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Works by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana on view at Le Stanze del Vetro
Installation View. Photo: Fabio Zonta.
VENICE.- I Santillanas – Works by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana opened to the public at Le Stanze del Vetro on the Island of San Giorgio Maggiore in Venice.

After the monographic exhibitions on Carlo Scarpa and Napoleone Martinuzzi, and the collective exhibition Fragile?, this new exhibition at Le Stanze del Vetro experiments with a new narrative model: a dialogue and confrontation between the different poetics of two artists. The novelty, in this specific case, is that the artists in question are also brother and sister.

I Santillana – Works by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana is the fourth exhibition organized by Le Stanze del Vetro, a long-term cultural initiative by Fondazione Giorgio Cini and Pentagram Stiftung. The exhibition, conceived as the result of a series of conversations and meetings between the artists and Martin Bethenod, the director of the François Pinault Foundation, explores another chapter in the history of contemporary glass, in line with the mission of Le Stanze del Vetro.

By comparing the works of the Santillana siblings, descendants of the Venini glassware dynasty established by Paolo Venini, the exhibition explores the potential and the many variations of glass material, in particular its use in sculpture.

The exhibition is divided into eight rooms, which make up Le Stanze del Vetro, and presents an innovative layout designed by the artists themselves in collaboration with Martin Bethenod. The backbone of the entire exhibition is the central corridor, which has been renamed “the Street” for the occasion, and represents a biographical and emotional narrative where the different artistic paths travelled by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana meet, giving rise to a dialogue and a rediscovery of the communal and shared characteristics of their poetics, different yet interconnected in a play of correspondences and cross-references, but also of differences that don’t appear artificial or forced, but rather help to explain the formal similarities, the artistic peculiarities and differences in the works and the creative processes of the two artists.

As Martin Bethenod explains: “Linked by the shared dynamic of the ‘main street’, the different rooms of the exhibition are dedicated sometimes to Laura, sometimes to Alessandro, with the idea of never insisting on their opposition, but of playing instead, in an almost musical fashion, on contrasting effects, antiphonies and parallels, from one room to the next. A deliberate choice has been made of concentrating on one fundamental dimension of Alessandro and Laura’s formal vocabulary, with a view to exploring, through a series of variations, its extraordinarily rich potentialities: the flat, rectangular form, achieved through particular procedural sequences, either by the artists themselves or delegated to others (and the exhibition from this aspect can also be read as the double story of a series of encounters and exchanges with glass masters, yes, but also with technicians, craftsmen, scientists, manufacturers, artists, in a succession of round trips between Venice and the United States, Japan, the Czech Republic, France). Crushing, flattening, filling, clouding, darkening, what all these interventions have in common are the refusal to accept anything as a given and a determination to stretch the limits of the medium and the material”.

None of the 170 works on show – some of which were made specifically for this exhibition – is the result of a four-handed collaboration: on the contrary each work gives an insight into the creative universe of the two artists. For this reason, each room is devoted to a single artist, with the exception of two rooms: in the first room, two flat surfaces by Alessandro (“Dittico”, 2013) face the series of “Teste” (2009-2013) by Laura; in the fifth room, a landscape of sculptures by Laura dialogue with the glass “paintings” by Alessandro. The intensely dark colors and the interrupted flatness of the surfaces created by Alessandro are confronted by the transparency of the three-dimensional sculptures by Laura.

The second room contains nine large sculptures by Laura de Santillana, made between 2009 and 2013 – a series she began working on while in residence at the Museum of Glass in Tacoma, Washington, in the United States. Although they were conceived from within the tradition of blown glass, these works contradict its fundamental principles: by deflating the glass, the artist puts the physical characteristics of the material to the test. During her career, Laura also experimented with color a lot, as the works on show in the fourth room demonstrate. Placed in a sort of library book-case, that acts as a kind of repository of memories, a series of “book-sculptures” (1999-2011) will be placed on show one after the other and alternatively during the time of the exhibition, thereby altering the layout and the perception of the space. The eighth and last room holds the group of works entitled “Meru” (“Mountains”, 2010), four large sculptures inspired by themes of cosmology and the origin of the universe.

The works by Alessandro Diaz de Santillana are located in the third, sixth and seventh rooms. In the third room, three works are hanging on the walls, but their flatness, a characteristic of all of the artist’s works, is contradicted in favor of the third dimension. Three surfaces of mirrored blown glass create a play of continuous reflections that amplify the exhibition space and draw the visitor into the work of art. In the sixth and seventh rooms, hanging on the walls, are a series of flat surfaces whose linearity has been disturbed by the artist. Each of the two rooms is symbolically the opposite of the other: whereas the sixth room accentuates the luminosity of the glass, the seventh room subdues it. This body of work is the result of a constant research by the artist focusing on the characteristics, including physical ones, of the medium of glass: conceived like canvases to be painted on, each of these surfaces is the result of chemical and mechanical processes on the glass that, after being blown is “unrolled” in order to obtain a slightly undulated flat surface, which the artist then can use.

I Santillana exhibition offers a new narrative scenario and an innovative way of displaying and viewing the art works, where alongside the differences in creativity and work processes of the two artists one can perceive the signs of a common memory and shared experience, “the whole – in Bethenod’s own words – tracing a sort of shifting double portrait of the two artists”.

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