DryStoneGarden

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The Messner Mountain Museum at Firmian

Along with Castelvecchio, my other favorite castle/museum in Italy is the Messner Mountain Museum at Firmian near Bolzano. I was restrained about taking photos at most of the castles and museums I visited, but I indulged myself at this one. Everything about it — the site, the historic stone architecture, the modern intervention, and the art collection within it — is top class.

The castle sits on a wonderful hill with formations of columnar porphyritic rock; it commands a great view over the countryside and would be a ‘power spot’ in most cultures. The castle itself dates back to 945 AD, with a rich history thru the intervening years. The restoration and adaptation is wonderfully done, most of the additions created with beautiful reddish steel; a tunnel was cut through the rock in one place and an amphitheater carved into the hillside in another. And Messner’s collection of art, statuary, and alpine memorabilia is interesting, varied but linked by the themes of mountains and mountain mythology.

The whole ensemble is a pastiche — Tibetan prayer flags on an Italian castle, Indian deities on midieval defensive walls, Buddha’s disciples in a defensive tower — but a fascinating pastiche, and one that Messner earned the right to create it as arguably the greatest mountaineer in history, a Tyrolean who climbed in Nepal. It’s not for purists, and I’m not going to argue with anyone who calls it a rich guy’s vanity project, but I loved it. Beautiful hill, beautiful castle, beautiful restoration, beautiful collection. An excess of photos are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Castelvecchio Stone

After Brion I visited Castelvecchio Museum, one of Carlo Scarpa’s other masterpieces, a beautiful restoration of a 14th century castle. Scarpa did a master job of revealing the historic architecture while adapting it to its new use as a museum. Like Brion, it’s been written about a great deal; Carlo Scarpa/Museum of Castelvecchio is one example that can be read online. I loved the building, but I was also fascinated by how he displayed the stone sculptures in the museum. I don’t usually pay a great deal of attention to this kind of figurative and religious statuary, but some of the ones at Castelvecchio are particularly expressive and Scarpa did a terrific job of displaying them. Almost every one has some touch from Scarpa to make the piece better. This statue of Jesus is a brilliant composition, immeasurably better because of the window. It’s like a Vermeer.

It might be the most anguished single stone I’ve ever seen. Apparently it was originally placed at the entrance to a leprosy hospital, the idea being that no matter how much the people with leprosy might suffer, Jesus suffered more.

Displayed across from the Jesus statue, Scarpa placed a statue of Mary collapsing as she witnesses her son’s suffering. The chiaroscuro lighting, emphasizing her face dropping into shadow and the crumpling S curve of her body, is straight from a Renaissance painting. Read the rest of this entry »

Brion

On my Italy trip I went to Brion Cemetery, the chapel and memorial garden Carlo Scarpa designed for the Brion family on a parcel of land adjoining a smalltown cemetery. It’s a family memorial, but it’s also a de facto Carlo Scarpa memorial, a destination for the legions of Scarpa fans, which now absolutely includes me. I knew of Brion, but didn’t know where it was, just that it was in an obscure town in the Venezia, and it didn’t seem like somewhere I could easily visit on the bicycle. But then as I was riding along, I randomly saw a sign for it and immediately detoured. Pure happenstance.

It’s hard to overstate how glad I am. I’d seen photos, but it’s fantastic in person, a tour de force of concrete detailing. There’s symbolism and a narrative to the garden, but what fascinates me is Scarpa’s ability to execute variations on a theme and to incorporate eccentric design moves into a cohesive design. It’s all very quirky, but it all works.

It also struck me that the concrete feels like it is built out of discrete units, there’s a respect for each element of concrete and the joints that bring everything together. You get a sense of the construction of the place and the hand of the designer and workers that created it; it’s as if the wood used to form all of the board-formed concrete still has a presence in the garden. I studied the joints to try and figure out the process, and I’ve seen some of the construction drawings, but I would love to have seen the forms. ‘Damn, he had a good concrete person,’ was one of the first things I said as I walked around.

Brion has been photographed a great deal, but never by me, so I’m indulging myself. An excess of photos are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Stone Topo Models

The other thing, along with drawing, that saved Venice for me was going to the Biennale. I hadn’t planned on going, but it was out of the heat and away from the main tourist hordes and in the end I liked it a lot.

I found a lot of the pavilions interesting. Maybe the best was the German exhibition about the Berlin Wall, with a couple of perspective games — isolated panels that from a certain vantage point appeared to be a continuos wall, and a mirror trick that made the wall appear infinite — and genuinely interesting info about the wall’s past and present. I gave it my highest rating, a full Hasselhoff.

But my favorite was the Mexico exhibition: architectural models fabricated in stone and mounted as wall panels. Maybe I’m the exact target audience. Afterwards I found it was completely absent from all of the ‘best of the biennale’ listicles; maybe it’s not flashy enough, there’s a lot of gray and a lot of the same stone. But I think it’s a great series; there’s a nice range of scales, a varying degree of abstraction, and the fabricators used a few different techniques to make the models.

Another half dozen are below. Read the rest of this entry »

Italy Drawings

Bolgona, Via Rizzoli

These are my drawings from Italy. Mostly piazzas. I found it very pleasant to sit at a cafe or maybe on some steps and draw the piazzas. Towards the end are a bunch of bridges in Venice. Drawing saved Venice for me. I was initially shocked by the hordes and felt bad to be a part of it, but eventually I found a bench to sit and draw Piazza San Marcos and San Giorgio island, and I began to appreciate the city. Later I drew a bunch of the bridges and ignored the crowds taking selfies on them. I missed a lot of the famous sites, but I feel good about what I did see. Venice is amazing, Italy is amazing, I hope to go back as soon as next summer. Read the rest of this entry »

Jorge Jimenez Deredia Sculptures in Lucca

Along with Carrara, one of the other places I ended up visiting instead of Florence was Lucca, a town which turned out to be great. I’d never heard of it, but apparently it’s a popular destination; Italy has no end of wonderful places to visit and a couple of my favorite places were ones I’d never heard of beforehand. And instead of seeing David, I got to see a lovely outdoor exhibition of sculptures by Jorge Jimenez Deredia that were scattered throughout Lucca’s old town. Deredia is a Costa Rican sculptor who has lived in Italy since the 70’s. He does a nice job of synthesizing classical and modern, old world and new, figurative and abstract. The most impressive is this one here, which was sited just outside the gate to the old town. It’s huge, hopefully the photos give a sense of its scale.

I think the marble is from the nearby Carrara quarries I showed in my last couple posts. He has studied and had a workshop there, and the stone looks right for Carrara, with lovely flecks of gray mixed into the white marble. There’s a softness and fleshiness to it, really beautiful.

He also works in black granite and bronze. I’m rarely interested in bronzes, but his are great. He credits seeing the Boruca spheres in his native Costa Rica at age nine as the foundational moment of his art, and pretty much everything he does relates to the sphere. From what I can tell, he does three things: curvy women, curvy women interacting with spheres, and quadtychs that show spheres transforming into curvy women. The Lucca exhibition didn’t have any of the complete quadtychs, but the works on exhibit made a nice overview and a fun objective as I pedaled around the town center looking for them.

A couple more are below. His website shows more of his work and includes some worthwhile videos, including two that show the installation at Lucca and one that shows the creation of a large bronze. Read the rest of this entry »