @ Venice
Università IUAV di Venezia, Ca' Tron, Santa Croce, 1957
11 May – 18 August
Promoter: PinchukArtCentre; Victor Pinchuk Foundation;

Dorsoduro, 417 (Zattere)
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: European Roma Institute for Arts and Culture (ERIAC)

Heidi Lau: Apparition
Arsenale, Castello, 2126/A (Campo della Tana)
11 May - 10 November
Promoter: The Macao Museum of Art

Ichich – Ichihr – Ichwir / We All Have to Die
Fondazione Querini Stampalia, Castello, 5252 (Campo Santa Maria Formosa)
8 May - 24 November
Promoter: Fondazione Querini Stampalia

Living Rocks: A Fragment of the Universe
Magazzino del Sale n. 5, Dorsoduro, 262 (Fondamenta Zattere ai Saloni)
8 May - 24 November
Promoter: Art Gallery of South Australia

Philippe Parreno - Displacing Realities
Espace Louis Vuitton Venezia, San Marco, 1353 (Calle del Ridotto)
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Fondation Louis Vuitton

Pino Pascali. Dall'immagine alla forma
Palazzo Cavanis, Dorsoduro, 920 (Fondamenta Zattere ai Gesuati)
10 May - 24 November
Promoter: Fondazione Pino Pascali

Processional, an Installation by Todd Williamson
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Pietà, Castello 3701 (Riva degli Schiavoni)
8 May - 24 November
Promoter: MAK Center for Art and Architecture

Salon Suisse: s l o w
Palazzo Trevisan degli Ulivi, Dorsoduro, 810 (Campo Sant' Agnese)
11 May; 19-20-21 September; 17-18-19 October; 21-22-23 November
Promoter: Swiss Arts Council Pro Helvetia;

Scotland + Venice presents Charlotte Prodger
Arsenale Docks, Castello, 40
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Scotland + Venice

Shirley Tse: Stakeholders, Hong Kong in Venice
Arsenale,Castello, 2126 (Campo della Tana)
11 May - 24 November
Promoters: M+ and Hong Kong Arts Development Council;;

The Death of James Lee Byars
Chiesa di Santa Maria della Visitazione, Fondamenta Zattere ai Gesuati
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Vanhaerents Art Collection

The Spark Is You: Parasol unit in Venice
Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello di Venezia, San Marco, 2810 (Campo Santo Stefano)
9 May - 23 November
Promoter: Parasol unit foundation for contemporary art

Wales in Venice: Sean Edwards
Santa Maria Ausiliatrice, Castello, 450 (Fondamenta San Gioacchin)
11 May - 24 November
Promoter: Cymru yn Fenis / Wales in Venice

There are also Special Projects, Biennale Sessions (the project for Universities), Educational, Publications and more. Go to La Biennale for more information.

Ciao from Venezia
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, 6 March 2019

THE ORIGINAL: "Making a Good Impressionist - Going Undercover as Van Gogh, a Mask Maker Rediscovers Anonymity in Venice" by Cat Bauer

Mask Maker Sergio Boldrin leads parade
in Piazza San Marco for "Beheading of the Bull"
during Venice Carnival 2019
Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) After discovering that my article "Venice Carnival 2017 and a Brief History of Mask-Making" that I had first published on this blog in 2008 had been plagiarized, we have finally dug up the original print newspaper article. I had written a feature entitled "Making a Good Impressionist - Going Undercover as Van Gogh, a Mask Maker Rediscovers Anonymity in Venice" for the International Herald Tribune's Italian supplement, Italy Daily, way back on Tuesday, February 27, 2001, and am the copyright holder. I had published an edited version of that article on this blog in 2008 and again in 2017, and had re-titled it. Here is the original article in its entirety, with photos from the 2019 Venice Carnival. Enjoy.

Sergio Boldrin leads parade Shrove Thursday 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Making a Good Impressionist

Going Undercover as Van Gogh, a Mask Maker Rediscovers Anonymity in Venice

Italy Daily
February 27, 2001
by Cat Bauer 
©Cat Bauer

Vincent Van Gogh carried his latest masterpiece through Piazza San Marco, careful to avoid the crushing throngs of revelers garbed in costumes and masks. When delighted tourists stopped and begged for a photograph, he willingly posed for a snapshot or two. An apparition from the 19th Century? Not quite This is how mask maker Sergio Boldrin has rediscovered the nearly forgotten pleasure of anonymity at Venice's carnival in recent years.

"I've always loved Van Gogh," Mr. Boldrin said. "In addition to making masks, I dabble a bit myself with painting. A couple years ago, I had an idea to beceom Van Gogh for Carnival."

He created the costume right down to the Impressionist's trademark baggy jacket and pants. "I imagined what Van Gogh would do with an undocumented week of his life. I decided he could have come to Venice" Every day, Mr. Boldrin would don his costume and wander through Venice, sketching and painting. "I really felt as if I were Van Gogh. People were amazed. They told me it looked almost life-like."

Ruth Edenbaum, an American writer and photographer who spends three months each year in Venice with her husband, agreed. "When I saw the Van Gogh mask in the shop window, it drew me inside. I was completely fascinated and enthralled by it, and took photos to show our son's girfriend back in the States. She's a scenic artist and makes masks herself. She thought it was spectacular."

Oversize Van Gogh mask in Bottega dei Mascareri 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
In a city where there seems to be a mask shop on every corner, it's surprising to learn that the ancient Venetian craft of mask making was only revived about 20 years ago. By the turn of the last century, the masks had all but disappeared.

At age 43, Sergio Boldrin is one of the senior mask makers in Venice, as well as an accomplished artist. Several of his oil paintings are presently on exhibit at the well-respected Venetian gallery, Centro D'Arte San Vidal. "When I was a child, there wasn't a single mask shop in the entire city," Mr. Boldrin said. "There was no Carnival. Growing up, we had little parties in the primary school, but nothing like it is today. And there were no masks." During the terrorism and political upheavals in Italy in the 1970s, the wearing of masks was discouraged.

Mask making in Venice can be documented back to the 13th century, though it probably existed much earlier. On April 10, 1436, the ancient profession of mascareri was founded under the jurisdiction of the Painter's Guild. Over the years, masks were used for a variety of reasons -- in the government, the theater, and as a means of disguise. "Venice is a very small town," said Mr. Boldrin. "Everybody knows each other. Even today, it's almost impossible to walk down the street and not run into someone you know. We don't use them anymore, but masks provided the ancient Venetians a degree of anonymity."

Venice Carnival 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
The wearing of a mask put everyone on the same level: rich and poor, nobleman and citizen, beautiful and ordinary, young and old. It permitted confidences to be exchanged anonymously -- everything from accusations before papier-mâché Inquisitors, to a potpourri of sexual indiscretions. Prostitutes practiced their trade without fear of retribution; homosexuals hid their illicit lifestyle. In 1458, it was decreed that men were forbidden to dress up as women and enter convents to commit indecent acts.

Over the years, the festivities grew more decadent until it evolved into a 250-day event of non-stop parties, gambling and dancing. Social and class distinctions were flipped on their heads, with servants dressing up as masters and vice versa. It was difficult to distinguish a housewife wearing a traditional mask, cape and three corner hat from a nobleman dressed in the same outfit, allowing both to move freely through the city without fear of recognition.

Venice Carnival 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
As far back as the 11th Century, the mattaccino costume was worn by mischievous young men, who, dressed as clowns, would bombard noblewomen with eggs filled with rosewater, inspiring the first official documentation regarding masks: a 1268 law prohibiting the throwing of eggs while disguised. The Venetian government apparently gave up trying to enforce it, however, and resorted to putting up nets along the Procuratie in St. Mark's Square to protect the ladies and their rich clothing. Even in Mr. Boldrin's day, young Venetian men opened fire on expensively dressed women with the yolky bombs. "I did throw an egg or two myself as a kid," smiled Mr. Boldrin. "Talk about an ancient tradition! Venetian boys have been throwing eggs for more than 700 years."

Not all masks were used for indelicacies, however. The bauta was worn by both men and women, and was not considered a costume but a form of dress -- required wearing if a woman wanted to go to the theater. Il medico della peste had a long, beak-like nose stuffed with disinfectants, and, as its name implies, was used to ward off the plague.

Venice Carnival 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Another ingredient in this colorful mix was the Italian theater, Commedia dell'arte. In the 18th Century, the Venetian playwright, Carlo Goldoni, brought theatrical masks to the forefront. Pantalone, Harlequin, Colombina, and Pulcinella were among the many masks that found their way into the Carnival. The Venetian painter, Giandomenico Tiepolo was so fond of Pulcinella that he painted his version of the lovable buffoon from Naples all over the walls and ceilings of Villa Zianigo.

In fact, Pulcinella was partially responsible for Mr. Boldrin's choice of careers. "One night, when I was about 20 years old, I was walking home from Carnival. It was new and exciting in those days, not as commercialized as it seems to be now. I heard music in a campo, so I wandered by. There were about 100 Pulcinella reenacting a scene from Tiepolo's frescoes! They had stretched a rope high across the campo, and were all swinging together. It was an incredible sight." Mr. Boldrin paused. "Back then, people celebrated the Carnival. You felt foolish if you weren't wearing a mask. Now you feel foolish if you do. I wish they would either do it right, a real extravaganza, or just forget about the whole thing."

Venice Carnival 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
Masks did disappear, along with Carnival, when Napoleon's troops brought an end to the Venetian Republic in 1797. Since then, they've resurfaced and submerged again throughout the decades until being vanquished to the pages of history books by the 20th Century. However, they staged a spectacular comeback in the late 1970s when a group of young people, then in their 20s, brought them once again into the forefront.

Mr. Boldrin has been a major force in reviving this early art form. Together with his brother, Massimo, he owns La Bottega dei Mascareri. The original shop at the foot of the Rialto Bridge on the San Polo side is not much bigger than a closet, and shares a wall with one of the oldest churches in Venice, the 11th Century San Giacomo di Rialto. The Boldrin brother's masks have been used for layouts in fashion magazines such as Harper's Bazaar and Vogue, and can be seen in the movie, "Eyes Wide Shut."

James McNamara, a writer and producer from Florida and his wife, Angie, have been coming to Venice for the past 20 years. "We have an entire wall of our home in Palm Beach covered with Sergio's masks. We think he's the most creative mask maker we've ever seen." La Bottega's creations are completely handmade the traditional way, from papier-mâché.

"Our focus now is more on masks as a work of art, not necessarily for wearing," said Mr. Boldrin. "Like the Van Gogh masik -- I recently made one for a Frenchman from Arles to hang on his wall. After his little Venetian adventure, Vincent Van Gogh is finally back where he belongs."


Original Italy Daily article by Cat Bauer on Feb. 27, 2001
That is a scan of the original newspaper article. Although there are many sites who write about Venetian masks these days, when I first wrote the article 18 years ago, Wikipedia, Google and TripAdvisor were start-ups, and there was very little information in English about the history of mask making. I had to actually take photos with a camera, not a phone, get them developed, and send them to Milan. As you have read, I an enormous amount of work and research into the piece, and do not appreciate unethical individuals plagiarizing even a section of it as if they wrote it themselves. However, I would be delighted if those with genuine interest would like to quote a portion of this article. Please give correct credit to Cat Bauer as the author, and link back to this post. Thank you.

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

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Francesco Morosini - The Great Venetian Naval Commander and His Cat Who Went to War

Venice Campanile from Palazzo Ducale - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Happy Birthday to Francesco Morosini! One of Venice's greatest heroes is 400 years old today, and many of the most important institutions in town will be celebrating throughout the year. Morosini is known for his military campaigns in Greece against the Turks, especially for his victories in the Peloponnese peninsula, and was called Il Peloponnesiaco. He was the Doge of Venice from 1688 until he died on January 16, 1694. Today at Palazzo Ducale the celebratory program was announced to a room full of illustrious folks.

Portrait of Francesco Morosini by Bartomeo Nazari (detail) - Photo: Cat Bauer
Francesco Morosini was born on February 26, 1619 into a noble Venetian family, full of prestigious ancestors, including Giovanni Morosini, who founded the Benedictine Monastery on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore in 982, as well as doges and dogaressas.

Francesco's mother died under suspicious circumstances when he was an infant by drowning in the Brenta river while trying to save her husband, who was placed under investigation and eventually absolved. If we want to play armchair psychiatrist, perhaps this is why he was said to be a misogynist who never married. Instead, he fell in love with his cat, who was always by his side, including when he went into battle, which was much of the time. He loved his cat so much that he had her embalmed with a mouse between her legs when she died. We know this because the cat still exists. You can see her at Venice's Museum of Natural History.

Doge Francesco Morosini's Cat - Google Art & Culture
Athens had been under the control of the Ottoman Turks since 1458. As time went on, they began storing gunpowder in the Parthenon and the Propylaea on top of the Acropolis. In 1640, a lightning bolt struck the Propylaea and destroyed it, which should have been a warning that storing gunpowder in sacred structures displeases the gods. On September 26, 1687, when Francesco Morosini and his troops besieged the Acropolis during the Morean War, what Morosini described as a "fortunate shot" hit a powder keg and caused the Parthenon to explode.

Piraeus Lion at Arsenale - Photo: Didier Descouens
Morosini is also famous for looting the ancient (c. 360 BC) Piraeus Lion from the harbor of Athens, which you can see today in front of the Arsenale here in Venice.

Andrea Bellieni, Bruno Buratti, Luigi Brugnaro, Luca Zaia, 
Emanuela Carpani, 
Andrea Romani, Giuseppe Gullino
Photo: Cat Bauer
Many high officials were at the official presentation of the program at Palazzo Ducale today, including President Luca Zaia, Governor of the Veneto Region; General Bruno Buratti, Commander of the Triveneto Guardia di Finanza; Rear Admiral Andrea Romani, Commander of the Istituto di Studi Militari Marittimi e del Presidio Marina Militare di Venezia; and Sindaco Luigi Brugnaro, Mayor of Venice, along with many others.

There will be events celebrating Morosini 400 from now through next year, including concerts, lectures and exhibitions, etc. at the following institutions:

- the Civic Museums Foundation;
- the State Archives, Venice;
- The Veneto Regional Command of the Guardia di Finanza;
- the Military Maritime Studies Institute (Naval Museum in Venice) of the Navy;
- the Military Naval School "Francesco Morosini";
- the Marciana National Library;
- Fondazione Giorgio Cini;
- Querini Stampalia Foundation;
- the Institute of Sciences, Letters and Arts;
- the Hellenic Institute of Byzantine Studies and Post;
- the Italian Castle Institute - Section of the Veneto;
- the Conservatory of Music "Benedetto Marcello";
- French Committee for the Safeguarding of Venice.

General Bruno Buratti & President Luca Zaia - Photo: Cat Bauer
One of the most interesting events sounds like it will be an exhibition at Palazzo Corner Mocenigo, Headquarters of the Veneto Regional Command of the Guardia di Finanza in Campo San Polo. Francesco Morosini  in the Wars of Candia and the Morea opens to the public from June to October, when paintings, maps, historical documents and more will be on show.

General Bruno Buratti is the coordinator of the organizing committee, and he gave an amusing and fascinating rundown about Morosini (and his cat) and all the projects at today's ceremony. After his presentation, I had a new appreciation for the enormous amount of power the Republic of Venice once had, and how the decisions of a single man impacted history.

Francesco Morosini commemorative stamp
If you go to the Francesco Morosini 1619 - 2019 site there is a category called "Eventi," which tells you (in Italian) the entire program broken down by categories. For his 400th anniversary, Francesco Morosini even gets his own commemorative stamp!

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

Thursday, 21 February 2019

Blame the Moon - Venice Carnival 2019 & Things to Do

Blame the Moon - Venice Carnival 2019 - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) It's Carnival time in Venice! This year's theme is "Blame the Moon," that celestial body responsible for all sorts of chaos here on earth, from love affairs to ocean tides. The festivities kicked off with the water show on the Rio di Cannaregio on Saturday evening, February 16, with fanciful floats featuring acrobats and lights dancing along the fondamenta, topped off by an enormous moon-faced balloon, giving the real-life moon some competition for the star of the night.

Venetian Festival on the Water - Photo courtesy Carnveale di Venezia
On sunshiny Sunday, a parade of 130 boats and 800 masked rowers flexed their oars on the Grand Canal for the "Venetian Festival on the Water," starting from Punta della Dogana and arriving at Rio di Cannaregio where more than 10,000 cicheti were offered by 60 eateries on the banks of the canal, serving up lots of traditional Venetian food.

Caffè Florian art director, Stefano Stipitivich with artist Adrian Tuchel - Photo: Cat Bauer

Adrian Tuchel at Caffè Florian 

Inside the world-famous Caffè Florian in Piazza San Marco, a hub for Carnival adventurers, is an exhibition of Adrian Tuchel's extraordinary watercolors. Adrian lives and works in Cambridge, but has chosen Venice as his favorite place. With a career as a graphic designer and architect, Adrian has invented a unique form of expression. He creates long watercolor panoramas of Venice painted on scrolls of specially designed paper. You know how you can switch your camera to take a panoramic photo? Like that, only Adrian does it by hand. Which means he has to draw with pencil on a flat surface, roll up the completed section, then continue for five or six lengths, unable to see the entire drawing until it is complete. Imagine the concentration!

The result is a series of delightful Venetian landscapes. That they are on show at Caffè Florian is especially meaningful, for Adrian is also a romantic, smitten by Venice. In his own words:

"...It was in 1982 that I first managed to realize my dream and savour what it means to taste a cup of coffee at Florian: a journey through history!

In this heady intoxicating atmosphere coalescing the sounds of the bells, the melody of the strings and the voices, a dream was born that I am continuing to live with my wakened eyes. After a romantic dinner with an attractive foreign girl I had only just encountered, on the steps next to the Caffè I kissed my future wife cradled in the background by Florian's eternal melody: it was the evening of Saturday, September 18, 1993."

Twenty-five years later, Adrian's lovely and vibrant wife, Barbara, was with him at the inauguration on Valentine's Day at the Caffè Florian, evidence that Venice still works her magic charm. You can see the watercolors through March 14. Go to Adrian Tuchel's site for more information.

Big Venice - Photo: Cat Bauer

Big Venice 

It is surreal to see elephants walking through the narrow streets of Venice. A camel crossing a bridge is a strange sight. Cars in Piazza San Marco are a bit disconcerting. The photographic exhibition Big Venice at the Wilmotte Foundation over by Misericordia in Cannaregio is a fun trip to a less touristy part of town. Many of the photos were taken in 1954 when the Togni Circus was in town. The exhibition runs through May 5. Go to the Wilmotte Foundation for more information.

Marco Forieri aka Furio

Music is Back in Piazza San Marco

Starting from February 23, there will be DJ sets and live bands in Piazza San Marco during Carnevale, just like the good old days. On Saturday, March 2 the beloved Furio and his band Ska-j appears on stage, sure to draw a huge crowd. The former lead singer of the Venetian band Pitura Freska performs with The Star and "their energetic African American sound."

Arianna Fontana - Photo courtesy Carnevale di Venezia

Flight of the Eagle 

On Sunday, March 3, when the Marangona bell in Piazza San Marco strikes noon, the Eagle will fly from the top of the Campanile, soaring over the square. This year's Eagle is Olympic champion Arianna Fontana, winner of eight Olympic medals. The Italian short track speed skater is the youngest athlete to have won a medal at the Winter Olympic Games, and was the Italian flag bearer at the last Olympic games. It is a move to publicize Italy's desire to win the Winter Olympic bid for Milan-Cortina in 2026.

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro says, "We want the whole mountain region to feel at home in Venice... Cortina, in particular, is the jewel of our mountain region, which represents our history and identity..."

Sergio Boldrin, owner La Bottega dei Mascareri - Photo: Cat Bauer

Mask Maker Sergio Boldrin revamps La Bottega dei Mascareri 

Over by Rialto, my good friend and veteran mask maker, Sergio Boldrin, has spruced up La Bottega dei Mascareri, his tiny shop that adjoins the Church of San Giacometto, redoing the window display, opening up the ceiling and exposing the centuries-old wood beams. We figured that the beams that adjoined the church were probably built around 1512 when the Rialto district was destroyed by fire and the entire zone rebuilt.

Eighteen years ago, back in 2001, I wrote an article titled A Brief History of Mask Making for the International Herald Tribune - Italy Daily, to which I own the copyright, and which I republished on this blog in 2008 and again in 2017 -- an excerpt in italics is below.

Venice Carnival 2017 and A Brief History of Mask-Making

A Brief History of Mask Making
Cat Bauer

In a city where there seems to be a mask shop on every corner, it may be surprising to learn that the ancient Venetian craft of mask making was only revived about forty years ago.

Sergio Boldrin is one of the senior mask-makers in Venice, as well as an accomplished artist. When he was a child, there were no mask shops in the entire city. There was no Carnival. During the terrorism and political upheavals in Italy in the 1970s, the wearing of masks was discouraged.

Click here to read the entire article.

Incredibly, I have discovered that my article has been plagiarized! Many people have written about Venetian masks, in their own words. But someone named Filippo Merlo republished my article on a site called Venice Tours on July 18, 2018 with his name as the author, stealing nearly every word, omitting the part about Sergio, adding subheadings and leaving out some sentences -- he even titled it Venice Carnival Mask: a Brief History. I also discovered that in addition to claiming to be an "author," Filippo Merlo says he is a "social media expert" and "web-marketing manager." Not only is Merlo's handiwork unethical, it pops up in search engines and is a red-flag for Google as duplicate content.

You cannot "Blame the Moon" for that!

Go to the official Carnevale di Venezia site for all the goings on during Venice Carnival 2019.

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

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