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



Holly Alderman said...

An incomparably beautiful visionary journey into intuition across times and cultures. Beyond extraordinary. Must reread often to explore and inspire further. Thank you.

ArchitectDesign™ said...

Thanks for your recommendations Diane, these look great! We're returning to Venice in early October because we had such a fabulous trip there this past fall. We're renting an apartment adjacent to the Guggenheim but will be sure to check out the bar and restaurant at that fabulous hotel!

Brillante said...

I was in Venice just then! We keep missing each other. Love your report Diane. Thanks for all the glorious stories.

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I'm so glad you enjoyed the Axel Vervoordt concepts and this Venetian adventure.

There is also a catalog (large book) that accompanies the show, and I believe it is on Amazon.. It's large--and has excellent reading on the concepts of intuition and art created in an abstract and intuitive style.
The book also includes images of each piece of art.
I was especially interested in profiling this show--as after ten years it is Axel's last...the end of this grand concept of 5 shows.
Venice is marvelous--when you know where to go to escape the crowds. When people tell you that 'Venice is very crowded'...I always say, escape into the historic churches and galleries and museums...and you may be almost alone there. And...many neighborhoods have just local residents and perhaps a nice quiet cafe or bar. Venice is lovely--and it is easy to find quiet places. wishing you happy travels and happy reading--DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


I'm so glad you liked this piece--and will return in October. Fall is beautiful there...calm and quiet and balmy...and you will be able to spend time mostly alone at the Palazzo Fortuny (even have a little rest on Axel's huge sofas). the perfect neighborhood. I love it. I've also stayed over there ...just near the Academia vaporetto stop.
You will see the Golden Tower sculpture...I hope several times a day as you go back and forth. It is especially glorious with the afternoon sun.
PHILIP GUSTON: At Accademia--it is a superbly curated show...showing the influence of Italian painters on Guston and poetry as well...and I gained a whole new understanding of Guston. The New York Times critics said this was the best show in Venice.
I also loved spending time at the Guggenheim...and returned there several times. have you ever been over to the CINI FOUNDATION? did we discuss this once before? It's over adjacent to San Giorgio Maggiore...take the vaporetto...and you must make an appointment for an English guide...there is a special show there and work by Palladio and a new study library that is modern. There is also an amazing garden and amphitheater on that island...ask about walking in it...most memorable.
V-A-C FOUNDATION...go in the afternoon...beautiful will find it engrossing.
PRADA foundation definitely. and...there are some good shows at Arsenale (mixed bag).
The Splendid--I found dinner there beside the canal very Venice hotels seem to be mostly ultra-luxe (like the Gritti) or very olde worlde and dated...Splendid feels fresh, of today. Order the fritto misto...and their salads. I hope the courtyard/ restaurant is open...and be sure to go up on the roof...a rare treat.
happy days--DIANE

Diane Dorrans Saeks said...


That would have been fantastic to see you....
I did all my research...and then decided not to do Giardini and not to do Arsenale...but rather to focus on specific shows of great interest...Accademia for example and Fortuny.
This plan worked that I saw magnificent shows...Prada and V-A-C for example--and there were no crowds and no pressure and no 'performance art'..

I loved Venice this time...always my plan always involved museums, churches, basilicas, out of the way places and galleries and events...and tourists stay in San Marco. They do not go in galleries. You are alone enjoying the Bellinis and the Ca' Rezzonico...and the Longhis.

Where are you traveling next? Perhaps we will meet one day somewhere exotic. how lovely.