Last week, Sarah Schroth, our Interim Director and Nancy Hanks Senior Curator at the Nasher Museum, traveled to the Venice Biennale. The following post is the first of several in which she shares exciting works of art and installations around Venice that caught her attention.
The Republic of Angola’s National Pavilion was one of my favorites this year, and I just learned it won the Golden Lion as best pavilion! It is the first time this country has been represented in the Biennale, and the curators, Paula Nascimiento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera, chose the seemingly unlikely site of the Palazzo Cini on the Dorsoduro. The Cini is an incredible private house museum with Medieval and Renaissance works; it is off the beaten track and hardly ever opened—I was very excited to be able to get inside, just to see the museum’s holdings, but also intrigued about why Angola would have chosen it.
Immediately upon entering, we were escorted up a spiral staircase to the second floor, and in a small vestibule, were asked to pick up a red cardboard folder, not quite knowing why. The first room had a Renaissance painting by an unknown artist on the axial wall; on the floor were three or four wooden pallets with large stacks of pages, reproductions of photographs by Edson Chagas, which I saw people taking and putting in their red folder. In the next room, with a Botticelli allegory, a Fra Angelico Dominican saint (tiny and top notch), and a Madonna and Child reputed to be a Piero della Francesca (if so, completely overcleaned and inpainted, especially the Madonna’s face, which looked modern), there were more pallets with more stacks of pages. By this time, you began to understand that these pages were the pavilion’s catalogue, without text; visitors were assembling the catalogue themselves as they went through the rooms, collecting reproductions of Chagas’ beautiful photographs of abandoned common objects, a broken chair, a pipe, etc., which he shot in urban settings. Chagas’ images of common objects were a striking contrast, formally and conceptually, to the jewel-like religious paintings and ivories on the walls of the palazzo. The photographs were cleanly minimal—one sole object against a blue wall, another against a pale red or faded yellow wall. Abandoned property found in the streets of Angola (the title of the series is “Found Not Taken”) juxtaposed with these highly valued Old Master works, carefully collected and preserved—found and taken. The curators strategically placed the piles of photographs so that there was a relationship, usually subtle, between the photographer’s use of color and palettes of the Medieval and Renaissance artists. Brilliant!