[June 8 2017]
“When I’m in an airplane and I look out of the window, and I see the clouds, I can imagine castles and kingdoms, with caves… I just was trying to paint that world that we go into when we become part of the ether.” Lola Montes Schnabel, Venice, May 2017.
For her “FLUTTUAZIONI” show launched during the May 2017 Venice Biennale, Lola Montes Schnabel worked hard to create an all- enveloping environment. “I wanted to make a kind of ‘synesthetic salon,’ where there was a certain scent in the room, where you really felt something. The theme of this Biennale is ‘Viva Arte Viva,’ and I wanted to live something that is inspired. I was having conversations about what it is to grow up with artists, musicians, poets, actors, people that make things. An exhibition is not just something that you peer into in a white space, but something that you inhabit, that you become part of the art itself by being in the room,” Lola explains. Sh decided to share the poetic, historic space of the Palazzo Marin with some of the works of her longtime friend, fellow artist Vahakn Arslanian, with whom she also shares a fascination with the sky. The exhibition thus features her expressive, vibrantly colourful large-scale paintings, works on paper and repurposed Victorian photograph albums full of images from many years of peregrinations alongside Arslanian’s hand-crafted objects that belie his obsession with planes, birds and the detritus of New York City. A central room of the also show plays host to Schnabel’s new film, which operates as a striking moving-image portrait of Vahakn at work with his materials of glass, metal and sheer force.“I wanted many rooms because I wanted to create a world where the film connects to his sculptures, to the portraits I have done of other people, to my more abstract oil paintings, which are really about the light in Venice. I made these paintings in New Jersey, thinking about the light in Venice.”
For centuries this mythical marble encrusted city has been a cultural nexus, and this show is a deliberate exercise of cross-pollination: it turned out that the sight-unseen venue of the Villa Marin possessed a compelling link to her personal history. “Alessandro Possati (director of Zuecca Project Space who staged the show) had found it, and sent me a video. The palazzo had been given to a woman named Isabella by her husband, and she would have musicians like Franz Liszt and Goethe there, the same people who hung out with the courtesan Lola Montes, who I am named after. And my grandfather on my mother’s side is a descendant of Goethe, so there is some connection to this space, without even knowing it.” Adjacent to La Fenice, the richly frescoed walls, and dark, flecked-marble floors were ideal to frame what she describes as ‘metaphysical watercolours’ which use vibrant pigments of imperial purple, gentian violet, lapis lazuli blue, malachite green and cadmium yellow. New portraits have been made here, including one of musician Keziah Jones who performed to inaugurate the opening, and Venetian icon Arrigo Cipriani, of Harry’s Bar. “I spent a lot of attention lighting this Palazzo, so that you felt very peaceful there. There is one chandelier that’s on, the rest is natural light in the whole entire space. The paintings really change in this natural light. You have the reflection of the light from the water coming in the room and bouncing off the paintings, and that is so exciting to me, because there is movement in the paintings that looks like water, and then it extends out the window.”
Text and Photo Hannah Bhuiya