Evocative Surfaces, a solo exhibition by Beverly Barkat at the Museo di Palazzo Grimani, features an extensive cycle of works produced at the artist’s studio in Jerusalem over the past ten years. Housed in different stanzas of the palazzo’s second floor, the works encompass large-format paintings and drawings along with site-specific installation work. More
Entering into a close dialogue with the premise itself and its rich history, the works relate to the unique architecture and period furnishings of the palazzo, touching as well on the important collec¬tion of art and archeology it houses. In their vibrancy, color and magnitude, Barkat’s works echo and accompany the rich visual scheme of the decorations and wall paintings, which celebrate the Grimani family and the Venetian Republic at large.
Barkat developed her unique painterly gesture out of a long and profound engagement with art history. Her continued observation of the tradition of western painting has accumulated in a body of knowledge that has found its way to her artistic practice. While rooting herself in the classical tradition, Barkat also takes inspiration from movements in Modern art, namely Cubism and Abstract Expressionism. If previous works of hers reflected genre categories in western painting – the landscape, still-life, portraiture and the nude – in recent years she has been shifting her subject matter to a subliminal realm of imaginary landscapes, rendered in a language of abstraction.
Her paintings, while abstract, nonetheless convey atmospheric landscapes, through expressive surfaces whose vibrant tonality generates a tempestuous existentialist drama. Despite the absence of a discernable figurative theme, the paintings carry the traces of a climatic eventuality in space and time – an eruption, cataclysm or energetic outburst that leave their mark on the painting’s surface as a fateful moment. Even when touching on the lyrical and poetic, they serve as arenas for research and experimentation, platforms for probing the interplay between color, tonality, line and texture – the main elements on which her work is founded.
To Barkat, the painterly action is a domain for expressing ideas that touch on the spiritual, on strata of the subconscious and mental patterns. The painterly action amounts, in her view, to an ‘active meditation,’ a liberated mental state that allows her to operate from a place of intuition even when relying on method and strategy.
Evocative Surfaces brings together a body of work that concerns itself with the intersection of old and new, with the coexistence of artistic genres and painterly modes of expression, and with a resonant interplay of surfaces, from the painterly to the three-dimensional. By creating an evocative space for this painterly encounter, Barkat’s work speaks pertinently to the present.
Sally Haftel Naveh
Artistic Experiments, Ancient and Contemporary, at Palazzo Grimani, Daniele Ferrara, Director Polo Museale del Veneto and Museo di Palazzo Grimani
For a long period of its history, Palazzo Grimani was a favored place for experimenting with artistic languages. It provided a setting where art patrons and artists had the courage to challenge the conventions prevailing in Venetian culture in terms of images and the reinvention of space. The traditional casa da stazio (or residence of the merchant nobility) was gradually More transformed into an original architectural complex, well known for the difficulty of identifying a single designer, since the whole of its different elements reflect the styles of Jacopo Sansovino, Sebastiano Serlio and Andrea Palladio. Painters of the school of Raphael and other leading artists from Rome and Central Italy converged on the building: Giovanni da Udine, Francesco Salviati, Federico Zuccari, Camillo Mantovano, and others. This established in Venice a cultural and ideological testament to Rome, which the Grimani family historically supported, leaving its imprint on the image of the Republic during the dogeship of Andrea Gritti.
Despite various setbacks, the Grimani family promoted good relations between Venice and the city that was the symbol of the classical and Christian civilizations. Their policies moved between these two poles and brought Roman artistic culture to the lagoon. The lunette painted on the back wall of the Camerino di Apollo is a manifesto of this: the subject can be interpreted as the meeting of the goddess Roma and Apollo set against the backdrop of a Roman landscape. Harmony, of which Apollo is the tutelary deity, is guaranteed to the Eternal City and is metaphorically transfused into the Venetian residence of a family that affirmed its historical role of mediation. Thanks to the Grimani, Venice likewise benefited from the same harmony as Rome. The physical distance between the two cities was effaced by the depiction of themes and the adoption of a figurative language that gave a form and image to the family’s ideas and actions. In the vault, Francesco Salviati frescoed the stories of Apollo; Apollo's Chariot is depicted at the center. The same motif appears on the back of the medal of Vittore Grimani who, with his brother Giovanni, promoted the decoration of the palazzo between 1537 and 1540. In the relations between patrons and artists we have to imagine the particular involvement of the Grimani, as well as their awareness that they were playing their part in bringing a classical character to Venice. Domenico and Giovanni Grimaldi worked actively with artists, by building up their collections, by the study of architecture, in Giovanni’s case, and by their close relationship with the painters and sculptors active in Palazzo Grimani. The donation of their collection of antiquities to the Republic in the sixteenth century, which gave rise to the Statuary of the Republic in the vestibule of the Library and the nucleus of Venice’s Archeological Museum, was the family’s other great achievement. The family’s vocation for artistic patronage had appeared earlier in the celebrated Cardinal Domenico Grimani’s donation to the Republic of a series of classical heads, Flemish paintings and the Grimani Breviary, and in the patriarch Giovanni’s installation of the collection in Palazzo Grimani.
The placing of the collection of ancient artworks in the various rooms, though only partially reconstructed, was an experiment in the fusion of the arts. In the 2008 installation, the sculpture of Jupiter and Ganymede was again exhibited suspended in the skylight of the tribune, as it had been in the sixteenth century. Not only were the niches, corbels and cornices of the walls covered with sculptures of different sizes, as well as the floor of the room (where stood the celebrated, now lost, Grimani studiolo), but the whole spatial volume was animated by sculpted figures, through to the suspension of the sculpture that fixes an instant in the flight of Jupiter as he carries off Ganymede. This scenic setting also physically expressed the significance of intellectual ascension and resurrection, embodied in the two mythological figures, through the Christian transmigration of their significance. (An eagle is significantly depicted on the gable of the facade of Palladio’s church of San Francesco della Vigna, with which the Grimani family was closely associated.) This was to be the apical theme of the Tribune and of the path on the landward side of the building. Probably today the arrangement of the Tribune as conceived and commissioned by Giovanni Grimani would be termed an “installation.”
Restoring continuity to a history long interrupted, our present purpose is to start experimenting again, together with artists intimately inspired by the history of this city and willing to work on it together with those who live and work here.
Like the Renaissance artists, like Giovanni Grimaldi, Beverly Barkat immerses herself deeply in architectural projects, inspired by the use of new materials and research into the potential and energy inherent in architectural space. Her study and exploration of the spaces of Palazzo Grimani are embodied in the form of a series of large format PVC panels, through which she engages in a dialogue with the museum spaces, the materials and the forms of the architecture and its decorations.
Through layers of color, signs and gestures, the pictorial work on the panels reveals a sensibility responsive to Cubism and Abstract Expressionism, developed in her formative period and never abandoned. From the former principally derives her determination to rethink the space. Barkat’s panels relate to the decorated surfaces, the presence and absence of figurative decorations and the collections in the building, the geometry of the walls, vaults and flooring, and they interact with the diffused natural light. Hanging from the ceilings, rising to full height, painted on both sides, the panels superimpose images, so creating a simultaneous interaction with the space. On them Barkat has previously superimposed pictorial gestures that merge into each other, forming a chromatic fabric inspired by the frescoed figurations in the palazzo. Barkat’s evocative surfaces redesign above all the interior of the building: they connect with it, relate to it through the concept of order, likewise apparent, which the Grimani wished to be expressed by their residence.
Barkat blends ancient and contemporary, grasping the intention underlying the Renaissance use of the former: think of the Tribune, a “sacred” place in the collection, expressing intellectual and existential ascent; a sort of theater, a “heterotopic space” (as Foucault would put it) by its relationship with an external, celestial space, towards which Jupiter flies in the form of the eagle that has abducted Ganymede.
Barkat’s most important contribution, I believe, is the reinterpretation of space achieved by her painting, which in turn becomes architecture. A work fruitful in allusions, in possible developments, averse to dogmas, open to reality as to imagination, and to dreams. This is a work that we could describe, through the interpretation given of it by Tafuri, as being in the manner of Piranesi by its careful observation of antiquity, of the historic space, which in the representation, and in our case the redesign of the space, also becomes a stimulating questioning of the rule.