Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Louise Bourgeois dies, end May 2010

Photo: Louise Bourgeois, Arch of Hysteria, 2000.Courtesy, Galerie Karsten Greve, Köln, Paris, Milano, St Moritz and Cheim &Read, New York. Photo: Christopher Burke

A late tribute to Louise Bourgeois who exhibited aged 71 in New York died end of May aged 96 and was working within days of her death. That gives hope to all us late starters, apart from the extraordinary quality of her work dealing mainly with women's experience through their bodies. 'The Arch of Hysteria' (photo above) as you can see is made out of fabric. I chose this version rather than the bronze and steel sculpture of the same title she made in 1973, since I saw this at an exhibition of her work called 'A Stitch in Time' at the Fruitmarket Gallery, Edinbury in May 2004 and to me, fabric speaks much more expressively of women's work. Is it an arch of pain or orgasm? I like the ambiguity.
Her giant spider might be more well-known but it says very little to me - it is just a spider (whatever the title 'Maman' might suggest of a mother as a weaver/seamstress who repairs and protects but is also inescapable and maybe devouring). The sculpture itself does not make me feel that. Whereas her fabric sculptures have something visceral and tactile and get under my skin too. Incidentally Bourgeois' fabric work has influenced Tracey Emin's work with similar effects.

Lady with an Ermine by Leonardo da Vinci

29th March, 2009 There is something to be said for looking at only one picture in a gallery visit. Or even on a visit to a city! In our case 'Lady with an Ermine' by Leonardo da Vinci in the Czartoryski Palace (Museum). There were a handful of other famous old Masters but this one almost leapt off the wall. Kept in a darkened room, the only picture hung there, her skin colour glows - in particular the too large hand stroking the ermine. I found myself alternating between gazing at her guileless face, imagining the silky feel of the net(silk?) veil fitting the shape of her head exactly and then feeling rather repulsed by the sinews of her hand. A very real hand - not some tiny effete blob too small for the body which is the mistaken amateur painters make in life drawing. But this is striking in its over-size. And so close to the ermine, with its delineated muzzle and the protruding sinews of its leg. Physicality of real bodies, not just some untouchable saint. But somehow rather creepy too.

Murano glass and Venice: Ca'Rezzonico, marionettes, horses and spiders

October, 2008

though I learnt nothing new about glass, a trip out to the island of Murano was an absolute Must, given my glass research at ECA, poems and work-in-progress novel. I was snootily amused to note that the demonstrators did not advise visitors not to look at the furnace and no green tinted glasses were provided. One of their party tricks was to place a glass jar, still molton, on the marver only a few feet away from the visitors and not to give any warning. When it shattered, making us all jump, the demonstrator just smiled. So? This is Italy. No Health and Safety obsession as in the U.K. (For that matter, no notices anywhere warning one that one might fall in the water, keep away from sloshing wakes, why, you might even slip on wet quaysides etc. OK, I'll stop now.)

The Hub manfully took on the Accademia, the Palazzo Ducale and the Peggy Guggenheim but as I had been before (aeons ago as a student) and decided then, if not now, that I can only take so many galleries and in particular, fat reclining nudes, Madonnas, melodramatic and grandiose High Rennaissance and Baroque generally, I declined smugly. However, got caught out in the Ca'Rezzonico http://www.museiciviciveneziani.it/frame.asp?musid=7&sezione=musei&tipo

Successfully managing to preserve eyes and sanity, I raced through the endless rooms lined with thousands of paintings and only paused by a few which spoke to me personally. How anyone can cope otherwise I don't know. Anyway, the ones I was drawn to were portraits by the 18th c pastel artist, Rosalba Carriera (1675-1757)- exquisitely life-like flesh tones and capture of character - especially when placed alongside the also-rans of her century. She was an Italian who moved to France, became well-known but went mad....sounds an interesting life to read up on. Just checked Wikipedia - depressive, not mad, and she went blind, (the worst fate for a painter?) possibly as result of all the miniature snuff boxes she painted.) See Two portraits at Ca'Rezzonico http://www.artcyclopedia.com/scripts/r.pl?RN47+96 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rosalba_Carriera Also enjoyed the Gaudi and Longhi which both Hub and I recognized as so well-known -e.g. the masked women and tricorned hatted men viewing a rhinocerous. A snatch of 18th c Venetian life, detailed costumes of day and social scenes a bit reminiscent of Hogarth.

Ca' d'Oro
Deciding that I actually enjoyed the architecture more than the contents of the palazzi, I also ventured inside Ca' d'Oro - exquisite, Gothic tracery, mosaic floors and early Roman and mediaeval art (a relief , it was not Baroque);

Casa Goldoni (The Marionette Museum): a miniature version of Ca' d'Oro but more simple and homely - and if you're interested, as I am as a former marionettist - an 18th c Marionette Theatre and collection of puppets - in costumes of exact detail showing the fashions of the day and even some with expressive faces.

Lastly, a quick visit to Palazzo Grassi with its ornate gold ceilings and 18th c frescos against gold background - the modern art on display (e.g. a giant blue synthetic wool spider) painfully inappropriate! Upstairs (under the eaves - maybe former servants' quarters?) where the rooms were plain white with no fancy ceilings, the modern art could be appreciated better - most striking, the photos of Mafia massacres in Palermo and the Red Brigade members wearing black masks and waving rifles, during demos and on arrest in the 70's - a reminder of the darker side of contemporary Italian political history. Not that all was roses in the past - the expansionist desires of all Europeans - Venice's own part in furthering the Crusades and conquering Constaninople, the snatch and grabbing of the 4 bronze Horses now on the balustrade of San Marco... Still, how beautiful those horses are.

I had avoided San Marco all week - the sight of the crowds on the piazza seen from the vaporetto was enough to make me refuse to step on land but the Hub cunningly took me to San Marco late at night - the deserted piazza, dark except for stars and lamps hanging below each arch of the arcades and the silhouette of the Basilica itself made me agree to go early the next morn (only 9 am but most tourists don't seem to surface till 10 am, except for a handful of Japanese groups). So the queue was bearable and we were shuffled in to the dark interior where the subject matter of the mosiaics is swallowed up in the domes, too high to distinguish much except gold tesserae glinting. But one has to go for the atmosphere. We bought the catalogue to study the mosaics in detail later. But the horses!

First we climbed up to the balustrade and went out onto the roof/balustrade and saw the copies which were beautiful enough, tho you can't see their faces and then we returned (finding ourselves face to face with Judas as you turn to the left - shocking to confront his dark figure with closed face in shadow, hanging from a tree) and so to the original bronzes and a full view. They are covered in scratches (which was apparently on purpose to prevent undue shine) but which added gravitas. The verdigris is somehow much more affecting than the cleaner copies and one can see the amazing detail of the veins in their flesh, the folds in their necks and the softness of the muzzle suggested in contrast to the broad muscular flanks. The eyes, both startled and vulnerable. Extraordinarily affecting. Whoever made these knew horses in both their beauty and power and over-strung fragility.
http://www.sacred-destinations.com/italy/venice-san-marco.htm and Scroll down. The scholars seem to have settled on AD 2nd tho no one really knows if they were Greek or Roman or who made them. And to think there was such knowledge and skill then and that whole civilization destroyed - the Byzantine art that followed has none of this realism or sensitivity (moving as it is in its mystical way - concerned with other realities). The rise and fall of civilizations, such are the musings that result coming to Italy..and the benefits of a classical education no doubt. And what if our civilizaton is destroyed and all the material skills/benefits forgotten: no sanitation, no cars or planes, no high tech surgery or drugs, no internet...perhaps no one will regret our Art 'Installations' though. Perhaps we are the new barbarians.