Peter Greenaway in Venice

Last Updated: March 10, 2012By Tags:

That old farceur Peter Greenaway continues to enjoy legitimacy and relevance. The trained painter who directed Drowning by Numbers has mounted a light and-sound exhibit at the Venice Biennale which appears to be quite exceptional. This is not his first revisitation of Renaissance art. In 2007 and 2008 he mounted other exhibits in Italy as part of a series of works entitled ‘Nine Classical Paintings Revisited.’ “The Wedding at Cana” is Exhibit 3. As it were, Renaissance art in particular has provided a lot of the British director’s inspiration over the years. Greenaway worked as a muralist while attending school and his films often speak to us like Renaissance paintings.

Well, I wish I were in Venice right now, don’t you? As an aside, there’s apparently a city-wide push to promote Venetian water as drinkable (apparently the Venetians drink an awful lot of bottle water and do not breed a whole lot–they’re different, there). I’m still mulling over the connection of water to Renaissance art.

You know that famous story from the Bible in which Jesus and his staff attend a wedding in Galilee, the guests appear to outnumber expectations and the wine famously runs out? (That’s usually the signal to leave immediately for any self-respecting guest). Sensing the mounting vexation among the crowd, Jesus thoughtfully turned some jugs of water into wine. Well, the late-Renaissance painter Veronese (Paolo) made a painting out of it, a large and chaotic fresco, and Greenaway, in a Biblical-style reversal which breathes new life into the maxim ‘life imitates art’ gave it sound, context and lasers. Before you get on the next plane to Italy (for Pete’s sake don’t fly Alitalia–do it for me: I’ve lost my soul at Malpensa Airport in 2007) why not do some background reading?

Before Mr. Greenaway turned ‘Wedding’ into a multimedia piece, the painting traveled, was stolen, hidden, damaged, restored and pitted groups of people against each other. Though Renaissance art appreciation is so yesterday, it’s an interesting choice for a multimedia installation, if only for the memorable story it illustrates. I like the overpopulated fresco, the use of vanishing points and perspective–let your eyes do the wandering. The multimedia exhibit, reconstituted in billions of pixels and projected onto the walls of the San Benedictine refectory on San Giorgio Maggiore island (it’s located next to Venice), includes sound recordings of conversations that these people in the painting might have had. Greenaway enhances images and sound with laser animations, too. Well, sorry I’m missing it. This reminds me of the ‘son et lumiere’ I saw at the pyramids at Giza, Egypt (Giza is a suburb of Cairo) in 2003 except that this was outside and it’s freezing at night in the Cairene outskirts. This particular exhibit is indoors and is highly recommended.