Monday, March 30, 2015

Venice International Literary Festival - Incroci di Civiltà 2015

James Ivory
(Venice, Italy) James Ivory was the inaugural guest at Crossroads of Civilization, Venice's International Literary Festival, which kicked off on March 25, 2015 at the Goldoni Theater. Ivory was a unique choice since he is, of course, a film director, responsible for such stellar films as A Room with a View, Howards End, and The Remains of the Day which he created with his long-time partner, the producer Ismail Merchant and the Booker Prize-winning author, Ruth Prawer Jhabvala. Just those three Merchant-Ivory films were nominated for 25 Academy Awards, and won six.

Watching a Merchant-Ivory film is like having a weighty work of literature transformed into something more digestible, and Ivory gave the credit for that to Ruth. According to Wikipedia, "Of this collaboration, Merchant once commented: 'It is a strange marriage we have at Merchant Ivory... I am an Indian Muslim, Ruth is a German Jew, and Jim is a Protestant American. Someone once described us as a three-headed god. Maybe they should have called us a three-headed monster!'"


James Ivory has such vibrant energy that I was stunned to discover he will be 87-years-old on June 7th. He is also a screenwriter -- first, he would first write the screenplay and then give it to Ruth, who was a novelist as well as a screenwriter. Ivory said he never read  the classics he should have read when he was a teenager, and that he had to read Howards End by E.M. Forster three times because he "didn't get it." Ruth pressured him to make the film, insisting, "Let's climb that mountain."

The Piazzetta, Venice, photographed by James Ivory in 1952
The evening opened with a half-hour documentary called Venice: Theme and Variations that Ivory wrote, photographed, produced and directed in the winter of 1952-53 for his masters thesis at USC film school with money his father gave him. He had no crew; he was just one person with a camera shooting wherever he could in Venice, and didn't include Titian or Veronese because the paintings were "too big." The film was shot with 16mm silent speed. His professor congratulated him on making "the first silent film since 1929."

Francesca Bortolotto Possati, Michele Bugliesi, James Ivory
Ca' Foscari, the University in Venice, is the organizer of Incroci di Civiltà, along with the Comune. James Ivory was the recipient of this year's Bauer-Ca' Foscari award, presented by Francesca Bortolotto Possati, President and CEO of the Bauers hotel group, and Michele Bugliesi, the Rector of Ca' Foscari.

Ivory said he always had wanted to make a feature in Venice. He had the idea to set the Aspern Papers by Henry James not in the 1880s but the 1950s, and to use the papers of Ezra Pound. He had already completed his first draft and sent it to Ruth when he fell down the stairs and broke both his legs. Then Ruth became ill. Unfortunately, the film never happened, but that is one movie I would have loved to see.


Someone from the audience asked the renowned director James Ivory how the renowned actor Anthony Hopkins was to work with -- Ivory had worked with him on Howards End, The Remains of the Day, Surviving Picasso and The City of Your Final Destination. Ivory said that Hopkins was very easy to work with, very pleasant and professional. Hopkins thought he had never gotten Picasso's accent right in Surviving Picasso (Picasso did not speak English), but Ivory had no problem with it. Then someone asked Ivory who was the most difficult actor he had ever worked with, and he said, "Raquel Welch. She fired me!"


Incroci di Civiltà 2015 presented 29 authors from 21 different countries, making Venice the literary Crossroads of Civilization from March 25 to 28. Inviting international writers to share their singular perspectives of the world adds more zesty ingredients to the rich stew that is Venice.

COUNTRIES

Armenia, Belgium, Brazil, China, Colombia, Korea, Cuba, Denmark, France, Germany, Jamaica, Great Britain, Iran, Italy, Kenya, Holland, Poland, Portugal, Russia, United States, and Taiwan.

WRITERS

Sergio Álvarez from Columbia
Mathieu Amalric from France
Ana Luísa Amaral from Portugal
Li Ang from Taiwan
Sascha Arango from Germany
Antonia Arslan from Italy/Armenia
Jerry Brotton from Great Britain
Roberto Costantini from Italy
Francesco Cataluccio from Italy
Patrick Deville from France
David Foenkinos from France
Stefan Hertmans from Belgium
James Ivory from the United States
Billy Kahora from Kenya
Hanif Kureishi from Great Britain
Lucio Mariani from Italy
Shara McCallum from Jamaica
Kim Min-jeong from Korea
Mahsa Mohebali from Iran
Mark Mustian from US/Armenia
Vladislav Otrošenko from Russia
Víctor Rodríguez Núñez from Cuba
Tatiana Salem Levy from Brazil
Morten Søndergaard from Denmark
Agata Tuszyńska from Poland
Ludmila Ulitskaya from Russia
Tommy Wieringa from Holland
Wu Ming 1 from Italy
Xu Zechen from China

Click to go to Incroci di Civiltà 2015

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 23, 2015

Indian Music in Venice - VISHWA MOHAN BHATT at the Giorgio Cini Foundation

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
(Venice, Italy) Vishwa Mohan Bhatt, the virtuouso Indian musician, plays the mohan veena, a modified slide guitar he invented himself that sings the music he hears from the heavens. Vishwa believes that "music is the language of God for the benefit of mankind." On Thursday evening at the Giorgio Cini Foundation, God sang to the enthusiatic audience through Vishwa's mohan veena, accompanied by Krishna Mohan Bhatt on the sitar and Nihar Metha on the tabla, the drums.

The Beatles in India
Classical Indian music first hit the Western world big time in 1965 when the Beatles recorded John Lennon's "Norwegian Wood" for Rubber Soul, and George Harrison played his newly-acquired sitar. In 1966 George Harrison studied sitar with the legendary Ravi Shankar, and then in 1968 all the Beatles and their women went off to India to study Transcendental Meditation with the Maharishi. During their stay, they wrote a bunch of songs which made it onto the White Album and Abbey Road. A spiritual craze for all things Indian set the planet on fire, affecting me deeply on a personal level -- I listened to Indian music to the point of obsession, had a copy of the Bhagavad Gita on my nightstand and wrote my high school term paper on reincarnation. So when I heard that the Intercultural Institute for Comparative Music Studies, the IICMS, which is one of the Giorgio Cini Foundation's institutes, was featuring the mohan veena and sitar, I had to go.

Vishwa Mohan Bhatt
Vishwa Mohan Bhatt is a pandit, which is a wise or learned man. He, too, is a disciple of Ravi Shankar, as is sitarist Krishna Mohan Bhatt (I have not confirmed how they are related; I think they are cousins). Vishwa explained that a raga -- the musical structure -- in classical Indian music is connected to nature and human emotions, and associated with different times of day. The musicians improvise the notes within the raga as they play. Since it was evening when the concert began, Vishwa, Krishna and Nihar Metha played an Evening Raga, which left the audience transfixed.

Someone said the mohan veena was "dobro meets sitar," and that is just what it sounds like. I thought it was amazing that Vishwa created an instrument to express the music he feels inside, a kind of blues guitar with Indian zest. (I just discovered we share the same birthday, July 27; it feels like music made by a Leo.) Here's a YouTube clip so you can hear the mohan veena yourself:



From the Giorgio Cini Foundation:

Founded in 1970 by Alain Daniélou, and subsequently directed by Ivan Vandor and Francesco Giannattasio, the Intercultural Institute of Comparative Music Studies (IISMC) promotes knowledge about some of the finest forms of expression in various musical cultures by organising courses, workshops, concerts, seminars, conferences and publications.

Fondazione Giorgio Cini
One of the magical things about living in Venice is that you can visit another world, another time and space, just by taking the boat across the canal. 

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 16, 2015

There's a New Book in Town - MY PRETTY VENICE

My Pretty Venice
(Venice, Italy) My Pretty Venice was created by three pretty smart ladies: Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer and Beatrice Campagnol. Classy and sassy, My Pretty Venice is published in three languages with three different subtitles --  La Venise exclusive des Vénitiennes, La venezia vera delle veneziane and A Girl's Guide to True Venice -- for out-of-towners of any gender who want to know where real Venetian women get their goodies. The book was launched in the top-floor bookstore/exhibition/cultural Espace at Louis Vuitton Maison, which, to me, is like a little oasis off Piazza San Marco. 

Beatrice Campagnol, Isabella Campagnol, Elisabeth Rainer, Luigi Casson, Nicoletta Mantoan at Louis Vuitton
Isabella Campagnol is part of a rare breed: a scholar who can communicate with earthlings. She's Venetian, a historian specializing in textiles and fashion, who lectures throughout the land. I first met Isabella at Palazzo Papadopoli aka Aman Canal Grande where she entertained us with the research she had compiled about the risque habits of Venetian nuns that resulted in a book called, Forbidden Fashions - Invisible Luxuries in Early Venetian Convents.

Forbidden Fashions
Now, together with her sister Beatrice, who did the very-cool illustrations, and communications whiz Elisabeth Rainer (who is actually from Merano, which rivals Venice for my heart's affections), Isabella has turned her talents to guiding travelers where to find the good stuff in Venice -- clothes, food, perfume, art, everything -- in My Pretty Venice. Sprinkled throughout the shops and restaurants are tasty bits of history and information that, amazingly, has not been gathered together before. 

My Pretty Venice
Just when you think it is not possible to write anything new about Venice, someone does. It's nice that this time they're actually Venetian.

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

Monday, March 9, 2015

Rousseau's Reality - An Angel in Venice

Merry Jesters by Henri Rousseau (1906) Philadelphia Museum of Art
(Venice, Italy) Henri Rousseau (1844-1910) never traveled to the lush jungles of Mexico except in his own mind, although he claimed he had fought during the French invasion of Mexico under Napoleon III in 1863. Rousseau was called Le Douanier, which means customs officer, although he was not a customs officer -- for nearly 22 years he was a lowly municipal toll collector on goods that came into Paris. Wilhelm Uhde, the art collector and critic who would become a significant figure in Rousseau's career said, “Rousseau had been next to worthless in the service. ...His job had been to hang around the quai like a watchman, keeping an eye on the barges.”

Girl with a Doll by Henri Rousseau (1904-05) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
Henri Rousseau was an ordinary man who had Walter Mitty dreams of becoming an famous artist. He had a wife, Clemence, whom he adored, and six children, only one of whom survived childhood. After nearly 20 years of marriage, Clemence, too, died of tuberculosis. During Rousseau's lifetime, he was mocked by the critics, and shunned by the establishment, but finally embraced by Picasso and the avant-garde the way young people adopt an eccentric old man, like a pet -- his naive ignorance made them laugh. Unlike most critics, real artists look at the world through the eyes of heaven, and the young avant-garde appreciated the primitive spirituality that radiated from Rousseau's work.

The Snake Charmer by Henri Rousseau (1907) Musée d'Orsay, Paris
What Henri Rousseau had was an obsessive belief in his own great talent. He once told the young Picasso: "You and I are the two most important artists of the age - you in the Egyptian style, and I in the modern one." He never achieved the success he craved during his lifetime, but after viewing Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety at the Palazzo Ducale in Venice, home to Titian, Tintoretto and Veronese, his astounding declaration of assurance rings true.

Black Spot by Wassily Kandinsky (1912) Hermitage, St. Petersburgh
It was only after he died that Rousseau became the leader of a school of art, his "Archaic Candor," paving the way for magic realism. The mostly self-taught artist became known for his naive, childlike depiction of reality. It was not possible to stick a label on him and file him into a category -- there was no one like him. Wassily Kandinsky, the influential Russian painter and art theorist, whose work is represented in the exhibition Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico thought that Rousseau's spiritual greatness and strength derived precisely from his formal limitations. Kandinsky bought Rousseau's The Poultry Yard and exhibited it in the first Blaue Reiter show in Munich in 1911, after Rousseau was dead.

The Poultry Yard (1896-98) Musée National d'Art Moderne, Paris
I have been pondering for days who Rousseau reminds me of, and it finally hit me: the angel, Clarence, in Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life. Clarence is an Angel, Second Class who has been passed over for his wings for more than 200 years. Clarence's boss, Joseph, says to the head angel, Franklin, that Clarence has "the I.Q. of a rabbit," and Franklin replies, "Yes, but he's got the faith of a child -- simple." To me, the enormous faith that Henri Rousseau had in his own artistic ability made him an Angel, Second Class; his paintbrush earned him wings. Even though he claimed to have fought in the Aztec jungles, in reality he found his inspiration at the botanical gardens in Paris, the stuffed wild animals at the natural museum, pictures in magazines and the zoo.

Myself, Portrait-Landscape (1889-90) Prague National Gallery
Although Rousseau excelled at art and music as a young boy, he started painting later in life, quitting his government job as a toll collector at the age of 49 to devote his life to art. He was born in Laval on May 21, 1844, a medieval town with a castle, lush woods and rivers, the first boy in a middle-class family of two girls and two boys. Rousseau's father ran a hardware store, as did his grandfather; his mother's grandfather was a major in the Marching Regiment with Napoleon in Spain, and was later knighted; his mother's father was a captain in the Third Battalion. His father had lifelong financial problems, and lost their home when Rousseau was eight-years-old.

The Carriage of Father Junier (1908) Musée de l'Orangerie, Paris
At age 18, Rousseau worked for a lawyer in Angers, where he had moved with his parents, a town about 45 miles away from Laval. Together with two younger friends, he was caught stealing 15 or 20 francs and some stamps from his employer. He joined the army, hoping to avoid a jail sentence, but still ended up behind bars for a month. (We can imagine that even back then young men who got into trouble were urged to join the army, especially if their grandparents had been in the military.) Two battalions of his regiment did go to Mexico under Napoleon III to set up Maximilian as the Emperor, but Rousseau never left France. The stories of the returning soldiers set his imagination on fire, but he led an ordinary life, playing the saxophone in an infantry band. When he was 23-years-old, his father died. Rousseau left the army and moved to Paris; his widowed mother was still in Angers. He found a job as a bailiff's assistant.

In 1869, Rousseau married his landlady's 19-year-old daughter, Clemence, whose father, too, had recently died after gambling all his money away; her mother was a seamstress. When Prussia invaded France in 1870, he signed up to be a simple soldier, but was soon exempted. His first child died in infancy during the Siege of Paris in 1871 when people were starving; as life went on, he would lose all his six children but one.

The War - The Ride of Discord  (1894) Musée d'Orsy, Paris
“The War, terrifying, she passes, leaving despair, crying and ruin everywhere.”
The devastation of Paris and the effects of war left a deep impression on Rousseau which would later be expressed in his paintings. In February 1872, at age 27, Rousseau began working for the customs office, collecting tolls on goods that came into Paris, a government job he would keep for almost 22 years. About that time he started painting in his spare time, certain he had the talent to become an academic painter without studying at an academy. He tried to enter a painting in the official Salon in the Palace of the Louvre, but was rejected. In 1884, his friend and neighbor, Auguste Clement, got him a permit to study and copy in museums like the Louvre, and Rousseau taught himself to become an artist.

Carnival Evening by Rousseau (1886) Philadelphia Museum of Art
In July 1884, in response to the rigid control and requirements the government exercised over the official Salon, a group of artists, including Georges Seurt and Paul Signac, whose work is represented in Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico, created the Salon des Indépendants -- the motto was: "No juries, No prizes." Any artist could enter their paintings -- it cost 10 francs to show four works. After trying in vain to be accepted by the official Salon, in 1886, Rousseau exhibited four paintings at the Salon des Indépendants, including Carnival Evening.

Rousseau then became an annual fixture at the Salon des Indépendants despite receiving cruel reviews from the critics who called it the work of a "10-year-old child" and "the scribblings of a 6-year-old whose mother left him with colors." For the 4th Salon des Indépendants in 1888, he entered five paintings and five drawings. That same year, Vincent van Gogh, who had moved to Paris in 1886, entered three. Four days after the 4th Salon des Indépendants closed, Rousseau's beloved wife, Clemence, died on May 7, 1888 of tuberculosis, leaving him heartbroken. Ten years later, he married his second wife, Josephine Noury, who died within four years.

Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) by Henri Rousseau (1891) National Gallery London
In 1891, Rousseau exhibited his first jungle painting at the 7th Salon Indépendants Tiger in a Tropical Storm (Surprised) (which is not part of the current exhibition) supposedly inspired by his combat adventures in the Aztec jungle under Napoleon III, but actually drawn from the Parisian botanical gardens and the zoo. Again, the critics laughed -- it had become a popular pastime to laugh at Rousseau -- however one young artist, Felix Vallaton, recently arrived from Switzerland, did not. He wrote:

“Monsieur Rousseau becomes more and more astonishing each year, but he commands attention and, in any event, is earning a nice little reputation and having his share of success: people flock around his submissions and one can hear the sound of laughter.  In addition he is a terrible neighbor, as he crushes everything else.  His tiger surprising its prey ought not to be missed;  it is the alpha and omega of painting  .   .   .   . As a matter of fact, not everyone laughs, and some who begin to do so are quickly brought up short.  There is always something beautiful about seeing a faith, any faith, so pitilessly expressed.  For my part, I have a sincere esteem for such efforts, and I would a hundred times rather them than the deplorable mistakes nearby."

The Salon Wars continued in Paris. In 1903, Felix Vallaton was part of group that created yet another new Salon, the Salon d'Automne in opposition to all other Parisian exhibitions, which caused all sorts of uproar in the art world. Henri Rousseau was sucked into the vortex of the Salon d'Automne, and in 1905, the 61-year-old struggling artist found himself in the same room as the 35-year-old Henri Matisse and 25-year-old André Derain along with his Hungry Lion -- and Fauvism was born.

The Hungry Lion by Rousseau (1905) Beyeler Foundation, Basel
Rousseau was not a Fauve, which is French for wild beast, but his Hungry Lion probably inspired the term "Fauvism" after the art critic Louis Vauxcelle saw a classical statue in the same room as the works of the avant-garde artists at the 1905 Salon d'Automne and decried: "Donatello chez les fauves" (Donatello among the wild beasts)." Rousseau wrote a long subtitle for his painting:

The lion, being hungry, throws itself on the antelope, [and] devours it. The panther anxiously awaits the moment when it too can claim its share. Birds of prey have each torn a piece of flesh from the top of the poor animal which sheds a tear. The sun sets.

Horse Attacked by a Jaguar  (1910) State Pushkin Museum of Fine Arts, Moscow
The Hungry Lion is not here in Venice, but a similar painting is, which is called Horse Attacked by a Jaguar. To me, the poor horse looks more like a bewildered unicorn.

Now Guillaume Apollinaire, writer, poet, art critic and guru of the avant-garde asked to meet Rousseau. Apollinaire then introduced Rousseau to Pablo Picasso, who had bought Rousseau's Portrait of a Woman on sale for five francs from a Paris junk shop, which was selling it for the canvas. In 1908, the 27-year-old Picasso held the famous banquet to "celebrate" Henri Rousseau, then 64, a lavish artisty kind of prank to play. Guillaume Apollinaire composed a satirical poem, praising Rousseau's adventures in the Aztec jungle, poking fun of Rousseau's long subtitles for his paintings. Also at the banquet were Gertrude Stein and Alice B. Toklas, who recorded the event in her autobiography.

The images you paint you saw in Mexico,
A red sun lit the banana treetops,
And you, courageous soldier, have swapped your tunic
For the blue jacket of the brave douanier.


Even though the banquet began in jest, it morphed into a genuine celebration, a drunken chorus of the avant-garde shouting "Viva, viva Rousseau!"

Portrait of a Woman by Henri Rousseau (1895) Musée Picasso, Pari
The focus of Henri Rousseau - Il Candore Arcaico in the Doge's Apartments at the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco is that "the artist was a point of reference for the great exponents of the historical avant-garde movements, for intellectuals like Apollinaire and Jarry, for great collectors like Wilhelm Uhde, and for many painters who preceded and went beyond the Cubist and Futurist movements. Artists such as Cézanne and Gauguin, Redon and Seurat, Marc, Klee, Morandi, Carrà, Frido Kahlo and Diego Rivera, not to mention Kandinsky and Picasso. All these artists are present in the show."

The Grand Exhibit Henri Rousseau - Archaic Naivety runs from March 6 to July 5, 2015.
Please go to the PALAZZO DUCALE for further information.
www.ticket.it/rousseau
www.mostrarousseau.it

Ciao from Venezia,
Cat 
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog
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