Cuba and the XIIIth Bienal de Arte

Cuba and the XIIIth Bienal de Arte

by Jeffrey Bishop

Few experiences are as jarring or exhilarating as a first-time visit to Cuba, a country in a sometimes cruel, sometimes beautiful time warp, where a resilient population scrapes by with steely resolve and deep pride, and an even deeper warmth of spirit. When my sister-in-law, the artist Jana Harper, was invited to participate in the 13th Havana Biennial, we paid our first visit.

Arriving from NYC (direct flights now from JFK to Havana), the contrast from the 24/7 churn in the U.S. and the depressing Trumpian news cycle is at first overwhelming. The writer Claire Bishop, (no relation), has characterized such disparity as “capitalist hyper-acceleration versus crippling stasis.”  Bishop has written a significant piece in the May 2019 issue of Artforum, on the prominent Cuban artist/activist Tania Bruguera, and her art of resistance waged in protest against the repressiveness of the Cuban government to open and free expression. The little bit of research I did prior to my trip was frustrated by scant information on the Biennial itself, and I found myself reading rather about resistance on the part of a number of Cuban artists, expats and otherwise, who have been, over the years, and indeed recently, jailed, detained or ostracized by the Ministry of Culture, a clear mouthpiece for the government which has recently issued a new law called Decree 349. The decree can criminalize artists who act independently of government-sanctioned artistic practice. PEN America has called Decree 349 a clear affront to free expression and Amnesty International has deemed it dystopian. Another prominent artist with International stature, Coco Fusco, was denied entry to the country in April. It must be noted however that to this first-time visitor, with little time to roam far afield, there was no overt evidence of protest or controversy anywhere in this XIII Biennial.

Wandering through La Habana Vieja, the historical old city, I was immediately struck by the astoundingly beautiful Colonial architecture, some in fine splendor, but much of it crumbling in decadent decay. Most everyone knows about the cars: American models mostly, (with a smattering of Soviet era Ladas), from the 50’s and 60’s, many convertibles, many in striking tropical pinks, turquoise and other hews that never rolled off an assembly line in Detroit. More significantly, I was forced to reflect on the intense and tragic history of Cuba, the residue of which is everywhere to witness, from centuries of Spanish colonial rule, to the legacy of the slave trade, a monolithic sugar economy that eventually collapsed, and the subsequent revolts and revolutions in quest of autonomy and freedom, first via the greatest Cuban hero, José Martí, and then the 1959 revolution of Fidel Castro and Ché Guevara – only to be supplanted by servitude to and dependence on the Soviet Union, until its disintegration. Perhaps most severely and continuing to this day, the hard and heavy hand of the United States on the throat of the Cuban people in the form of the embargo, termed in Cuba El Bloqueo, and sanctions that continue to cripple life on this magnificent island, a mere 90 miles from Key West. To what continuing purpose one asks?

U.S. made convertibles in Havana near Parque Central

One thing unmistakable in even casual conversation with many Cubans, brought up with scant prompting, is their deep antipathy to the 45th American president, who has shockingly, (or not!), rolled back the slow progress, but progress nonetheless, initiated by Barack Obama and Raul Castro, toward amelioration of relations between the two nations. Unfathomably sad and maddening to ponder.

Organized by a committee of seven curators, The XIII Havana Biennial was titled, The Construction of the Possible. My wife, Jill Baker and I set out to find El Centro de Arte Contemporáneo (CAC), also known as The Wilfredo Lam, which was understood to be the heart and center of the wide-ranging, indeed country wide, exhibition. There we took in strong textile hangings by Abdoulaye Konaté, from Mali, and work by the Cuban, David Beltrán, abstract looking paintings actually based on super close-up photographs of a painting by Diego Velázquez. Also intriguing was work by Fernando Foglino, from Uruguay, who showed a dazzling array of objects coated in gold, including a striking figurine of a girl, meant to replicate the stolen spoils of colonial loot. In the courtyard, Alexia Miranda, had installed elegantly woven hangings.

Abdoulaye Konaté, Les Gouttes Rouge, 2018

Taking our leave from the Wilfredo Lam we asked if there was a map of Biennial sites to take away. Sadly no, was the response; nor was there any literature to speak of, or any curatorial essay. Better help came from people themselves, with directions and suggestions.

Eventually I came to feel that the frustration of trying to take in a reasonable number of widely scattered exhibition sites in our limited time frame, was somehow an appropriate metaphor and warning to the expectations of a typically over-amped American art viewer. Impatience is futile. Those expectations were going to be humbled and the Biennial and indeed Cuba was going to reveal itself very much on its own terms, in its own time.

Abdoulaye Konaté, Les Gouttes Rouge, 2018

Our first evening we took the obligatory convertible ride, in a red ’54 Ford, with the original engine, (or so claimed the driver, who proudly popped the hood to display the engine block), out to the Hotel Nacional, the grand emblem of Cuban deco/neoclassical architecture where the (eventually) corrupt dictator Fulgencio Batista cemented his coup, and where Meyer Lansky and Lucky Luciano held the largest ever meet up of the Mafia.

Alexia Miranda, Tejido Colectivo, 2013-2019

There we began our stroll on the Malecón, Havana’s iconic seawall, to a spectacular sunset and a leisurely walk back to our hotel, eventually via the Paseo de Martí, itself reminiscent of Las Ramblas in Barcelona. There were dozens of sculptures and installations amidst the lovers and groups of friends sitting on the wall, or walking, listening to and playing music, while taking in the moonrise in the cooler evening air. Again, there was at best spotty information as to whether this or that work was part of this year’s Biennial. One of the more compelling installations seemed more of a guerilla action piece, where an artist had jammed rolled up pieces of paper into every available cavity in the pockmarked, salt scarred façade of a crumbling colonial building.  Later, I was gratified to be able to identify this artist as Elio Jesús Fonseca.

Elio Jesús Fonseca, Site specific intervention (Title not known), 2019

The next day at the Fábrica del Arte, a huge and venerable building once the site of a cooking oil factory in the Vedotto neighborhood of Havana, recently converted to a raucous multi-media art space with galleries for exhibitions and multiple stages for performances, we came across the engaging work of Enrique Rottenberg, a force on the Havana scene. One large disturbing photograph titled, The Fearless Woman, showed multiple women hanging upside down, naked and bound by their feet. In an installation called, Gone with the Wind, Rottenberg staged a humorous commentary on teacher student relations (old Soviet/ Cuban relations?), wherein a large standing fan addresses a classroom of smaller table fans which are eagerly perched on old schoolroom seats awaiting instruction before they all “fan up” in eager response.

Enrique Rottenberg, The Fearless Woman, 2019

Elsewhere in the the Fábrica a piece by Ronald Vill constituted a commentary on consumption and desire, even in a society where scarcity is truly the norm. The artist had taken a multitude of photo images from a popular internet site where people can trade or sell possessions, cut them up and fed them into a meat grinder.

Ronald Vill, Take advantage of the Ganga, 2019

 

 

A smiling young woman in a large photograph displays the results, called Ganga, for your consideration. The artist notes that Ganga is defined as a good acquired at a price well below that which normally corresponds to it, at the same time is material that accompanies the minerals, and which is separated from them as useless.

 

Adonis Flores, Visionary, 20

Down a staircase, in a photograph titled Visionary, Adonis Floris hints or teases at Cuban military mythology with a uniformed soldier holding a pair of toilet rolls in place of binoculars.We meandered this labyrinthine building with pleasure as the decked out and largely local crowd began to gather for multiple performances. Eventually we found our way to a simple roof garden where we had a satisfying dinner well away from the more touristy spots in Viejo Habana.  The Fábrica is seen by some as a symbol of Cuba’s accelerating opening to the world. As we left the building near midnight, the line to enter went around the block.

Two other restaurants worth mentioning were La Guarida, made famous in the Oscar nominated film Fresca y Chocolate, and El del Frente, which sported a very hip retro roof terrace.

Before leaving Havana for the elegant smaller city of Matanzas, a second Biennial location, we took in the Museo Nacional de Bellas Arte where I was gratified to see a healthy selection of work by a long-time favorite, the modernist painter Wilfredo Lam, (1902-1982). Also present was work by Ana Mendieta, (1948-1985), long shunned by official Cuban culture for her ex-pat status, but finally inscribed into Cuban art history, thanks largely to the efforts of Tania Bruguera, who restaged, Mendieta’s performative work alongside her own exhibitions until the point was sufficiently made.

In Matanzas we found a smaller but much better organized and digestible segment of the Biennial, curated by the prominent Cuban born American based artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons, who is originally from the city. Despite favoring a disproportionate number of artists from Nashville (Vanderbilt) and Boston (The School of the Museum of Fine Arts), where Campos-Pons has held faculty positions, the Matanzas portion of the Biennial proved very satisfying, spanning a number of venues around the lovely city, most notably in the newly and specially refurbished Ministry of Justice building. Compos-Pans has called her part of the exhibition, Intermittent Rivers, and in a statement of purpose called for a “space for the exchange of ideas that prioritize the need for balance between society, culture and nature.” Much of the work in the Biennial did indeed embrace ecological subjects and issues around communality.

Here were big-name inclusions by Carrie May Weems and Julie Mehretu. The latter had apparently insisted on air conditioning for her handsomely framed works, a not altogether unreasonable request given the delicate nature of paper in a hot and humid climate. But the luxury did not extend to other artists. Given the heat, the space became a popular recharging spot. Richly rewarding were encounters with artists unknown to me, such as the Cuban artist Jorge Y Soloman, who showed three very large paintings made on Ifá mats. Ifá being an Afro-Cuban religion in which this artist is a priest. He cites the pain of the whip, the disbelief of being uprooted and the slavery of black people among sources that flow into the work.

Jorge Y. Salomon, The Way of the Ancestors, 2019

 

Cosmo Whyte, Jamaican DJ Kart, 2019

 

 

 

 

 

 

I also enjoyed Cosmo Whyte’s, The Well-Travelled African, a Jamaican DJ cart from a “project tracking patterns of movement shaping the African diaspora.”  Especially arresting was Ramon Pacheco’s untitled installation featuring a collection of objects from Cuba’s “periodo especial.” The name refers to the hardship Cuba experienced after the collapse of the Soviet Union, leaving the country without its primary benefactor and plunging it into economic freefall, imposing ever harsher periods of extreme shortage. In the face of these dire circumstances the period nonetheless spawned a time of innovative resourcefulness some examples of which are on display in Pacheco’s installation. Note in the photograph for instance the metal food tray that served as a television antenna. The timeframe of the period changes depending on who one talks to. Some say the period lasted for 2 to 3 years, others said a decade and still others wistfully that it persists to this day.

Ramón Pacheco, Installation, (Periodo Especial), 2019

 

 

 

 

On Sunday, the 13 of May, the last official day of this year’s Habana Biennial, my aforementioned sister in law, Jana Harper, led a procession she had conceived with Danza Espiral, a Matanzas based dance group directed by Lilian Padrón, from the beautiful small square Parcque de la Ruida. The performance called, Cargas, proceeded through the streets of the city down to a newly and elegantly refashioned riverside esplanade. Each of a dozen or so dancers, dressed in all white, carried large white sacks on their shoulders. The imagery harked back to the sugar burden that so defined much of Cuba’s economic history. Re-purposed to contemporary significance the dancers had written in red powerful terms they had selected on the sacks: pais (peace), racism, hope, injustice, HIV, transport, utopias, etc. Carrying these sacks in an ingenious choreography of slow, shared movement, these new burdens signified ever-continuing issues plaguing Cuba, but also brought ever hopeful aspirations. The procession slowly snaked its way to the main town square where it deliberately and fittingly made its way inside the newly refurbished Ministry of Justice. A large and satisfied crowd of observers and well-wishers followed.  It was a fitting finale to the 13th Havana Biennale.

Jana Harper, The Burdens We Carry, 2019

On our final night in Cuba, in a restaurant called Bar Bistro Atlantida, in a coastal town away from the tourist beach strip of Varadero, a band showed up to serenade us with some soulful son Cubano. The singer mesmerized me with a powerful rendition of a song I knew from the version by the iconic American jazz bassist Charlie Haden, which he had titled Song for Ché. In Cuba it is called, Hasta Siempre Commandante, and was composed by Carlos Puebla.

Check it out. You might also fall in love with Cuba.

~All Photographs by Boulevardier, Jeffrey Bishop

The New Yorker cartoon, by Roz Chast

I’m in Luxembourg, standing in a gorgeous building, an architectural gem called MUDAM, the Luxembourg Museum of Modern Art. Designed by E.M. Pei, it has great lines, great bones, and a fabulous setting overlooking the fairytale city.

And I’ve just enjoyed a delightful al fresco lunch in the museum’s sun-drenched courtyard. I should be the portrait of contentment.

But you’re not, are you, Jules?

I am not.

It’s the art, isn’t it? What did you think of the art?

I think the art … is a desecration of the building. An insult to the lunch chef. A waste of time, space and money, not necessarily in that order.

This is your chance to explicate.

“A Surrealist Family Has the Neighbors In To Tea,” The New Yorker cartoon, by Otto Soglow

Like so much contemporary art, the exhibits at MUDAM rely on insider knowledge, heavy-handed irony, or evasive shoulder shrugs — “It’s art; it speaks for itself” — to justify its existence. I hate that.

Sounds like you’ve encountered it before.

Oh, yes. Worse still was a piece I saw at San Francisco’s Contemporary Jewish Museum earlier this year. That one required the presence of the artist to explain what the hell it meant.

The nature of that piece?

It was a lighted sign that said something like, “No Entry.” At the launch, the artist flew in from New York to explain the sign was from a former darkroom at his art school, and that it had deep and personal meaning to him.

“Deep and personal meaning.” That’s not sufficient for you?

Not even close. If you need the creator (or in this case, the guy who swiped the sign) standing by to explain the work (in this case, “work” used in the loosest possible way), then the work is a failure.

The New Yorker cartoon, by Saul Steinberg

Somehow, I sense there’s more.

There is. My moment of clarity in Luxembourg came as I was leaving the museum. Before lunch, I’d walked through what I named The IKEA-lite exhibit. It consisted entirely of cheaply made furniture arranged to cover most of the floor-space in a large gallery. Then, as I was leaving MUDAM, in the entrance pavilion, I passed a bunch of wooden crates. I stopped. I shook my head. And I still don’t know if the art was inside the crates or if the crates were the art.

So you were angry at art in San Francisco and in Luxembourg. Maybe this is more about you than art.

I don’t think so. I was vamping on this selfsame subject to my London friend, Steven. His moment came at home. His daughter the art student was late for an end-of-term project, and she started madly spraying canvasses with white paint. When he asked her about it, she said, “This is what they want.”

And?

And she was right. She got an A.

From this you conclude?

That, clearly, this isn’t just a Luxembourg issue. You see the same thing in London, in San Francisco—

Have you a more substantial San Francisco example, Jules?

I do. The day before my visit to Luxembourg, I was at one of my favorite museums in the world, the de Young. They were proudly hosting “Modernism,” on loan from the National Gallery of Art in Washington.

That sounds most promising.

So I thought.

But? I believe I heard a But.

Remember when your dumb uncle — the one who never took an art-appreciation course — used to look at modern art and mutter, “My kid could do better than that?”

Indeed.

I used to think he was ignorant; now, I think he’s right.

In what way, right?

Squares of thick paint putty-knifed onto canvas, disembodied arms taped to a muddied painting, giant monochromatic rectangles — they may be expressions of rebellion or messages from a tormented soul or cries for help, but art, they ain’t.

Experts beg to differ, Jules.

Yes, but they’re wrong, as experts on art so often are. In 50 years, these arms and squares and black canvases will be rightly regarded as a cultural blip, an evolutionary wrong turn, an artistic dead end, not the movement of stunning significance they were seen as at the time.

That’s what you think, is it?

That’s my story, and I’m stickin’ with it. But what do I know? I think my kid could do better than that.

“Not bad, for art,” The New Yorker cartoon, by Dean Vietor

 

 

Carson River and Cow Tracks at Carson Sink, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Fallon, Nevada, 2018, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

‘Size is not everything but…’ has a large impact on photography.  This writer has always been sensitive to the size of prints presented in a gallery setting since they broke on the scene in the late seventies. I printed some of the first large (one meter square) prints on the floor of my studio in Seattle, that were exhibited and collected.  I always ask myself when viewing large prints, “how would these look as 8 x 10 inch images?”  There are many examples of images, such as the renowned photographer Richard Misrach, who exhibited very large prints of his shots of the Golden Gate Bridge, which he shot from his deck in the East Bay.  These definitely would not hold up to my test, they would seem like ordinary snapshots.

 

Salt Track Looking Northwest, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2017,  Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

Michael Light’s prints vary up to seventy-nine inches (in limited editions of two) and many are the usual large format size, forty by sixty inches.  I do not wish to belabor this point–the size presenting in photography is very germane to their impact.  Light’s work is enhanced by the size. In his self-written press release he calls them “painterly investigations,” so he is very aware of how large points transform to paintings.  Enough about size.

 

Salt Wash and Tracks Looking South, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2018, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

The subjects are photographed from his own plane at low elevation of the Great Basin between California and Utah, which twelve thousand years ago was covered in 900 feet of water, hence the richly variegated color.  Being the location of the annual Burning Man art festival in the Black Rock Desert enhances the iconography.   He manipulates the saturation and hues of the images in his computer to emote a lexicon of patterns caused by the confluence of natural forms and man-made markings.  Tire tracks form an overlay of rich patterns on the landscape that become a codex of symbols that read as emotional markings, not unlike the famous cloud studies that Alfred Stieglitz shot in the 1920’s that he titled, “Equivalent” [supposedly for various emotions] around Lake George.   I believe these operate on this same level, and have to wonder how they might have looked in black and white. Along this comparison line, a well-known photographer, David Maisel, also aerially photographed Owens Lake in California, only a few years ago which concentrated more on the rich coloration of pollutants and chemical deposits in much broader strokes.

 

Salt Tracks Looking North, Pleistocene Lake Bonneville, Wendover, Utah, 2017
pigment print, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

Beyond the painterly qualities, which are quite oblivious, there is a sculptural quality to the images because of the almost metallic nature of the subject’s surfaces of deposited minerals.  They appear to be found objects, due to their abstraction, but the digitally enhanced colors detract from this response. There is a fossil quality to the imagery, which provides richness and depth like modern petroglyphs. Due to the over saturation of imagery in our lives, it has become necessary to hype of colors to capture the attention of our overwhelmed eyes.

 

Black Rock City in October, Looking Northwest, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Gerlach, Nevada, 2017, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

 

These images and a large format book he presents here, is a wonderful collision of ancient topography, from the Pleistocene period, and the modern markings of humans.  They dance well together.

Hosfelt Gallery, SF: Exhibition closes on March 16, 2019

 

Black Rock City in October, Looking Southeast, Center Camp, Pleistocene Lake Lahontan, Gerlach, Nevada, Courtesy of the artist and Hosfelt Gallery, San Francisco

La Sacra Allegoria di Giovanni Bellini~Gallerie degli Uffizi

by Marina De Ros

La Sacra Allegoria di Giovanni Bellini, oil on the table, 1490-1500

A visit to the Uffizi to sink our hands in the ancient roots of Occidental culture…

At the Uffizi there is a small painting, a small painting with an unreal and fantastic atmosphere, which contains an enigma not yet solved.

The painting does not have large dimensions, but does not go unnoticed alongside the great giants that populate the Uffizi rooms, because it has a seductive elegance in itself, which attracts the looks of the most demanding visitors into silence.

On the right, two male figures walking close to the precious marble inlaid floor of the square, they are St. Giobbe and St. Sebastiano, identifiable because they were portrayed in the “Pala di San Giobbe” painted Giovanni Bellini, in 1487.

St. Giobbe and St. Sebastiano: the Sage and the Beautiful. The two saints are accompanied by a slow and elegant step, both of them have the same powerful charm, a hieratic and composed Giobbe has nothing to envy to the beautiful and young Sebastiano. They are close, symmetrical, on the same level, are a combination of Rationality and Beauty, and I think it is not blasphemous to think that our painter wanted to make them represent the quintessence of Art, as it was understood in the 1400’s: Art as a construct human, rational (St. Giobbe) and beautiful (St. Sebastiano).

I would say even more: St. Giobbe and St. Sebastiano wandering around the square near a tree that, because of its fallen fruits on the ground, we recognize it as the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, of biblical memory. The main symbol of ethics, placed here in a vase in the center of the square. In front of the entrance gate. Those who leave the square must turn their backs.

The two Saints, who represent the Art, walk beside it, as if to say that Art lives by right in the space of Ethics.

We see that some children play on the ground with the apples of the tree, dropped by a little boy who shakes the tree trunk. Unlike the children, St. Giobbe and St. Sebastiano do not lower themselves to touch the fruits. In fact, in the painting it is only the children who are attracted to the fruit of the tree, just as Adam and Eve were before being driven out of the earthly Paradise. They are only to imbibe. To want to arrogate the right to sentence what is good and what is bad, while the Art, represented by the Sage and the Beautiful, has no interest in this theme, the Art lives in the same place of morals, without taking care of it, proudly carrying the theatrical arrows penetrated in the white flesh of St. Sebastiano.

We are in front of the apotheosis of Art, of its sanctification, as a discipline with a recognized status of heavenly autonomy.

But the allegory does not stop there. On the left in the scene a further scenario opens up and another theme, that of Power, is dealt with. Here appear some women, one of them is sitting on a precious throne, it is the Madonna, identifiable because portrayed with the same clothes worn in the “Pala di San Giobbe” of 1487.

Bellini describes a scene of matriarchy, as if to say that the Power, in the ideal world, should be managed in a feminine way, not in terms of strength but with those qualities attributed to women in the 1400’s, such as Mercy and Justice, as they would mean the two Saints next to her. Perhaps this is a criticism of the artist’s power?

The hypothesis would justify the cryptic language of symbols.

Beyond the balcony you enter the real knot of the painting.

Next to the open door of the square, there are two new saints: St. Giuseppe and St. Paolo, St. Giuseppe identifiable because several times portrayed by the author, for example we meet the same face in the painting, “The presentation to the Temple,” of 1465; St. Paolo identifiable for the sword he holds in his hand.

The first looks at the children, the second defends the square from the entrance of the strangers. Beyond the open door a small beach and then a lake. Beyond the lake is a fairytale natural landscape with curved and jagged lines, completely contrasting with the rationality of the terrace in the foreground.

Here there is a strong contrast between two incompatible elements: the architectural square and the natural landscape beyond the lake. Architecture on one side and Nature on the other, in the middle a mirror of water with deceptive reflections.

The rational human artistic construct, lyrical in its beauty and illuminated by a very clear light, is completely separated from a landscape that is equally beautiful but is placed on a lucidly different plane, completely different, there alternate lights and shadows that, in some places, are even obscure, such as to be able to obscure the beautiful lamp that rises from the throne of the Madonna.

There, outside the rational artistic construct, there is the world of nature, of deceptive instincts.

On the right in a recess hidden under the stairs we can glimpse a half-man and half-horse creature, near the two lovers, at the farthest point, a half-naked man accompanies a donkey. On the mountains: the wind. Below: the solitude of the man who goes down the stairs and the unkindness of the shepherd in the cave.

There is no artistic construction in the landscape beyond the lake, there is only the irrational world in which the mountain above the lovers takes on almost the appearance of a giant monster.

By underlining this fracture, the painting highlights the main characteristic of our culture, that is, the strong indication to prefer the rational aspect of life, rather than the instinctual one.

Capital indication for our culture. Ancient indication, but still present.

Thanks to this strong warning, in the past centuries the Western world has succeeded in creating a rich culture, beautiful and respectful of human rights.

A culture that has always presented a vulnus within itself: the splitting of our soul, which has always been strongly induced to oppose the plane of the mind to that of instinct, and the creation in man of a certain congenital schizophrenia, which more and more needed to be healed.

Giovanni Bellini is the first to search for a balance between these two instances, which he paints as being separated by an open door. He himself will cross this door, in the 1515 painting, “Il festino degli Dei,” completely set in the landscape, free from any architectural form.

Over the centuries, the transgressive forces of the Western world have initiated numerous other attempts to find a balance between two instances, going beyond the open door of the balcony.

The phenomenon of Romanticism is perhaps the highest example, through which the Western man has incurred in the world of nature and instinct, bringing with him art and private life.

All the artistic and cultural movements of the ’70s are self-congratulated to be the highest flag of this attempt, telling us that they have crossed a very high wall, rather than having gone beyond an open gate.

The attempt has been made several times, but the separation for us remains.

This pleasant exercise in the Renaissance, makes us understand what the men of the fifteenth century had in their hearts, the same men who at that time also had the courage to face the ocean to reach the American shores. Men with an ancient culture who were guided by rational warnings. Men who separated the rational part of the soul from the natural and instinctual part.

From them the Western culture was born, that is the place where was arisen the attention and the consequent initiatives of protection of human rights, even of the weakest.

I believe that this was possible thanks to the ancient ability to separate rational instances from the selfish forces of instinct, that wanted to overwhelm these rights. That is, I believe that this was possible only because in us there are the ancient roots of the Renaissance.

Boulevardier Marina De Ros grew up in the Northern mountains of Italy and studied philosophy at the University of Venezia (Venice). She ran a gallery of modern art in Verona and now lives in Rome.

FREESPACE: Venice Architecture Biennale 2018

September 24, 2018

  “FREESPACE describes a generosity of spirit and a sense of humanity at the core of architecture’s agenda, focusing on the quality of space itself. FREESPACE focuses on architecture’s ability to provide free and additional spatial gifts to those who use it and on its ability to address the unspoken wishes of strangers. FREESPACE celebrates […]

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PETER HUJAR: Speed Of Life

August 6, 2018

If the camera lens is the portal to the soul of the photographer, then this one is fuzzy – intentionally.  Peter Hujar often bragged about being on the margins of society, in his life style and his image making.  Hujar had a brief stint as a magazine photographer, the last assignment shooting the Gay Liberation […]

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Silver Spoons & Syringes

March 27, 2018

It’s high time to pull my head out of the dark clouds and celebrate Boulevardiers, flâneurs,  strollers, loungers, saunterers, loafers, and of course, Faire du Lèche-Vitrines everywhere. I’m smiling inside and floating away thinking about Gwynnes, Vanderbilts, socialites, and princes… The Federalist: “The Boulevardier cocktail has a romantic origin tied to a particularly heady period […]

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Chemicals, Casks, Crowns & Corks

October 1, 2017

Depending on your perspective, as a Boulevardier, one of these might come to mind as a place to start perusing this post… What contemptible scoundrel has stolen the cork to my lunch?      ~W. Clement Stone His heart danced upon her movement like a cork upon a tide.        ~James Joyce What you learn after you are […]

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Venice 2017 and the Biennale

August 16, 2017

No matter how many times one is fortunate enough to visit Venice it is impossible to be blasé about the wonders of this most liquid of cities. This is especially true when, every two years, significant cultural capital is expended staging what is still the most venerated of Biennales, in an all out effort to […]

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Ivan Karp: An Eye for Talent

July 11, 2017

  Wearing sunglasses indoors is a pretense. Except if you are Ivan Karp. He paired this affectation, which he pulled off with aplomb, with an unlit cigar clenched in his teeth all day long. Ivan Karp lorded over one of the most prestigious and long lasting galleries in New York, situated in SoHo before it […]

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Larry Sultan: Close to Home

May 3, 2017

A thoroughly California product, Larry Sultan mined the Golden State’s sensibility for most of his career. After a degree in Political Science, he pursued a graduate degree at the San Francisco Art Institute.  He was immediately drawn to the conceptual dimension of picture taking and joined forces with a fellow conceptualist, Mike Mandel.  They collaborated […]

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Ohachimeguri (literally, “going around the bowl”)

March 6, 2017

2017…is a making me long for places I’ve been. A walk on our local path through the neighborhood park on a drizzly day, yet under a bursting cherry tree, made the dense clouds of 2017 disperse. Last weekend we saw the Japanese Photography show at SF MOMA. Last December, we were lucky enough to catch […]

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A Tale of Two Museums: Mexico City

February 8, 2017

On a recent end of year art pilgrimage to Mexico City, we set our sights on a visit to the Museo Soumaya in the city’s Nuevo Polanco neighborhood. The museum, which opened in 2011, houses the private collection of one of the world’s richest men, billionaire Carlos Slim, who built his fortune in telecommunications and now […]

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Philip Guston: Laughter in the Dark, New York

January 9, 2017

In this current milieu of political upheaval and rancor, these acerbic drawings of Guston’s strike a poignant cord with the American public.  These drawings were executed in Guston’s studio in Woodstock, New York, collaborating with the writer and friend, Philip Roth who had just completed a similar critical series of essays, titled ‘Our Gang.’ As […]

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ART BASEL Miami Beach 2016

December 10, 2016

As a neophyte, going to the largest art fair in the world now, was an eye opening experience.   It requires preparation, stamina and fortitude. I had the advantage of traveling with seasoned veterans who had visited there six times and who run a company, art-collecting.com. There are numerous venues scattered around the Miami area, ranging […]

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Danny Lyon: A Cult Figure

November 15, 2016

There is an aspect of my encounters with young photographers that seek rebellion and adventure – it comes with the territory. Danny Lyon personifies this dynamic. I had the honor of participating in a workshop he taught in the seventies and was very moved by his conviction to the medium, and his irreverence as well. […]

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Five Years of The Boulevardiers and the beautiful things along the way…

October 2, 2016

The goal of The Boulevardiers is to bring art to life in the context of culture and design.  Sometimes it has been humorous, sometimes very sober.  But the guiding force has been our view of beauty and how it sustains life.  There have been many assaults on art over the years, from many fronts.  Recent […]

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Greek Game of Thrones — Acrocorinth Castle

September 16, 2016

Who could resist the temptation whilst in ancient Greece to visit a mysterious site, the Temple of Aphrodite, at Acrocorinth, marked only with a lone column, where legend reveals that more than 1000 sacred prostitutes associated with the temple. Acrocorinth is the acropolis (the upper or higher town) of ancient Corinth. When The Boulevardiers arrived […]

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Roberto Burle Marx: Brazilian Landscape Designer Brillante

August 14, 2016

Photograph © Leonardo Finotti.

There was much trepidation as the 2016 Olympics approached; everything from security, Zika, to running water and accommodations. Several stories appeared in The New York Times about assaults, and robbery. As the date approached, the Torch Bearer was stoned and ridiculed because of all the offenses to the citizens of Brazil — the displacement of […]

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Advil on a silver platter…

July 31, 2016

One of the joys of life these days, and I know I am ultra-privileged, is that my life offers me the opportunity for international travel, with my learned and adventurous spouse, and, oh!, the places we go! I’m in London and Paris each year, and I’m determined to go to a Fashion Week show. The […]

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Josef Sudek – a passionate man: Jeu de Paume

July 10, 2016

Rarely does a photographer look so inward to create his or her images. In the many years I have viewed photography, I have not been so emotionally moved by the sentiments of a series of images depicting the inner sanctum of a visual artist. The range is extreme here in this retrospective: well hung and […]

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The World is my Oyster ~ artist Ahmed Alrashid

June 26, 2016

  The ‘Global Village’ is a clique. But in the world of design, be it architecture, graphic or product design – it is a global market. Jordan tennis shoes come to mind. Working from the Middle East, based in Kuwait and traveling to Dubai, Ahmed Alrashid, has struck a note that resonates throughout the world, […]

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Gem in the Desert, Museum of Islamic Art ~ Doha, Qatar

April 30, 2016

Approaching the cubistic building along a path of luscious palm trees, I knew there was something special inside this Museum. In my travels across the Mid-East, there was an alarming dearth of cultural artifacts. The National Museum in Kuwait City was appalling, and impossible to find, as well. The excuses for cultural artifacts were dark […]

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Saved by Ivana…

March 12, 2016

  From our Boulevardier & Publisher, Kim Steele: I shot a portrait once a week for Time magazine, Business section, in the 1980’s, and hit all the major players, including The Don. Trump was the most difficult, made me wait for hours, hurried me, until Ivana came in and said, “The reason you don’t like […]

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Biggest Scam in the Art World in a Century: Greed shows it’s teeth

March 4, 2016

  Forgery is not an offense under the law of Scotland, but here in the U.S. it has caused quite a stir. The distinguished Knoedler Gallery in Manhattan has shuttered it doors after one hundred and fifty years. Knoedler dates its origin to 1846, when French dealers Goupil & Cie opened a branch in New York, as […]

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Coralie Bickford-Smith — A Love Story

February 12, 2016

        The Boulevardiers have a new friend, Coralie Bickford-Smith ~ the book designer.  When you read about Coralie and her magnificent work, if you don’t know Coralie yet, you will be envious of our friendship. Don’t despair, it’s ok to fall in love, read on…!     In Coralie’s words from her […]

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DAVID IRELAND – San Francisco’s Most Famous Art Home

January 17, 2016

  The first time I had the honor to walk into the home at 500 Capp Street of the renowned artist in 2001, about whom I knew very little, I realized it was a special place. I was introduced by the Director of Crown Point Press, Valerie Wade, a friend of Ireland. Ireland was elderly […]

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Albertopoulis…the V&A…and an “extremely capacious handbag”

December 25, 2015

  Happy & Beautiful Holidays to all our Boulevardiers & Readers…thank you for another inspiring year!   The Boulevardiers recently did London, from top to bottom, Shakespeare to the Houses of Parliament, to Bond Street & Saville Row, to museums, many, including the Victoria & Albert Museum, which is really one of the wonders of […]

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MICHAEL HEIZER: The man who moves mountains

October 27, 2015

  THE MOST PROMINENT EARTH SCULPTOR IN THE WORLD, Michael Heizer has experienced a resurgence in his work, as evidenced by his recent exhibition at Gagosian Gallery in New York this summer, which The Boulevardiers had the pleasure of viewing. As a neophyte in art reviewing, just awarded my NEA grant as an ‘emerging critic,’ […]

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When in Milan … Expo 2015

September 19, 2015

The Boulevardiers have been to EXPO 2015. We were impressed, surprised, entertained, humbled, underwhelmed, treated to a world-class press tour of the Switzerland pavillion, in awe of the Korea pavilion, left with big thoughts, and big questions. Sustainability, the ifs ands and buts are resoundingly evident at EXPO 2015, more here. Does this drive all […]

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Flaming June, and other Pre-Raphaelites

July 19, 2015

“PAINT the leaves as they grow! If you can paint one leaf, you can paint the world.” John Ruskin The Guardian, Friday, May 1, 2015: A remarkable study for Flaming June, one of the best known of all Pre-Raphaelite paintings, has been discovered hanging discreetly behind a bedroom door in an English country mansion. I […]

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John Heartfield…Abandoned in a field by his parents as a child…

May 29, 2015

  “I lost my parents in 1899 and thereafter lived as an orphan with different families.”   John Heartfield managed to rise to a distinguished career as a graphic designer after a very challenging childhood, founding a publishing house, Malik-Verlag in 1917, with the renowned artist George Grosz, one of this publisher’s favorite artists.  Both […]

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