03 March 2020
Horror vacui The Porcelain Room, curated by Jorge Welsh and Luísa Vinhais, is certainly not an exhibition that demands emptiness and silence, nor does it strike that “happy balance” so beloved of the bourgeoisie. Quite the reverse, it’s an exhibition geared to excess: 1700 pieces of Chinese porcelain, produced between the 16th and 19th centuries, are quite literally crammed into just a few rooms. The “over the top” effect, it has to be said, is FASCINATING, emphasised by the display curated by Tom Postma Design: gold, velvet and an extremely crowded hang that, in the room that draws on the so-called “porcelain rooms” in European palaces between 1600 and 1700, also takes in the ceilings or presents lengthy rows of objects with zoomorphic or phytomorphic figurations, created in around 1760 to astound guests at interminable dinners. A must-see – it runs until 28th September 2020.
Our Gae The Vitra Schaudepot in Weil am Rhein is paying tribute to that great female star of Italian architecture and design, Gae Aulenti. As so often, the foreign critics got there before the Italians. Indeed. What we can say that since her death (2012), in Italy and in Milan in particular, controversy that has been as ferocious as it is sterile has raged. A controversy that I think glosses over some of Aulenti’s extraordinary qualities – from her ability to manage extremely complex worksites amazingly rigorously, to her ability to define not just plans and volumes, but the tiniest building detail (the famous “downsizing of scale” which very few are trained to achieve these days) to the desire to use architecture like an instrument of civil debate. Her substantial contribution to so-called “interior architecture” also regularly passes unrecognised. In her interiors, Aulenti managed, despite working for the haute bourgeoisie, to break with stereotypes, proposing a style in which the smallest common denominator was culture. Lastly (and this is what the – alas, rather limited - exhibition at the Vitra mainly focuses on) we have to remember Gae’s very special contribution to design, lighting design in particular. Aside from the famous Pipistrello, her Giova, Ruspa and Patroclo lamps are objects over whose shape she had incredibly powerful control, coming up with “anti-gracious” solutions that the timid and “respectable” world of today has completely dismissed from memory.
Gabriele Basilico. Metropoli All those of us who worked with - and were very fond of - him know that cities were Gabriele Basilico’s visual obsessions. Discretely self-mocking, Basilico knew how to mark time for hours, sometimes days, waiting for that moment of magic light to appear that he, only he, could be sure would manifest itself. Already evident in Milan. Factory Portraits 1978-1980, one of his earliest projects, his ability to read urban landscapes became truly disconcerting in his work documenting war-torn Beirut in 1991. Other trips and other cities followed: Palermo, Naples, Genoa, Istanbul, Moscow, Shanghai and Rio de Janeiro. They have now been brought together in an extraordinarily wide-ranging documentary exhibition curated by Giovanna Calvenzi and Filippo Maggia, on until 13th April 2020 at the Palazzo delle Esposizioni in Rome (a missed opportunity for Milan?).
The engineer loved by the people A major, structured one-man show devoted to the architect and engineer Santiago Calatrava has opened, slightly unexpectedly, in Naples. A Spaniard transplanted to Switzerland, Calatrava, who was born in 1951, is one of the very few contemporary structural engineers who abandoned a largely technical role to rightly forge his way into the collective imagination. The author of exceptional buildings from a dimensional and construction point of view, Calatrava coined a highly expressive style in which the figuration of static forces in action is always evident and in keeping, time after time, phytomorphic or zoomorphic, but in any case futuristic: from the station at Lyon airport, to the World Trade Center Transportation Hub in New York, the interconnecting Sharq Crossing Bridges in the city of Doha in Qatar, the Milwaukee Art Museum (MAM) in Wisconsin, the Tenerife Auditorium in Santa Cruz, Canary Islands, to projects carried out in Italy, in particular the three bridges (2007) and the railway station (2013) in Reggio Emilia. On till 10th May 2020 at the Museo e Real Bosco di Capodimonte, and curated by Sylvain Bellenger and Robertina Calatrava, the exhibition also explores less well-known sides of Calatrava’s work, such as drawing, ceramics (a real eye-opener!) and sculpture. (“My sculpture precedes my work as an architect. In order to understand my architecture you first need to know my work as a sculptor.”)
Raphael, the divine Many years ago, ideologies, and not just political ones, were definite and definitive – one was either a Juventus or an Inter fan, those who loved Gianni Morandi (or the Beatles) would never have contemplated Massimo Ranieri (or the Rolling Stones), those who appreciated the manly strength of Michelangelo couldn’t stand Leonardo’s intellectualism, but where was Raphael in all this? I don’t recall a “pro-Raphael” party: too perfect, too rarefied! Yet now, on the 500th anniversary of his death, the divine Urbino painter is quite rightly feted the world over. Perhaps right now his clarity, his transparency and his straightforward elegance are exactly what we need again. Perhaps right now, we need to go back to that Golden Age, to Raphael’s brief career (he died at the age of 37). A visit to the Scuderie del Quirinale in Rome is therefore obligatory where, thanks to a collaboration with the Uffizi Gallery in Florence and exceptional loans from the Louvre, the Prado and the National Gallery of Washington, no less than 200 of his masterpieces are on show until 2nd June 2020.
The man who whispered to spiders PHOBIA-FREE visitors will have a chance to enter the mysterious world of Tomás Saraceno at Florence’s Palazzo Strozzi until 19th July 2020. A world that straddles art and biology, expressed in architectural “constructions”, primaeval or futuristic, oscillating between structuralism and science fiction, but certainly engaging, often interactive, even. There is in fact just one spider inhabiting the Florentine exhibition (female apparently, should anyone care to check), but there’s no shortage of huge accessible, mysterious plantiferous webs hanging in the air and his famous reflective spheres are in the courtyard. The exhibition was curated by Arturo Galansino.
Lille 2020 Following in the footsteps of Turin (2008), Seoul (2010), Helsinki (2012), Capetown (2014), Taipei (2016) and Mexico City (2018), Lille Métropole, situated in the Hauts-de-France region of Northern France, to the north-east of Belgium, has been designated World Design Capital 2020. The programme of planned events is naturally so packed that we will start by flagging up some of the most interesting exhibitions: as of March, the sophisticated design duo Muller Van Severen will be showcasing their work in the unique setting of Villa Cavrois, designed by Robert Mallet Stevens in 1932. This will be followed, as far as interior architecture is concerned, by Ramy Fischler with Sens-Fiction: imagining the interiors of the future, based on science fiction. From 3rd to 5th April, the Maker Fair will bring together no less than 600 Makers from fab-labs all over the world, while from 30th April, Design Designer(s), curated by Jean-Louis Fréchin, sets out to tell the story of three generations of French designers. Lastly, in September, trend guru Li Edelkoort will explore the themes of recycling and the exploitation of resources in the exhibition La Manufacture: a labour of love. There’s lots more besides, so be sure to stay constantly connected:
Jim Dine in Rome It is hardly ever the case that a retrospective, particularly such a complete and impactful one, is organised together with the artist, in this case Jim Dine, now aged eighty-four, who collaborated with the curator Daniela Lancioni on the exhibition at Rome’s Palazzo delle Esposizioni (it runs until 2nd June 2020). From his early works of 1959 to some of the works showcased in the ‘scandalous’ American Pavilion at the 1964 Venice Biennale (along with Jasper Johns, Claes Oldenburg and Robert Rauschenberg), which were destined to have such a swingeing effect on European art, to his 2000s Pinocchios, inspired by the Italian puppet (Dine often tells how, as a child, he was terrified by Collodi’s fairytale). The works in which Dine takes everyday objects and imbues them with meaning, from spades to bathroom accessories to dressing gowns are still absolute and are the successful transfiguration of an autobiography of the banal - he has said that whatever he does, in the end, it is he himself who is the subject.
The indiscreet fascination of the uniform Uniforms, suits, work attire: Uniform. Into the Work/Out of the Work at the MAST in Bologna until 3rd May 2020, and curated by Urs Stahel, is an exhibition of no less than 600 images taken by 44 photographers exploring the theme of “professional attire.” Not just soldiers, therefore, but also butchers, fishmongers, workmen in overalls, priests, youngsters of the H&M generation, hostesses – the uniform clothing (from which “uniform”) brings together those who wear it, but equally sets apart those who do not. Is it an instrument of union or of division? Certainly uniforms represent values of temporal continuity and “unchangeability” that run counter to those of fashion which, on the other hand, thrives on frequent and relentless change. P.S. We would advise male visitors in managerial “attire” to take off their ties, obvious phallic symbols, before entering!
Judd (tout court) This is the title, devoid of pointless specifications, of the huge retrospective dedicated to Donald Judd (1928-1994) at MoMa in New York. The sculptor who didn’t think of himself as a sculptor (“I certainly didn’t think I was making sculpture”) and who revolutionised contemporary sculpture by lining up volumes (“boxes”) with sharp edges, often made of metal, and often produced by local blacksmiths, and designing everyday objects (sofas, perhaps, chairs, perhaps) as if they were works of art. After the “purifying bath” of the MoMa visit, we would suggest that you make your way to 101 Spring Street in Lower Manhattan for a look at the house/loft where Judd lived, if you haven’t already. Finally, all that remains is to ask ourselves whether, without Donald Judd, minimalism would ever have existed in furniture design.