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

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