A guided tour of contemporary art in Venice: “Icônes”

Gold, memory, light, space, humanity and much more...when grandpa purchases the best
Till November 26th, 2023
The gallery Punta della Dogana has reopened to the public with a marvellous intense exhibit. The title itself is evocative of different worlds, so far away and yet so extraordinarily close, creating a connection between the mystic and contemplative idea of the shiny oriental golden Byzantine past and the glamorous images that are considered so fashionable at the present day.
Today we tend to be overwhelmed by images, videos, sounds, frenzy… the new icons are frequently vanishing, they are quickly forgotten and replaced by other ones, long before the “five minutes of celebrity” praised by Andy Warhol! But here, at Punta della Dogana, luckily the music is totally different.

Icônes: Venice, Byzantium, Gold and Light

We are talking about Icônes, and what exceptional icons indeed!
It seems almost obvious to take immediately into consideration the millennial relationships between Venice and the East, between Venice and the glimmering gold of the Byzantine mosaics of St Mark’s Basilica, or of all Venetian art in general, which, even as far as contemporary art is concerned, rarely steps away from the iconic influence of light, space, hieratic contemplation of the human and the divine worlds.
Byzantine icons are not only sacred images, but also abstract representations of the world of saints: they could not be admired without praying in front of them.
Gold dematerialised space lights up the faces of the saints and of the Virgin Mary and makes them vibrating, hieratic and distant. Preciousness, dematerialisation, divinity, wealth, meditation, black and white, light and shadows, Orient and Venice… they all meet in this exhibit, and from the ancient icons imagination finds its own way and multiplies in the present.
The 80 works of art by the artists chosen for the exhibition create an impeccable dialogue, exciting the viewers and transporting them in a different dreamlike dimension, full of references.

The Works of Art in the Exhibit

In the first room the soft light welcomes us, to start the enchantment of the dialogue.
Ttéia 1 by the Brazilian artist Lygia Pape (who was also present in the 2009 Biennale) consists of golden luminous threads, which as a spiderweb intersect the space and draw the transcendent perfect light.
In the magnificent Concetto Spaziale by Lucio Fontana the artist pierces the canvas and light shines from behind, opening a new infinite space that expands beyond the two-dimensional surface of the canvas.
In the background of the room, in a very soft light, a rare work of art by Donald Judd appears: four big steel boxes, painted bright yellow in the inside; the yellow is so bright that it almost casts a shadow on the shine of the steel. Light/yellow/gold are the ideal threads that connect these masterpieces of rare beauty.

Ttéia 1 (Lygia Pape)

Untitled (Donald Judd) 

We then pass from the soft light to the meditative whiteness of Lee Ufan, a Korean artist, poet and philosopher, who in Tea in the Field leads us silently in a precarious tea room, with screens in fragile rice paper damaged by the water, and with the ground covered with gravel and stones: these are his particular icons that recall the toughness and the contrast among the different natural elements.
All around the external walls of the concrete cube by Tadao Ando we find the work of art Un Oggetto Chiuso in Se Stesso? Adieux, projected for this exhibit by Joseph Kosuth: the text, written with neon tubes, is inspired by the dialogue between Jean-Paul Sartre and Simone de Beauvoir, iconic couple of the past century: the questions and the answers of the two philosophers shine on the wall, they start and end and chase one another, creating a bond among the works of art that intersect with these words.

Tea in the Field (Lee Ufan) 

A beautiful video of 2014 by Edith Dekyndt, Ombre Indigène, shows a damaged flag which consists of long black hair swaying in the wind of Martinique, where at the end of the 1800’s a ship full of slaves was wrecked. We cannot avoid to mention the recent events concerning dramatic shipwrecks in the Mediterranean; and the long black hair of course recall the fight of young Iranian women: torn flags and hair in the wind as symbols of denied freedom.
In one other room David Hammons presents a magnificent mirror in a gilt frame, covered with a torn dirty rag which veils the reflecting surface: it reminds of the human condition with all its injustices, racism, discouragement. This work dialogues with the perfect minimalism of Agnes Martin and the chapel dedicated to Robert Ryman, in which canvases without frames represent little diversifications of white, almost absorbed by the gloomily coloured background.

Mirror (David Hammons) 

Gold triumphs again in the column by James Lee Byars: this precious material is the distinctive characteristic of his work, symbolising the sacred and cosmic bond between the Earth and the Sky.
In the cube, the installation by Danh Vo consists of pieces of velvet that bear the shadows of the religious objects that had been previously placed on them. Here the memory of the objects, the memory of history and individual memory intertwine. On the walls the wonderful paintings by Rudolf Stingel represent images in transparency, leaving prints of shoes, of cups, of life lived into the objects.

Christmas (Dahn Vo) 

Untitled (Rudolf Stingel) 

The most beautiful, intense, transcendent surprise can be found in the little tower. With To Breathe-Venice Kimsooja creates a surreal dreamlike space, the mirrors and the refraction of light cancel any dimension and give the impression of walking on the water of the lagoon, coloured with the colours of the rainbow.

To Breathe-Venice (Kimsooja) 

Contacts and bookings:

Un village sans fontières (Chen Zhen) 

La nona ora (Maurizio Cattelan)