Whitehot Magazine

Two Contemporary Artists in Two Venetian Palaces

Photo by the author.

By LUISA CALDWELL, December 2022

The price of a ticket for Venice’s Ducal Palace also gets you into the Correr Museum. Both historic palaces with lavish interiors, and both mount exhibitions of contemporary artists within these interiors. The two exhibitions running concurrently are Anselm Kiefer: Questi scritti, quando verranno bruciati, daranno finalmente un po’ di luce (these writings, when burned, will finally give some light) in the Ducal Palace and CANOVA E VENEZIA 1822-2022 Fotografie di Fabio Zonta at the Correr Museum. Both artists respond to location, conceptually and literally. 

Kiefer, at the Ducal Palace, is in the Sala dello Scrutinio and antechamber. The style is the height of Venetian Gothic, with interiors of heavy gilt ornamentation framing paintings and frescos by Venetian masters. Kiefer’s fourteen paintings rise from floor to almost ceiling height of approximately 30 feet, completely covering the old masters. Only the ceiling’s massive gilded moldings that frame the Defeat of the Genoese Fleet Off Trapani, 1265, a historic naval battle, is visible. Like the master paintings underneath, they are meant to awe. Does Kiefer fancy himself, with his exaggerated ambition, in this canon of masters? Some sepulchered in monumental tombs (Titian and Canova) in the Chiesa dei Frari. Questi scritti, quando verranno bruciati, daranno finalmente un po’ di luce (these writings, when burned, will finally give some light) comes from 20th-century Venetian philosopher, Andrea Emo, and is most commonly interpreted as referencing the creative/destructive cycle. The installation is powerful, but also awkward, using smaller paintings to cover spaces such as above doors and windows. Many panels clearly pay homage to the history of Venice and the Palazzo itself. There is a depiction in gold of the grand staircase and a matching panel of bundles of spears nodding to a nearby armament gallery. An obscured image of the Ducal Palace exterior could speak of the 1577 fire that destroyed this very room and is placed above rows of actual uniforms with scythes that summon up forced labor camps. The other large paintings are all grounded by barren fields and watery marshes, and include objects like handmade models of submarines or gilded and blackened shopping carts full of straw and more clothes, bicycles, an open casket, tons and tons of oil paint, tree branches and grasses, plus splatters of what seems to be aluminum or lead. There is one particularly large and beautiful splatter that to me evokes the Spirito Santo, essentially rays of light found in religious imagery representing God, and colossal angels are loosely scratched into the paint surface to either side. Another painting, always above a landscape, is what seems to me a turbulent sea or writhing angels in a sky of clouds, much like Tintoretto’s Paradise, that is found a couple rooms away. It’s exciting to catch these associations. But there is no subtlety here, in Kiefer’s aim to tackle the heavy weight of history and all of humanities destruction. It’s an impressive feat, but still too fraught with heroic artist syndrome. We’ve seen it before. 

Photo by the author.

We’ve also seen 200 plus years of Antonio Canova plaster and marble sculptures. But for the two hundred anniversary of the Neoclassic sculptors death, the Correr Museum commissioned the Veneto based photographer Fabio Zonta to make corresponding photographs of Canova’s sculptures. Zonta is able to breath new life, like Pygmalion, into the mythological figures that dominate Canova’s oeuvre. Zonta’s highly crafted photographs are integrated throughout the Neoclassic interiors, as are the marble figures of Napoleons favored sculptor. In the case of the

mythological figure Paris, Zonta’s photographs are placed directly to either side of the marble sculpture. This becomes a meta exercise, in which the viewer looks back and forth between the object and photo of the object, and in the process seeing the sculpture anew. The idealized marble statue of Paris is classically gorgeous but flattened in the museum light. Zonta uses one light source for high contrast, completely darkens the back ground so we are given an exquisite aquiline profile, and details pop like the curly hair that springs from cap and drapery folds that dramatically deepen. Zonta’s self-expression comes in is with how he plays with back ground. All the sculptures are shot on location, in museums and even undisclosed private homes, but this limitation becomes a playing field for Zonta. As in the Paris photograph all but the sculpture is seen, but other examples provide glimpses of context, visually sensuous, but left mysterious. There are two small marble fruit baskets that are photographed in high contrast in a blacked out space with the exception of a streak of green seen through a window beyond. What we see in these sculptures and photographs is the representation of nature, the first mimicking, the second evoking. This happens again in the photograph of Orpheus. At the moment of his great agony, we see beyond the sculpture to a funerary procession frieze. Only the back of Canova’s divine Hebe is captured, with her rich locks and flowing robes, but in the recessed plane is an ornate window to her right and Apollo to her left. These elements are subtle, and even easy to overlook, but it is in quietness where beauty and humanity is found. Looking around the main ballroom, around this elegant space, the figures in the photographs lined up along the walls, there are also figures in an ornamental bas-relief above, it’s as if this cast of characters are gathered here for either a moment or for an eternity, but most likely ready to dance.

Photo by the author.

Seeing these two very different, yet similar, exhibitions back to back made a lot of sense, each reflecting on very different epochs in art and life through out Venetian and European history. 

Anselm Kiefer: Questi scritti, quando verranno bruciati, daranno finalmente un po’ di luce (these writings, when burned, will finally give some light), Palazzo Ducale, Venice from March 26, 2022 to January 6, 2023 

CANOVA E VENEZIA, 1822-2022 Fotografie di Fabio Zonta Venezia, Museo CorrerOctober 29, 2022 – February 5, 2023. WM

Luisa Caldwell

Luisa Caldwell is an artist working and living between NYC and Italy. Known for large scale public art works, with recent installations at Hancher Auditorium at University of Iowa using 17,000 found and collected candy wrappers. Permanent projects include commissions from NYC Percent for Art and NYC MTA Art& Design. Autumn of 2019 Caldwell has residencies through CEC Back Apartment Residency in St. Petersburg, Russia and Guild House at Guild Hall, East Hampton, NY.

view all articles from this author