Saturday, January 14, 2017

The Arctic - The Final Frontier - Dramatic Photos of a Vanishing World at Tre Oci in Venice

Iceland © Ragnar Axelsson (1995)
(Venice, Italy) The climate on Earth is changing. It is an awesome thought, one that most human beings have difficulty processing, so we choose to ignore it. Three master photographers, however, have gone to the Arctic and stared the phenomenon straight in the face, recording the images to share with the rest of civilization.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier (Artico. Ultima frontiera), curated by Denis Curti, the artistic director of the Tre Oci, presents 120 powerful black and white images captured by Paolo Solari Bozzi (Rome, 1957), Ragnar Axelsson (Kopavogur, Iceland, 1958) and Carsten Egevang (Taastrup, Denmark, 1969). Three documentaries are also on show, Sila and the Gatekeepers of the Arctic by Corina Gamma from Switzerland, Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski from the U.S., and the Last Ice Hunters by Jure Breceljnik & Rozie Bregar from the Czech Republic.


What is the Arctic? It consists of the Arctic Ocean, and parts of Alaska, Canada, Finland, Greenland, Iceland, Norway, Russia and Sweden. Greenland, the world's largest island, is part of the Kingdom of Denmark, with a small population of about 56,000 (the same as tiny Venice); 88% of Greenland's inhabitants are Inuit. The United States offered Denmark $100 million for Greenland after war, but Denmark refused to sell.

81% of Greenland is covered by an enormous ice sheet, which is rapidly melting. Greenland is rich with mineral and natural resources, including diamond, gold, precious gemstones, hydrocarbon, rare earth metals, lead and zinc. There could be oil and gas fields up there, too. To put things in terms Americans can relate to, it would be as if a handful of Native Americans were sitting on a bunch of precious treasures the world lusts after, armed with sled dogs and harpoons.

East Greenland, Scoresbysund © Carsten Egevang (2012)
Carsten Egevang is here from Denmark with his two very blond, blue-eyed sons, one of whom was born in Greenland. Trained as a biologist, Egevang was awarded a PhD in Arctic Biology at the University of Copenhagen -- one of those climate-change scientists we hear so much about. He lived in Nuuk, Greenland's capital, from 2002 to 2008, and returns at least three times a year. I was thrilled to have the opportunity to speak to credentialed individual who is actually there on the climate-changing scene.

Egevang said that when he first started taking photos of Greenland, he was drawn to the beauty of its landscapes, the icebergs, the Northern Lights and the arctic fauna. If he captured a human being or a man-made object, he tossed it out. Now his mission is to document how the natives of Greenland still rely on the nature that surrounds them. He captures the interactions between the people and the animals there, depicting them as elements of the breathtaking landscapes.

Egevang said, "When we hear about climate change, we think it is something that will happen in the future. It is happening now. The sea ice is melting and the temperature is 20 degrees higher than normal."

I asked him how to present climate change as something people could relate to, something in which they had the power to intervene. He said that we could compare it to smoking. Within a relatively short period of time, human beings have completely changed their behavior toward smoking, which, at one time, seemed nearly impossible to accomplish. We must change our behavior toward fossil fuels, or risk being overwhelmed by nature.

Peter Egevant with his father's photos - Photo: Cat Bauer
I spoke to Egevang's 14-year-old son, Peter, who was born in Greenland, and lived there until he was four. He had recently returned there with his father after an absence of about 10 years. I asked him how it had changed. Peter said that it was difficult to recall because he was so young when he left, but he remembered that "everything was white when I was little. Now it's green. ...and the snow bears -- I don't remember this word in English -- the snow bears are dying." He pointed to a bear in one of his father's photos. "Polar bear?" I offered. "Yes," he agreed. "The polar bears are dying."

Paolo Solari Bozzi, Kap Hope, Scoresbysund, East Greenland, 2016 © Paolo Solari
Carsten Egevang said he was in a remote village with about 400 inhabitants when, astonishingly, he bumped into the photographer Paolo Solari Bozzi and his wife, Marina, "two Italians with shiny clothes." Paolo Solari Bozzi was on the eastern coast of Greenland between February and April 2016, recording the everyday life of a populace "that has chosen to live in a difficult environment."

I left for Greenland thinking that I was going to meet the Inuit with their bear and sea furs. But I soon realized that it was not going to be like that because today the Inuit wear Western clothing and their kids all own a cell phone. The Inuit are going through a delicate transition phase that is causing them to abandon centuries-old traditions, replacing them with those of today's world. Their grandparents still lived underground. Some say they were better off then than they are now because at least they were sheltered from the harsh weather that their small wooden houses imported from Denmark can't keep out when the wind blows over 200 km an hour.
Nenets, Siberia © Ragnar Axelsson (2016)
The third photographer, Ragnar Axelsson, or RAX, was born in Iceland in 1958 and has been a professional since he was 16-years-old. He has dedicated his career to documenting the fate and people of the North, "hunters, fishermen and farmers of the circumpolar area who live on the fringes of the habitable world." He believes that the traditional culture of the Arctic people is disappearing, and will not be able to resist the disruptive effects of the larger forces of economy and climate change.

It happened in Thule some twenty-five years ago. As I was walking by a small house, I noticed the old man who lived there standing at the front door, looking at the sky and sniffing the air. Every morning for five days, I saw him standing there in the same spot, always sniffing the air and staring at the ice of the fjord that was melting. I couldn't understand what the old man was saying, he just kept muttering the same words over and over, so one morning I asked a friend to come with me and translate his thoughts.
What the old man was saying was: "It shouldn't be like this, something's wrong. The big ice is sick." What he wanted to tell me was that the ice had never been like this before, that it shouldn't be like this. Those potent words spoken by a wise old man moved me. That man had always been a part of nature, and he was worried now because he sensed a change in the air.
Thule, Qaanaq, Greenland © Ragnar Axelsson (1987)
I also watched Chasing Ice by Jeff Orlowski, the powerful documentary which tracks James Balog, the Fine Art and Nature photographer, and his dramatic use of time-lapse photography to capture immense chunks of ice sheets cracking and crumbling into icy lakes.

When you watch a glacier disappear in front of your eyes, it makes a deep impression. Mankind has been successful at harnessing the power of nature over the centuries, but what is happening is so majestically horrifying, so immense, and so rapid, it is almost as if God is issuing a new, greater challenge: Clean up your act, or get wiped off the face of the earth. The flood is coming, we can be sure, but, hopefully, this time we have the wisdom to contain it.

The Arctic. The Final Frontier - Artico. Ultima Frontiera runs at Tre Oci from January 15 through April 2, 2017 and is a MUST SEE -- even if the building were empty, the 1913 neo-gothic beautifully restored structure is something to see, and they are always doing some cool photography thing. Go to Casa dei Tre Oci, for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Friday, January 6, 2017

Clock Tower in Venice - The Magi Appear! Epiphany 2017

Clock Tower in Piazza San Marco on Epiphany
(Venice, Italy) Today, the Angel Gabriel, blowing his horn, appeared out on the Clock Tower here in Venice, followed by the Three Magi, who bowed and saluted to the Madonna and Child, something they only do twice a year-- today, the Epiphany, and again on Ascension Day.

Clock Face - Photo: Musei Civici
The Clock Tower, or Torre dell'Orologio, was inaugurated on February 1, 1499, more than 500 years ago. Rich with symbolism, the Venetians designed an astronomical clock, which moves through the signs of the Zodiac, as well as keeping time.

Photo: ReidsItaly
On the top of the tower are two enormous bronze statues known as the Moors, more than eight and a half feet tall (2.6 meters) -- one old, one young -- two Wild Men who swing a hammer to clang out the passage of time. The Moors are nude under their sheaths of vines, and are well-endowed.

Beneath the Moors on the top of the Clock Tower is the winged Lion of San Marco, the symbol of Venice, holding an open book. Originally, there was a statue of Doge Agostino Barbarigo kneeling before the lion, but when Napoleon's soldiers invaded Venice in 1797, down it came.

Photo: Heather McDougal - Cabinet of Wonders Blog
Gabriel and the Wise Men used to come out every hour when the clock was first constructed, but they haven't done that for centuries. Now, they emerge just those two days a year, and if you are not there at the precise moment to witness it, it is over in a flash. Otherwise, the doors where they exit and enter show the hour in Roman numerals on the left, and every five minutes in Hindu-Arabic on the right.

Photo: Venezia Unica
Gabriel and the Three Magi came out today, bells clamoring throughout Piazza San Marco. For the rest of the year, they reside inside the clock; you can see them if you take the Clock Tower tour. I went on the tour many years ago when I wrote a piece about it back in 2008 as the Venice Insider for Ninemsn, and I thought it was fascinating. Back then, interesting, quirky people took the Clock Tower tour:

Cinderella Bells

Only a handful of people usually show up for the tour of the inner workings of the newly restored St Mark's Clock, which was first inaugurated on February 1, 1499 by Doge Agostino Barbarigo. Five hundred years ago, Venetians built an astronomical clock that had five planets which moved around the earth (only the sun and the moon remain), two Moors that struck the time two minutes before and after the hour, and three Magi that circled the Madonna. For half a millennium, a watchman actually lived with his family in the Clock Tower; the last one left in 1998. After almost a decade of arguing about restoration procedures, the clock was finally up and running again in 2006. Aga is the name of one vivacious and informative guide who does English tours. A visit to the clock tower also offers one of the most spectacular views of Venice.
Photo: Musei Civici

I have long become accustomed to telling time by the bells of Venice. I don't wear a watch; the bells tell me when to wake up, when to go to sleep, when I am running late, or ahead of schedule.

Giant Wild Men clanging an enormous bell... The Lion of San Marco.... The Madonna and Child... the Angel Gabriel and Three Magi circling... An astronomical clock that moves through the signs of the Zodiac.... constructed during the Renaissance in Venice... Things to ponder during the Epiphany.

From the Cambridge Dictionary:

epiphany

noun 

uk /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ us /ɪˈpɪf.ən.i/ literary

a moment when you suddenly feel that you understand, or suddenly become conscious of, something that is very important to you

a powerful religious experience


Of course, the Epiphany is also the day of the Befana, which I have written about many, many times before:

Befana 2014 - Epiphany! Venice has got the Relics of St. Nick!


Happy Epiphany,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, January 2, 2017

The Symphony of Venice - Happy New Year! 2017

Virgin with Child and Angels by Sansovino - Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) At its best, Venice is like a symphony, filled with playful violins and blaring trumpets, haughty flutes and noble French horns. Strings, brass, woodwinds and percussion blend together to create a colorful composition, with church bells chiming in the background, and an occasional piano or harp chortling through.

Many elements try to join the dynamic orchestra; some blend in beautifully, adding rich textures to the music. Others, however, play off-key, or are in the wrong tune, or do not realize that the tempo has changed. The orchestra is clever at handling these discordant elements, and keeps on playing on.

There are adagios and allegros, with thunderous crescendos, and whispers so soft that you can hear the sparrows sing. The water lapping in the lagoon underlies the entire composition, like a liquid Gregorian chant.

There is a conductor, but you can't see her -- she is somewhere on high, close to the sun.

The New Year Just After Midnight - Venice 2017

HARMONY IN 2017

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, December 29, 2016

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia - Part Two: The Balcony


Teatro Italia - Despar Supermarket - Venice
(Venice, Italy) Yesterday, I wrote a post about how the cinema, Teatro Italia, an architectural jewel inaugurated in 1916, had morphed into a Despar supermarket, which caused all sorts of commotion. All over the planet, people weighed in on what they thought about this. Many Venetians, who had grown up going to the movies at Teatro Italia, or, later, to the university, were understandably sad. I had also written that for people everywhere, the movie houses we grew up with hold special memories, and it is difficult to watch them change.

What never ceases to amaze me, however, is how people who do not live in Venice and have no emotional connection whatsoever to the theater -- it had been closed for ages -- always seem to voice strong critical opinions about what goes on around here. I understand that many people feel that "Venice belongs to the world," but some of these same people seem to have no qualms about making a buck or two off Venice themselves.

Stairway to balcony
In any event, I returned to Teatro Italia today, and spoke to one of the people who worked on the reconstruction, whom I will call GC. We went up to the balcony, which, in the future, will transform into a cultural center for the community, with art exhibits, concerts, book launches -- things like that. (Look in the top photo. Do you see the space above the words "Teatro Italia" with the neo-Gothic windows? That is the balcony.)

Balcony at Teatro Italia
GC told me that last night he gazed at the theater, and felt as if he had been transported back 70 years. It was a magical moment, as if time had stood still. It was obvious that he deeply loved the building, and was doing the work with the upmost care. He showed me one of the columns and explained that it was no ordinary column, but like a tree with roots that spread out under the pavement.

Windows  up in the balcony
The day before I had also met some executives from Despar (by sheer coincidence -- they were going out the same time I was), and they were lovely people.

Yes, we are sad that Teatro Italia is no longer a cinema, but when a company is a nice company, willing to work with the community, I think a spirit of cooperation is the best way to move forward. Hey, maybe one day in the future we can even watch a video up in the balcony -- who knows?

Teatro Italia is now a Despar supermarket, and there is nothing anyone can do to change that. New memories will be created for the next generation. Now, how can we all work together to make sure it truly is the Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World?

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

The Most Beautiful Supermarket in the World? Teatro Italia Morphs into Despar in Venice

Teatro Italia in Venice
(Venice, Italy) This morning I happened to be passing by the Teatro Italia on Strada Nuova, and I noticed that the beautiful little building, which has been closed for ages, was bustling. Curious, I went inside, and saw that it was now a Despar supermarket.

"How long how this been open?" I asked the fellow at the door.

"An hour and a half," he grinned. "Go on inside and have a look."

Teatro Italia interior - now Despars supermarket
The Teatro Italia is a singular architectural gem in a city full of magnificent structures. Inaugurated in 1916, the neo-Gothic and Art Nouveau styled building is one of the first examples that used iron and reinforced concrete. It is one of the rare cinemas in Italy that still retains the original structure and interior painted decorations -- The Allegory of the Glory of Italy is in the center of the ceiling.

Back then, motion pictures were toddling to their feet; both the Italian film industry and Hollywood were still in their infancy, and Europe was smack in the middle of its first World War. The films were silent; talkies would not arrive until the late 1920s. We can only imagine what excitement the opening of such a superb venue caused in the hearts of the Venetians in 1916.

Needless to say, turning such a structure into a supermarket did not go down without a fight.

The Bread Section at Teatro Italia
After much haggling and design changing, the Teatro Italia is now a Despar supermarket. I did a little shopping along with a group that was predominately Venetian. The Despar people were giving out some free samples of prosciutto and fried fish, and helping us select our bread. The prices were competitive; actually some a bit lower than other supermarkets in Venice. They instructed me on how to use the self check-out machine, and gave me a free Despar shopping bag.

Balcony at Teatro Italia
Would I prefer it to be a cinema? Of course. All over the planet, we have suffered as we've watched our grand childhood movie houses and their memories transformed into something other.

But if it has to be a supermarket, I think they should give the residents of Venice a discount. Since there are about 25 million tourists and about 53 thousand residents, I think the goodwill it would generate might help offset the shock of the transformation.

A spoonful of sugar would help the medicine go down.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 25, 2016

Merry Christmas and Buon Natale from Venice! 2016

Procuratie Vecchie in Piazza San Marco on Christmas Eve
(Venice, Italy) Christmas in Venice is a brief moment where those who live here have the city to themselves. It is a time spent with family and friends. All is calm. All is bright. The few tourists who do come to Venice to celebrate the holiday are a different breed; there is not much for them to do except attend Midnight Mass, which is always standing-room-only, with clouds of incense and a choir of angels.

Church of St. Nick - San Nicolò dei Mendicoli in Venice
Over in the far corner of Dorsoduro, the Church of San Nicolò dei Mendicoli is dedicated to Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus, who had a wonderful habit of giving gifts secretly. "Dei Mendicoli" means "of the beggars;" this zone was traditionally working-class, comprised of fishermen and their families. It is the church that Donald Sutherland's character was restoring in the Nicholas Roeg film Don't Look Now, and during Christmas, it is peaceful and filled with solitude.

Calle XXII Marzo at Christmas
Even the luxury shops on Calle XXII Marzo, Venice's Fifth Avenue, are closed; the only sound to be heard is the music of a single accordion playing Silent Night.

Il Presepe - lui.rossi@archiworld.it
Next to the squero, or boatyard, where gondolas are still constructed, there is an elaborate Nativity scene erected inside the Church of San Trovaso.

Adoration of the Magi by Giovanni Bonazza (c.1720)
Inside the Church of San Giorgio Maggiore, the exquisite model of The Adoration of the Magi by Giovanni Bonazza (c. 1720) was recently installed. The expressions on the faces of Joseph, Mary and Jesus, the Magi and all their entourage, are so lifelike and full of emotion, and the venue so powerful, it almost feels like walking right into Bethlehem.

Midnight Mass inside the Basilica of San Marco
Christmas is one of the rare times the precious Pala D'Oro, the golden altarpiece inside the Basilica of San Marco, is turned to face the congregation, emitting powerful energy that seems to radiate from Heaven itself.

There is a lot of White Magic going on in Venice at Christmas.


Merry Christmas from Venice!
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Thursday, December 15, 2016

Klimt's Judith II (Salomè) Stars at Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre (Venice)

Venice Mayor Luigi Brugnaro with
Gustav Klimt Giuditta II (Salomé), 1909
Photo: Cat Bauer
(Venice, Italy) Luigi Brugnaro, Venice's mayor, caused quite a stir last year when he threatened to sell the prized Gustav Klimt painting, Judith II (Salomè) conserved at Ca' Pesaro, Venice's International Gallery of Contemporary Art, because it had "no relation to the artists and cultural history of Venice."

Here we are a year later, and thanks to the clever genius of Gabriella Belli, the Director of the Musei Civici, together with President Mariacristina Gribaudi, and Pierluigi Pizzi, the renowned opera director and set designer, we now have Luigi Brugnaro appearing at the opening of an intriguing exhibition entitled, Attorno a Klimt - Giuditta, Eroismo e Seduzione or Around Klimt - Judith, Heroism and Seduction.

Even more interesting, the exhibition is showing at the Centro Culturale Candiani on the mainland in Mestre, and kicks off a program to turn the Candiani into an important cultural center for the whole city.

Gabriella Belli, Luigi Brugnaro, Mariacristina Gribaudi, Pierluigi Pizzi
I was not only impressed by the exhibition, but that Brugnaro strongly supported it, going so far as to pose next to the painting he had dismissed. That he had allowed himself to be persuaded to see Judith II from another point of view illustrated that at least one wealthy businessman-turned-politician on the planet had a sense of humor and an open mind.

And who knew how many Judith-related works Venice had packed away in its treasure chests! By linking the Klimt painting to the wealth of material produced over the centuries about the topic, and by expanding the theme to also include heroism and seduction -- Leda and the Swan is another highlight -- Gabriella Belli illustrated the strong relationship that the Klimt Judith does have to artists and the cultural history of Venice.

Pittore manierista toscano
Leda e il cigno (da Michelangelo), 1530-1540
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Museo Correr
The mayor expressed his thanks to the many people who organized "an exhibition of the highest level in which the center was the female heroine, Judith, who chooses to be free at the risk of her own security," a theme that is dear to the heart of his Administration. He said that the exhibition represents a positive and concrete response to those who speak of the decadence and decline of the city.

Jacopo Amigoni
Giuditta con la testa di Oloferne, 1739-1752
Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Ca' Rezzonico - Museo del Settecento
Veneziano
The story of Judith comes from the Old Testament. Holofernes, an Assyrian general, is about to destroy Judith's hometown of Bethulia. He allows Judith, a beautiful Hebrew widow, to enter his tent, hoping to seduce her. Holofernes gets drunk, passes out, and Judith cuts off his head, saving her city from destruction.

Over the centuries, this story has fascinated artists, musicians, writers and philosophers -- even Sigmund Freud. At the Candiani, more than 80 works illustrate how the figure of Judith has morphed from a courageous Biblical heroine to a femme fatale to a 20th century demon.

Gustav Klimt
Giuditta II (Salomé), 1909
Ca' Pesaro - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna
Back in 2012, Gabriella Belli burst on the Venice museum scene with the astonishing GUSTAV KLIMT in the Sign of Hoffmann and the Secession exhibition at Museo Correr that she put together with Agnes Husslein-Arco, the director of the Belvedere in Vienna, so Belli knows her Klimt. With Attorno a Klimt, Belli has united an army of simpatiche women to pull off another thought-provoking exhibition on a topic about which females and males hold distinct points of view.

Edvard Munch
La vanità, 1899
Ca' Pesaro - Galleria Internazionale d’Arte Moderna
I will confess that even though I have lived in Venice for 18 years, I have never been to the Centro Culturale Candiani in Mestre, which also contains movie theaters and eateries, in addition to the cultural center. By holding the exhibition on the mainland, where the majority of Venetians live (264,579 people reside in the Venice Comune, but only an ever-dwindling population of 55,000 of them live in the historic center), it is hoped to expose more Venetians to their heritage.

Salomè by Richard Strauss - Teatro La Fenice program, 1909
I thought the entire project was fantastic, and am happy that instead of selling Judith II, the painting is now the star of the show. Let's hope we can tackle the problem of mass tourism with the same spirit of positive cooperation. In addition to bringing historic art out to Venetians on the mainland, it would be so much better to create livable conditions in the lagoon so that contemporary Venetians can keep themselves, and the soul of Venice, alive.

Attorno a Klimt - Giuditta, Eroismo e Seduzione is at the Centro Culturale Candiani through March 5, 2017. Go to the Musei Civici for more information.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Sunday, December 11, 2016

"I Hate Hatred" - My Weapon Against the Atomic Bomb is a Blade of Grass - Tancredi at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice

Tancredi Parmeggiani in Venice, 1955-56.
Venezia, Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Istituto di Storia dell'Arte, Fondo Cardazzo
(Venice, Italy) Tancredi Parmeggiani was a beautiful, sensitive soul, both inside and out. I could tell by looking at the works of art he created, and by his striking physical appearance, captured in photos from the 1950s. But most of all, I could tell by speaking to his son, Alexander, who looks uncannily like his father.

Alexander Parmeggiani (center) 
with Curator Luca Massimo Barbero 
and Peggy Guggenheim Collection Director Philip Rylands
Photo: Cat Bauer
Any person whose weapon of choice against the atomic bomb is a blade of grass is in for a difficult time on planet Earth, and Tancredi was no exception. Tancredi was born in Feltre, a hillside town up in Northern Italy in the Veneto province of Belluno, the Dolomites towering in the background.

The family moved to Bologna shortly thereafter; Tancredi's father died when he was 8-years-old; his mother suffered from ill-health; he and his brothers were sent back to Feltre in 1940 under the care of their grandmother and maternal aunt. Tancredi left high school when he was 16-years-old and came to Venice to study art, exchanging the sturdy mountains for the watery lagoon.

Untitled by Tancredi (Self-portrait) 1948
In 1946, in the year of his nineteenth birthday, Tancredi left for Paris and hooked up with the avant-garde. He returned to Italy and lived in both Feltre and Venice, achieving his first solo exhibition at Gallery Sandri in Venice in 1949 at the age of twenty-two. He then moved to Rome, but by 1951, he was back again in Venice, where he met the formidable Peggy Guggenheim, who flipped his world upside down.

Edmondo Bacci, Tancredi Parmeggiani, and
Peggy Guggenheim in the garden of Palazzo
Venier dei Leoni, Venice, early 1950s
Photo courtesy Peggy Guggenheim Collection
Peggy only put two artists under contract in her lifetime. The first was the American Jackson Pollock, who, on August 18, 1949, had a four-page spread in Life magazine that demanded: "Is he the greatest living painter in the United States?" The second was the Italian, Tancredi Parmegianni, known simply as "Tancredi." Suddenly, Tancredi found himself playing with the major league in the world of art. He was not yet twenty-five.

Tancredi, the boy from Belluno, was given a contract and a small studio in Peggy Guggenheim's palace on the Grand Canal and taken under her wing. Peggy "made it her mission that he would achieve international acclaim." We can only imagine how dizzy the artist with a sensitive soul and a love of nature felt when he began his meteoric ascent to fame, sucked into Peggy's tumultuous world.

Primavera (Springtime) by Tancredi (1951/dated 1952)
From the exhibition:

"In 1951 I completed a painting called Springtime," wrote Tancredi in 1962, "which has been at the Museum of Modern Art in New York since 1952. It is an 'abstract universal landscape' painted with three small dots and dabs of the brush in a manner that makes one think of flowery fields, sky and earth."

Springtime (section) Photo: Cat Bauer
According to the Guggenheim website:

Tancredi had solo exhibitions at the Galleria del Cavallino, Venice (1952, 1953, 1956, 1959), and at the Galleria del Naviglio, Milan (1953). He participated in Tendances actuelles (Contemporary trends, 1954) with Georges Mathieu, Jackson Pollock, Wols (Alfred Otto Wolfgang Schulze), and others at the Kunsthalle Bern, Switzerland. His work was included in a 1955 group show at the Galerie Stadler, Paris, a city he visited that year. In 1958 further solo presentations of his work were exhibited at the Saidenberg Gallery, New York, and the Hanover Gallery, London, and he took part in the Pittsburgh International (now Carnegie International). In 1959 he settled in Milan, where he showed several times at the Galleria dell’Ariete. That same year Tancredi traveled again to Paris, and in 1960 he visited Norway. Also in 1960 the painter participated in Anti-Procès (Anti-process) at the Galleria del Canale, Venice; the gallery gave him solo shows that year and in 1962. He received the Marzotto Prize in Valdagno, Italy, in 1962 and exhibited at the Venice Biennale in 1964.
Alex in front of his father's A Propos of Venice (1958) Photo: Cat Bauer
As I wandered around the exhibition, I found myself in the same room as Tancredi's son, Alex. Even though Alex was born in Milan in 1963, he grew up in Norway; his mother was the Norwegian painter, Tove Dietrichson, whom Tancredi married in November 1958. I asked Alex how it felt to be surrounded by all his father's paintings. Alex said that he was only one-year-old when his father died, so he never really knew him. But growing up with his artwork and his writings made him feel his father's presence very strongly, and that he was, indeed, a beautiful, sensitive soul, with great intelligence, deeply affected by the condition of the world.

We spoke about how Jackson Pollock and Tancredi were the only two artists under contract to Peggy Guggenheim, and how intense it must have been. I asked Alex how his father had died. "Don't you know?" I shook my head. "He committed suicide." I paused. "I thought so... just by looking at his work..." Then I asked, "...How?" Alex became emotional. "I'm sorry. I can't talk about it. Please do that research on your own." Then I became emotional. "Please forgive me. That was incredibly insensitive of me."

Untitled from the series 'Country Diaries' (1961)
I imagined what life must have been for a young, sensitive artist growing up during World War II, especially when the battleground was your home turf. When Tancredi was born in 1927, Italy was a dictatorship under Mussolini. On June 10, 1940, when Italy entered World War II on the side of the Nazi Germany, he was 12-years-old. In 1943, when Tancredi left Feltre for Venice, the Allies invaded Italy in the South; Italy switched sides, and Germany invaded Italy in the North.

On March 21, 1945, the British bombed the Nazi ships in the Venice lagoon during "Operation Bowler." Some clever person named "Wimpy" has overlaid the bombing on a Google map:

Operation Bowler by Wimpy
On April 29, 1945, the Allies liberated Venice -- or so the story goes -- and soldiers flooded into the city, riding on gondolas and feeding pigeons in Piazza San Marco, celebrating up a storm. On May 8, 1945, V-Day, Germany surrendered to the Allies, something Japan refused to do.

On August 6, 1945, the US dropped the atomic bomb with the adorable name of "Little Boy" on Hiroshima, and then, to show they were not joking, they dropped "Fat Man" on Nagasaki on August 9th. On September 2, 1945, Japan signed the instrument of surrender, and World War II was over. More than 60 million people had died; the figure rises to more than 80 million if you include disease and famine caused by the war, 50-55 million of them civilians. That is a lot of death and destruction for any human being to assimilate, let alone a sensitive young artist.

Hiroshima Atom Bomb
Then, almost immediately, around 1947 the Cold War began. With Nazi Germany gone, the two super powers, the United States and the Soviet Union, allied during World War II but ideologically opposed, became bitter enemies. By the time the 1960s rolled around, bomb shelters in backyards became all the rage, and the planet nearly annihilated itself during the Cuban Missile Crisis.

Untitled by Tancredi (1950-51)
Tancredi's career began taking off at the start of the Cold War. Post-war Art World Headquarters had moved abruptly from Paris to New York City. At that time, Abstract Expressionism became the first specifically American art movement to achieve international acclaim, with Jackson Pollock the star of the show -- until August 11, 1956 when he spectacularly smashed his car into a tree and decapitated himself.

In 1947, Peggy Guggenheim closed her New York gallery, The Art of This Century, and moved to Venice, where Tancredi would meet her in 1951. Thanks to the influence of the American Peggy Guggenheim, the young Italian Tancredi Parmegianni got up-close and personal with Abstract Expressionism.

A Propos of the Lagoon by Tancredi (1958)
Tancredi left his collaboration with Peggy Guggenheim in 1955. Even though he left Venice, Venice remained in his thoughts, and in his work. As the Cold War continued to build, growing ever more perilous, Tancredi became more erratic, which was reflected in his writings and his work. In 1962, he was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia, an "illness" that seems to affect many sensitive souls sickened by the dance with annihilation being played out on the world stage. Tancredi fought back with images of nature and gardens, and bright, bold colors.

He also created three works dedicated to Hiroshima.

Hiroshima 1 by Tancredi (1962)

From the catalogue:

In the motifs of his last years, Tancredi anticipated the political protest movement: his participation in the militant exhibition Anti-Procès, organized by Jean-Jacques Lebel in 1959, for example, was a stand against hatred and violence. "I hate hatred," he wrote almost in desperation, incapable, with his sensitivity, his love of painting, of confronting a sterile, violent, corrupt, inhuman world.

Looking at his three works dedicated to Hiroshima in 1962, reflections in the early 1960s on violence and human race come to mind, reflections that took an increasingly lapidary form such as "I hate hatred." This is the context for his decision to paint a triptych dedicated to the atom bomb at a time when there was a genuine collective fear of nuclear holocaust.

One cannot fail to recall a short, devastating thought preserved in his notes: "My weapon against the atom bomb is a blade of grass."

On September 27, 1964, two days after his thirty-seventh birthday, Tancredi Parmeggiani threw himself into the Tiber River in Rome and drowned.

Hiroshima 2 by Tancredi
It has since become common knowledge that the CIA used Abstract Expressionism as a weapon during the Cold War without the knowledge of the artists. The reason? To promote the non-communist left in order to combat communism.

Here's a link to an article from The Independent way back in 1995: Modern Art was a CIA 'Weapon.'  "Its agents were placed in the film industry, in publishing houses, even as travel writers for the celebrated Fodor guides. And, we now know, it promoted America's anarchic avant-garde movement, Abstract Expressionism."

In fact, due to the current Abstract Expression exhibition at the Royal Academy of Arts in London, the issue has become a hot topic once again. Here's an October 4, 2016 piece from the BBC: "Was Modern Art a Weapon of the CIA?"


Hiroshima 3 by Tancredi

Even if the artists were not aware on a conscious level that they were being used, I wonder -- since they were artists, after all, and much more attuned to knowing better than most of humanity when things are askew -- I wonder if they were aware on a subconscious level of the CIA involvement in their work, and if it affected their art -- and even their very lives.

Tancredi got in the face of the bomb and yanked some atoms out from the clusters, capturing their beauty on paper for humanity to behold.

A blade of grass can be a very effective weapon against the atomic bomb, indeed.

My Weapon Against the Atomic Bomb is a Blade of Grass. Tancredi. A Retrospetive. at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, curated by Luca Massimo Barbero, runs through March 13, 2017.

All images courtesy of the Peggy Guggenheim Collection unless otherwise noted.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat Bauer
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog