Thursday, May 28, 2015

Monochromes in a Palazzo with a Colorful Past: Dansaekhwa at Palazzo Contarini Polignac

A large stucco ceiling in one of the palazzo's stairwells
Sometimes it seems that one of the biggest challenges for art works displayed in what are called the "official Collateral Events" of the Venice Biennale is not to be dwarfed by their grand surroundings--palazzi and the like--and their long history. And I'll admit that what draws me to certain exhibitions are, in fact, the places (and palaces) that host them--otherwise closed to the public--rather than the art itself.  

One such official Collateral Event worth a visit for both the art and the site is Dansaekhwa at the Palazzo Contarini Polignac (also know as the Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo) in Dorsoduro, just a short distance from the Accademia Bridge. Dansaekhwa, an important movement in post-war Korea, is the term applied to a school of abstract painting with a limited color palette and, in many cases, a strong relationship with traditional Taoist and Buddhist ideas. The exhibition is notable for the accessible way in which it situates the art in both Eastern and Western cultural contexts with an interesting documentary that loops in one salon off the largest of the exhibition rooms.

A good overview of the exhibition, its artists, and their works on display can be found here:

Because of much of the art's subtlety of color and the importance of texture and scale to it, I saw little point in trying to photograph it for this blog. As far as pictures went, I focused on the palazzo itself, which, as it turns out, happens to feature some monochromatic pieces of its own on its ceilings, dating from a good two hundred or more years before the works it hosts.

The palazzo is now most famous as the former home of Winnaretta Singer (who became known as the Princess de Polignac), an heiress of the Singer sewing machine fortune, and the host (usually in her celebrated Paris salon) and patron of some of the most important composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries: Debussy, Fauré, Ravel, Poulenc, Satie, and Stravinsky among them. A short distance down the Grand Canal, another heiress and patron of the arts, Peggy Guggenheim, would later set up shop in her own palazzo and become known as a major patron of 20th-century visual arts, but I can imagine some people arguing that Singer's influence in the field of music was in fact even more extensive--if less generally known these days.

And Singer's unconventional life itself (as something of a sexual outlaw) was hardly less interesting than her taste in music (

A view out of this palazzo's ornate wrought iron water gate onto the Grand Canal was the subject of a previous post, here:

Palazzo Contarini-Polignac, aka Palazzo Contarini dal Zaffo, with its pretty loggia overlooking a private garden

One of the palazzo's ceilings featuring a monochromatic mythological scene
A detail of the same scene
A second of the palazzo's mythological monochromatic ceiling scenes
A detail of the same scene
A detail of a large monochromatic grid painting by Chung Sang-Hwa: Untitled 75-8-12, 1975
A portrait of Richard Wagner in pastel (and behind glass) in a dark corner of the entry to the piano nobile serves as evidence of the famous musical patron who once lived in the palazzo (and used to frequent Bayreuth)
This bust standing sentry in a niche beside the palazzo's elevator (perhaps a young Contarini?) attests to more distant inhabitants
This small exterior courtyard is the closest one can come to either the loggia (visible at top) or the private garden lying behind the green door at right

Sunday, May 24, 2015

9 Views of the Start of the 41st Vogalonga, This Morning

Alone in a crowd: the man in the red sandolo rows alla Valesana (ie, alone with two oars); the only rower in this style that I saw today

A quintet from France: that blue thing on the coxswain's head, on close inspection, turns out to be le coq gaulois (intended as a bilingual pun as well as a display of national pride?)
This sestet of rowers from Venice includes the proprietor of Libreria Marco Polo

The bull's head gets one's attention, but it's the trombone and trumpet held by two passengers that really interested me
I have no idea what kind of boat this is, nor exactly how many people are on it, nor how it (barely) stays afloat, but they seemed to be having a good time

An intrepid fellow alone in his portable canoe

Saturday, May 23, 2015

You Ain't From Around These Parts, Are You? This Evening: Vogalonga Eve

The 41st Vogalonga, or 30 kilometer "long row" around the lagoon, takes place tomorrow and is supposed to feature 8,000 participants in 2,000 boats this year. The latter number may include in it crafts of the sort pictured above (encountered in Cannaregio this evening), which seem to stretch the term "boat."

But at least the four French-speaking paddlers above were standing up and facing in what Venetians consider the "right" direction (ie, forward).

Though, it should be noted that a recent regulation makes it illegal for them, as non-residents of Venice, to take them on the Grand Canal or on many other waterways in the historic center.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Looking Out the Front Door of Palazzo Contarini Polignac, This Afternoon

Both Ca' Barbaro and--almost directly across the Grand Canal from it--Palazzo Contarini-Polignac are hosting Biennale exhibitions from now into November, which means not only do you have a chance to see some interesting contemporary art gratis, but also to see the interiors of two of the most beautiful and celebrated palazzi in the city. Having visited both palazzi today, I can tell you that both places and both exhibitions merit a visit, and I'll post some images from each in the next few days. But, lacking time at the moment, I hope this view out from the water gate of Palazzo Contarini-Polignac will suffice for now.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Dining Al Fresco: Five More Views of Trattoria alle Vignole

One of the tables overlooking the lagoon
We somehow ended up at Trattoria alle Vignole again last night, the second time in the last three nights, and the subject of my previous post (which supplies links to more information on the restaurant: It was quiet on our Thursday night visit; it was quite lively last night, a Saturday night.

In one area of the large graveled outdoor dining area, near the little swing set, was a bachelor party: the groom dressed in a curly red clown wig, a white T-shirt (whose hand-written text I never got around to reading), and very small women's panties worn over his jeans. As bachelor parties go, it was quite well behaved. After one member of the party got a bit carried away and, for whatever reason, removed his trousers, he noticed Jen walking past on her way to the restroom, apologized for his rash act, and put them back on.

Before sunset the whole group of a dozen or so men piled into a large boat and set off from the trattoria's dock to wherever their next revels lay.

There was live entertainment: a singer accompanied by a Karaoke set-up. He sang, with not a trace of irony, "Feelings." Yes, that "Feelings" ("Whoa, whoa, whoa..."), which Wikipedia assures me won the 1975 Grammy Award for Song of the Year.

There were groups of teenagers arriving in their boats, and families arriving in theirs, and a birthday party of adults, and plenty of smaller kids, on the swing set, or running around the large grassy yard behind the kitchen, beside the very large garden.

The Rombo al forno was okay last night, but not as good as I remembered it being last year (perhaps because it was not cooked with potatoes, as it was last time I had it). The spaghetti alle vongole was good, the pizzas good. But the light and view and general feel were great.

When we left at 10 pm everything was still going strong--the music, the families and teens and groups of friends (all speaking Italian)--and for the first time in many many years I found myself reminded of the large Italian(-American) weddings that punctuated my childhood far less often than I wished, back about the time when the song "Feelings" was being played on radio stations all over America, without a trace of irony.

The view of the trattoria's landing dock; the church of San Pietro di Castello and the campanile of San Giorgio Maggiore in the distance
People arrive at the trattoria in boats of all sizes: in this case an inflatable two-person dinghy
A couple walks toward the path leading to the vaporetto stop leading to (and from) Fondamenta Nove
Sunset seen from the trattoria

Friday, May 15, 2015

Dining Al Fresco in the Lagoon: Trattoria alle Vignole

A view of the trattoria from the lagoon: approaching in a boat from the direction of the Arsenale
As we rarely go out to eat here, I'm generally uncomfortable whenever anyone visiting asks me for a restaurant recommendation, as we simply haven't sampled a wide enough range of them to give anything more than basic suggestions. And yet, that said, I'm nevertheless compelled to tell you about Trattoria alle Vignole, which we visited for the first time this season yesterday evening.

Actually, it's not the first time I've been tempted to do a post on it, but--dare I admit this?--there are some few things around Venice I keep to myself, awful as that may sound, and Trattoria alle Vignole was one of them. Located well outside the historic center on an island, reachable only by one's own boat or a vaporetto (or, I suppose, a water taxi, for those with deep pockets), the thought that I might somehow (however slight the odds) be responsible for the arrival of the first mass group of 100 day-tripping tourists at the trattoria disgorged from a lancione (or tour boat) was too awful a prospect to risk. 

In lieu of a parking lot. During the summer mooring places can become a bit scarce
For the only boats that pull up to the trattoria now are owned by individuals or families, and it is one of the many pleasures of being seated at one of the trattoria's many outdoor tables on a warm afternoon or evening to see them arrive and tie up along the riva. (Sometimes, it must be said, only briefly: as when customers arrive to pick up wood-oven pizzas for "take-away", then depart again in their boats--just as I'm used to seeing them do in America in their cars.)

In case you're wondering if the artichokes in the risotto are fresh: they're grown within 100 yards of the kitchen
Along with the wood-oven pizzas, there is an extensive array of cicchetti: things like grilled vegetables, grilled cuttlefish and baby octupi, very good sarde in saor (Istanbul-influenced, according to a native friend, because of its sultane, or raisins) and scampi in saor. Or you can order from a very limited daily menu of dishes written on the chalkboard outside the bar. Last night, as is often the case, our three choices included a scampi risotto with zucchini flowers and a Rombo (turbot) al forno, both of which are excellent.

If you can't come in a private boat you can take the number 13 vaporetto line from Fondamenta Nove to Vignole. I've never done this, so I refer you for details to here (the trattoria's Facebook page):

or here (a website for the island of Vignole):

I do know there is a bit of a walk from the vaporetto stop where you arrive to the trattoria itself--perhaps the equivalent of one or two New York City blocks, I suspect, though, again, I haven't actually done it myself. For those used to walking around the historic center, it will be a pleasant tranquil pastoral change. But as the part of the path I've seen is not paved and the outside table area of the trattoria itself is covered in clean gravel, it may, unfortunately, present some difficulties for anyone in a wheelchair. I would suggest checking with the trattoria first in such a case to make sure of access. 

Last night the sunset was obscured by clouds, so I'm afraid none of the images of this post suggest anything like the full charm of the place. Maybe I'll have something better to show you in the future.

I wouldn't call it "economical"--the cicchetti, in particular, can add up. It seems about average for Venetian restaurants. But the food is fresh, and (as long as you stay out of the patio area with the flat-screen tv playing music videos--or ask them to simply turn the damn thing off) on summer evenings it's one of my favorite places in the lagoon to be.

But let's just keep this between us, shall we?

[For a few more images of the trattoria, see:]

At the end of the unpaved path leading from the vaporetto stop is this view of San Piero di Castello and, even better, the trattoria a little further along

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

The Biggest Splash of the Opening Week of the 56th Biennale (at Least for Locals)

A gangway in front of Fondazione Prada collapses: full story and images here: (photo credit: Interpress)
The glee with which many Venetians responded to the minor but dramatic mishap early last week of what local papers called a group of "VIP"s in front of the Fondazione Prada on the Grand Canal (above) seemed like a good indicator of just how much ambivalence (if not outright antagonism) many, if not most, Venetians feel toward those million of visitors on whom their livelihood--or a cynic might say, their "lingering demise"--depends.

Judging by the volume (in both senses of the word) of responses and remarks on social media it was pretty clearly the big hit of the opening days of the 56th Venice Biennale, at least for the local crowd.

What happened was simply that the floating dock projecting out from the Fondazione Prada (located in Ca' Corner della Regina) into the Grand Canal tilted so perilously for some reason that it separated from the gangway connecting it to the fixed pier and, under what La Nuova di Venezia claims was the appalled gaze of multi-billionaire Miuccia Prada herself, sent a good half dozen of her guests ("bejeweled ladies and well-suited men") into the drink.

No one, fortunately, was injured, and what struck me about the incident and the local response to it was that this slight (but very well-documented) mishap managed to achieve what was once the explicit function of Venetian Carnevale and all its ancient precursors throughout the world--but which the contemporary corporate Venice Carnevale has entirely given up on. That is, to quite literally upend the established social hierarchy, bringing down the highly-positioned and powerful "Haves" to the immense, if only momentary, amusement of those vast many--quite literally the vast majority of the populace--without any particular position or power.

It is ultimately, it seems to me, a cold consolation (or amusement), partaking, I suspect, of more envy and despair than actual joy, but whatever it was it was certainly widespread last week. And I'm tempted, actually, even to suggest that the breadth and intensity of such glee (understandable and common as it is) might be construed as a fairly good indicator of the economic and social inequality present in a society. The bigger the gulf between the Haves and the Have Nots, the bigger the splash, so to speak, when one (or some) of the privileged former group slips up.

In any case, it was just the first of a number of incidents last week that seemed to call attention to the difference between what the Biennale means to most locals and what it means for those who come from abroad to see it.

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

7 Glimpses of the Opening Days (and a Night) of the 56th Biennale

The exhibition pieces start before you even enter the Giardini proper: this one (which I had no time to find out anything about) seeming to raise questions with its emergency service colors and material about what happens when a particular culture's very mode of dress starts to be interpreted as a hazard

My involvement in a Biennale project has left me with almost no time to do anything else but I wanted to post a few images from yesterday and today's opening days, even if I must do so with almost none of the explanation that the works merit.

At present I can only refer you to the Biennale's official website:

The Biennale opens to the public on May 9.

Oscar Murillo's heavy black drapes and Glenn Ligon's neon "blues blood bruise" adorn the front of the Central Pavilion

David Adjaye's beautifully-designed ARENA space within the Central Pavilion is the setting for a continuous series of live performances

If you look closely at the above photo you'll see a blond woman speaking into a microphone just beneath the "N" of FINLANDIA. But, like most people actually at the Biennale, your attention was probably entirely taken up by the table in the foreground laden with champagne bottles and the pourers handing out free glasses of it.
Isaac Julien's new installation Stones Against Diamonds received a very brief 1-day showing at Palazzo Malipiero-Barnabò. Its premiere will actually occur at the forthcoming Art Basel. Julien is the director, however, of the Biennale's Das Kapital Oratorio, shown in an image above on the ARENA stage.
One of the countless parties that punctuate the end (or beginning) of each of the Biennale's opening days--for a fuller depiction of which I refer you to Geoff Dyer's comic novella Jeff in Venice, in which a very contemporary English version of Thomas Mann's Gustav Von Aschenbach learns that even the consummation of one's desire for a younger beloved can leave a whole lot to be desired.