It has been suggested in one or two quarters that I tend to dwell on things of the past in my artistically inspired postings; that I am stuck in the Pre-modern world. In an effort to dispel that base calumny I thought I’d post an art review on one of the darlings of the post-modern conceptional artistic world: Ai WeiWei. Back in 2010 the Tate Gallery mounted (?) one of his works in the Turbine Hall – millions of tiny ceramic handcrafted sunflower seeds. The artist’s explanation of the work and a fascinating film on its creation can be found here – but in the mean time who better to talk about the work of this popular artist than my old friends at the Scottish Falsetto Sock Puppet Theatre.
And it has also been remarked upon – okay one snarky comment from a person, who like his offspring, shall remain nameless – that yesterday I missed an important birth/death day. According to tradition William Shakespeare was born on April 23, 1564 and died exactly 52 years later on April 23, 1616. And what better way to celebrate that with a (much shortened) performance of one of his greatest plays: King Lear. And once again the SFSPT (hmmm looks slightly suspect) to present it in their own “original practice” style.
Happy Birthday Bill – and my condolences to Anne, Sussana, Judith and the family.
On this day in 1184 BC: Traditional says Troy fell.
Our trip down to Montréal two weekends ago was not for the happiest of reasons – we were interring Laurent’s mother’s ashes in the family plot and hosting a farewell reception that his father had requested rather than a funeral – but none the less it was an occasion of some pleasure. Pleasure at seeing family and friends we had not seen since the last family funeral or wedding and spending time reminiscing, laughing and getting a little misty-eyed with the Beaulieu-Gougeon-Ostergren clan as we celebrated both Rollande and Denis’s lives.
Another pleasure of the weekend was visiting with our friend Michel. We were trying to work out how long we’ve known each other and figure that it’s been almost 40 years; Laurent knew him from University and I met him a bit later through our much loved and greatly missed friend Jim Asplin. Michel has always astounded me with his wit, his ability to make jokes in French and English, his breadth of knowledge and his incredible taste. I’m not sure where his sense of style comes from but it is there in spades and a visit to his apartment always reveals some new treasure.
I hadn’t seen his current apartment so there was much that was “new” to me but what caught my eye was a collage portrait of Queen Elizabeth by Montréal artist André Monet. Monet had been commissioned to commemorate the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee following his engagement portraits of Prince William and Kate Middleton in 2010. His technique is very unusual in that he uses photographs, text and images from magazines, newspapers and documents and acrylic paint to create portraits of both the celebrities and any person whose face catches his fancy.
I asked Michel to give me some information on the painting (for it is indeed a painting) and this is what he wrote:
Each piece is unique. He starts by doing a collage of old newspapers and books over which he paints the portrait based on famous photographs and then varnishing, the traits of his characters are recreated with such precision that one might see a realistic photography arising from a distance. But it is indeed painted (if you look a the original photograph, it is somewhat different) and not photocopied so to speak.
And because they are unique the portrait in Michel’s living room speaks directly to him in several ways.
The map that was used to create one of the collage areas shows the South Shore of the Fleuve Saint-Laurent close to where Michel has his family roots.
In 2012 Michel was awarded the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal for his work and Monet has included a portion of the official document confirming the honour as an element of the collage.
And as his inspiration Monet used the 1951 photograph of Princess Elizabeth taken by Yousuf Karsh during her first visit to Canada. It was one of the many photographs that he was to take of Princess and then Queen Elizabeth over the years – they have appeared on stamps, banknotes and been reproduced in countless books.
It wasn’t until Michel mentioned it that I realized that this is one of those portraits where the eyes follow you. I had hoped there would be a name for that particular phenomena but though there are several explanations about how it happens it appears there is no term in painting to cover it.
From the Queen Mom’s House
As a sidebar I noticed a rather attractive decanter in front of the portrait and on closer examination I saw that it bore the engraving: Glamis Castle.
Now as any one who has read Shakespeare can tell you that is where a good deal of the bloody action takes place in the Scottish Play. And as any royal watcher can also confirm it was the residence of the family of Elizabeth Bowles Lyon – better known as the Queen Mom. It was indeed a gift from the Queen Mother and I’m sure there is a story behind it but that will have to wait for another time.
When I checked my e-mails this morning I was surprised to open one that solved a mystery that I posted about back in October of 2011. We had been on a trip to Ravenna, that incredible city of great mosaic treasures, and I had noticed an unusual mosaic.
At the time I wrote:
As I strolled through the gate I noticed an intriguing tableau in the greenery surrounding one of the square towers that had been added in the 1700s. A park bench! Not unusual of itself but the fact that a coat and book had been left on it seemed a bit odd.
A closer look revealed – as it often did in Ravenna – the art and artifice behind the reality. A beautifully conceived and crafted modern mosaic calling to mind not legions of angels and saints nor any heavenly vision but a few commonplace items left out in the open.
The mosaics from the earlier periods are filled with symbols and signs meant to convey the messages of religion to the faithful. I’m wondering what message the artist was giving us with this piece. Secular or sacred? Had someone abandoned the book and coat in a moment of abstraction, had they been suddenly forced to flee the bench leaving possessions behind, had they been assumed into one of the heavenly clouds of an earlier mosaic or perhaps had the owner simply wandered over to look in one of the store windows or have a quick espresso knowing that in a small town things could be left unguarded? Unfortunately I was remiss in making note of the details of the work (title, the artist’s name etc) that perhaps would have signaled the intent of the work. For me, at least, mosaics seem to have an air of the mysterious about them so I guess this one is no different.
This morning in her e-mail Geraldine from Ireland revealed the mystery behind this strange but somehow touching monument:
Hi, just thought you would like to know that this piece of work was created by a wonderful mosaic artist and teacher called Luciana Notturni*. Along with some of her students she made this work as a monument to a man who was much admired in Ravenna.
People had been very unhappy with local politics in Ravenna and finally someone they felt really cared about them was voted in as mayor. He was popular, intelligent, and cared, according to Luciana. Unfortunately, a very short time after he was elected to the job, he passed away. It was a heart felt tragedy in Ravenna and Luciana made this mosaic, along with some of her students, in his honour. Inside the mosaic coat is his actual coat and the book is there to represent his love of reading and knowledge.
I hope this is as nice a story as you could have imagined. It’s true. All the best,
Geraldine, I think its a nicer story than I could have imagined: a heart-felt tribute to someone who matter to its creators and their community. I can’t thank you enough for sharing it with me.
*Lucianna Notturni is the director of Studio Arte del Mosaico in Ravenna; the school has been in operation since 1969 and offers courses in the techniques of mosaic making. She is also on staff at the Scuola Nazionale del Restauro di Ravenna, teaching restoration work and overseeing the laboratory projects at the school.
For a brief glorious time in its history Ravenna was successively the capital of the Western Roman Empire, the capital of the Kingdom of the Ostrogoths and the seat of government of Italian Byzantium. It was during the reign of Theodoric the Great (489-526 CE) that it gained many of its famous churches, palaces, mausoleums and art treasures. Pope Adrian I authorized three looting expeditions that allowed Charlemagne to enrich his own capital of Aachen while stripping Ravenna of many of its glories; however enough remains to make it one of the most fascinating cities on the Adriatic. Its glory days as a capital may be longed passed but its glorious past has left it with nine World Heritage Sites. And the most glorious of its treasures are the many mosaics that adorn the walls, ceilings and floors of the churches and mausoleums that dot the city.
It is almost too easy to post photographs of the wonderful images in the Basilicas of San Vitale and Sant’Apollinare in Classe but as so often happens, as overwhelmed as I was by these fabled works I was also struck by a rather unusual mosaic by the Porta Ardiana. One of the old city gates it was also known as Porta Giustiniana, after a Venetian mayor who ruled the city in the 500s when it was first built. In its initial incarnation it stood guard at the edge of the Padenna River, its drawbridge at the ready to thwart pesky Vandals or unwanted strangers but it was moved to its present position in 1585 by order of the Papal Legate Cardinal Ferrero. Though I was unable to get photos of it at night – the best time to see it – there is a wonderful interactive view of it here looking into Centro.
An early photograph of Porta Adriana in Ravenna- named not after an Emperor or Pope but for a well connected Patrician family – the Adriani – in the region. Much of the marble used on its reconstruction in 1585 had been stripped from the Porta Aurea which had been demolishedn 1582.
But, as I so often do, I digress. As I strolled through the gate I noticed an intriguing tableau in the greenery surrounding one of the square towers that had been added in the 1700s. A park bench! Not unusual of itself but the fact that a coat and book had been left on it seemed a bit odd.
A closer look revealed – as it often did in Ravenna – the art and arteface behind the reality. A beautifully conceived and crafted modern mosaic calling to mind not legions of angels and saints nor any heavenly vision but a few commonplace items left out in the open.
The mosaics from the earlier periods are filled with symbols and signs meant to convey the messages of religion to the faithful. I’m wondering what message the artist was giving us with this piece. Secular or sacred? Had someone abandoned the book and coat in a moment of abstraction, had they been suddenly forced to flee the bench leaving possessions behind, had they been assumed into one of the heavenly clouds of an earlier mosaic or perhaps had the owner simply wandered over to look in one of the store windows or have a quick espresso knowing that in a small town things could be left unguarded? Unfortunately I was remiss in making note of the details of the work (title, the artist’s name etc) that perhaps would have signalled the intent of the work. For me, at least, mosaics seem to have an air of the mysterious about them so I guess this one is no different.
After listening to the jazz band in the old Mercante building I popped into the tavola caldo at Al Mercante for a tuna salad, a glass of wine and a dolci. I must admit I was a little taken aback when a glass – and only a glass – of Pinot Grigio added €12.00 to the bill!!!!! €12.00 for a glass of white wine – either a touch of the old get-the-tourist or they were just preparing me for Ottawa prices. Then over to the Piazza Duomo, umbrella unfurled to take a second look at an installation that was being tended to the previous day when I passed by.
Even without the sun glistening off its white surface the Mountain of Salt couldn’t help but dominate the space between the Palazzo Reale and the Duomo.
The Museo at the Palazzo Reale is mounting a special series of exhibitions to celebrate thirty years in the creative life of artist Mimmo Paladino. One of his more fascinating and controversial pieces has been recreated in the space between the Palazzo Reale and the Duomo. Paladino first created Montagna di Sale (Salt Mountain) some twenty years ago in Gibellina, a small hill town in Sicily and then again in Piazza del Plebiscito in Napoli 15 years ago.
Some of the 150 quintals of salt used in Mimmo Paladino’s Montagna di Sale had been washed away in a weekend of rain and a few of the horses had toppled. Several bags of the extra 100 quintals of Sicilian salt were being used to make repairs to the installation on the Monday as I walked by.
Though it may not exactly be a “mountain” it is definitely salt – 150 quintals of the finest Sicilian salt. That’s 1500 kilos or 1 1/2 tons of salt transported from the mines in Agrigento and Petralia in the far South to Milan in the north – plus another 100 quintals held in reserve to keep the sculpture in good condition. The whole – the transporting from one end of the country to the other, that 150 figure – are all meant to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy that we are celebrating this year.
Many of the horses look to be struggling, plowing through the salt or emerging from it. Their appearance is strongly reminiscent of sculptures seen in many of the collections of artifacts of earlier Italian civilizations.
First unveiled in mid-April the installation stand 10 meters high (about 33 feet) with a 35 meter (115 feet) diameter. However those measurements are fluid as it is salt and subject to the whims of nature. After several days of rain there were repairs being made to it in the sunshine on Monday and Tuesday’s rain suggested more repairs would be needed in the weeks until its disappears for good in mid-July.
Thirty sculptured horses in black modelled, it would appear, on ancient and primitive equine sculptures stand out against the white salt. Some are balanced on the mound, others are emerging from or disappearing into its depths. In some cases – though the horses are almost uniform in their appearance and featureless – they appear to be struggling against their ascent or fighting to extricate themselves from some saline prison.
When seen against the Gothic spires and arches of the Duomo those horses take on an almost mythical appearance.
Having made its way from South to North over a period of twenty years Paladino’s has expressed the hope that it will travel the length of the country as a show of the cultural unity of Italy. I’m trying to think of some place in Roma where it would look as stunning as it does in its Milan setting.
I only wish I had the opportunity to see it in full sunshine – I’m sure the impact, both virtually and photographically, would be stunning.
Telling the stories of the history of the port of Charlottetown and the marine heritage of Northumberland Strait on Canada's East Coast. Winner of the Heritage Award from the PEI Museum and Heritage Foundation and a Heritage Preservation Award from the City of Charlottetown