Sunday, July 21, 2019

A Peripatetic Festa Del Redentore: 14 Views

Their restricted view of  the fireworks--partially blocked by buildings (though reflected, as you can see above, in the upper windows of the church of the Gesuati)--didn't dim the enthusiasm of this crowd in Campo Sant' Agnese

Boats offer some of the best views of the fireworks, but as ours is in for repairs we could only admire ones like the above from on land

Decorating boats was once a major part of the Feast of Redentore, but few seem to do it now. Which is too bad, as even a minimalist approach to ornamentation, like the boat above, adds a lot to the festivities.

Only at the last minute did I decide to set off to see the fireworks and found the Zattere to be crowded with revelers (and with a lovely orange moon in the distance)...

...entertained by the local band above, which was doing its last number as I arrived: "YMCA" by The Village People

People took up places along the Zattere, expecting to see the fireworks over the bacino of San Marco--only to find out once the program began that their experience was to be purely auditory: booms resounded, but not so much as a single far-flung spark was visible.

And thus began a mass migration north- and west-ward in search of vantage points: this partial one is from the bridge leading from Calle Magazen to Campo San Trovaso

Here, from the Fondamenta Bonlini beside the church, looking across the Rio de San Trovaso down Calle Larga Nani

Here, from the foot of the Accademia Bridge near the Campo della Carità (of which, incidentally, there was none to be found when it came to securing a space to see the fireworks from the bridge)

So many people formerly on the Zattere were hurrying along fondamente and across campi only to find one bottleneck after another awaiting them in whichever calli they chose to take in the direction of the fireworks--with hardly less urgency, though in slightly better spirits, than those who once fled from the mainland into the lagoon to escape old Attila's own brand of fireworks--that I was happy enough to happen upon picturesque, if only partial, reflections of the spectacle, as above.

Of course those people employed to manage the flow of foot traffic didn't even see so much as reflections of the fireworks: the man above holds a sign that states "Varco Chiuso" (Exit Closed)

And after the spectacle was done, the traffic on the water (above and below, on Rio San Trovaso) became as challenging as that on land...

Traditionally, revelers headed to Lido after the fireworks to continue the festivities until dawn on the beach. Some still do this, and, as might be expected, private interests have turned this tradition to their own account, creating for-profits parties to replace the communal ones of the past. But after the fireworks a lot of other boats head in the opposite direction from Lido, a steady stream of them down the Grand Canal (or, above, Rio Nuovo) westward and home.

For views of the Festa del Redentore from the water see: Navigating the Festa del Redentore 2017

Spectacle Piled On Spectacle: Festa del Redentore, Early This Morning

A Boat's-Eye Peek at Tonight's Festa del Redentore 

Festa del Redentore 2014: Seeing, Feeling, Breathing Fireworks 

And for views of the festival from many many different vantage points, enter "festa del redentore" in the "Search This Blog" box in the right margin near the top of this page.

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

The Funniest Art Currently On Display in Venice

A viewer contemplates one of the large sculptures currently on display in the Arsenale by the creator of the celebrated giant hands installed along the Grand Canal during the run of 2017's 57th Venice Biennale

"The worse your art is," the great American poet John Ashbery once said in an interview, "the easier it is to talk about."

I'm reminded of this remark whenever I encounter a work by a living (if not quite "contemporary") artist whose sculptures in recent years have come to be a pretty much constant presence in Venice.

The very first time I saw one of his pieces it was situated on the long stretch of loading docks that run along the Canale della Scomenzera, amid pallets of construction materials and gravel and garbage bins.

A life-sized tank, it was, held by a hand so over-sized as to make the former appear like a toy and extending upwards just beyond its wrist, where it abruptly and smoothly terminated like Thing T. Thing in The Adams Family.

I had no idea what it was the first time I passed by it on the vaporetto, nor the many times I passed by it afterwards while it sat unmoving and neglected amid the constantly changing array of trash containers and building materials for a period of many months. Could it be art? I wondered at one point. But it was such a puerile piece it seemed too great a stretch to apply the term, in any but the loosest sense, to it.

Perhaps it had once formed part of a promotional display, or an amusement park for children.

Whatever it was, or had been, no one seemed to want it. It sat there uncovered in all weather for what I seem to recall was at least a couple of years before someone, mercifully, hauled it away.

Eventually, I'd discover that, yes, indeed, it had at one time been created as a work of art and had been shown in the 2011 Biennale in the Italian Pavilion.

It was the kind of piece I was happy to forget all about. 

Until 2017, when not just one but two of the same kind of over-sized hands appeared in the Grand Canal, rising up from its water to support the facade of the Hotel Ca' Sagredo. Not to feel up the old pink facade, or to tickle it. No, neither of those things, but--and make no mistake about it!--to SUPPORT it. For that was the title of the piece, displayed in large letters on a banner hung from the hotel's main balcony, lest anyone succumb to the temptation to tease any other meaning from the spectacle.

And what a spectacle it was! Front page of the New York Times! Backdrop for innumerable selfies!

Now this was an important piece! Why, it told you so itself! Exhaustively, in an artist's statement that told you precisely the piece's significance. And that significance was huge, it was massive, it was profound and very moving, and many people were, as they should have been, very moved indeed. Why, it was all about saving the fragile city of Venice, supporting it in all its ancient beauty.

Who in the world could disagree with such a statement?

Nobody. Absolutely nobody.

After all, a whole century had passed since those trouble-making Futurists suggested just the opposite: that the old city of moldy stones, with all its oppressive history and romance and "magical moonlight" be pulled down: the canals filled in and the lagoon transformed into a mecca of modernity, with fast motorcars and trains and aeroplanes. Murder the moonlight! they cried. Put the tired old tart of a city out of its misery, worn out as it was after centuries of prostituting itself.

Well, no one says such horribly nasty things today!

Not even the very people themselves who are most avidly prostituting the city, most busy destroying quite literally its very foundations, most frantically wringing the last juice of profit from the old rind. Every single one of those people and companies, from Venice's non-resident Mayor "Cruise Ship", to all those pigs fattening themselves from the trough of the corrupt and ever-inoperable swindle known as MOSE, to all the speculators, large and small, who have turned 6 of every 10 apartments in the city into a tourist rental--every single one of these entities will, with one voice, assure you they are supporting Venice.

So what does it mean to actually "support" Venice?

Well, that's a rather complicated question: one which a simple exhortation, no matter how big the banner, no matter how selfie-worthy the spectacle, no matter how explicit and even moving the explanation of the work offered by the artist himself may be, doesn't even manage to acknowledge, much less raise. 

The popular success of those two giants hands, in fact, stemmed precisely from the fact that their ostensibly bold exhortation, for all its bullying over-determination, proclaimed quite simply nothing. 

In a culture in which everyone seems to be just waiting to take offense, it managed to offend no one at all, because, in the end, for all the artist's over-explanation, "support" is one of those words, like "freedom," which can mean whatever anyone wants it to mean. (Every American, for example, enjoys total "freedom"--they just can't afford to quit their job and lose their health insurance lest an illness wipe out every cent of savings they have and drive them deep into the abyss of debt, if not death.)

But, regardless of my own opinion of that work, it was a smash. Of such magnitude, in fact, that the Hotel Ca' Sagredo parted with it reluctantly, and only after city authorities informed them that the exhibition permit needed to display the work on the Grand Canal had expired and could not be renewed.

After the hands were hauled away, the hotel soon installed another work by the same artist in the same location, and it is there still. A work which, though much smaller, exhibits what I consider an equal level of... artistry.

This smaller sculpture by the creator of the giant "supporting" hands has been situated in the same place outside Hotel Ca' Sagredo ever since the removal of the former, alongside the traghetto station Santa Sophia

Indeed, if the work of this particular artist floats your boat, you're in luck, as there's a display of his works currently running at the Arsenale that includes not just a new expanded version of those giant hands but smaller (though still monumental) works involving the entire human figure akin to that currently posted outside Hotel Ca' Sagredo.

I encountered them a couple of weeks away quite by accident, having gone to the Arsenale to see the boat show. The boat show ran for just a few days, but the art on display is slated to run, I believe, through the end of the Biennale in late November.

The newest monumental work by the artist of the giant hands "improves" upon Support by multiplying the pairs of hands from one to an even half dozen, and supplying not just, indoors, a smaller (though still large) working model of the gargantuan work situated outdoors, but extensive and detailed wall text explaining the precise meaning of each and every pair of hands.

Explanations of a current work on display at the Arsenale by an artist who seems intent on leaving nothing to the viewer's imagination

The pairs of hands, it seems, are nothing less than emblems, not just expressive of something or other, but actually educational and inspirational, according to the very specific wall text.

Again, I was reminded of a quotation. In his dialogue entitled "The Critic as Artist," Oscar Wilde has one of the participants declare: "There are two ways of disliking art. One is to dislike it. The other, to like it rationally."

I'd change this slightly to: "There are two ways of disliking art. One is to dislike it. The other, to create and post explanatory wall text beside it." (And there's no shortage of these at the actual Biennale itself, by the way.)

The problem I have with this particular artist whom, to my amusement, seems to be becoming as associated with Venice as Tintoretto, is that, ultimately, his works are just so limited, so earnestly self-defined, such dead ends, in other words.

If living in Venice teaches you anything it's that you shouldn't put too much faith in road maps-- especially those that try to tell you just which way you should go.

But mine may be a minority opinion, perhaps entirely idiosyncratic, or even idiotic--and I'm as okay with that as I am with those who enjoy the works. Indeed, they did seem to be enjoyed by people at the boat show.

And I have to admit that he's one of the few artists now on display in Venice whose works invariably make me laugh out loud upon first sight of them. Though that may not be their creator's intention, I very much appreciate the effect anyway.

To paraphrase Oscar Wilde again: "One must have a heart of stone to look at this work and not laugh."

Wednesday, July 10, 2019

How Much Is That Doggy In the Window? Campo dei Gesuiti

I've seen a cat or a caged songbird perched on a window ledge in Venice--and when the city was still filled with residents these were probably fairly common sights--but never, until today, a dog

Wednesday, July 3, 2019

Untimely Reflections, Last Night

Like Christmas in July, acqua alta in July upends expectations, as the latter, no less than the former, is more typically a December (and, more generally, winter) event.

But at least in the heat of July the irresistible urge that overtakes certain tourists to splash (or even swim) in the puddles of sewer water--or allow their children to do so--seems slightly more understandable, if no less foolish, than it does in the middle of winter.  

Venice Beach: local police would eventually arrive and move this trio along (as lounging about in the middle of Piazza San Marco is frowned upon as being disrespectful to the city's most famous space), but not before various children ranging from 18 months to about 10 years of age splashed and literally sprawled in the acqua alta bubbling up from the bowels of the city's sewer system as if they were at a sea shore.