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Friday, November 22, 2013

Venice Biennale in Cool, Cloudy November

We met up with friends Jonathan and Robyn in Venice over the Veteran's Day weekend.  It was mostly cloudy most of the time, completely dark by 5 PM, and rained a little, but that was better than the forecast - lots of rain.  Also, our friends who've visited Venice in the summer recently said it was packed to the gills, sweaty, and smelled strongly of sewers.  So, visiting during the cool and cloudy season turned out to be a pretty good idea.  Not to say we didn't get the occasional whiff of sewer, but that's probably inevitable in a floating city.

Jennifer has always wanted to see Venice, and I've wanted to go check out the Venice Biennale, a worldwide art expo held every two years.  Countries from all over the world send a show of a small number of their artists.  The Biennale has expanded to hundreds of thousands of square feet of exhibition space in a variety of venues.  The largest venue uses the warehouses of the Arsenal, the old shipyard of the Venetian Republic, where they used to produce a fully-outfitted warship in a single day.  Another huge venue is a park, the Giardini, with one large building shared by many countries, and around 30 other exhibition halls dedicated to specific countries, such as Russia, England, France, South Korea, Japan, Finland, Hungary, etc.  Then there are many free exhibitions in historic palazzos all over the city.  We spent two entire days touring all of the above.  We probably covered about 70% of what there was to see, and that was rushing through a lot of it.

I'll start with an odd one.  A series of detailed architectural drawings about 3' high and 2' wide from 1930's California.  When he was young, Achilles G. Rizzoli went to the 1915 San Francisco Panama-Pacific International Exposition and saw "Tower of Jewels", a 435' tall, gem-encrusted building erected as the centerpiece of the expo.  This experience eventually inspired him to express the personalities of people he knew by portraying them as he imagined they would look if they were a work of architecture.  Here's an example, entitled "Mrs. Geo. Powleson Symbolically Portrayed/The Mother Tower of Jewels, In Appreciation for Her Remark 'You are a jewel.' Uttered March 6, 1935."

They didn't mess around for those expos!  Millions of people attended from all over the world.  It was partly a celebration of San Fran's recovery from the fire and earthquake.  Here's a link to some color photos (very unusual in 1915) of the expo.  Expo Autochrome Photos

We all liked this artist's small pottery figures - about a foot tall or so.  These were made in the 80's by the Japanese artist Shinichi Sawada.  It was a bit disturbing to read that he has a severe form of autism, but it seems he's found his niche.  They're mixture of innocence and menace.  They have a strong resemblance to some "primitive" art of Africa and Oceana.  I wonder if he'd ever seen art from those traditions.

We also enjoyed this site-specific installation by Bill Culbert of New Zealand, in a beautiful old palazzo. A little reminiscent of a medieval alchemist's workshop.

Ironically, out of all the country pavilions we saw, the Venice Pavilion was one of our favorites.  It was nearly the last place we visited.  The show was dedicated to the Venetian tradition of weaving.  Here's a cool example - a nude woman fashioned from maroon thread that appears to float in the air.  Yiqing Yin is the artist.

This next photo is the inside of a walk-in closet-sized pod covered in beautiful Venetian fabric.  You walk inside and see this glowing mosaic multiplied by mirrors all around you.  Anna Battista is the artist.

More info on the Venice Pavilion.

Here we are walking back in a light rain, exhausted from 8 hours of art.

The sun fought mightily to give us a decent sunset that night, but the clouds won.

Next up, the central plaza of Venice, Piazza San Marco, and all its attractions.

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