Thursday, August 29, 2013

Zhang Huan Forte di Belvedere Florence Italy

Cari Amici (Dear Friends),

Before I headed north recently to carve stone in the Medieval Festival in Pontremoli, Italy, a friend and I went to see the exhibit at the newly reopened Forte di Belvedere in Florence, Italy.  The Forte was built by the famous Medici family between 1590 and 1595.  The artist having a solo exhibit there is the apparently famous Zhang Huan.  [I am surprisingly ignorant about most of the contemporary art world.]

I did not particularly care for the large sculptures outside on the grounds.  I did not feel that they were well made (the hand-hammered bronze) or even aesthetically appealing in that space.  However, the views of the city from the Forte are quite good.  And I did enjoy the art that was inside and hanging on the walls.

I do not have the space here to cover the entire exhibit, titled “L’Anima e la Materia” (“Soul and Matter”).  But I can share a few images and my responses to them.  The works that really impressed me were paintings of ash on linen.  The artist became a Buddhist monk in 2005 and it changed his art, naturally.  The ash is actually the incense ash from temples around Shanghai.  The ashes are taken to the artist’s studio and continue to burn to give him a collection of different shades and textures to use in his art.

The artist juxtaposed his image of Jesus Christ in “The Last Supper” with an ash painting of Confucius speaking with his followers (the latter is shown here in entirety in the first image).  I have always felt that black and white (or monochrome neutral) images have a special kind of power for the viewer and thus, I was lured in to examine this work.  For me, the materials used are what is impressive or wonderful.  The textures and sometimes subtlety is intriguing.  Mystery is hypnotic for us, isn’t it?  It is important to keep our sense of curiosity occupied.

In another room was my favorite piece in the exhibit.  Up close who would not have thought of the beach with these swirls?  I also thought of the mountains and the stones you often find near their rivers… combinations of white and black.  I love the textures from the fires of the materials. 

And then, stand back a bit…. You see the grouping of tigers!  While Mr. Huan used triangles in the compositions of the Confucius piece and the tigers, the latter work is more successful.  In the two large panels in the first room (with Confucius and Christ), the first response was “What the … ?” as one wonders what is being seen or what the point is.  Upon closer inspection, one sees the seeming chaos has an order and a beauty.  And ok… but the tigers composition to me is beautiful from any distance and I find it more intriguing than a more precise image.

Now, maybe I did not read the accompanying text as much as I should have, but I had the impression that the artist wanted us to believe that he allows the ash to burn until he has a collection of whites, greys, and blacks with which to create a composition.  My friend and I both examined the sides and the images up close.  We believe that there is paint applied over the top of at least parts of the artwork.  In the seascape images, the sheer amount of work in sorting the ashes would have been the sign of … an extremely “dedicated” (read “insanely patient”) person.  In any event, however the work was created, the effects were lovely.

This last piece I share with you in a pair of sculptures in a bright silver material. One sculpture is of Buddha and one of Jesus.  The face each other and their gestures reflect one another.   For someone such as myself who finds religion interesting, but is not a believer, the idea of how similar are the religions of the world is not a new one.  And I felt that the point in this composition was not particularly edifying.  However, I really loved the way the reflected light danced upon the table and wall.  So, perhaps as with most things in life, we enjoy what we can and disregard the rest. 

Theexhibit “Soul and Matter” with  artistZhang Huan will continue at the Forte di Belvedere (Via de San Leonardo 1)through 13 October 2013 in Florence, Italy.  It is worthwhile, so I hope that you get to see it.  For more information, contact:

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