#FineArtFriday: The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale

The following post was written by my sister-in-law, Rhonda Truesdale. She is a world traveler, art lover, and an all-round amazing woman. This past summer we toured many art and glass museums in Cannon Beach, Oregon, and she confessed she had written an article on the Biennale of Art in Venice which she attended in 2017. I convinced her to send me her article for my Fine Art Friday series, and she was kind enough to do so. She also sent many pictures, which I have included here. Seeing the Glasstress Exhibition through her eyes has been a wonderful experience. Enjoy!

The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting

By Rhonda Truesdale

May 2017

I was fortunate enough to preview the Biennale of Art in Venice this year. I specifically covered the Glasstress exhibit. Communing with the city, my colleagues, other reporters and artists gave me a taste for the rest of the exhibits, and I hope to see more when the Biennale of Art returns in two years.

The Venetian setting for the Biennale of Art lends an extra dimension to the art. While each piece of art is an intended focus, the surroundings can’t be ignored. The juxtaposition was at times jarring: the old with the new; the flashy with the staid; the timeless with the fleeting; or the unquestionably lovely with the bizarrely intriguing. It also creates facets in the jewels. The combination of colors and styles enhances the art in sometimes unexpected ways. Would the jewels be as stunning in a different setting? For me, they are forever tied, inextricably linked.

The main event that I covered was the Glasstress exhibit displayed in the Palazzo Cavalli-Franchetti. The Palazzo is the 19th century home of the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. This Venetian Gothic work of architectural art has soaring painted ceilings, beautifully sculpted plaster, stunning chandeliers, elaborate columns and breathtaking panels of wood and marble. In contrast, another display in Glasstress is in a glass foundry on Murano, which is dark, smoky and utilitarian.

The Biennale introduced Glasstress in 2009, in which Adriano Berengo melded contemporary art with glass. Over the years, it has expanded its cadre of artists from painters and sculptors to include architects, designers, fashion designers and musicians, including Pharrell Williams. Most of the contributors aren’t glass artists, as Glasstress focuses on the concepts and artistic collaboration more than on the medium. Glasstress is a collateral event at the Biennale of Art, traveling around the world when not in Venice. Host cities include Stockholm, Beirut, London, New York, and, most recently, Boca Raton, Florida.

These unusual collaborations have resulted in a singularly unique set of artistic creations. Reflecting the medium, they are shiny, bright and either transparent or reflective. Depicted thematic creations evoke emotions across the spectrum from exquisite to repulsive, including a fair amount of bemusement. As introduced by Philippe de Montebello, former Director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York at the opening of their show, “For hundreds of years, glass has been viewed as by some as simply a decorative or functional medium. Glasstress New York on view at the Museum of Arts and Design, shatters those notions. Here you will see dynamic new glass works from both established and emerging artists, architects and designers from around the world.”

The next few pages highlight examples of the art in the Palazzo.

The influence of fashion design is unmistakable in the glass dresses.

The glass picture boxes are fascinating in their detail and engineering, as they are each composed of many layers of glass, each of which is a standalone picture that contributes to the whole landscape.

The beauty of the room and the chandelier complement the artist’s work.


From eels, to a woman in a mirror only visible from the side, a fallen bird and a jumble of intertwined images in a hanging sculpture, each piece is unique. Separated body parts add a gruesome touch, and what appears to be solid glass turns out to be individual filaments on closer inspection.

Collaborators in the Palazzo Glasstress exhibit include Tony Cragg, Erwin Wurm, Thomas Shuette, Monica Bonvicini, Jan Fabre, Shirazeh Houshiary, Vik Muniz, Ai Weiwei, Paul McCarthy, Abdulnasser Gharem, Laure Provost, Ugo Rondinone, Sarah Sze, and many other new and established artists.

After touring the Palazzo, visitors were invited to the Berengo Exhibition Space on Murano for a separate, related Glasstress exhibit. Above is a view of the Palazzo and a boat preparing to transport visitors to the exhibit. Here again, the overall experience of boating to Murano and entering a glass factory enhances the enjoyment of the displayed art.

The Murano glass factory exhibit, titled “The Unplayed Notes Factory”, is a solo exhibition by Loris Greaud and curated by Nicolas Bourriaud as a special project of Glasstress 2017. The factory has been closed for 60 years, and is brought back to life in this exhibit. According to the Glasstress brochure, “the former glass furnace will be secretly revived and will play host to a whole new trade: an unofficial production line which is thought to conceal the mysterious vitrification of ‘hourglass’ sand, with an almost alchemical ambition to crystallize time…”

The interior of the factory is dark and smoky, punctuated by bright lights from high windows and the fire in the furnaces. The play of the lights, glass bubbles, smoke and furnace is mesmerizing. Each bubble encloses a light, and the bubbles intermittently light up in sections or across the entire sculpture. In a happy circumstance, a dinner hosted in the factory the previous night left large silver tables set up the length of the room. The line of tables mirrored the glass bubbles, fires and sunlight from the windows for even more dramatic photographs.

Here are images from the Murano glass factory exhibit.

The glass “notes” are created, and …

… hung from the ceiling.

The notes twinkle in front of the smoky furnaces, and …

… are mirrored in the tables.


So, in the final estimation, is it the jewel or the setting that makes the piece? For the Biennale of Art in Venice, it has to be both. While the glass artistry is spectacular, Venice’s history, architecture and unique feel makes this exhibit a special experience.

Thank you, Rhonda, for your wonderful photos and vivid impressions of this amazing, once in a lifetime opportunity to see such an exhibition of glass art.

Next Friday, Rhonda’s colleague and fellow traveler, Colleen Getz, has agreed to give us her impressions of “Tomorrow is another Day,” an exhibit by Mark Bradford, an American artist, that was featured at the 2017 Biennale in Venice.

Rhonda Truesdale, in her own words:

I began supporting online writing as a director for the non-profit organization ChixLIT, which published an ezine for and by girls. The organization and ezines were founded in 2010 by my good friend, Maria Laso Elders, who also wrote a children’s novel, “Otherwise Known as Possum”, which was published February 28, 2017. I created the ChixLit and ChixLittle magazine websites at http://www.chixlit.org and http://www.chixlittle.org and helped with content and site maintenance until 2013, when the site was redesigned. Following Maria’s death in 2015, the ezines were moved to http://www.chixlit.tumbler.com.

So what makes me an art blogger? I love art, travel, and writing; however, my writing is more typically in the realm of technical and sales articles for information technology. I joined the art blog world when I was invited to attend the press preview event in Venice for the 2017 Biennale of Art in May 2017 and wrote a guest article for gallery.spb. The gallery.spb is a contemporary arts journal based in St. Petersburg, Russia, which has been published for over 10 years and is transitioning online. This invitation gave me the opportunity to combine my 3 passions, and the resulting article describing the Glasstress exhibit at Biennale in Venice is scheduled to appear in the online version of gallery.spb.

Credits and Attributions:

The Biennale of Art in Venice: jewels in an elaborate setting, by Rhonda Truesdale © 2018 Rhonda Truesdale, All Rights Reserved. Printed by Permission

All images used in this article are ©2018 by Rhonda Truesdale, and are intended solely to illustrate this post. Used by permission.

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