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REPORT FROM LA BIENNALE DI VENEZIA: Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore

Our reporter at the Venice Biennale describes a breathtaking installation based on archangels in the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore.

Every Biennale, the Isola di San Giorgio Maggiore is the site of an array of quality exhibitions.  This year, “City of Refuge” by Belgian artist Belinda De Bruyckere leads the way with a breathtaking installation based on archangels in the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore. On the same island, the Cini Foundation, which is housed in the charming monastery, is featuring “In Nebula” by Chinese artist Chu Teh-Chun, “Murano Glass from 1912- 1930”, “Legacy” by Helmut Newton and “Grass and Water” by Alex Katz. If you happen to be in Venice, plan to spend a lovely day on San Giorgio, have lunch at the classic San Giorgio Café (a little-known gem, with jazz brunch on Sundays), and see both exhibits. Take the #2 vaporetto from San Zaccaria to begin your San Giorgio adventure. It’s only a five-minute ride to the island.

Here are seven photos that I took to show you the “City of Refuge” installation by Belinda De Bruyckere in the Basilica of San Giorgio.

It is always a monumental task for an artist to make an imprint on the intricate architectural interior of the enormous Basilica. Du Bruyckere’s complex installation based on fallen archangels rises to the occasion. The archangels first appeared in Du Bruyckere’s work during COVID when she encountered the painting “Dead Christ Supported by an Angel” (attributed to Giorgione 1501-1510).

The site-specific works are mixed media and utilize aluminum, wax, lead, wood, fabric, resin, and animal skins.

Some of my first thoughts were about the references to and techniques originated by well-known artists such as Anselm Kiefer, Joesph Beuys and Louise Bourgeois. But now that I have been to see the installation three times, the work takes on an ephemeral life of its own. The archangels seem suspended between heaven and earth.  The draped figures lean slightly forward on their toes and the melted wax wings seem to shift the balance so the works are suspended at the tipping point.

De Bruyckere’s use of mirrors is what captivates viewers and compels them to continue to examine the relationships between the works, the architecture, the objects and religious imagery within the Basilica.

Belinda De Bruyckere explains, “My sculptures generate themselves, they each portray their hunger for existence and the toil of them of their coming into being. But eventually they stand alone, revealing their existential solitude. What I want to achieve here is for people not to look at my work as something beautiful. I want to touch them where they are afraid to be touched. Address those things they do not find words for.”

The second half of the exhibition continues behind the sacristy through many rooms.

 

I hope these pictures will communicate why “City of Refuge” is among my favorite works in this 60th Biennale de La Venezia.

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