An enchanted place, set in a bed of canals of Venice in Campo San Beneto, preserves the history and life of a great designer and set designer, Mariano Fortuny, who was also an artist. Nothing will impress you just as much as the temperature of the light that you will find inside. Today it hosts Proportio, until November 22, an exhibition on the golden proportion and sacred geometry in art, architecture and music – and it does so by trotting through different historical eras, countries, knowledges, texts, essays and poems.
To reward myself with a visit or by spending a few hours reading on the top floor of the Museum Fortuny is what I do when I need to make sense. It is all the same a time capsule and a place of contemporary creation, without borders.
Its director, who also curates all the settings of the other ten municipal museums of Venice has opened for us the heart of the place as well as hers.
Your life story in a few lines, especially in regards to childhood and background.
It is a question with infinite answers. I had a happy childhood, being an only child led me to have the need to create and tell stories to myself. I read a lot. To the classic question: what would you like to be? I would say the surgeon. Later on I snapped out of this madness because it absolutely wasn’t my profession. Architecture and art have made their way into my heart when I was an early teenager and I chose to study these subjects. I thought I was going to make great architecture instead I ended up making ephemeral architectures – settings and exhibitions– something I never would have thought of. By chance (whether it was good luck, my lucky star, I don’t know), the first assignment I received from an architect was for a set-up. I went straight for it, somewhat recklessly, and the occasion was a revelation: I had discovered my world.
I have a bit of a complicated relationship with time. On average I am patient but I can also be the exact opposite, especially when I have to sort out something (a project, an idea) I need to see fast progress.
Each set-up has a deadline, a delivery, and the time (very short) is certain. There are accelerations, there are no excuses, you can not afford not to get it done even a second before: one must rule time and the events. We need a realistic approach also in the designing phase, where practicality should prevail over one’s dream. Maybe the dream is always concealed, but then who will give you the money? And the time?
Your job has an intrinsic sensitivity, apart from the difficulty of achieving dreams as it is often the case of cultural and exhibition projects that travel on the desks of many different institutions before finding their way to reality.
The sensitiviy I’m referring to is that you tell rich rich, important, totally unprecedented stories (like the last one, Proportio). You seem to do so by knowing that crossing the threshold of the museum you will be have an international audience but for the most part a generalist one, which should fall in love and dream as you did – with a vision. What’s your secret?
There is not a clear answer. I believe I am passionate, so there is no secret or technique, just the desire and willingness to communicate a true passion, to give onself to the public, to the others with extreme ease. I tell stories I would like to hear, that I want to tell myself and these intersect and feed themselves with other stories: we give and take from all the interpersonal relationships we have and we make attempts.
Since 2007 I took on a huge challenge, coming from another background (i.e. producing and organizing exhibitions), I had never taken the task of directing a museum. Besides, I should add that such a place is not comparable to any of the other museums. The collection and the spaces are closely linked to the life of an artist, here you can still feel the great energy of what it used to be, a place of production. Fortuny lived here with his workers and they worked together, bound by the love for the production of beauty. I found myself having to deal with an important and rich legacy. And there is always the problem of money that is never enough. The Civic Museums Foundation can guarantee the opening and good part of the activity without burdening the municipal budget. I have established a partnership with Axel Vervoordt: thanks to his generosity, the museum has returned to a new life and it is open to all those want a unique place which is never predictable.
With him, I share a vision – as well as a love for Mariano Fortuny and besides the fact that we both are “art-sick”: we have also a somewhat idealistic vision, we believe that art is able to defuse conflicts and create harmony.
Together we have equipped the museum with the necessary facilities to stay open and to respond more effectively to international standards, while the city was responsible for the restoration of the main facade.
Moving within this building, we have admired the genius of Fortuny also in practical matters. We have taken advantage of some ducts (made when he became owner of the building) which allowed us to complete almost every system without inflicting any more wounds to such a delicate architecture, that would require a further restoration. It therefore calls for a continuity of action for the completion of the restoration of the entire building. During the presentation of the first part of the restoration, I quoted Cesare Brandi (a great art historian, one of the greatest theoreticians of restoration): “The restoration constitutes the methodological moment of recognition of the work of art in its physical consistency and its dual aesthetic and historical polarity, in view of its transmission to the future. ”
The facade overlooking the small canal worries me a lot. In fact, it hurts every time I watch its elegance, which is stifled by a layer of black: it must be healed and restored to its original beauty.
He was not only an eclectic, he was a multi-instrumentalist… I think the best thing preserved in this museum is the personality of Mariano Fortuny.
He was curious, Fortuny kept consulting books in his library (which reveal much more than what can be told), I realized he was in love with beauty, harmony and culture across the board, his gaze tirelessly running from east to west and vice versa without preferences. That’s what we have to convey to a place that has been entrusted upon us, as well as preserving the diverse legacy of works, books, fabrics and lamps. It’s an open house of an artist and it must be a place where people meet. I always wonder: how and to whom would Fortuny like to open his house, today?
He was the successor of the Renaissance tradition, which he was able to renew transferring it in its contemporaneity. Today we must continue in a ‘Fortuny’ idea of dialogue with the arts, regardless of periods, via a mission of merging and harmonization of stories.
Let us take the role of the landlord, we must welcome. Then everyone is free to express themselves, to love or to hate this place, you cannot please everyone. Mine is a choice that was made with conviction among many others possible, if for some reason there was a need to change my mission it would all be over and I would not enjoy it anymore. And since I hate boredom…
In your approach- this time as director of the settings of the 11 civic museums of Venice – how do you manage to hold together the history and contemporaneity (and value them both) especially considering that you often produce projects with institutions and partners that do not address the conservative commitment and delicacy, unique in the world, required by a Venetian palace?
I would venture to say that I know the spaces quite well, almost more than in my own house as I have traversed them and metabolized them in many ways. I know its weaknesses and strengths.
We compensate for the “relative” lack of strict relevance to international conventions with something else. I always say: it is more damaging to move works that were created in and for certain climates and imposing climate values assigned from an international convention, you have to have a certain elasticity.
And then you play the Venice card. Even today, those who come from the rest of the world are astonished by the historical and architectural combination, but nearly panic when facing the transport of works. It’s drama: they often fail to understand (especially for those unfamiliar with the reality of Venice) why a truck cannot travel “from door to door” and transport by boat puts everyone in turmoil! Then, they end up living a great experience (since many personally follow the transport of the work they lend, even by “boat”). Some are terrorized while others live it as it should be: an extraordinary adventure. I am also amazed by the incredible professionalism of some of our workers, to which the most recent example I’m referring to is with Proportio, by delivering the great works of Anish Kapoor or Canova’s Paride. The skill is also in combining the latest technology with ancient knowledge.
What are the joys and sorrows as curator and director of Fortuny, the most beautiful Venetian museum now only open for temporary exhibitions?
The real pain is the great scarcity of money. There’s always too little and it is never enough. Axel has done much in the past also with the Venice Foundation and I hope that others will fall in love with the project.
Another heartache is that I will not have time to do everything I have envisioned in my head.
I’m really fond of the relationships established with the artists or collectors who lend us the and who feel at home here.
Luca Campigotto (indicates a wonderful painting of a seaside view hanging in the meeting room), is not the only one: many have left their works. Francesco Candeloro, Marco Del Re, Maurizio Donzelli, Mary Wirkkala and many more …
Many artists have told me that they have found a place here that has changed their views. The fact that we share the same feelings and that everyone elaborates according to one’s personality, makes me happy.
With Proportio we asked the artists for broader participation, which is very visible in the show, especially in regards to works made site-specifically for the show. What gave me enormous pleasure was the absence of the usual problems, quarrels and grandstanding. Not a single artist has exhibited his/her own works in a room by themselves. In the hectic period of preparation, everything was carried out with participation, harmony and serenity.
Anish Kapoor, for example, had asked for one room only for his work but during the process of the setting we opted to place it instead in the same space next to a cube by Giacometti. He understood that his work, the void, was well combined with what the polyhedron inspires: the pull of the earth, gravity commingled to the momentum and the poetic energy of slightly curved surfaces. This work of Giacometti is able to bind many worlds: Kapoor grasped the harmony pointed out by this choice.
Another example: Vincenzo Castella, who agreed for his video to be screened on the second floor with no screen and no dimming to better preserve the skin of the space.
The underlying theme of Fortuny, is always very visible, not only in this exhibition. In December, after Proportio, and I will do everything I can to find the funding, we want to pay tribute to four stories of women intimately related to art. The first is Henriette, the muse and companion of Fortuny of which little is known (in the wake of what has been done with Dora Maar). She died in 1965 and it is thanks to her that the will of her husband was honored and which consisted in donating the palazzo to the city of Venice, as well as the archives and many of his works. Fifty years after her death seems a fitting reminder. Then there’s Sarah Moon, with a job linked to the Palace and the “fold” (pleated Delphos). Subsequently the Erme (actual self-portraits) and Saturns by Ida Barbarigo, a Venetian artist turning 95 years old. I tell a story of passions, in this case it’s painting. Then there is Romaine Brooks, the same age as Henriette, with another story: born into a wealthy family but marked by instability and tragedy. Romaine is the favorite victim of a domineering and non-affectionate mother: drawing becomes her salvation. She sold very little, she always kept her works almost all to herserlf.
This year the museum will be open during the winter.
It is now possible to do so after having experienced the winter last year with the opening of the exhibition on Marchesa Casati, which gave good results, and after having completed works in the heating system.
I should always remind that what we have inherited from the collection of Fortuny is what was left in the palace. Since the death of Henriette (1965) until the building was finally opened to the public (ten years later), unfortunately, many things have taken other paths. Making exhibitions is not only a way to fill up spaces but also to raise awareness and promote the heritage of Mariano Fortuny. In doing so, we have renewed the interest in a figure somewhat ‘orgotten (in Barcelona, the city of origin of the paternal family, no one knew of him except for the fabrics and our exhibition at Pedrera allowed to appreciate his versatility. The exhibition then toured to New York and Burgos. Next fall it will take place in Stockholm).
We also like, in some way, to give vision to the smaller things, to the more overlooked, less glittering art (most recently, the art of making jewelry as a form of contemporary art made by local artists, such as Barbara Paganin or Annamaria Zanella).
Venice is the great city of international art and we often overlook, or lack enough awarness of the art produced here today. We are not only a city of masqueraders, of fake bags, of tourists of the art of others. The day that we will understand that this city can still be a great capital of art and thinking, bearer of new and interesting languages, we will be out of the danger of self-destruction. Just think of our local craft, but that’s another story. And who knows if we will experience it.
Venice is a city that eats, sometimes I say “I’m stranded in the lagoon” like a mooring post, it is very dangerous, you lose your sense of reality. That is different from what we experience elsewhere. However, the separation causes a lot of nostalgia. What happens in Venice is unique.
What does society do for you?
I think it is a bit too much to know what society does for me. Oh, I wouldn’t know what to say … I cannot imagine society thinking specifically of me!
What are you doing for society?
I believe very much in examples and if everyone did, at their best, what they must do (from the humblest craft to the great thinker) ….
I believe that doing my duty (in my case it is also an absolute delight) and to do so with humility and rigor, is important for society. I have nothing to teach, I have only to learn. This is the trigger that allows me to overcome those moments when obscure wings pass over our heads… I also have to give, but I have to learn in order to give back. I strongly believe in circularity, in the flow of doing and thinking. I also believe that it is important to be simple, transparent. And dedicated.
The idea of ‘salvatio’ returns. The one applied to the desire to be a surgeon.
Yes, perhaps, yet it has very much to do with the fact that even if I had a very liberal education, I first learned from my parents a sense of duty.
To summarize: I have a need for light rigour. And there’s something else, there is the possibility, the doors are open. One just needs the courage, the strength, the nerve to open the doors without always waiting for someone to do it for us. Maybe we can try to make breach on our own. I think about the gesture of Fontana who tore his canvases. In order to do that, you must have an ideal, a dream, a necessity.
One nice thing that has happened to you recently as a citizen or traveler?
It is very personal thing, I received as a gift from my husband another kitten (I love cats), a beautiful Ragdoll (she shows us her first cat of the same breed, Merlin and the newcomer Arthur, and says “we are still not sure about the name “, editor’s note). Both are free to go out and walk over the roofs.
A culinary passion?
As usual I have several passions, or maybe rather than passions I love certain tastes. An apple pie with custard, puff pastry very thin, similar to Tarte Tatin. Ice creams are my passion, I have a very sweet tooth. For the rest I’m very curious.
Which wine / drink?
I cannot drink red wine because it gives me a headache (for many it is the exact opposite). With the exception of Bonarda.
I love Incrocio Manzoni unfiltered. This period it gives me great satisfaction. Then I love bubbles…
A book that accompanies you (and where does it sit at this moment)
Hard to choose. One of the books is the Memoirs of Adriano by Marguerite Yourcenar, and it is exactly in the third shelf of one of my libraries (which cover my house entirely, even these ones here belong to me, she shows an incredible amount of volumes that occupy the entirety of her office and part of the meeting room).
It is close to the exhibition catalog by Antonello da Messina, whose setting I created a few years ago in Rome.
A talent that you have and one you don’t.
I would love to know how to sing or to have at least a musical ear. A teacher of mine used to say that there are no people who are out of tune, but rather non-educated. Perhaps, yet since I was during the recital in kindergarden ‘you do not sing just move your lips’… I gave up. The talent that I have: patience.
What are your methods to live slowly, if you manage from time to time?
I am born slowly, my attitude: a slight slowness.
I really like to count before I speak. I always need to reflect on things even though today unfortunately one must be frenetic. And sometimes being fast can be a great advantage but I’m like a diesel, I take longer to get going, but later…who can stop me?
What have you learned from life so far?
I haven’t learned yet, I found a balance. I learned that you have to know how to listen to others. And later how decide for yourself though. More or less … But, you ask complicated questions!
Ultimately it is beautiful, they make you think, which sometimes we don’t have the time to do!
Translation by Michelangelo Miccolis