The Illusion of Light

The new season of exhibitions at Palazzo Grassi – Pinault Collection in Venice opens the doors on the ground floor of the Palace with a fascinating installation of Doug Wheeler b.1939. A pioneer of the so-called “Light and space” movement that flourished in Southern California between the 1960s and the 1970s.

The sequence of art works chosen by Caroline Bourgeois, who has been curating the exhibitions of the Pianult Collection since 2007, to represent “The Illusion of Light” has a magnetic balance and perfection. Light is one of the fundamental elements of art: “it is the light that makes the invisible dimension become visible (…) the visitor could discover it as if going through all the synonyms of the verbs “to light”, “bring to light”, “come to light”, “shed light on” provided by languages: appear, bring to notice, clarify, comment on, detect, dig up, disclose, elucidate, emerge, explain, expose, identify, lay bare, manifest, materialize, reveal, set alight, set on fire, show up, transpire, turn up, uncover, unearth, unveil…

In this way the exhibition creates an itinerary through the experience of the illusion of light and it’s perception. Some pieces have the power to emerge above others for their strength or delicate and joyous counterpoint as Vidya Gastaldon’s Escalator(Rainbow Rain 2007), the continuous cylindric light of Julio Le Parc (Continuel Lumière Cylindre 1962 – 2012), one of the main protagonists of optical art since the 1960s. 

The exhibition moves from a conceptual representation of light presence and absence – as in Philippe Parreno’s Marquee “which refer to a mise en abyme of the system of signs on which the world of entertainment relies” –  to a more anthropological approach as in the hypnotic video of David Claerbout where a portrait of contemporary Africa emerges from the shadow and lights of a group of Oil workers (from Shell company of Nigeria) returning home from work, caught in torrential rain (2013). It might be more difficult to find the direct connection and relation with the theme of light in Danh Vo great installation – Autoerotic Asphyxiation 2010 – which occupies an entire room of the piano nobile where the wall’s have been ripped off and covered with light curtains which are veiling a series of half-hidden images. The documentary pictures of young Asian men were taken by the anthropologist Mr. Carrier, who worked in Vietnam from 1962 to 1973. To Mr. Vo the Carrier archive has a personal meaning: it is the record of a cultural past that he recognises as his own, but that, as a refugee, he missed experiencing firsthand. Danh Vo in fact mixes Carrier archive with his personal photos: the child in the snapshot is Mr. Vo at 4 in 1979, when he and his family arrived as refugees in Europe from their Vietnamese home near the Cambodian border. 

On the second floor of Palazzo Grassi the visitor will find until the end of December the first major exhibition in Italy dedicated to the American photographer Irving Penn(1917-2009). One of the most impressive parts of this exhibition is without doubt the collection of 29 gelatin silver prints. The broad overview of Irving Penn’s work puts relatively unknown images side-by-side with the most iconic ones.

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