So for the last week my wife, Theresa mARTin, and I have been showing at Glenview Mansion Art Gallery in Rockville, MD.
Showing is a totally different experience to viewing, but I think both are essential for an artist.
I have not done much writing for this blog since I returned from Italy last year; all the minutia of life impinges on one’s best plans. Also, my wife, Theresa mARTin, and I have been working towards a show at Glenview Mansion Arts Gallery in Rockville (November 6 -23, 2016). (http://www.rockvillemd.gov/index.aspx?NID=607) The show represents two years of making art; two years of our creative output. Two years of our lives.
We now enter the period of the “other non-art stuff”: naming the pieces (or trying to remember what they were called), organizing how to display them, truck rental, updating resumes, writing about the pieces, printing postcards, and pricing pieces. All of that stuff that is not making art. All of those non-art chores that all artists must do. Luckily, we get to share these chores: my wife does a lot of her advertising for the show and therefore can do mine at the same time. The tradeoff is a house full of pre-show anxiety / neurosis.
In any endeavor, you have that which is essential is to perfect your art and that which is needed to promote yourself or make your work real and reach a larger audience; the process of making public what is basically a private. Ultimately, the no-art work impinges on the ability to make the work.
A good friend of mine who is a jazz musician said that in Jazz, there is a common problem. There are those who promote themselves well, and those who are really great musicians and are worth listening to. However, because time is finite, the two rarely coincide.
You either have time for your craft, or time to promote it. You rarely have both. What makes it even harder is that the promotion of your art really needs to be an on-going and continual process, as opposed to a pre-show flurry that a lot of us do. It really needs two people to do all of this.
A lot of artists work as couples and roles are divided. It is not unusual for the husband to produce the art and the wife to promote the career. In other cases, one partner earns the income to pay for the time and materials for themselves and their partner. Someone once told me that I had a patron and it was me because I was lucky to earn well (in a prior economy). So, there is often a scenario where one half of the couple becomes the provider and the other the producer. Luckily, in our relationship, we both create. I provide the bulk of income, Theresa provides some income and gets to produce. I still get to produce a lot and am lucky because my art takes more mental work that physical work. However, the grind of my day job occasionally impacts my ability to produce art. This is most impacted at times of high creative productivity and at times of stress at work; the high and low points of any job. We all make tradeoffs.
So, now I move into the non-art time before the show. Photos to take, website to do, sculptures to name (or rename, since I have totally forgot the working titles of some pieces). I am tempted to just name them sculpture 1, sculpture 2, sculpture 3 etc., but I also forget the order in which they were done. And some pieces were started before yet finished after other pieces. Some sculptors even name their sculptors after the color of the piece.
I will call one piece “Yellow Terror” because it was a nightmare to make. Some such as “Red Summer” were instantly visualized in their final form. Some were easy. Some just struggled to an end. Some evolved as I worked on them. There was no single process from start to end.
So, now is the time to put down my sculpture tools and pull out the tools of otherness. Showing is the only way you ever really get to see your work as an ensemble and out of the protection of the studio. It is when you really get to evaluate what you have done. It’s a bit like sending a child out into the world. If you taught them well, they will survive. If your art is good, it should show well.
Most people keep their inner demons to themselves. Artists do it in public.
Before I left for a vacation in Venice, I promised some work friends that I would bring back some religious stuff for them as gifts.
At work, we had investigated the possibility of rosaries blessed by the Pope, but found that most of these were really only scams. Therefore it made sense to bring back prayer cards to people’s name saints.
Over the last 20 years I had not noticed that prayer cards were becoming rarer in churches; I can remember some recently in Rome although I paid little attention to them.
In Ravenna, I saw prayer cards in the shop for San Vitale, but not in churches.
I overhead a tour guide at San Vitale mention that people might like to visit the Basilica di Santa Maria Maggiore which was beside it. Santa Maria Maggiore was dedicated to Mary of the Tumors and was the only such one in Italy. To my surprise, in the chapel dedicated to the saint, was a variety of prayer cards.
First set of promises satisfied, even though not name saints.
The card which I treasure most amongst the cards that I collected is actually a plastic card. This is what the reverse looks like:
It is interestingly a medical card.
It represents the intersection of faith and knowledge, where religion meets science. As such, it represents a philosophy that you can ask for help, but you must also help yourself.
In Venice, I only saw prayer cards at San Marco and San Salute, and on both occasion they were in shops.
On the last day in Venice, I went to the church of San Geremia to see the corpus of Santa Lucia. There were prayer cards at every altar and you could take one for a ‘donation’ on an honor system (although the suggested donation was stated).
So, everyone gets a prayer card. The lucky few get the Lady of Tumors prayer and medical card from Ravenna.
So bless you but take care.
Making Sense of the Biennale
It is extremely difficult to navigate the Biennale in any cohesive manner, and although the catalog is organized into three different sections, it fails to explain the rationale. There is an assumption that the visitor will either be happily led or know the structure implicitly.
The Biennale actually has two concurrent disparate exhibition types, curated exhibition and National pavilions, split across two disparate locations, the Giardini and the Arsenale. It also consists of loosely associated works at multiple remote venues; these are called collateral events.
The first component of the Biennale is a curated exhibition in the Central Pavilion based on the idea of all the worlds’ futures. This includes art by both living and dead artists. At the Giardini, this is indeed the hardest portion of the Biennale to navigate. The guide to the show is organized by room (there is no cross reference by artist), and the actual room flow is like a labyrinth and is very hard to navigate. Although the guide lists the exhibition by room number, room numbers are displayed nowhere. To determine which room you are in, you locate the name of the artist of a work in the room. You then look up the guide to determine which room that artist is in. This would identify the room except that some artists are shown in several rooms. The apparently random placement of artists in several rooms leads to a total lack of cohesion. At times, it was difficult to determine how some of the artists related to the theme, and why they are grouped together. The most satisfying rooms tended to be those dedicated to a single artist as opposed to several artists. However when this work spans a long period of time, the effect of the work can be diluted, as in the room containing the work of Hans Haacke.
At the Giardini, several individual works were of note. Hans Haacke’s fabric activated by a fan was beautiful for its simplicity. In the adjacent room was the work of Charles Gaines. This has panels of writing overlaid on images of musical notation. This created beautiful parallel images that for me represented the historical argument about whether religious music was first and foremost about the words or about the melody. It also reminded me of how when we listen to any piece of music, our mind oscillates between focus on the words or on the music.
The curated section at the Arsenale was easier to navigate because the flow of rooms was linear. However, there were several artists whose work I specifically wanted to see, but gave up in frustration.
The next type of exhibition was the individual national pavilions. Again navigation at the Giardini was extremely difficult as there was no logic in the placement of the pavilions. The area adjacent to the Australian Pavilion was endemic of this. Navigating in the rain was unpleasant since few architects seemed to accommodate where visitors would stand while waiting to enter their pavilion, for example the Uruguay pavilion restricted the number of visitors who could be in the building but provided no waiting area.
The work in some pavilions at the Giardini was outstanding, such as the Japanese pavilion and the elegant simplicity of the Austrian Pavilion (AT), where the work of Heimo Zobernig was in perfect harmony with the 1934 pavilion of Josef Hoffman.
The work of Chiharu Shiota in the Japanese pavilion (JP) was that rare type of work that resonates with both an art and a non-art audience. The room was filled with ribbons with keys attached suspended from the ceiling and surrounding two boats. This created beautifully illuminated passages through which the visitor could pass.
Adjacent to the Japanese pavilion was the Norwegian pavilion. This held the work of Camille Norment. As you moved around the exhibition, you were surrounded by sound that reflected your motion. This was a pleasant surprise. The only reason that I went into the pavilion was to get out of the rain. It was a rare pavilion in that it welcomingly opened to the exterior instead of having a door that defined territory.
The Austrian pavilion was a breath of fresh air. Amongst all of the complex structures, this pavilion was a relief. People would just sit in it and relax.
In 1936, Joseph Hoffman designed a beautifully simple pavilion. In sympathy to this structure, Heimo Zobernig placed minimalist benches where the visitor could sit to enjoy the structure. As well as providing a place to sit, the work actually enhanced the lines of the structure. The artist’s humble response was respectful to the work and showed a modesty absent elsewhere in the Biennale. This was the rare case of an artist playing simple homage to the containing structure; How noble to create a work of art that exists solely to highlight another work of art.
The second venue, the Arsenale, also contained curated works and National Pavilions, the only apparent difference being that the Arsenale buildings were all repurposed older buildings of the Venice Arsanale, as opposed to later constructions.
At the Arsenale venue, the connection between the pavilions was linear. The curated works were at the start of the line, and led well into the national pavilions. This made navigation a lot simpler, although again there was no indication of room numbers.
Although the curated section at the Arsenale was easier to navigate because the flow of rooms was linear, the invited section consisted of three parallel corridors which at time made orientation difficult. This led to major congestion at the doors as people tried to reorient. Again, there were several artists whose work I specifically wanted to see, but found myself walking in circles trying to find them.
The later Italian pavilion had a dual corridor structure which worked a lot easier, as there was only one possible path around the pavilion.
As at the Giardini, there would be rooms that were a mix of artists, rooms dedicated to a single artists and rooms with a combination of both. Although a considerable amount of work by Roberto Bray was in one room, mixing it with the work of others made the work suffer. It created an incomplete experience.
The Tuvalu (TV) pavilion stood out as a really thoughtful presentation of the perils faced by the island of Tuvalu as a result of global warming. You walked on boards across a set of shallow ponds while the air was filled with mist and a video was unobtrusively projected onto part of the wall. It was a case where the installation worked as both a political message and as a work of art. Interestingly, the day after I visited the Biennale, San Marco Piazza flooded. An interesting case of a reality mirroring art, or is it of art mirroring reality.
Like several pavilions, the Tuvalu Pavilion demonstrated the international nature of the art world. Although the pavilion represented the island of Tuvalu, the artist Vincent Huang is Taiwanese. The Japanese star of the Biennale, Chiharu Shiota resides in Germany. This dilemma was highlighted by the decisions of Kenya and Costa Rica to withdraw from the Biennale when they realized that the majority of the artists represented in their pavilions were Chinese and not natives of the country they were representing. The use of a non-Tuvalu native for their pavilion does not concern me, since he has worked extensively in that country and his work is very focused on that nation’s problems.
The works in the Italian pavilion were amazing, being modern and yet relevant to the present. The Italian Pavilion (IT) had a cohesion and quality not present in the overall Biennale.
The corn room of Marzio Migliori had a steady queue waiting to look into the room. By placing a mirror at the end of the room, the viewer was pulled into the still life. Interestingly, it was only when reviewing the photograph that I realized that there was a mirror in the room. I had assumed that the only mirror was in the cupboard at the end of the room. The experience of the room was so powerful that it overcame any desire for an explanation.
The chapel of Nicola Samori was emotionally powerful being familiar and yet unnerving.
The last type of Biennale exhibition was termed collateral events which were scattered throughout the city. These were exhibitions that were under the banner of the Biennale, but not part of the core. The major problem was that these could be extremely difficult to find, sort of like a poor unwanted relative.
I saw both the inane and the brilliant in the collateral events. The Sean Scully show was brilliant, not just for the work, but for the way that the work resonated with the building in which it was shown.
I easily found the Sean Scully show the first time, but I had major difficulty the second time. This was because there was a sign pointing to it from an easy navigable point, but nothing indicating in which of several alleys the work was located. To locate the work, you had to return to the original sign to obtain the address. Anyone who has been to Venice, understands the labyrinth that is the Venetian street structure. This was the major reason why I saw only a fraction of the collateral events that I had intended to see. The distance between collateral shows and the difficulty of navigating to them, made the effort of finding the exhibitions exceed the potential value of the exhibition.
New Zealand even had an event at Marco Polo airport which is difficult and expensive to reach, and because of plane schedules, most passengers were there when the exhibition was closed.
Because the Biennale is at two major locations, The Giardini and the Arsenale, you have to travel from one to the other to see all of the work. And yes, I got lost yet again. There were instructions for going from the Arsenale to the Giardini, but there were none for going the opposite way. The map hinted that you could access it from Arsenale north boat stop, but this required walking through a restricted area. The reason for my confusion, was that my boat took me went directly to the Giardini stop without passing the Arsenal stop. Therefore, all I saw on the map was the incorrect Arsenale stop.
I should state that, before leaving for Venice, I researched the contents in the catalog and Web site. There were specific works that I intended to see and I had marked these on a map.
Interestingly I discovered that the works in the Biennale that had the best presentation in the catalog in terms of both image and text had a similar clarity in person. I decided to see the Japanese show because of the artist videos and prior images of the work. The Tuvalu pavilion was on my list because the description in the catalog piqued my interest. I visited the Austrian Pavilion for the architecture of the pavilion; the artwork was a pleasant surprise. The Italian pavilion was the only pavilion I had decided to visit for the combination of works presented in the catalog. Sean Scully was on my list to see but only if time permitted. I walked past the sign several times and finally walked in. I returned to the Sean Scully show several times.
There were several other shows in Venice concurrent with the Biennale but unassociated with it. There was a beautiful Bernar Venet sculpture visible from the Academia. The Fortuny (http://fortuny.visitmuve.it/en/mostre-en/mostre-in-corso-en/proportio-exhibition/2015/03/8247/proportio-luca-pacioli-tribute/) hosted a show about proportions in art, which was stimulating although it tended to lose focus towards the end, due to there being just too much work mixed with the art of Fortuny.
The Cini Foundation presented a small but interesting exhibition reuniting portraits of the Venetian Humanist, Daniele Barboro by Titian and Veronese along with some major architecture books, notably Vitruvius and Palladio’s books on architecture. (http://www.cini.it/en/events/portraits-of-daniele-barbaro-by-titian-and-veronese-at-the-palazzo-cini) This was a major discovery for me as I had scheduled a later visit to the Villa Maser (also called the Villa Barboro). The Villa Maser was designed by Palladio (who had illustrated Barboro’s translation of Vitruvius) and decorated by Veronese (http://www.villadimaser.it/en/sale-affrescate). I think the Cini should get the prize for the most effort put into the smallest exhibition. The presentation was impeccable and precise and the single sheet documentation (in English and Italian) was articulate and illuminating.
Despite the lack of navigability and clear focus in the Biennale, it was well worth the visit. The best work was brilliant. A lot of the other was inane due to an excess of self-indulgent retrospection.
The lack of navigability simply meant a reduction in the time available to discover the art work. I managed to see all of the desired works that I could find, but in the end just gave up trying to locate individual pieces. Three pieces that I wanted to see at the Arsenale were in an area called the Giardino delle Vergini. I could never find an entrance to this area except the one that was marked as the Biennale exit.
When an exhibition boasts about the number of artists and countries represented (136 artists, 89 national pavilions and 44 collaborative events), it has a responsibility to ensure that access to what it highlights is provided.
What I think staggered me the most about the organization of a Biennale that has been in operation for over 100 years (this is the 56th Biennale), was that there appeared to be fundamental issues of organization, e.g. free Wi-Fi sites with no indication of how to use the Wi-Fi. Even the ticket structure was complex, for example “Full price € 25 (valid for one entry to each venue, Giardini + Arsenale, may be used also on non-consecutive days)” or “Full Special 2days € 30 (pass valid for two consecutive days entry to both venues)”.
The classic case showing this lack of care to organizational detail (in both Italian and English) is the admission instructions on the web site:
Giardini – Opening times 10 am – 5:30 pm
Arsenale (Campo della Tana) – Opening times 10 am – 5:30 pm
Last admission to the exhibition venues – 5:45 pm
(It is in fact open until 6:00.)
Jackson Pollock. Mural. 1943. Created for Peggy Guggenheim. University of Iowa Museum of Art. On show Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice April 23 – November 16, 2015. 20’ x 8’.
Tintoretto “Il Paradiso” 1577. Palazzo Ducale, Venice. 74’ x 30’
How big is big?
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection has over the years become one of the main attractions of Venice. With 400,000 visitors a year, it is only rivalled by the Doge’s palace in visitor numbers. It is certainly the most visited art gallery in Venice and the 11th most visited in Italy, which goes some way to explain the 2800 positive reviews on TripAdvisor that commends everything from the friendly staff to the quality of art. (http://www.xamou-art.co.uk/peggy-guggenheim-collection-venice/)
The Peggy Guggenheim Collection is like an oasis on the island of Venice.
Here the native language is English, and English speakers wander about relaxed in the knowledge that no one will talk to them in Italian. Even the signs are in English.
The Guggenheim is a totally unique experience and in some ways sits apart from Venice.
Because of this unique experience, a visit to the Guggenheim should not be missed.
I specifically went to the Guggenheim to see the painting “Mural” which was featured in the exhibition “Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible”.
This is an amazing painting. It represents a transition point for Pollock from figure to abstract. (Later in his life, both he and de Kooning would return to figurative work).
I had to be amused at myself for travelling to Venice to see a painting which, if I had done some research, I could have seen 8 years earlier on a work trip to Iowa. It belongs to the University of Iowa Art Museum.
It is very rare that an image becomes indelibly imprinted on my memory, but this happened in Venice on my last trip.
My previous visit to Venice was almost 20 years ago, and this recent trip was specifically to reexamine the work of a select set of artists: the painters Tintoretto, Veronese and Tiepolo and the architect Palladio. In some cases, I would see the works of several at one location.
Initially, I had been disappointed with the work of Tintoretto which at times can be aimless excess, but it quickly became obvious that when Tintoretto was presented with a challenge, he could rise to the occasion.
The first time I noticed this was the Il Paradiso at the Doge’s Palace. This was a commission that had initially been awarded to Veronese, but when Veronese died without having started the project, it was awarded to Tintoretto. This painting is a masterpiece, an enormous masterpiece. At almost 82 feet long by 30 feet tall, it is one of the largest canvas painting in the world.
It seemed that the times when Tintoretto excelled was when he was competing with Veronese. Although Tintoretto had been Titian’s assistant, Titian favored Veronese, at times openly in public and in competitions.
The Tintoretto paintings that impressed me the most were at the church of Madonna Dell’ Otto. Tintoretto and his son and daughter are buried here. The paintings on the altar are marvelous (at around 50 feet, amongst the tallest canvases ever painted). The largest panels have a massive number of elements and yet the whole image is unified.
But, above all, the painting that remains in my memory is “The Presentation of the Virgin” to the right of the altar.
Vasari praised the painting as the ‘best executed and happiest’ picture in the church. It was originally painted as two canvases to decorate the outer doors of the church organ, which became a single picture when closed. According to a recently discovered account of Tintoretto’s family history (reputedly by his son-in-law Sebastiano Casser), Tintoretto portrayed his daughter Marietta as the child and Marietta’s mother, a German woman with whom he was passionately in love, as St Anne. To accompany the painting, two brilliantly colored pictures by Tintoretto now in the apse, the Vision of the Cross to St Peter and the Execution of St Paul (each 420 x 240), were painted for the inner doors of the organ.
What makes this painting so amazing is that it more closely resembles a Veronese in composition than a Tintoretto. Veronese was a superior draftsman to Tintoretto. The whole layout of the painting resembles a Veronese, Tintoretto refraining from his usual addition of extra figures in the wings.
One thing that I noticed about Tintoretto is that his paintings are always complete scenes. There is never a feeling that anything is occurring apart from the action shown. In Veronese, there is a feeling that something else is happening, and this is just a detail from the whole action. Therefore, it is not unusual in a Veronese painting to see cropped figures, or figures partially obscured by architecture.
Veronese: Il martirio dei santi Marco e Marcellino. San Sebastiano
I would have considered that the resemblance to Veronese was just a coincidence, except that I had just seen a painting at the church Santa Maria della Salute called “The Marriage at Canna”. This was a commission for the refractory of the church that had been awarded to Tintoretto on the understanding that it would be painted in the style of Veronese.
Tintoretto’s “The Marriage at Canna” at Salute and “The Presentation of the Virgin” at Madonna Dell’ Otto not only possess Veronese compositions, but also use Veronese color palate, having a lot less of the pale yellow characteristic of Tintoretto. When you look at the skin color of Tintoretto, it is always pale yellow overall, whereas Veronese only highlights in pale color.
The similarity of “The Presentation of the Virgin” to a work by Veronese had not been noticed by just me. There is a drawing in the Fogg Museum by George Hallowell. It is titled as after Tintoretto. It was formerly titled as after Veronese http://www.harvardartmuseums.org/art/306353.
The one thing that distinguishes Tintoretto’s composition from that of Veronese, is that in Tintoretto paintings the secondary figures look at the subject directly, drawing the eye to it. But, in a Veronese painting, the secondary figures seem to look towards the subject, but not directly at it, sort of boxing the subject in gazes. This creates a very interesting uneasy gaze whose incompleteness resembles the incompleteness of the composition. It begs the viewer to complete and resolve the image.
Tintoretto during his lifetime had a reputation for being overambitious and a bit of a hack as opposed to Veronese. It is interesting that despite his success, Tintoretto still felt the need to compete with Veronese and when he did, he produced masterpieces of equal quality.
The other reason for this painting being embedded in my memory was that since I was in Venice in fall and in the church in late afternoon, the light was passing at a low angle through the windows. The light hitting the painting made certain figures glow and as it moved, changed the figure at the center of the composition. This is the joy of seeing painting in their original setting and context.
When I saw my first Tintoretto on this visit I was tempted to look at no more, but the “Il Paradiso” in the Doge’s Palace begged me not to abandon my quest. It was ”The Presentation of the Virgin” that satisfied that quest.
Of all the art I saw in Venice, it is still Tintoretto’s “The Presentation of the Virgin” that I dream of when I close my eyes.