Tintoretto – May 2015

It’s been fun playing Biennale Bingo here in Venezia, but I come here for other reasons. As I’ve said before I feel connected here. I can’t really explain it, but I like the light, the color, the canals, the sea, the inconvenience of it all, the mazes of walkways, the endless walking, the intermittent internet, the same 5 ingredients served 1000 different ways, the Venetians, the very strange tanning opportunities at the Lido, the conversations using whatever made up words that sound Italian that I can think of, and the painting. Painting here (mostly Mannerist and Baroque painting) is a dream. I am a huge fan of Tintoretto’s work but you can not understand unless you make the trip here to see it. I discovered that years ago on my first trip to Venice. I had heard of Tinto, but aside from a few crappy reproductions, there was nothing out there. Tintoretto is a home grown, home based, hometown hero. Nearly all of his masterworks are here, and they never travel, never leave the spots where they have been permanently mounted. In the US we have no idea what this little guy managed to do, nor how his work must have influenced many of the greats that came after him. I’ve read that Caravaggio came through here at some point in his early days, and it’s probably so, because you can see the influence of Tinto on his work, especially in the compositions and the light. In fact you can see a great deal of Venetian painting in his work…, but I digress.

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I’ve written about Tintoretto and the importance of his work on many occasions, so I won’t bore you again. But I will say that when he is great, and he is great often, there is no better painter. Even today the work comes alive in exciting and complex ways – his compositions, his rhythms and movements, his brush work, and his color – still can offer solutions to many of the problems of our contemporary Postmodern Mannerism. There are 4 paintings in the Scuola di San Rocco that send me to school every time I have seen them. I’ve sat across them in this amazing hall and watched as these images move through the centuries. When they were first painted the color must have been glorious. Today they are darker and harder looking – untouched by restorers. But even so, they remain an amazing lesson in painting. Yeah, I know the place looks like a gaudy Vegas showcase, what with the gold ceiling and the mood lighting, but if you take a bit of time the images will take you away.

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There’s no way we’ll see the best of this work in a museum or a white cube – no way for a “contemporary” experience of this work. Tintoretto’s paintings, especially in San Rocco, will remain where they are. But you can get a taste of how that might look, a cleaner look at the images – first from the Biennale a few years ago when Tintoretto actually opened the show in the Giardini and looked as contemporary as our colleagues. Second from a couple of works in the Academia that were claimed from a crap church installation. These goofy portrait scenes of saints are textbook compositions for Tinto. They are the kind of images he would usually combine into a much larger composition. He’s used both his life studies and his own imagined proportions for these figures leaving us convinced of this painted reality. Additionally, by taking liberties with the forms and space he’s pushed the boundaries of what might be considered “correct art” of his time. If you look at Tintoretto’s contemporaries you’ll see that even these restrained paintings are more active, more vibrant and more “tasteless” in their depictions. What’s also nice about the few isolated works in the Academia is that the color is still intact, and it’s right there in front of you at eye level. You get the flavor of Tintoretto’s strong primary palette, the tension that he creates in his compositions and the wonderful play of incorrect light. Needless to say – all of this appeals to me.

As I come to the end of my stay here in Dorsoduro I wanted to say that my friend Dennis Bellone would have enjoyed commenting on these posts. He has been in my thoughts, and I hope that some of you have made the effort to go to his web site, see his work and read his blog immaterial-culture. Dennis will be missed by us all. My good friends Michael and Paul have been working diligently for upcoming shows and keeping in touch during this adventure! They will be the recipients of a few drunken tales of artistic debauchery when I return. And finally I want to send my deepest thanks and warmest appreciation to the very lovely, wonderful and talented Tina, who absolutely loathes the internet and nearly everything on it, but helped this clumsy aesthetic tourist through a phalanx of Venetian difficulties. Grazie!

 

Twombly & Pollock – May 2015

At Ca’ Pesaro, Venice’s MOMA, Cy Twombly is having a moment entitled “Paradise”. Of all the shows done in concert with the Biennale I thought this one was absolutely beautiful. Once again I know that I’ve been suckered in by the space where this show is sponsored. And I’ve also reached the conclusion that all galleries should be designed like Venetian palazzos. They don’t have to be big, per se. (The Doig show in the Palazzetto Tito – see previous post – is not a huge affair, but man, is it tasty!) These buildings are made for the light, they are elegant visual spaces and they make paintings look amazing. Even the churches here are awash in light from beautiful windows placed high along the cupolas. This is different than the dark dramatic barracks of Florence or the midnight theatrical caverns in Rome. Anyway, Twombly’s paintings with all their smudges, empty billboard spaces, drips and scribbles, composition tropes that usually drive me crazy, came alive in these spaces. The direct crisp light of the sun and the reflected watery light of the Grand Canal poured through the blown glass windows of these graceful rooms and massaged these paintings into reality.

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Obviously, this photo does not do this painting justice (in fact I haven’t seen one online that does). The color is off, the light is too flat and you don’t get a feel for the history at work in this space. There was a wonderful visual dialog going on between me, this room, the Grand Canal, the painting, and the different kinds of light bouncing around. Then there’s Twombly’s ephemeral entropic flowers expounding on nature and beauty, the scrawl of the Rilke poem on love and death, the processes of the painting dripping down the canvas, and that flat bright acidy blue of the billboard background that fills the space like fragrance. Visually, the room was a dream with Venice as a backdrop. You’d see the painting, glance to your right to the Grand Canal, pace back and forth, see the Baroque architecture across the way, glance back at the painting from a different vantage point. “Place is everything!” – as I’ve said before…. Yes, dammit, I was being seduced. Look, I’m not a big fan of Twombly’s painting legacy. I’ve seen too many pretenders working these tropes into the ground, but there is a mastery here, along with an elegance, that I found surprising.

The starting point for this kind of American Postmodern Abstraction is actually being shown down the way at the Peggy Guggenheim Museum, a beautiful palazzo on the way to Salute and the Dogona. Jackson Pollock’s “Mural” was a watershed painting in the history of American culture. Pollock and crew didn’t really know it at the time, but “Mural” opened the way for the Postmodern world that we all exist in – AbEx broke the European Surrealist chokehold on painting and provided an endpoint to Moderism. More important, it opened up the idea that meaning and process should be one while legitimizing the idea of a pure abstraction inherent in that process. I’ve never seen this painting before, this most American of paintings, and I had to come to Venezia in order to do it. Weird. Hopefully, this painting will go on tour before it goes back into the ether. At least it should make an appearance in NYC for a little while – I’d like to see it with other works of the time. The Guggy does not allow photography of this piece so I’ve used their photo of the room and it’s not a bad shot.

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Photo from Guggenheim Twitter Feed

I can’t imagine what it must have been like for Clem to come across this massive thing. I don’t know if he saw it in the studio or installed at Peggy’s, but it probably knocked him senseless. Finally, an American painter embodying the kind of pure painting that he had been going on about since 1939! (Ok, that might piss a lot of people off, but without Clem there would not have been a Pollock.) The process in this painting is right there front and center, and though Jackson still clings to a bit of figuration, he’s dropped it into the stroke itself so completely that it exists only as a metaphor. The painting moves and keeps moving stridently across the canvas. The brush never stops loosely applying the running paint – the dripping isn’t overly done or mannered like we see in Twombly’s painting. It’s just a side effect instead of being the endgame. The color – mostly splotches of bright yellows, fireplug reds and army greens – breaks through in bits and pieces though it’s held in check by the black, white and blue gray of the drawing. In fact the whole painting is closer to drawing than to painting and therein lies it’s real audacity. You can not improvise this kind of movement at this kind of scale without drawing, and in this painting Pollock lets the drawing guide the composition. Jackson works from top to bottom from side to side and expands the reach of the image, pushes at the edges of that image to make it feel larger than it actually is. The painting crowds the room. “Mural” was and is the precedent for so many works today that we tend to forget its uniqueness and its importance. I’m lucky to be standing in front of it!

It had been raining fairly heavily while I was in the Guggy enjoying Jackson’s legacy. When I came back out into the court yard the weather had cleared leaving deep puddles and a heavy warm haze in the air. It was exhilarating to see the way the bright light of Venice was now turning everything into pure vibrant color. The leaves, the flowers, the buildings, the canals, even the aesthetic tourists – everything was sparkling. For the visually inclined this city is like no other and it’s no wonder that painting was a natural part of its history. I really do love it.

 

Scully & Doig – May 2015

There are a number of shows going on at the same time as the Biennale. These exhibits are usually sponsored by galleries with the not-so-transparent intention of selling work to the collectors coming in town for a bit of Biennale sport. A solo show in a palazzo in one of the great art cities of history is a mouth watering opportunity for any artist (I know a lot of artists that would donate a kidney to show here during this particular party). It’s a very tasty, ego-inflating thing, let’s face it. This moment in the spotlight can also be an exciting opportunity for the ambitious gallerist. The “pop-up” gallery is a great way to connect with the incoming collectors who are attending the Biennale for shopping purposes. Additionally, if the gallery does a solid for the artist but doesn’t rep him or her, this might be the moment to poach them away from their current situation. Or if that’s not a possibility the clever gallerist might be able to piggy-back their own artists onto a collector looking for new blood. The opportunities for business at this level and in this setting are astounding if it’s done with the right sponsors, the right artists and a willingness to risk big cash. You might enjoy reading this fairly informative interview with Alain Servias about how these kinds of things work  – highly recommended.

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Photo from Sean Scully Press Assets

In a truly magnificent palazzo, Palazzo Falier on the Grand Canal, is a show by Sean Scully entitled “Land Sea”. It contains some recent abstractions, probably made for the exhibit, along with a number of older works to fill out the large space. The show’s basically a hyper-sales pitch for the artist, and the paintings are hung in an absolutely stunning setting. Scully’s newer works have gotten much looser, the paint handling is more offhand, drippier, the compositions have opened up and become less structured. The predominant color in these works is an ultramarine blue that occasionally gets lightened, muddied or blurred with acidy yellows or workman reds, dropping the primaries into secondaries and/or tertiaries. In these landscape-y blue works there is a broader swing from dark to light, the stripes open up while the paintings remain more monochromatic. It may be interesting to see where Scully takes this new space and openness. Never fear, there are the usual colorful stripes as well! The older works on view are the structured checkerboards in obvious grays, blacks, whites and earth tones. All in all it’s another show of Postmodern abstraction with all the familiar strategies and tropes in place. No great surprises here. Add the dramatic backdrop of twin windowed observation decks overlooking the Grand Canal and you can’t help enjoying the moment.

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Peter Doig is showing at the Palazzetto Tito, just down the way from the Ponte dei Pugni which is near my favorite place to get an evening drink while watching the Venetians go by. I’m already predisposed to liking this show ’cause it’s in my (pretend) neighborhood. The solid thing about Doig’s work is that there’s absolutely nothing new going, no innovations or critiques, but it’s fun at times to see an artist ply beloved and time worn painting clichés as if they were still relevant. This is called retro-painting. Doig’s color is hearty in blocks and stretches, the figuration is respectfully abstracted following Diebenkorn’s and Hockney’s examples, and there’s a bit of Surreal spectacle and art historical play in them. This is Postmodernism done well, and when it works as it does here, it can be pleasing. Especially in the setting of this marvelous building. Once again just like Scully’s show – place is everything. Ok, here’s an old saw for you – where you show (I know, I know, the viciousness of context) can make a huge difference to how collectors and aesthetic tourists experience your work.  And it’s without a doubt that both of these artists’ works benefitted tremendously from the historic places where they were shown. At this level, for these kinds of collected artists – place is everything.

There was an entrance fee for this particular pop-up gallery, which I found a bit strange, but I guess there wasn’t enough in the budget to crack the nut (rent) for that building. Never mind, I’m on an aesthetic vacation… and besides ImaginaCafé is just down the street – caipirinhas await.

Dogona – May 2015

In a kick in the teeth to the Biennale Costco crew, Pinault’s minions have practically emptied their beautiful exhibition space of everything. In fact the entire exhibit, “Slip of the Tongue”, is nearly invisible in the space of that building’s gorgeous interior. And that’s probably a good thing, because most of the the art installed is not the usual art fair anti-art, but the usual institutional non-art. It hardly exists at all. A couple of times I became very angry about the layout of the show – Sturtevant’s recreation of Stella’s painting hung on a crappy wall up on the second floor. If it had been hung elsewhere it might have been better able to make its point about originality and assimilation. The room that contained the Nancy Speros made them seem flimsy and tired, hung as they were on the brushed concrete walls. They needed more light, less grayness. Throughout the show unnecessary penises, vaginas and other tired bodily organs would occasionally pop into view trying to vie for your attention. A detailed toilet seat, a Rodin body cast, a tree stump, a piano covered in applied goop, a Picasso – it all sounds wonderful in theory, but visually the art on view couldn’t hold the walls in that building. Look, the truth is that building is a fucking monster – historic and contemporary at once it is layered with the life of an empire – and the work it shows has to be just as thick in visual associations or it just gets lost. A photograph of a hairy masturbator won’t cut it in that space. In the end I decided that this particular show would have been much more interesting in an easier space – more of a white cube experience. The Dogona made mince meat out of it. As I’ve said before – place is everything.

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The other Pinault experience is at the Palazzo Grassi and it is far more enjoyable. The show is a retrospective of Martial Raysse’s work, an artist who I do not know. It covers the 1960s forward, and it mixes present and past with panache. You can pretty much suss out the 60s stuff straight away – that work is really of its time – photo based, advertising color and composition, very Euro Pop-pie. But as time went on he became a more “conservative” Pop-surrealist and the paintings are more personal and introspective in nature. Though many of the works suffer from the aging straight male artist thing – quirky depictions of louche behavior by younger sexy types – the work manages to get thicker visually. He is a painter, and you can tell he enjoys painting. There were a couple of vitrines containing some smaller works and drawings that held some wonderful images. I would have stolen one little painting of a nude – about 9” x 6” – where the image and the paint handling just clicked in an offhand and masterly way. Too bad the guard was practically breathing down my neck at that moment…. Or maybe not – I have no desire to be cooling my heels in a Venetian jail, thank you very much….

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The show also presented a couple of Rayesse video presentations in half dark rooms – Surrealist inspired, psycho-sexual melodramas, that I spent no time with at all. My apologies if I’ve missed the artist’s intentions. In a particularly droll minute and a half that I spent in the first video room – a man in a wolf mask drags a desperate costumed woman up to a bedroom against her will. There was little doubt as to where this film was going. And there was absolutely no doubt that I would not be visiting the other video presentation. Ah, filmmaking…. Better to just stick with the goofy paintings for the rest of the exhibit.

Biennale – May 2015

This exhibit is difficult to describe in a short post.  The Giardini and the Arsenale contain Okwui Enwezor’s curated show “All the World’s Futures”. The exhibition is sprawling, packed and stacked, retro feeling, institutional, Postmodern and Mannered, but when it’s good, it can be highly enjoyable. Disclaimer straight off: I go to these things to see painting and sculpture. I really don’t give the installations, vitrines, dark rooms or shitty tv screens a fair shake. I’ve never had the patience to stand against a wall or sit on a bench to get through a movie – except in certain instances when I’ve been arrested by very strong imagery or by extremely lush photography. The problem for me is that art is made for these kinds of Costco exhibits these days, and product, preferably room-filling and cheaply insurable, is what curators want to show. And this show is no different. There’s not a lot of painting or sculpture to see, but there are a lot of “rooms” filled with stuff – piled up, hanging, scattered and/or artfully placed. When I did find a painting, a sculpture, an object or even a “room” that intrigued me it was a very welcome thing. Some of the images that I responded to and spent a bit of time with were by Kerry James Marshall, Chris Ofili, Melvin Edwards, Lorna Simpson, and Glenn Ligon. These were purely visual things – things to look at, images to see in a certain way, pictures that would unveil meaning by looking and engaging. And some of them were extremely beautiful – which was not the point of the exhibition – that I understand. But nevertheless, I enjoyed them!

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The state pavilions in the Giardini were basically a wash. And once again, the torrents of accumulated stuff in some of these lovely little buildings is amazing to behold. Look, I’ll say it again to those that care… I’ve never had the urge, the psychic distress, to pile stuff in a room much like those people on reality shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive. As art, as an aesthetic experience this kind of work’s meaning is totally lost on me. But there was one thing that did stay with me, and I thought it was a bit of an anomaly among these installations. I really enjoyed the Korea exhibition entitled “The Ways of Folding Space & Flying” by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho. The entire pavilion was turned into a video installation. The cinematography was stunning, and we were surrounded and encompassed by beautiful images on giant HighDef screens. The color and light were astonishing! It was one of those rare instances where I have been totally awed by a video image. All the tropes of popular cinema were on display, breaks in time, close ups, camera movement, slow motion, etc., in service of the story, but in the actual spaces of the building you had to keep readjusting your vision, moving along with the lens, unfolding the story through the syncopated images. The narrative was split into three distinct visions of the same incident. And it all comes together after watching through the windows out front along with the two rooms inside.  The clever part was that the video is set in the Giardini and the Biennale, past, present and future, and it was one of the few installations where the artists actually addressed the issues of time, place and this particular exhibition itself.

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The vaporetto ride back to Dorsoduro from the garden was a wonderful thing. It was raining, the boat was pitching, unsteady aesthetic tourists were grabbing whatever they could to right themselves. Most were wrapped up in inexpensive disposable  weather gear purchased for a few euros from the ever-present tchotchke kiosks – red, yellow, or  blue plastic ponchos and flimsy umbrellas – and complaining about how chilly and wet the weather was. The locals just kind of ignored us and purposely moved to the steady parts of the boat. Ahead, the Dogona was getting closer. Past, present and future came together. And I thought how lucky I am to be alive. To be here now. To see all that I have seen, all that I will see, for whatever time I have. These kinds of ephemeral moments happen in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times.

Giglio – May 2015

Rounded the corner and rising up before me is this outlandish looking cake decoration sitting in a very small square. The church, Chiesa di Santa Maria del Giglio AKA Santa Maria Zobenigo, is a very wealthy family’s legacy to their very special DNA. The whole facade looks like an eighties hair band’s fantasy album cover. This church, a totally out of control Baroque reboot of a crap Medieval chiesa, was designed by Giuseppe Sardi right at the very height of that hot and heavy era! I stood open mouthed and unbelieving for quite a bit of time before I even had the courage to have a look inside. I mean what could lie in wait – Ziggy Stardust’s Universal Unconsciousness Throne Room? Another amazing thing about the church is that even with all of this profusion of decoration the facade has no Christian iconography, none. That’s a bit ballsy in my book. I guess this “church” is to the 17th Century like a “luxury super yacht” is to our 21st Century – conspicuous consumption by the one percent.

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Inside the church is an entirely different experience – it is a tall box, restrained and elegant, with windows at the top that let in a great deal of light. In fact the natural light inside is surprising – it’s the first church I’ve been in where everything is visible without having to find a light box. There’s an intimacy to the ground space as well. This is not a huge building, it’s compact, and so your vision is always moving upward to the light. There’s an easy and unexpected intimacy in the space. It feels like a place where you’ll have a casual conversation with a good friend rather than a sermon from on high. There are a number of well done, not too exciting paintings by the Tintorettos, father and son, a few good examples by second stringers, but the real star is a Peter Paul Rubens painting of the virgin and child, and it’s a good one. (Photos do not do the painting justice.) I don’t know the story of how this painting got here, but it probably was commissioned or gifted during his travels through Italy in the early 1600s. He spent a bit of time in Venice getting the color, composition and form unique to this place. And speaking of – just like Tintoretto, Rubens was a master at finding the best of things in other artists’ work and then folding those influences into his own strong sensibility. Even with all the influences – Titian, Tintoretto, Caravaggio, etc., Rubens manages to create something unique, his own style of painting.

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In Dorsoduro there’s the wonderful Salute, another amazing Baroque cake decoration. It’s an extremely interesting building, filled with great painting by Titian and one of the best geometric tile floors I’ve ever seen. This beautiful floor is right below the cupola which has windows all around letting the light pour into the space. The floor changes as the light crosses over it throughout the day. If you spend a bit of time you can see different parts of the patterns light up making the optics come alive in ways that you wouldn’t expect. Its beauty is not just in the complicated geometry or the 3D effects, but also in the richness of its materials – the surfaces of the tiles, the colors of the stones, the craftsmanship in the layout. It all combines to create a thick visual experience, a tactile experience, and for me, these are some of the qualities that make the best kinds of Abstraction.

To Venezia – May 2015

Firenze is a crazy town. The aforementioned set up in Santa Croce turned out to be a sponsored 10k – 5K run entitled “Run Like a DeeJay Ten”. There were sponsor tents set up and a bunch of amplified DJs talking incessantly about absolutely nothing all through the day and into the night. If I heard the word “allora” one more time I’d have strangled the first person I saw. And in that moment I came to understand, just a tiny bit, the historic precedent of the Renaissance cultural temperament. What it amounts to is suffering non-stop haranguing until you just can’t take it anymore  – and then you fucking snap! Instant Drama! (Cellini was known for his bad temper, as were the two Micheles, as well as a number of lesser known Mannerists – lots of frayed nerves.)

I still don’t know what the Hell “Run Like a DeeJay” means or what the event was for – a charity event, an event promoting health, an athletic event – all of the above??? But seriously – DJs don’t run, they sit behind microphones and run their mouths. A couple of thousand people showed up for the gathering, all wearing their spiffy event t-shirts and running shorts. And to make a further douche-ie point – not one of the shirted and shorted participants looked like they could have walked 5 blocks, let alone run 5K. Obviously these folks were there for event – not the athletics. And that too is part of “Cultura Italia” – participating in the absolute spectacle of it all. If you’ve ever watched a talk show on Rai Uno then you know. What you’re watching is not so much an entertainment as it is just a really warped dinner party televised into your living room. I find it absolutely wonderful! But I’m done in Firenze – Allora! It’s time for me to leave.

I try to come to Venezia whenever I can. There’s something about this place that deeply resonates with me. A two hour or so train ride back from Firenze, a vaporetto, and I’m standing in a wonderful apartment in Dorsoduro where I will pretend to be a native for the next week or so. The light in Venezia is wonderful, strong, reflective. It’s a warm white light that rounds out the corners of things. It makes everything stand out in very flattering pieces. In Firenze the city is dark stone, nature is  pushed back and controlled. In Venezia the bricks and stucco are lighter and colorful, nature is a part of the cityscape and it’s everywhere. These visual differences get into a person’s life, affect one’s vision, create a different approach to color, to light, to space, to composition. Place is everything. Tintoretto, one of my favorites, understood the importance of these kinds of differences, and used them in his painting. He was determined to bring to a new perspective to Venetian painting and looked to Firenze for inspiration. His art would have the drawing of Michelangelo and the color of Venezia, creating a painting hybrid, an aesthetic anomaly to challenge colleagues. That is the beginning of change, of difference.

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I’m sure that I’ll make my way to the Biennale at some point in order to see what’s changed – the party’s everywhere in this city – an example of yet another Italian spectacle. Maybe I’ll “Run Like a DeeJay” through the thing while trying to keep an open eye and an open mind. But for now I’m going to take a walk along the Zattere and pretend I’m a local.

No Pitti – May 2015

There’s a chapel in the Palazzo Vecchio, Vasari’s OTT Kunsthalle, that houses a fresco by Bronzino, and it’s an absolute stunner. Photographs do not do the thing justice. The room was too dark to photograph, and the stuff online looks blank and dull in comparison to the real thing. The colors are sharp, crystalline. They jump off the wall like neon. Bronzino mastered Michele’s drawing style, and he’s packed the image with well-known precedents. The composition “feels” Postmodern, one thing over another, one quote after another, a billboard collaged on a loose theme. The truth is Mannerism and Postmodernism have a lot in common – too much strong culture to overcome, too many indelible images, too much undigested innovation and nothing new to express – latecomers to the game, so to speak. Basically, what artists do in these times is make embellishments, though sometimes they can be grand ones. Clem called this Alexandrian culture. But that Bronzino fresco and his particular embellishment of a lot of known precedent, is an absolute knockout.

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Over the river is the Palazzo Pitti, and it is filled with STUFF! It’s like a Renaissance Costco that we are not members of, filled with merchandise that none of us could afford. The ugly lump of bricks has all the charm and humility of a ‘roided out WWE wrestler. Inside, though, are a number of well regarded old masterworks – a very charming portrait by Raphael of a lovely young woman, a couple of grand Titians, a great small copy of a Carracci that I would have stolen in a heartbeat if that guard hadn’t woken at the wrong time, and a lot of well done works by a lot of well known names. But for me all the endless imagery of violence, death and suffering is totally depressing. Maybe because I’m older and over it, I’m finding it hard to be around these kinds of images for any length of time. I’m looking for something life affirming, and I could care less about the “triumph in sacrifice”. That and the fact that so many of these paintings are just drowning in darkness – for absolutely no good reason, whatsoever. I do like and understand the need for dark theatricality, but many things in life, both good and bad, did and do happen in the pure light of day.

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OK. I was determined not to look again. I knew it was coming. I’d seen it many years before, and it bothered me then. But it’s like a car wreck. You just can’t NOT look. I did. And I’m still cringing at that horrid image of the poor, half naked woman stripped and restrained by two ugly thugs who are about to tear her breasts off. I know she’s a saint, and she’s somehow supposed to be “triumphant”, but COME ON already, you sick bastards! Are you kidding me? How anyone could be accepting and serene at a time like that is beyond me. The absolute kicker, the insult to the injury, is the lovingly detailed, realistically painted, long sharp blade, stage front, ready for use after the vicious iron pinchers have done their job. I think Louis CK was right. The number one killer of men is heart disease. The number one killer of women is men.

Time for a strong drink….

The Office(s) – May 2015

I’m standing in the middle of the collected Mannerist statutes on the portico of the Signoria. Across the way is Ammannati’s ill-formed giant and the ridiculous fountain that he presides over. What I’m wondering is why if it’s a fountain has it been placed there of all places – against the side corner of the Palazzo Vecchio? It’s a round fountain, meant for the middle of the square. I’m sure there’s something written about this subject, but for the moment I’ve turned off data roaming. I find out later that the fountain was an added feature. It seems that the original statute, “il Biancone”, didn’t go over so well with the public. So, it was decided to diminish the eyesore by building a waterpark. A decade later and there are lumpy bronze bodies and seahorses vying for our attention. Most times you just can’t save a bad beginning….

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There are a lot of OTT dramatics going on in the portico – gnashing teeth, flying hair, slashing swords, 7 percent body fat. I like that the Mannerist sculptors were really trying to render flesh, create a heighten reality of existence. Grasping fingers digging into a thick thigh, crows feet around a squinty eye, a rib cage pushing against skin. I know these are bravura details, but I’m a sucker for an artist with chops showing off. And to hone that point there’s the show-offs’ showoff, Cellini. We all know the story about the “single pour Perseus”, mainly because it’s the centerpiece of his autobiography. But somehow he also found the time in his Bio to brag that he chased skirts, brandished swords and escaped prisons. This made Cellini a reality star long before cable came along. His sculptures may or may not have been influential, but his bio actually did light up the imaginations of the artists that came after him. Swords were slung low on the waist, challenges were issued and taken, and a lot of OTT art was manufactured. A whole cottage industry of rude boy Mannerists found themselves getting into trouble, and not just in the studio. Later, a more infamous and better artist took Cellini’s career path a few steps further. Too bad for us Caravaggio’s swagger caught up with him in Porto Ercole. It seems there is a price for one’s hubris….

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Inside The Offices I can hardly breath. There are just too many people, and the paintings, all very dark and extremely unhappy, have begun to feel like bad news. I spend most of my time in the halls, standing next to breezy open windows and looking up at the decorative ceilings. I’m surprised that I’m enjoying the Grotesques so much. They are light and bawdy, quickly and expertly painted, filled with one-off vanity tales and self-conscious cartoon jokes. Many of them are paintings about painting with absolutely nothing taken too seriously. It’s a lesson that many of us never learn. For now it’s better to stay in the cool empty halls with my sardonic gargoyle relatives and leave the rest for the tourist aesthetes.

Santa Croce – May 2015

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I’m sitting in a grand apartment overlooking the square of Santa Croce. There are frescoes all around this room, floor to ceiling, of a pagan arcadia. The ruined classical architecture comes complete with statutes of naked strong men wearing modesty-saving robes both revealing and concealing their Equinox honed gym bodies. The artist has also given these windswept Schwarzeneggers impossibly huge haunches and very silly looking tiny heads. I’m sure this has something to do with the preoccupations of the age in which they were painted, but somehow this small-head-large-haunch aesthetic feels cable-ready “contemporary”.

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I have been wired and sleepless for about 36 hours rushing from taxi to airport to train and back again to get here. Finally passed out after a bottle of Cavalierino Vino Nobile di Montepulciano and Spaghetti Carbonara. Both were delicious by the way. This morning I’m hung over and wondering how, exactly, I got here. But why does that matter? Sometimes one has to get out of one’s everyday life if only for a short time. It’s 6:32 am and this should be a quiet moment of intercontinental reorientation and a bit of soul searching, but alas, the painted arcadian moment has been invaded by a belching semi and a few smaller trucks rumbling into the square outside. Gangs of shouting men are driving fork lifts like Carny bumper cars and unloading stacks of gear for some upcoming weekend event. Haven’t a clue what’s about to unfold, but whatever’s going to happen, I fear, will be happening right here in my living room! Ah, Italia….

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Later today, my first full day in Florence, I’ll be looking up at Michele’s most enduring tribute to his beloved hometown, an athlete’s backside. And in a supplicant’s nod to the Krensification of the art world I have made an online appointment to see those Musei Firenzi branded buttocks. One can not simply stroll into the Accademia and have a silent conversation with the master. One must make a reservation as if one were dining at Barbuto or attending a Britney Spears concert run in Las Vegas. And though this seems ludicrous to me, adjustments must be made in our new corporate world of pay-to-play Culture. My Willy Wonka Golden Ticket will allow me to stand among the heaving hoards of photo snappers aiming their digital lenses at the world’s most well-regarded backside. Yes, I too am not above the moment and will brandish my iPhone right along with everybody else. I must feel as if I “belong”. Then I will silently pay tribute to the mighty midget who sculpted that giant and disappear into the world of back packs, Rick Steves Guidebooks and comfortable Birkenstocks. Apologies Michele, but the douche factor has done me in. A question dogs me – who is the more perverse participant in this outlandish confluence of strange connections across time and space – Michele and his louche reverence for a bit of rough, Krens and his Corporate commodification of high culture, or me for playing and paying along in this Postmodern burlesque?