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.

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