Category: Italy

Pave the Planet: San Suzie reports on Alberto Burri’s land art installation in Sicily.

Yes, this is real. (Photos by San Suzie.)

If there’s one thing that abounds in Sicily – more than orange groves and vineyards – it’s concrete. True to stereotype, there are cement plants all over this Mafia-riddled island. And its once-beautiful capital, Palermo, is rife with hideous concrete buildings that hover next to Baroque palazzi. (These soulless structures are often constructed using pilfered funds intended to restore buildings bombed in WWII). Amid all of these mind-numbing edifices, we found what is considered the largest work of land art in Europe. And guess what? It’s made of the same poor-quality concrete as the buildings in Palermo.

Only here, it works. Titled Grande Cretto, by postwar Italian artist Alberto Burri, the piece commemorates the destruction of the Western Sicilian town of Gibellina in a catastrophic 1968 earthquake. In 1980, roughly twelve years after residents rebuilt their town 18 km away, Burri covered the hillside town’s streets and ruined buildings– an area roughly 900 x 1200 feet and about 5′ in height, with white concrete.  The streets look like the crackle pattern on Burri’s fabled paintings, only you can walk through these.  Or skate through them. (Not to give anyone any ideas.) But if you were to, no one would know: it’s in the middle of nowhere, a two hour drive from Palermo – and just a short stop from Castellammare del Golfo (birthplace of Joe Bonanno and Frank Stallone, Sr., father of Sly), where you can go for a swim at one of the pristine beaches at the nearby Zingaro nature preserve and then feast on a plate of pasta with sardines, pine nuts and raisins.

Find more information on Burri’s installation here.

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Sardinia Dispatch: San Suzie examines abandoned coastal Modernism; eats fish roe.

Every beach needs a building like this: The abandoned Ospedale Marino in Cagliari, Sardinia. (Photos by San Suzie.)

There are two things we can’t get enough of here at C-Mon: Abandoned Modernist structures and graffiti. Which is why the Ospedale Marino, above, an old seaside hospital in Sardinia is such a find. The Ospedale appears to be a late or mid ’50s work of Sardinian architect Ubaldo Badas, considered one of Italy’s premier architects in the middle of the last century. It lies on Poetto Beach, an 8km Copacabana-style expanse of powdery white sand and clear water that is reachable by bus from the port of Cagliari. (The locals say the beach is no longer what it used to be, but our bar is not so high.) Badas’s graceful building is now in advanced stages of concrete and rebar decay. It was originally clad in plain, matte grey tile, which has partially fallen off.

Like most places in Italy, people here believe that taking the sea air is good for one’s health. And the sea air here is definitely pretty awesome. Sardinia is at the center of the Mediterranean and is generally considered to be the sunniest spot in Europe. On the day I took these pictures, it was about 90 degrees and I almost burned my corneas. But I quickly made up for the near-blindness by taking a dip in the cool, clear, Mediterranean, then heading off for a plate of octopus and pasta with fish roe, a glass of Vermentino, a scoop of ginger-pineapple sorbetto, and then a nap.

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The Good, the Bad, the Rude & the Toxic: San Suzie presents the 1st Annual Venice Biennial Awards.

Obey Biennale: Taste the hype. (Photos by San Suzie.)

We are just back from the City of the Doges where this summer’s artapalooza kicked off with the 53rd Prosecco-soaked edition of La Biennale di Venezia. The show, which bore the very important title Making Worlds consisted of 38 exhibit spaces in the Arsenale and Giardini, plus a whopping 45 collateral event sites scattered throughout the city’s labyrinthine streets. This was in addition to numerous must-see museums, including the fabulous Pinault Collection at Palazzo Grassi and its new contemporary art venue at Punta della Dogana.

We spent at least a third of the preview days simply trying to get from one place to another, searching the maze of alleys and canals for obscure out-of-the-way locales like the Palazzo Rota Ivancich, the official venue of the Mexican Pavillion. But, all in all, we we were nicely surprised by the offerings: free food, art swag, yacht-and-people-watching, and, oh yeah, the city itself, which was once the wealthiest in all of Europe — and is therefore filled with masterpieces by 16th century heavyweights such as Titian, Veronese, Bellini and Palladio.

Of course, no artapalooza comes without annoyances, ironies, ridiculosity and even a few moments of sheer, breathtaking joy. Therefore, we present you with the First Annual C-Mon awards to celebrate the mother-of-all biennales, highlighting the good, the bad, the ugly, the incomprehensible and the just plain too damn much.

The envelope please…

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Martyrdom Makes Me Happy: Santo Stefano Rotondo in Rome.

Pass the bath salts: Martyrdom, Santo Stefano style. (Photos by C-M.)

Of all the churches I genuflected at while in Rome, my absolute favorite was the Basilica di Santo Stefano al Monte Cielo (more commonly known as Santo Stefano Rotondo). It is a graceful circular structure (parts of which date back to 500 AD) with a lovely skylight at center. But it’s best asset is the art. Lining the walls of the church are some impressive 16th century murals of martyrdom that serve as a visual compendium of truly imaginative deaths. You’ll see people being boiled, burnt, flayed and chopped — some of them upside down. Yet, because they depict the fleeting moments of spiritual ecstasy that accompany a good martyrdom, everyone kinda looks like they’re having a really great time. The overall effect: disturbing and hilarious. Kinda like the Catholic Church.

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What I did During Spring Break: The American Academy in Rome.

In recovery at the Academy.

If there is one recommendation I can make to anyone in the art industry at this moment of global doom, it is: Become really good friends with a fellow at the American Academy in Rome so that you can stay there. Located on a hilltop, above trendy Trastevere, the Academy houses more than two dozen fellows, who live in a McKim, Mead and White building and dine on a local foods menu inspired by Alice Waters. After long days of work and study, they retire to the well-tended garden, where they reflect on the day’s drinking thinking. It’s like a 19th century sanatorium for the nervous children of the well-to-do. I kept expecting to see a nurse rearranging patients in wicker wheelchairs on the patio. 

I made it into the Academy as a free-loading guest of San Suzie. For a whopping seven days I hung out in what is effectively academia central, a geek’s wet dream of artists, architects and writers (many with advanced degrees) working on ambitious projects and thinking deep thoughts. There were recitations in Latin. A speech-laden meal that celebrated Thomas Jefferson’s birthday. And a champagne cocktail party for visiting artist Jenny Holzer. Party on, dudes! Any other spare moments I may have had were spent drinking cappuccinos in the company of a barista who told me I looked like Salma Hayek. Clearly, the Academy is an oasis from reality. Kinda like a Canyon Ranch for Ph.D.’s, but with open bar. All I gotta say is that it’s the bestest, smartest hotel I ever stayed at. Though some alum really needs to think about funding a hot tub. 

Grazie, Academy and San Suzie! (And to Brad and Dona for loaning us their space.)



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