Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Fragile. Murano. Musée Maillol

Jan Fabre,  Shitting Doves of Peace and Flying Rats, 2011

Included in the exhibition Fragile. Murano. Chefs-d’oeuvre de verre de la Renaissance au XXIe siècle at the Musée Maillol are works commissioned for Glasstress, a collateral event of the Venice biennale. For Glasstress, known contemporary artists who have no previous knowledge of working in the medium of glass are invited to create works in glass on the island of Murano and exhibit at the biennale. A selection of these pieces is the final room of this exhibition of exquisite glass at Musée Maillol. I struggled to find a way into the glass from previous centuries. Yes, I could look at it and think it was beautiful, yes I could see the intricate lines where the glass had been engraved with diamonds, the swirling marble effects of melted glass that is coloured the whole way through, the exquisite details and extravagance yet simultaneous fragility of pieces made for rich families from the 17th, even the 19th century. But the installations I loved the most were the contemporary ones because I was able to see how the glass is used in very creative ways, how the material is pushed in all directions, not just literally, but for its contradictions and multiple meanings.
Javier Perez, Carrona, 2011

Among the contemporary pieces are Javier Pérez’ Carrona, 2011, Jan Fabre’s Shitting Doves of Peace and Flying Rats, 2011, and Shen Yuan’s 2008 piece Poïkilotherme. Pérez’ Carrona, 2011 is terrifying. A blood red chandelier has fallen, or more likely, was forced to the ground by the ravens who devour it as if it was their prey. Little imagination is needed for us to see that the crows have turned the glass chandelier into a carcass. They are like vultures feeding on glass, its intense red dripping from their hungry beaks. Standing before the piece with the self assured crows, heads held high, satiated by their meal of glass, it feels like the end of the world. Pérez pushes at the boundaries and conventions of glass, both as it is and as we imagine it to be. The glass of Carrona is fragile, but it is blood red, viscous, its sharp edges pouring out of the beaks of hungry predators. The crows are like vultures, feeding on a substance that is surely dangerous for their digestive systems.

Javier Perez, Carrona, 2011
Poïkilotherme is glass of a different kind: it is an enormous glass thermometer sturdy, heavy, industrial in thickness and resilience. The piece must be about the human body, about temperature, about water, movement, life. A goldfish swims inside, demanding that the thermometer be left open to allow him to breathe. But Poïkilotherme is also about death: if we see the red glass of Carrona shattered by the crows, here we imagine the liquid of a thermometer that is not yet broken as deadly. The fish is not meant to survive on the liquid of a thermomenter even though it is "poïkilothermous". Because this liquidby rights, should be mercury. And if the glass is cracked, even turned on its side to allow the liquid out, we will be dead. Thus, the sleek, stalwart glass object evokes life as well as danger, even as we watch the goldfish happily swimming around inside.
Shen Yuan, Poïkilotherme, 2008
Doves are rats are not meant to be made of glass. They are not meant to be in this crystal, luminous substance. And yet, as Jan Farbre insists, they are meant to sit on shelves, ledges, as pests, taking over the spaces not designated as theirs. In Shitting Doves of Peace and Flying Rats, a row of doves and rats sit proudly on the shelf, once again, completely satisfied having eaten a bird, the remains of its carcass splayed open on the ledge. And as their title suggests, as we expect them to do, they have happily been shitting their meal. It drips, in glass, off the shelf. Once again, what makes Farbre’s piece fascinating is that these organic forms and process of nature are completely contradicted by an installation that sees them in glass. Furthermore, their form and their secretion is so vivid that I imagined, for a moment, that their pungent smell was wafting towards me as I turned the corner to see them on their ledge.

Jan Fabre,  Shitting Doves of Peace and Flying Rats, 2011
Other than the contemporary works, because I have continued to think about the colourful extravagant pieces from earlier centuries, I want to sing the praises of this exhibition. My one reservation, however, is that on the day I went, the museum was overflowing with four to five deep visitors of another generation. In principle, this is not a problem, but it did make for uncomfortable viewing experiences as Anne and I vied with very loud audio guides, pushing and shoving, not very relevant conversations, and slow progression from display to display. Don’t say I didn’t warn you.

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