Monday, June 19, 2017

Venetian Dream: My Venice Biennale Report

The Highlight: Axel Vervoordt’s Thrilling and Inspiring New Exhibition at the Palazzo Fortuny

I was very fortunate to travel on assignment to Venice at the end of May, just after the jubilant opening of this year’s Venice Biennale of Art.

The dealers and collectors and artists and performers had left, and I wandered with just a few art devotees through the Accademia and the Guggenheim in Dorsodoro, and the splendid new VAC show in a redesigned palazzo on the Zattere. Bliss.

But by far my favorite experience was Axel Vervoordt’s latest curated presentation of art and ideas at the Palazzo Fortuny.

Come with me this week for a wander around the Fortuny museum, see Axel’s new show, ‘Intuition’ and make plans to get to Venice before November 26, when this show closes.

Scoping Out the Biennale

I will tell you a secret. Before my visit to the Venice Biennale this year, I conducted intense research at the opening of the Biennale.

I read all of the New York Times critics’ reports, and then went in-depth with Jackie Wullschlager, the highly admired critic for the Financial Times.

My strategy based on many reports: I spent time creating my own art tour, mostly of the off-site and unofficial exhibits, and especially loving the Philip Guston and the Poets show at the Accademia.

I discovered the divine Golden Tower installation by James Lee Byars, near the Guggenheim.

The Guggenheim is always a thrill, familiar and bracing and fresh.

I also discovered the V-A-C foundation, a new Russian initiative on the Zattere with a show called Space Force Construction. It’s loosely about Russian art and architecture post 1917, and concepts of art and design, architecture, creativity and ideas, as well as the encouragement of ‘free expression’ in a totalitarian state. It’s low-key…informative and fascinating.

A favorite much-pondered display among many: a ‘worker designed’ cotton curtain with a border graphic pattern of a hydro-electric dam.

Go in the afternoon. The light bouncing off the water along the Zattere makes the galleries here luminescent.

Palazzo Fortuny

My favorite exhibit in the Venice Biennale: Axel Vervoordt’s last and final show in Venice at the Palazzo Fortuny.

Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti presented Intuition at the Palazzo Fortuny at the 2017 Venice Art Biennale:

This exhibition explores how intuition has, in some form, shaped art across geographies, cultures and generations. It brings together historic, modern and contemporary works related to the concept of intuition, dreams, telepathy, paranormal fantasy, meditation, creative power, hypnosis and inspiration.

Organised by the Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation and the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, Intuition is the sixth, and final, in a highly acclaimed series of exhibitions at the Palazzo Fortuny, which included Artempo (2007), In-finitum (2009), TRA (2011), Tàpies. Lo Sguardo dell’artista (2013) and most recently, Proportio (2015).

“Intuition is the ability to acquire knowledge without proof, evidence, or conscious reasoning: a feeling that guides a person to act in a certain way without fully understanding why,” noted Axel Vervoordt.

The show, which includes Anish Kapoor’s new works, covers millennia, and a multitude of materials and approaches, and is spread over all floors of the palazzo. Some rooms are entirely black.

In a thought-provoking room, mists of fog blow across a courtyard, and in a delightful and mysterious dark room a series of ghostlike abstract images waft across the wall.

It’s all wonderfully experiential, mysterious, moving, emotive, and full of upclose charm and colorful drama and wit. Axel provided his famous linen-covered sofas and lots of pillows so that visitors may ponder, rest, repose, think, and gaze.

Modern works by Vassily Kandinsky, Paul Klee, Twombly, Basquiat, Hilma af Klint and more highlight the intuitive experience and feeling that drives the creative process, and led to the rise of abstract art.

The importance of the spatial and temporal research undertaken by the Gutai, Cobra, Zero, Spazialismo and Fluxus groups are illustrated with works by Kazuo Shiraga, Pierre Alechinsky, Günther Uecker, Lucio Fontana, Mario Deluigi and Joseph Beuys.

The Surrealists’ interest in the unconscious is an important focus of the exhibition. Their fascination with dreams, automatic writing and drawing, collective creations and the state of alteration of the ego is represented with the ‘dessins communiqués’ and ‘cadavres exquis’ of André Breton, André Masson, Paul Eluard, Remedios Varo, Victor Brauner amongst others, along with experiments in camera-less photography by Raoul Ubac and Man Ray, and works on paper by Henry Michaux, Oscar Dominguez and Joan Miró.

“Intuition aims to provoke questions about the origins of creation, and is intended to be viewed as a ‘work in progress’. Selected leading contemporary artists create a dialogue with the historic works and the unique character of the Palazzo Fortuny. Kimsooja, Alberto Garutti, Kurt Ralske, Maurizio Donzelli, Berlinde De Bruyckere, Gilles Delmas and Nicola Martini will all create site-specific installations as part of the exhibition - a direct, and intuitive, response to the spaces within. –Axel Vervoordt

Above, images I shot of art collections and rooms, view out the windows, and exteriors, at the Palazzo Fortuny.

Art News

Axel Vervoordt announces his newest initative, and the end of his involvement with Palazzo Fortuny

Vervoordt’s news: At the start of December Axel Vervoordt Company will open Kanaal, a former C19th distillery and malting complex on the banks of the Albert Canal, just outside of Antwerp.

This remarkable ‘island’ has been conceived and designed by Axel Vervoordt as a “City in the Country”, in collaboration with the Belgian architects Stéphane Beel, Coussée & Goris and Bogdan & Van Broeck, and the French landscape designer Michel Devisgne.

It brings together residential, commercial and cultural spaces, and the natural world, within a shared community.

At the heart of Kanaal will sit a complex of exhibition spaces, housing the permanent collection of the Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation and the Axel Vervoordt Gallery, as well as a revolving programme of temporary exhibitions. 

Credits and information:


Palazzo Fortuny and the Axel Vervoordt exhibit: 
Closed Tuesdays. Last entry, strictly enforced, is at 5pm. Open through November 26, 2017.

Images of the Palazzo Fortuny art and collections courtesy Axel Vervoordt, used here with permission.

Additional Palazzo Fortuny exterior and art images by Diane Dorrans Saeks.

Where to Stay Now in Venice

I was fortunate to stay at the Hotel Splendid Venice, Venezia. At my end of May visit to Venice this year, hotels were 92 per cent booked, and I advise art lovers heading to Venice to book early.

The newly updated Splendid is located in a series of former palazzi overlooking a quiet canal. You can arrive at the hotel landing by water taxi from the airport.

Splendid is centrally located near Saint Marks Square. It’s also perfectly close to the La Fenice opera house, and a few moments’ walk to the Palazzo Fortuny.

While San Marco can be bustling with visitors, and it’s on a popular route from Saint Marks to Rialto, the hotel provides an oasis of quiet and elegance.

Favorite rooms and suites overlook a quiet canal, with gondolas gliding by and water taxis slowly negotiating the narrow waterways. 

The hotel restaurant, Le Maschere, with an open courtyard in summer, is particularly excellent with updated Venetian cuisine. My friend Sandrina Rubelli often enjoys breakfast here.

I had the best fritto misto late one evening at Le Maschere, and enjoyed the international mix of guests, some small special interest groups, and a sense of the hotel as a cosmopolitan crossroads, in the centuries-old Venetian tradition.

One evening as friends gathered in the Splendid Lounge Bar, a young Chinese woman with a group of friends spontaneously gave a Chopin recital at the restaurant piano. Glorious.

Later, my friends and I took the elevator up the the hotel’s roof deck (rare in Venice) where we gathered for drinks into the night. Highly recommended.

Location in Venice is everything and Harry’s Bar is a five-minute walk, and four or five Vaporetto stops are not far from the Splendid. The Accademia is a ten-minute walk.

This hotel is a wonderful discovery, fresh and newly designed and classical and modern, with wit.

The Splendido is one of the luxury Italian Star Hotels group, which is privately owned and managed. Star Hotels are also notable in Rome and Florence.

Image by Diane Dorrans Saeks from the window of her accommodations at the Splendid hotel, early morning.

Hotel Splendid Venezia
San Marco Mercerie, 760
30124 Venezia


Tuesday, June 13, 2017

The Exciting Summer Season at San Francisco Opera: May 31 through July 2

My secret summer passion — San Francisco Opera’s summer season.

Verdi. Mozart. Puccini.

Rigoletto. Don Giovanni. La Boheme.

The classics, so well known you could sing along. Each one with a dramatic, inspired and artful production design and costumes. I’ll be seeing all three operas.

Above, a scene from Don Giovanni.

San Francisco Opera presents a trio of operatic favorites— Giuseppe Verdi’s Rigoletto, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Don Giovanni and Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème—at the War Memorial Opera House through a final matinee of La Boh
ème on July 2.

Highlights of the Summer Season

I’m always excited about each creative aspect of San Francisco Opera presentations. This summer’s performances include a powerful roster of international opera stars, highly original sets and lighting, as well as an international lineup of conductors. 

San Francisco Opera is one of the finest opera companies in the world. Opera lovers fly in from all over the world to enjoy superb productions.

For Verdi’s Rigoletto, I am excited about Michael Yeargan’s shadowy, Giorgio de Chirico-inspired sets. SF Opera Music Director Nicola Luisotti leads the San Francisco Opera Orchestra and cast, featuring baritone Quinn Kelsey as Rigoletto, Georgian soprano Nino Machaidze in her San Francisco Opera debut as Gilda, and Pene Pati in his role debut as the Duke of Mantua.

Don Giovanni
For Don Giovanni, Italian opera director Jacopo Spirei and German set designer Tommi Brem updates the projections and scenery of the 2011 production.

Italian bass-baritone Ildebrando D’Arcangelo bows for the first time with San Francisco Opera as Don Giovanni. French conductor Marc Minkowski will conduct the San Francisco Opera Orchestra, marking his Company debut.

La Boh
David Farley’s 2014 production of Puccini’s La Bohème, set during mid-19th-century Paris, returns this summer. John Caird directs and Carlo Montanaro conducts a cast featuring Erika Grimaldi (in six performances) and Julie Adams (in two performances) sharing the role of Mimì. Mexican tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as the poet Rodolfo and Ellie Dehn as Musette.

Giacomo Puccini’s La Bohème is a great favorite with opera lovers and this summer it coincides with city-wide celebrations of the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.

This revival of one of the great love stories in the operatic repertory will feature an international cast including sopranos Erika Grimaldi, Julie Adams and Ellie Dehn; tenor Arturo Chacón-Cruz as Rodolfo; and baritone Audun Iversen. Carlo Montanaro conducts the San Francisco Opera Orchestral and Chorus.

La Boh
ème: Yes, everyone can hum along, and every opera lover will be returning for more. I usually cry a little at the end, touched by the artistry and passion of all performers.

Puccini’s moving and inevitable work of romantic and idealistic love and tragic loss bounds forward among a rollicking group of bohemian artists in mid-19th-century.

We will see the updated 2014 production by English director John Caird and designer David Farley. I admired the multi-layered elegant staging artful and insightful direction.

La Boh
ème is a co-production of San Francisco Opera, Houston Grand Opera and Canadian Opera Company.

New Works, New Voices
Exciting new announcement from San Francisco Opera, May 31.

San Francisco Opera announced Opera for All Voices: Stories of Our Time, a new nationwide commissioning initiative committed to telling wide-ranging stories that resonate with all audiences, regardless of age or prior experience with opera.

The Opera for All Voices works will be co-commissioned and co-produced by a consortium of companies led by San Francisco Opera and Santa Fe Opera, and including Lyric Opera of Kansas City, Minnesota Opera, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, Sarasota Opera and Seattle Opera.

The consortium is commissioning new American operatic works that are flexible in scope and scale, with the potential to be performed in smaller venues and off the main stage while striving for rich storytelling and artistic integrity.

The first new work, composed by Augusta Read Thomas with a libretto by Jason Kim, will receive its premiere in 2019 at Santa Fe Opera.

The second commission, by composer Laura Kaminsky and librettist Kimberly Reed, is slated to premiere at San Francisco Opera in 2020. Complete information including cast, creative team and performance schedule will be announced at a later date. Additional commissions will be chosen through an open invitational and in partnership with a panel of esteemed jurists.

Opera for All Voices was born out of the need for new works that can reach broad-ranging audiences through resonant subject material and manageable budgets. The project also addresses the need to bring new audiences to opera by commissioning works that speak to all voices, are designed with modern attention spans in mind and break down pre-conceived notions about opera.

Opera for All Voices is made possible by generous funding from the Melville Hankins Family Foundation, The Andrew Mellon Foundation and an OPERA America Innovation Grant, supported by the Ann and Gordon Getty Foundation.

San Francisco's War Memorial Opera House. Photo by David Wakely.


Images courtesy San Francisco Opera, used here with express permission.


Free live simulcast of Don Giovanni at AT&T Park, San Francisco, June 30.

The annual Opera at the Ballpark is highly popular, attracting thousands of music lovers. Don Giovanni will be simulcast live and free from the War Memorial Opera House to AT&T Park.

Opera tickets available at and (415) 864-3330.

Programming information for both the summer 2017 season, and the fall/winter 2017 season, at