Thursday, June 17, 2010

June 16th, 2010 Florence

June 16, 2010

Just back from day trip to Florence this Tuesday. Amazing, too fast, but what a city. Smaller than Rome, cleaner, and more yellow—as I remember from 25 plus years ago —than Rome. Rome is redder, the buildings yellow and red and rose and orange. And of course Rome is older and less neat, more lived in? Perhaps we didn’t go to the funky neighborhoods of Firenze? We managed to miss the tourists which is nigh impossible at this season. Thanks to Stephen Westfall whose obsessive painterly pursuits led the trip and these eyes into ecstasies. First the train station: a magnificent fascist blunt beauty with glass lining its front and roof. If a bit stolid from the outside (you could undervalue it as my brother did the fabulous Libero post office on Via Marmorata in Rome), it is wondrously airy and light inside— a feast of ceiling turning light and the clock the clock the clock. A marvel of typography and form. Quick easy legible and a beauty.

[Please note: the statue pictures above are from the electric plant that serves as backdrop to classical sculpture in Testaccio in Rome that I didn't have chance to include previously. We are definitely living simultaneously!]

Then –we hit the streets, turn a corner and there is the church S. Maria Novella with green and white striped marble front: Venetian arches via Islamic and Norman influence ( remember Sicilia). This version with thick columns in the inner cortile. The church itself filled with paintings and clearly different from Roman churches. Whereas Rome is a cradle of the Baroque, Florence was a bigger city in the 14th and 15th century, more powerful at an earlier era so it reveals a minimalist baroque or even, spare 14th century gothic styles. Altars are hung with paintings, not so much marble and gold and statuary or ‘shaping’ the presentation as there are walls with a canvas or panel, then a wall next-door with another canvas or panel, around the entire church. These seem airier, lighter, less heavy. Thus Florence is this feast of paintings and frescos—whether by Filippino Lippi, Masaccio, Bronzino, Domenico Ghirlandaio, or his apprentice the young Michelangelo (1485-1490), Giotta, plus a number of other talented contemporaries that I and even Stephen had not heard of…Bernardo Daddi for one. All in a single church!

On to the museum next door which is in truth a cortile with old monastery, square interior garden leading to a room of frescos topped by a boat: the ship of fools we are! decorated from 1365 to 1367 by Andrea Bonaiuti (I have never heard of him). Beautiful beautiful as it replays creation in front of us, the fall below. This is a period of art when mobility is in the clothes— vestiti—long skirts flowing ribbon-like behind skipping figures. Adam and Eve eating fruit happily dressed. There remains an order, a placidity, in faces and layout. Very satisfying, transcendent as well as light lit, with just a hint of the underworld nuttiness—in devils and creatures that tempt and play at the edges of the peopled world.. As we leave we note the nearly destroyed frescos outside under the roof of the cortile. A number are by Ucello, marvelously great: a snake with a woman’s head (yes we know she is seductive) and then a flood scene which is less Bosch and more di Chirico—amazing angles, shadows of people attempting fruitlessly to get on the boat: frightening and fabulous and decaying beautifully, the terror of drowning.

The Brancacci Chapel was closed on Tuesdays so we miss the Masaccio, which Stephen wanted to see. There was one in the church, but not as late or poignantly special as our Sicilian Madonna’s annunciation in Palermo. Along with Stephen I have become a fan of annunciations….those little doves or angels with their yellow light beams from hand/eye to belly! beautiful delicate quite marvelous—there hovers over these the mystery of birth. Living in obscure ambiguities indeed.

Speaking of which a new nephew courtesy of my older sister’s youngest Elizabeth. Born June 10th. 2010. AUGURI!

Back in Florence we are on to "the best" gelato place with indeed best pear gelato I have ever had…almost a sorbet with a strong taste of fruit….divine.

Walking on to The Basilica of Santa Maria del Santo Spirito…a gorgeous plain flat pre-baroque masterpiece. As if carved of a slab of cheese yellow with deep curls on the top end, few windows. Facing a square with no tourists. We have just gone the
"other” route to all the wonderful places where the tourists don’t go in Florence.

We repair with a short lunch: Stephen with pasta and sharing my salad. Then because the Brancacci was closed we head to Pitti Palace which is a feast (the Medici did well here in their inimitable overstated way): 8 Raphaels in a room. At least 4 Botticellis and one of them rivals La Primavera. Titian, Correggio, Rubens, and Pietro da Cortona. Caravaggio’s sleeping cupid which we have seen twice now. Giusto Sustermans of whom I had never heard, Tintoretto, Sebastiano del Piombo, Ribero, Bronzini, a small Cranach looped with anonymous paintings near a 4-poster bed. Weird odd fabulous conjunctions, feast for your eyes: blue and then rose and then green rooms with lush uglinesses of gold and splendor. This is enormous stamina for painting painting painting. Could you sustain? In 2005 the surprise discovery of forgotten 18th-century bathrooms in the Palazzo revealed remarkable examples of contemporary plumbing very similar in style to the bathrooms of the 21st century. Way oversize tub next to a chaise lounge I wanted to lie on.

We looked out periodically at the Boboli gardens that rose behind us in layered levels, high formal green, peopled with tourists while the Palazzo itself was rather quiet, empty. You could sit and look or wander or do as we did, pull each other by the arm and say “look look.”

Amazement. We were booked on an early train (Stephen and I disagreed on this part of the plan—to be home in time for Academy dinner!) so we rushed out of there, stopped
for a moment at Santo Spirito which had been closed previously to wander through the amazing paintings (as well!) and a quick stop back at Santa Trinita, a 14th century church best known for its collection of frescoes by artists such as Ghirlandaio, Aretino and Monaco. The Ghirlandaio annunciation is luminous.

On to the train station stopping long enough to photograph that clock that clock.
Back at AAR for rabbit dinner——quite delicious and I don’t particularly like rabbit.

Have missed telling you about computer problems. Don't you want to know!?!? New machine crashed and burnt within 7 days of opening it! Having to spend day with assistant crossing town to get to mac mall official store outside of Rome in depressing mall surrounded by half built suburbs whose folks don’t answer the phone. Don’t even ask! Seems so unimportant faced with these transcendent faces and shapes and sizings and landscapes.

Wishing you auguri and sun when you want to go to the beach. We are hoping this weekend to Sperlonga. Will keep you posted.


Thursday, June 10, 2010

June 7th 2010
New status of heat. I am keeping my Roman shades down during the day. With fan I am fine but just raising those blades and the heat pours in. It is summer 79 degrees at 10am. Lots of sunscreen, hats that ruin my curls et al. Hoping to hit the beach soon.

Meanwhile missed rainy days last week when I should have been photographing the grey grey skies. Will have to catch it once more if possible (maybe no?). All this for Shelley piece which is winding to a close. Shot the creature from Frankenstein this week, two nights ago, at Villa Aurelia with lights on the grounds at night. Had the inspiration to wrap the creatures’s head with gauze and white strips of cotton, make up his face scarily (tho no makeup artist am I) and then put a tan ‘puffy blouse’ on him. Which made him a disturbed clone of the poet himself. Perfect for Mary Shelley’s own feelings. She subtitles the book after all: the modern Prometheus.

Speaking of which, we went to the Villa Aurora, or Villa Ludovici yesterday. It was originally the American Academy before this building was built. Across town bordering on the Borghese, it used to have 80 acres of gardens that were broken apart by the construction of the Via Veneto. A beautiful villa with bare remains of the gardens but the frescos the frescos the frescos! Many amazing Guerini ones with the brightest colors I have seen, and the softest limbs, faces——a kind of shimmering skin edge. Lovely. Then on the second floor the famous Caravaggio done when he was 25, a tour de force on the ceiling with Jupiter pushing the celestial orb away (or towards?) Pluto and Neptune, all portraits of himself. You are looking up at the gods and presumably C. painted his own genitals, since you are looking up their legs—strange and wonderful foreshortening—while looking in a mirror. Three dogs bark dangerously close —the triple headed cereberus. Amazing.

The house a wonder and it was viewed as too small for real living, was instead a pleasure palace and hunting lodge originally. It would of course suit 20-30 people! Another Renaissance spectacular. The blue of one wall that had not been repaired yet was magnificent as were the three enormous elephant tusks sitting on the floor besides. All led by Princess Rita, a blond Texan who is new wife of the Count (who is very thin and speaks perfect English as educated in England and Switzerland), and dedicated to renovating the place. Very nice with lots of cosmetic surgery and a big smile. She told us to "come on back".

We left to lunch in the park with Patrizia (a visiting fellow artist from Tennessee via Ecuador) and Ann and Richard (remember Sicily?).

The week before my brother Jon was here with his daughter and her mom: Chloe and Becky. I showed them around a bit—including the magnificent Keats Shelley Graveyard (finally got there and filmed what I could with still camera) and the Museum Villa Martini down in Testaccio which combines classical sculpture with a power station from the early 20th c. Beautiful pieces of Roman mosaic and sculpture. An amazing goat from 400 bc that was very detailed, poigant. We got lunch from Volpetti’s and parked ourselves outside my swimming pool on plastic chairs to eat. So quite local. I could not however get them to go to a "real dinner" at a restaurant. I guess the cost was prohibitive, but to come all the way to Italy and not experience food as entertainment in the Italian way was hard for me to comprehend. Particularly after the foody experience of this academy and our time here We did eat one night at the Academy and I think that was fun for them. Chloe is very poised (as Jon has been telling me) and could answer the drunken Fellow who shouted at her the first night with aplomb. That first night was crazy however—with Jonny arriving and fearful that he was experiencing another heart attack. We landed at an Italian public hospital Sunday night —which treated him well and kindly (at no cost: as he said, they didn't even have his phone number!) and it was, luckily, a false alarm! Lots of relief there.

Almost forgot, right after Jon arrived, I was off for two days to Madrid for my show at Reina Sophia Contemporary Art Museum. Flight was uneventful though longer than I imagined—isn’t it simply across the Mediterranean? Show was fantastic. Films looked good (all on dvd pretty much) and audience was appreciative. Talk after was interesting especially since the translation they had done had “normalized” the poetic slippage I had created in the last two films: MIRROR WORLD and LIGATURES. Odd and perhaps predictable. So that “shimmying” became “brillante” which isn’t it at all. And “one on the face” became “one eye on the face” which erased the violent punchiness of the original mistranslation. Now I have to write on both the 'use of humor' and translation/mistranslation. I look forward to that as they have both been on my mind and in my work for a while now.

I am going to stop as I am about to be picked up to install the last of the group shows: spazi aperti at the Rumanian Academy and my computer—which has taken up tooooo much of my time lately (transitioning to new macbook pro)—is acting up on microsoft. Probably snow leopard demands a microsoft version that my school doesn't have...

a presto