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Tuesday, September 18, 2007

The Best Art Show. Ever. (Part II)

posted by on September 18 at 14:58 PM

The claim that I first made Friday hasn’t faded with the jet lag. I’m referring to Artempo, an exhibition of objects and experiences, both art and otherwise, on display at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice.

A little background: The Venetian government decided it would create a new modern museum at the Palazzo Fortuny, and Artempo starts things off with a serious bang. The palazzo is a relic best known for its most famous inhabitant, Mariano Fortuny (1871-1949), the fashion designer, painter, photographer, stage designer, and general man-about-the-world who lived in the crumbling-chic inland building for 50 years.

The mere list of artists in the show would make any venue blush—from memory alone, I can name Hans Bellmer, Francis Bacon, Anish Kapoor, Richard Serra, Gordon Matta-Clark, Lucio Fontana, Le Corbusier, Louise Bourgeois, Marisa Merz, Marcel Duchamp, Thomas Ruff, El Anatsui, Man Ray, Yves Klein, James Turrell, Fischli & Weiss, and Cai Guo-Qiang—but the building itself adds to the allure. It has been a place of majesty and of depredation, according to a description in the exhibition catalog, which helps to background the exhibition’s themes of excess, absence, and spirituality. You’re not imagining, when you look at the faded, pockmarked, and flaking walls, that this isn’t your typical historic palazzo. Mariano himself set up shop in the garret,

…as misshapen and wooded as the hold of a ship, as black as a witch’s cave, as high as the cupola of a Byzantine basilica. … Paradoxically, right under his feet, in the palazzo’s “noble rooms,” which were transformed into residences and hovels, swarmed an afflicted humanity: desperate beggars, the marginalized, the proletariat, and the under-proletariat of a devastated but nevertheless fascinating, indecipherable, hostile, ambiguous, and pandering city. Hundreds of people occupied every room, every inch under the stairs, every step and passageway, every chamber and vestibule …

(Can you not tell that this was written by an Italian? His name is Giandomenico Romanelli.)

This maybe helps in understanding why the ground floor, where you enter, feels most of all like a dungeon. The exhibition begins fitfully here, with ancient nude fragments and antique anatomical dolls set in some vaguely appealing compare-and-contrast with a bright yellow Francis Bacon, a small photograph of a blubbery woman on a pole by Hans Bellmer, a video by Kimsooja of a washing woman standing perfectly still as the dirty river passes her by (did we see this at the Henry a while back?), and, finally, Anish Kapoor’s giant undulating gold reflective form, a piece that induces a pleasant sort of motion sickness conforming to its title, S-Curve. Kapoor’s piece seems out of place until you consider its insistence on an awareness of the architecture’s effect on the human body, or the architecture as a fellow body joining you on your way up through the show.


In the stairwell up to the next floor, you encounter something stabilizing again, but not too stabilizing: a second-century Zeus facing forward, and in front of it, also facing forward, a rusty and greenish bronze head by Thomas Schütte (from the collection of the artist!), on which only the eyes are shiny, alive, almost slickened by ducts. At this point, it feels like almost anything could be on the second floor. I’ll write about what’s up there tomorrow.

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Ooooo, I like it. A lot.

Posted by Carollani | September 18, 2007 3:02 PM

I love love love Bellmer.
And his wife.

Posted by Lauren | September 18, 2007 3:07 PM

Sounds like an amazing exhibition! And, yes, Kimsooja's A Laundry Woman was part of WOW (The Work of the Work) at the Henry, and then a few months after that it was on the NBC Astrovision in Times Square for Creative Time.

Posted by Betsey | September 18, 2007 9:53 PM

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