Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Two More Views of Last Friday's Festa della Salute--and The Wood Boy Disappears

On an unrelated note: The life-sized wooden parody of Charles Ray's monumental sculpture "Boy With Frog" that I posted about last Wednesday is no longer on the Punta della Dogana.

I located an article in the 14 November edition of La Nuova Venezia that identified the wood sculpture as a centerpiece of a protest against the exploitation of workers employed in the Italian culture and fashion industries: The protesters who created and carried the sculpture entitled it a "Monument to the Precarious Worker."

I was unable to find any more recent article to explain who removed the sculpture from the Punta della Dogana or what has become of it.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

A New Boy With Frog(s) Takes Up Residence on Punta della Dogana

While Charles Ray's original "Boy with Frog"(below) was monumentally-scaled, towering above viewers, the new "Boy with Frogs" sculpture (above) is life-sized, and much more approachable in the absence of an armed guard

When Charles Ray's nearly 8-foot-tall sculpture of a boy with a frog was removed in early May 2013 from the spot it had occupied "temporarily" on the Punta della Dogana for four years ( and replaced by a replica of a 19th-century lamp post that had once stood there I never imagined another boy would ever take the former one's place. Ray's sculpture was unpopular with many Venetians, who were widely-condemned by outside art critics as being narrow-minded and retrograde.

It's the kind of condemnation many art critics love to make, as it makes them feel (nostalgically, sentimentally) that they themselves are firebrands at the forefront of the avant-garde, rather than, typically, the free-loading shills of a profoundly cynical and essentially conservative art world ruled far more by market manipulation than aesthetics. (Loitering at the open bar, these revolutionaries never get as far as the barricades.)

I suspected that the animosity many Venetians felt toward the piece had more to do with the fact that here, in a small city in which immensely wealthy (and often outside) private interests too often overwhelm the public good, Ray's sculpture was a private work (commissioned and owned by French billionaire François Pinault) installed in one of the most famous public spaces in Venice and watched over by an armed private security guard.  

The only thing that could have made this set-up more disconcerting to many Venetians was if the guard were clothed in a Napoleonic uniform.

The new boy on the Punta della Dogana, which I just saw for the first time today, subverts both Pinault's multi-million-euro showpiece sculpture and the rather stodgy replica lamp post that replaced it. (That the original lamp post had been "lost" during the course of the Ray boy's 4-year-stay was taken by many to indicate the usual shenanigans with public property: first, theft, then the no-bid contract to some properly-connected interest to provide the replacement). With its modest materials, its human scale, its parodic intent, it reclaims the spot for the public, as the carnivalesque traditionally used to do. Before Carnevale was privatized into solely another tourist attraction.

At least this is what I take to be its intent. Whether it succeeds or not--and what "success" would consist of--is yet to be seen. And in fact, I'm not even sure of who made it and positioned it where it is, though I assume the Ca' Foscari student group Liberi Saperi Critici, whose decal adorns the plywood sculpture's groin, is behind it (

(Two pieces I wrote in 2011 about Ray's original piece, when it seemed it would always be on Punta della Dogana, can be read here: and here:

NOTE: Within a week of the above post the wood sculpture was no longer to be seen on the Punta della Dogana. A brief explanation of the wood piece's original function as part of a protest can be found here:

When it comes to the amphibious element, what the new piece lacks in realistic detail it makes up for in number--and wind chimes
The new sculpture, above, is yet to attract anything like the interest of the old one, below--but it never requires a protective enclosure

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

The End of Romance on the Accademia Bridge?

A worker welds protective metalwork to the handrail supports on the Accademia Bridge
It seems that the problem of "love locks" on the Accademia Bridge has finally and definitively been solved. A world-wide phenomenon, variously blamed on a fairly recent Italian novel or an old tale of lost love from decades ago, these locks adorned with a couple's names are supposed to symoblize eternal attachment.

A handrail support as it was a year ago
There were so many hanging heavily on the Pont Des Art Bridge in Paris that their weight caused part of the railing to collapse last summer ( Nothing so dramatic happened here, but Venetians still hated them, and in late August Venetian writer Alberto Toso Fei led a public information campaign against them. Flyers and stickers and ribbons were posted around the city informing visitors that the locks were nothing but vandalism and encouraging them to find less destructive and onerous (to the city) ways to express their love (

But while the pen is supposed to be mightier than the sword, city officials seem to have come to the reasonable conclusion that in this particular case some preventive metalwork might be mightier still.

The same handrail support yesterday with the defensive metalwork
In recent weeks thousands of the locks have been cut off the Accademia Bridge and workers are now just completing the process of welding wide bands of stainless steel onto each of the slender curving rails once so perfectly suited to the locks. The new additions make for a slightly more noticeable handrail support, but they are nowhere near as unsightly as the locks.

Of course some visiting romantics may bewail the new metalwork, but I think it returns the responsibility for a memorable experience back to where it belongs: into the minds (if not literal hands) of the lovers, rather than an enterprising street vendor hawking a ready-made clichè. If, as they stand on one of the most charming vantage points in the city, nothing memorable or charged happens in the shared private space all lovers create between themselves then no outward sign--no matter how conventional or obnoxious or gaudy or public--will matter.

Sunday, November 9, 2014


Sometimes a wrought iron railing and the presence of boats is all that distinguishes a canal from pavement--in this case, in one corner of Campo Santo Stefano. We've had about a week of rain and recurrent acqua alta, with another five days of (at least) the former in the forecast: if you're coming to Venice soon, bring high rubber boots.