Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Punta della Dogana ROCKS


I just got back from my first visit to the Pinhault collection at the Punta della Dogana. It is the best Biennale-related art I have seen to date.

Francois Pinhault's eye, whoever that may be, is brilliant. Here, on a triangular point of land between the Giudecca and Grand Canals, in the shadow of Santa Maria della Salute, Pinhault waved his magic wand -- i.e., a vast fortune and the vision of his architect -- and conjured a masterpiece from the derelict Customs House.

This applies not only to the art collection but to the choice of building, its location, and its restoration by Tadeo Andao. Seeing certain pieces framed by the structure in brick arches, perforated concrete and plate glass enhances them; the building provides endless points-of-view for looking.

The exterior has been rubbed and scrubbed and is a delight to see in full once again; the interior probably could not have been done better. The appearance of the old brick walls and carved structural timbers is pristine. The elegant grey concrete is a soothing complement. The lighting is spot on, from the natural light through ample windows and skylights to the artificial light which is only in a few instances obtrusive. The exterior views, some of the most gorgeous in Venice, surround: Zitelle and San Giorgio, the Grand Canal, the Piazzetta and the Basin of San Marco.

Secondo me, the best of modern art, like the best of old art, tells stories with equal parts artistry and vision. What makes Guernica so outstanding, the story it tells, its apocalyptic vision, is what makes Jake and Dinos Chapman's "Fucking Hell" such an astonishing vision. Intricate yet epic, it has all the power of the bottom portion of a Last Judgment. Thousands of figures of wretched and demonic soldiers are engaged in apocalyptic battles in 9 glass cases, from a battle on the Acropolis to prison camps straight from Apocalypse Now via Hieronymous Bosch; from Auschwitz to Hiroshima, from Marathon to Armageddon, all raised to the Nth degree, a catalog of hell as complete as Dante's populous Inferno. In the central case the volcano upon which the battle rages erupts in a mushroom cloud that can be seen from every angle in the room.

At the other end of the visionary spectrum, Murakami's "Lonesome Cowboy" is an exuberant spin (literally) on Donatello's insouciant bronze David at the Bargello, with the addition of a raging hard-on and a stellar ejaculation that swirls around his head like a cloud. His eyes literally twinkle.

Between and among these works, there is craftsmanship and vision; along with the anguish there is giddy exaltation, and flights of pure fantasy. In a darkened room imaginary cities are sculpted from orange and lime and grape jello lit from within (Mike Kelley, Kandors Full Set, 2005-2009, mixed media). Between the miniature cities enormous glass jars reflect orbits of light.

It was rather startling to realize that the shrouded bodies on the floor of one of the galleries, which could have been plastic or plaster, were carved from Carrara marble and glisten with a satin sheen (Maurizio Cattelan, All, 2008). Nine pieces, each different, the end of a unique human life.

If contemporary art speaks to you at all, the Punta della Dogana is certain to blow your mind. Having very recently spent innumerable hours looking at medieval and renaissance art in Venice and Padova and Florence and Assisi and San GImignano, I can say that Murakami's Lonesome Cowboy is very much in the spirit of the renaissance, only here the homoeroticism is explicit. The piece, and its companion, a vixenish sex kitten squeezing whipped cream from her enormous breasts, are very much in the tradition of the equally lifelike painted wooden figures of saints and martyrs. But Murakami's spirits have been set free from the constraints of religious and artistic convention; they are paradigms of pure sexual delight. The Lonesome Cowboy's affect is simply joyous, from he delirious smile to his spiky yellow hair crowning his head like a feathery halo.

Matthew Day Jackson's Dynamaxion Kinfolk (2009) is a construction, in a mirrored glass case, of a double file of marching skeletons reflected to infinity and composed of tree branches, bones, metal, shoes (officially "aluminum, lead, iron, mirror, wood, mechanical replacement joints, plastic, lights, formica"). In a case on the opposite wall a simple black pyramid ("painted wood, burnt wood, glue) is morphed in 21 brilliantly colored stages into a human skull.

I made two tours through the galleries before leaving, but first I had a coffee in the cafe and climbed up into the Belvedere for the 360-degree panorama glimpsed through the metal latticework that covers the windows.

As in all shows, everything is not equally good, and what thrills me may not thrill you; however, something will. It's that kind of collection. It is far ranging, incorporates a broad gamut of styles, and each is eloquent. It was an exhibition that was hard to leave, and one I will be returning to.

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