By Crystal Mowry, KW|AG’s Curator of Exhibitions and Collections
I had arrived in the Venice close to 1 am, completely disoriented from a day of waiting for progress – waiting in lines, in airports, for ground transport, for telephone operator assistance, for wifi connection. Not surprisingly, those periods of time can be exhausting and leave you wanting something unexpected to happen, something to steal your attention away from the thought that you are losing productive time and that there is little control that you have over the situation. Perhaps that part about productivity and control might be part of the problem. How comfortable are we with the thought that coming face-to-face with the uncontrollable might actually be an opportunity for productivity, if even in the form of an opportunity to learn about our own idiosyncrasies?
My first full day in Venice was one of acclimatization on a number of fronts. It is no secret that those of us who work in situations with strict environmental controls (such as museums) are prone to mythologizing fresh air, heat and sunlight. Some flourish in the outdoors, others wilt. Though Venice is a network of lagoons, one could argue that the air still seems fresh. The heat and the sun, however, were of an intensity that I haven’t experienced for some time. Since I belong to the category of people that seriously wilt in the heat, it wasn’t long before I sought out the cover of shade. Thankfully there was no shortage of amazing art with which to share that shade.
My first stop was the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation. Modest in its scale, compared to other institutions bearing the Guggenheim name, the PGF consists of a museum in its namesake’s former home and smallish courtyard for permanent sculptures. At the time of my visit the museum was featuring two collections-based exhibitions: the first, a focus on work by Italian artists in the Guggenheim collections across the globe; and the second, a selection of work owned by the prolific New York gallerist, Ileana Sonnabend. I spent the majority of my time with the Sonnabend collection, imagining what it might have been like to live with all of the work I was seeing. Although it is likely that Sonnabend would have rotated these and other works through her domestic space (and storage), I wondered if she had clear favorites. Choosing favorites among that group, largely a who’s who list of some of the most influential artists working in the last half of the twentieth century, is no easy feat. Would it be the oversize kitschy Buster Keaton sculpture by Jeff Koons? The austere industrial taxonomy of photographers Bernd and Hilla Becher? The barely visible graphite drawing by Sol LeWitt? Or the smallish, yet dynamic and resistant, painting by the abstract wonder, Cy Twombly? One could lose serious quantities of time arriving at a decision.
Before leaving the Guggenheim I wandered over to a small tree in the courtyard, about ten feet from a marker identifying the location of Peggy’s ashes (and those of her various beloved canine companions). I was elated when I discovered that the tree was actually one of Yoko Ono’s Wish Trees. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this work, its physicality can be described quite simply, however, like most artwork, what it elicits in each individual viewer is bit more complex. In short, the Wish Tree exists as type of collective proposition; its branches are covered with tiny slips of paper bearing “wishes” scrawled by visitors upon encountering the tree. I spent a few quiet moments there with that tree and the evidence of others who had stood before it at an earlier point in time. Some wished for the monumental (world peace) while others exposed an all-too-familiar selfishness (immortal life for a beloved pet). One could lose themselves standing there, working their way through all those aspirations, never knowing if they were the results of spurred moments or deeply harboured thoughts. It took some time before it occurred to me that I too should contribute my own wish to the work, but the container bearing the little strips of wish paper had been exhausted. In the end I was left to satisfy myself with the wishes of others. And to be honest, it felt right to be content with all that was already there.
Read Crystal’s first blog about her trip here >