In a little park on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, which is just a short boat ride from the main drag of Venice, Pae White has conjured a beguiling wall of glass, made with somewhere in the neighborhood of 3,000 bricks, that winds about, cresting and then collapsing. About half of its bricks are colored, streaks of pigment flying though the ether like the color in White’s tapestries. The wall is positioned on a floor of soft pebbles, and walking about the piece, which is titled Qwalala, feels like trudging through sand or water, like the kind that flooding Piazzo San Marco. It’s a subtly body-altering experience.
White’s work, commissioned by the Fondazione Cini, which is headquartered on the island, is just one of the treasures on offer here. Cini is also presenting “Ettore Sottsass: The Glass,” a look at that late master designer’s work in the medium, and it is an absolute tour de force, packed with about 200 brilliantly colored works that range from the uproariously funny to the absolutely charming.
While visiting yesterday afternoon, I came across a group of elementary school–aged children using colored construction paper, pipe cleaners, and the like to make their own miniature versions of Sottsass’s exuberant Memphis-era works. Only in Italy!
Those seeking a little break from glass can then head to the shows of the Faurschou Foundation, which has locations in Copenhagen and Beijing and has taken up residence on San Giorgio, presenting a compact show of Robert Rauschenberg’s late work. Not everything lands, but selections for his “Urban Bourbon” and “Night Shade” series still glow. For anyone trying to wait patiently for the Rauschenberg retrospective arriving at the Museum of Modern Art in New York next week, this is a very welcome aperitivo.
Upstairs at Faurschou, virtual-reality goggles await. Brace yourself. Christian Lemmerz and Paul McCarthy are each screening two versions of VR pieces they have been working on with Khora Contemporary. Lemmerz’s work features—I kid you not—a huge golden Jesus, floating and throbbing in space. His body is positioned as if he is being crucified, though there is no cross. Nevertheless, golden droplets of blood are falling from his body. Creepy stuff—not least because the VR allows one to get right up next to the Savior’s body to see the ripples of his muscle. It’s pretty erotic for a computer animation.
Also fairly erotic, unsurprisingly, is McCarthy’s contribution, which features a number of digital clones of two characters from the 1939 John Ford film Stagecoach (according to the wall text). They drift throughout the space, sometimes pretending to have sex (they seem to be clothed), sometimes flying straight at and through you, and quite often angrily saying things like, “She asked you a simple fucking question! Answer the fucking question!” In one version of the two versions of the video, the floor, which vaguely resembles lasagna Bolognese, is also sliding about, adding a claustrophobic feel.
Thankfully, air awaits at the Basilica di San Giorgio Maggiore, where the Associazione Arte Continua and Galleria Continua have installed “Michelangelo Pistoletto: One and One Makes Three,” which features a large selection of works by the Arte Povera pioneer who is 84 this year. The 16th-century building (which sports Tintorettos) crushes a big, corny installation of hanging mirrors at its center, but a white box space filled to the brim with early Pistolettos redeems the show, not least because some of his early (pre-mirror) self-portraits are here.
And one more Italian legend has work on view San Giorgio, Alighiero Boetti, in an exhibition called “Minimum/Maximum” that was put on by Cini and Tornabuoni Art. It’s conceit is not terribly sophisticated—it focuses on the smallest and largest works from various series by Boetti, who died in 1994, only 53, but there is some very impressive work, including the woven world maps he made with the help of women weavers in Pakistan and Afghanistan, which have each country filled in with its flag—perfect pieces to see during the Biennale. One, dated 1989–94, is more than 19 feet long and on loan from a private collection in Florence. There’s no telling when it will next be on view.