Art Gallery of Western Australia Foundation

In September 2011 Foundation Members enjoyed a unique art tour to Venice, led by the Director Dr Stefano Carboni. Special travel experiences are open to Foundation Members at the level of fellow and above. For more information on membership levels or our exciting Foundation events schedule, please contact:

Teresa Fantoni, Foundation Manager on 9492 6761

Below is a diary on the Venice tour, written by Foundation member Katherine Kalaf. Sallie Anne Manford, another Foundation member who also enjoyed the trip to Venice, has allowed us to share some of her superb photos on the gallery below. Full album can be viewed on Flickr.

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 Find out about the New York 2012 Tour Dates

Foundation Member Venice Tour 2011

Sunday 4th September, 2011.
On the first Sunday in September, Venice is packed with visitors who come for the gondola races on the Grand Canal. Sleek black craft of competing teams fly across the water ending east of San Marco Square. I have joined Chris and Ian Fletcher. We plan to catch a vaporetto from the airport to the Luna Baglioni jetty. We signal a driver: “Ah signora, today is festival, we try and drop you near hotel”. As we approach the archipelago we see the problem. Water police are stopping the vaporetto's from crossing near the San Marco area. Nothing for it but to leg it the last stretch. Up and down bridges, down small snatches of lanes, corners, shops, dead ends. At last we find the hotel. I sink into my bath and sleep deeply.

Tonight we dine at the Monaco Hotel on the canal. It is a chance for our group to meet each other and break bread. We assemble at our waterside table for drinks. Slowly the courses emerge, salmon, salad, fish fillet with leak and shaved potatoes. The sky claps dramatically. Lightening and rain drive us inside for desserts. I glance at the company. We are acting out an Agatha Christie novel, set here in Venice. Inspector Poirot will join us soon when the beautiful but troubled Lavinia is shot dead in the powder room.

Monday 5th September, 2011.

On Nathalie's and Carlo's Terrace

We are a group of twenty. We breakfast, then head off to the Galleria Dell,Accadamia, housed in the ancient Scuola Della Carita and reconfigured church buildings. Guides, Katerina and Steano will walk us through the collection. They are passionate Venitians, tracing the flow of powerful families and influences. Venitians did not recognize the authority of the Pope, such was their confidence and power.

Their elected Doge and councillors protected the strategic importance of Venice as a funnel for goods coming from the east and cities such as Alexandria. It made the city fabulous wealth. They sent envoys - the first resident diplomats to Contantinople and other centers where Venitian mercantile interests were important. Venitian artists painted Islam into their works - a culture they knew well. Ottoman rulers commissioned Venetian artists to record them in portraiture. Differing from other Italian centers of painting, Venitian artists noted the cultural exchange in their depiction of religious stories pertinent to their city. The cosmopolitan, open nature of Venitian culture is evident.

As a complete contrast we make our way to the Punta Della Dogana, the ancient Customs House. Set on a peninsular across a small stretch of water from San Marco square, the space has been transformed by architect, Tadeo Ando, to house Francois Pinault's astounding collection and exhibition program. The curator walks us through the current exhibition In Praise of Doubt and The World Belongs to You. pointing to uncertainties posed by the works. It is intriguing. Now most of us are thinking of lunch. Breakfast seems a long time ago. We are ushered into the gallery restaurant for carpaccio on rocket, smoky and light, followed by coffee and chocolate flan. We each receive a catalogue of the exhibition. It has been wonderful.

We have a few more stops to look at important churches and walk the squares of the old residential precincts before we make our way to the private house of Nathalie De Corso and her husband for afternoon drinks. They are good hosts, showing us their roof garden and home, set on the canal. It has been a good walk to get here. I have been chatting to Micheal Manford, whose parents were neighbours of ours when I was a child. They built their house in 1957 when I was ten. I remember it going up. I feel ancient. Walking back to the hotel we pass squares facing the canal. Spare church facades plastered in fine tones of whiteness and soft greys with flourishes of acanthus leaves on grand columns. Walls of small flat red bricks, worn and ancient. A washing line hung with white and always water. We are led back to the hotel to prepare for dinner at the Ristorante Do Forni, San Marco. What will I wear?

Tuesday 6th September 2011.
I am recovering from the meal last night. We started with carpaccio, followed by something that was nearly carpaccio, smoked meats on a bed of parmesan and salad leaves, pasta funghi, spinach crepes, steak fillet, sorbet and creamy dessert. It is a struggle to do credit to all these courses. I am seated next to Elizabeth Vinnicombe opposite Gene Tilbrook and Anne Seghezzi. The talk is of books and relationships. We catch up on each other, getting to know you.

Despite the feast of last night I find myself rocking up for breakfast. It is set in a long room of rather grand proportions, a painted ceiling and walls, by Tiepolo's student no less! A great oval buffet is set up in the middle of the room, loaded with breakfasting things. I take the fruit, grapes and water melon. Deliciously fresh.

It is a big day of villas and churches. We are not sure our vaporetti will arrive. There is a general strike and everything is upside down. General chatter as we consider our fate. Stefano has it sorted. The drivers arrive on time. We have a fascinating ride along the canals, passing villas of all descriptions, slipping into the working part of the city till we arrive at a jetty where a bus is waiting to take us across the causeway to our first destination of the day.

Villa Foscari (La Malcontenta), designed by Andrea Palladio was commissioned by the Foscari twins Nicolo and Alvise in 1558. Remarkably, the villa is still in the ownership of the family after many twists and turns. It is now part of the World Heritage Site that takes in the canals of Venice and the villas of the Brenta Canal connecting Venice to Padua.

The group at the entrance of the Malcontenta

We approach from the rear of the building. It is typically square, pedimented with tall, elegant columns, looking more vast because of a deep base that supports the structure. It is at once austere and classic. Inside the home-like proportions of the spaces are revealed. It is a complete surprise, a jewel of wonderful frescos by Batista Franco and Giambattista Zalloti. The central passage has become a generous room with all other rooms peeling from it. Tiny painted spaces with a window and a writing desk, comfortable bedrooms, a cosy sitting room. This is a bolt hole of magnificent conception. Henry 11 visited as did Doges and other Venetian nobles.

These villas served as country residences, a retreat from the often unhealthy city centre that was Venice. Many were attached to vast landholdings given to the growing of wheat for domestic consumption and were surrounded by agricultural buildings. Foscari is not one of these it is for pleasure, entertaining family and important guests.

We wind our way beside the Brenta Canal. Avenues of pale trees, gardens generation upon generation have nurtured, villas grand and small and in between scraps of houses and shops. Villa Pisani is our next stop. Versailles like, it's vast network of rooms and furnishings are built to impress. A vast pool stretches between the main house and the stables, clipped and manicured gardens all of green.

Padua is close, I'm very excited. Giotto's frescos were a subject of study when I was at art school. Did I do an essay on them? Must have-they are so detailed in my memory. The Betrayal of Judas, Lamentation over the dead Christ, Joachim among the Shepherds and The Last Judgement are deeply etched in my memory. I was familiar with the language of this cycle even then. The Greek Orthodox Church at Parker Street has versions of it.

The Church itself is spare and beautifully proportioned, deep red flat small bricks. We are seated in the black glass holding pen for a preparatory video before we get our fifteen minutes inside.

Silence as we twenty enter this holy place. Deep in concentration we each study and pause. In Giotto's golden hands the medieval tradition of Christus patiens is inverted into humanism and passion. His brush traces the face, solid in grief. We are witness to these events. Such a radical shift from the heavy formality of iconography and medieval illumination.

Nothing of this experience disappoints. We are in the presence of a great and moving cycle of works, like an opera, building one note on the other till we are completely immersed in the work and the artist's vision. It has been truly transporting. An experience I will carry with me.

I fall asleep around seven and wake at seven, refreshed by my baby sleep.

Wednesday 7th September 2011
We are due to meet at the columns at St Mark's Square at 10.00am before we set off for the Venice Biennale at the Giardini and Arsenale. Red and I have a delightful sparring chatter as we make our way there. We manage to buy a very good rapper hat for her to set off the Japanese designer gear she favours.

One of the highlights of the 54th Biennale is the French artist Christian Boltanski's work, CHANCE, made up of the works, The Wheel of Fortune, the Births, The Deaths and Be New. or for further information

Christophe Schlingenseif's work in the German pavilion is also a do not miss. A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within. These works document his work over a period of time, particularly his confrontation with cancer and the impact on his body. Better than it sounds.

Mike Nelson's work at the British Pavillion is a standout. Creating a link between two great former mercantile centres, Istanbul in the East and Venice in the West, Nelson transforms the British Pavillion building a labyrinth of rooms. He has removed the roof structure of the building. We are amazed. We are in a past, once ours-a post industrial factory perhaps. Tools of trade dusty and forgotten, small abandoned rooms heavy with age and accumulated dust. The impact is cumulative and powerful.

We bump into Antony Gormley. I remind him that my nephew, George Kailis worked with him on the Menzies project. He remembers George with gusto and I promise to pass on his good wishes.

Lunch at Corte Sconta

We break for lunch, Stefano's favourite restaurant when he was a student and still exceptional in the Venesian food pantheon. Trattoria Corte Sconta, Calle del Pestrin 3886.

A table has been set for us in an enclosed courtyard under the vines, now heavy with green bunches. A starter of marinaded tuna and white swordfish with celeriac and juniper berries, served with Proscheto and sparkling water. Bowls of Vongole follow flavoured with ginger and lemon, platters of local seafood arrive, minute shrimp crisp and orange, marinaded octopus, stuffed baby squid, small crustasions accompanied with crispy bread.

Dessert, a pale peach coloured parfait of passionfruit served with wild strawberries, minced paw paw, mint and passionfruit. This is food like no other. A feast of flavours and served with such grace. I am sitting with Marlene Stafford and Veronique Ramen. We discuss the gallery fundraising program. This is Marlene's baby.

The afternoon is filled with more artwork spotting. Argentina was a find. Sculptures of giant proportions in grey concrete. I'm back at the hotel now. Tonight we dine at the Lido. What will I wear?

Thursday 8th September 2011.
Stayed up drinking with Marco, Terry and Veronique at the Baglioni cocktail bar. Good conversations on early Italian cinema, Tennesee Williams and Gone with the Wind. Veronique tells us about her beautiful mother's career as an advertising model. Veronique sat on the lap of Anthony Quinn as a 12 year old, listening to his stories, while her mother was modelling! and she had other brushes with Hollywood-sandwiches with Patricia Neill! Its a good end to the night. Roll into bed after 1.00am.

We assemble in the foyer at 9.30am and make our way towards St Marks Square along the Riva Degli Schiavoni. Cross two bridges, canals, always glimpses of canals. People everywhere. They are photographing each other, posing, buying postcards. Most people are on their way somewhere. It is quite mad. The Canale Di San Marco is full of craft scudding here and there. We have arrived at the Ponte Della Pieta. Stefano and Glass historian, Rosa Barovier Mentasti will be our guides on Murano today.

The ride takes us around the fish tail end of Venice, past the Isola Di San Michele with it's church and cemetery to the Murano jetty. A neat square, Piazza alla Colonna then a stroll along the Fondamenta Dei Ventrai. Shops and factories line the canal. We are guided through the VANINI factory by staff and the curator. They take great care to demonstrate their attention to every phase of the glass making process. It makes their glass prized by collectors and institutions. We marvel at the glass blowers' skill.

I wish we had more time to explore other factories, lunch awaits. The group assembles at the jetty awaiting the Vaporetto. We will lunch at Locanda Cipriani on the island of Torcello, can't wait.

A table is set in the centre of a lawn. Waiters are serving Bellini's, pink and sparkling. This is refreshing and a good introduction to the famous Locanda gardens. We spend some time wandering, drinks in hand. This garden is well loved: a green herb garden with lemon verbena, herbs, garlic and chives, bright green clipped lawns, arches with walkways, beds of annuals. I glimpse the other patrons, families bunched in laughter. They are sitting under vine covered loggias. I can hear the clatter of cutlery, lunch chatter, wait staff busy and efficient, great platters held aloft. In the distance small rural buildings and cypress trees bright in the midday sun.

We dine on a starter of squid served in it's ink, a linguini pasta with vegetables bathed in a light creamy sauce, then pan fried fish fillets, golden and white with shaved zucchini. A dessert version of Zabiglione finishes this wondrous meal. I order a small expresso.

We walk back alongside the canal past coloured traditional houses, shuttered and silent. Wide fields grassed, empty but for a line of cypress. We are lost in our own thoughts.

Now a rural retreat, the island of Torcello was once the centre, pre-dating Venice as an important locus of trade and worship. The first Basilica, workshops and houses were here. A tiny rural community service the small number of tourists who abandon the glittering attractions of the grand canal and explore this ancient settlement. Occupied since the first and second centuries by Romans, Torcello has many stories. The bones of the gospel writer Mark were bought here from Alexandria before they were housed at St Marks.

The Church buildings and interiors have had successive layers of occupation and renovation. Consecrated in 639AD, a major refurbishment was undertaken in 1008 and then in the 1600s. The form we see today is the sum of these successive layers. Stern and austere the inside decoration is ablaze with gold and finely coloured mosaics, the largest being The Doomsday mosaic, The Last Judgement.

In beautifully ordered imagery the mosaic shows the Apostles, the Crucifixion, the Resurrection, the Damned of Hell, Archangels, martyrs and monks. Here the full drama of the cost of sin is played out. A green Lucifer sits with the Anti Christ on his knee, while the Archangel drives the proud, the lustful, the envious, the misers and the indolent into the fires of Hell with his lance.

For those who are devout; the glory of the heavenly court, Christ the judge, surrounded by angels and Apostles promise the soul, life into eternity. It is a giant work covering the full height and width of the Church. In the Apse opposite the Virgin and child with the twelve Apostles. The church is dense with stories, all in mosaics of exceptional quality. It is a wonderful experience to be in this ancient space. I'm so glad not to have missed it.

The maestro at work at Venini's

Tonight Stuart Miller and I will go to a performance of Verdi's, Rigoletto at a Palazzi. We head off at 7.45pm for pre-performance drinks and find a good bar adjacent to the Hotel Bauer. The entrance to the Palazzo in a little obscure, we eventually ring a doorbell and click, we're in! We are seated with sixty others in a small room. An orchestra of piano, two violin and a cello accompany the singers. At each scene change the performance moves into another room. The singing is very good, though Stuart with his expertise in ears, noses and throats, detects strain in the soprano's vocal chords! Gilda is sung by Scilla Cristiano, Rigoletto, Andrea Zese and the Duke by Orfeo Zanetti. It is a delightful performance and a lot of fun.

Friday 9th September, 2011.
A truly wonderful day at San Marco, Correr Museum and the Ducal Palace.
Dinner at Il Gondolieri, famous since the 40s. A signed Man Ray photo graces the wall above our table. It looks like the sort of place Hemingway drank and ate. Clearly it is well known and loved. We have a starter of spicy meat with creamed potato, risotto, steak then a creamy custard. I'm sitting with Sally Manford, Stuart Miller and Sheldon Coxon. Marlene presents Stefano with his gift and some words of appreciation. Micheal Manford adds his own thanks, noting Stefano and the other guides' passion for their subject.

Walking up the Scala D'Oror in Palazaa Ducale

Saturday 10th, September, 2011.
Today I re-visit the Biennale. I make my way towards a film installation by US artist John Mackay. It is about time, and time within time, a very layered piece of great complexity; he has spliced sections of commercial films together where references to time appear in speech or clocks-for example 10.45am. The drama time moves as 'real' time moves. It is fascinating and subverts my prejudice towards video works. I routinely give them a miss! I lunch on the Grande Canale. Marinaded sardine fillets with braised onions, pine nuts and sultanas, grilled baby octopus, marinaded squid and prawns. I have a glass of light local wine and a salad.

Sunday 11th September, 2011.
I'm leaving the group and the security of the Luna Baglioni today. It has been sensational. We are peeling off now to go our separate ways. I leave for Athens on Aegean Air at 10.30am on route to the Kazzie house. I eat my last breakfast in that beautiful breakfast room. The water taxi arrives at 8.00am.

He bundles my scrappy luggage on board, no trouble. The whole of Venice is enveloped in heavy mist. How will he navigate? This thought has not occurred to him. We belt across the water, banging the tops of the waves in great jolts, spray crashes high, spectacular. I see he has the wipers on and has wrapped a beautiful scarf around his neck. Like all Italians he has a way with clothes, even these work clothes: we pass other craft. Now we see the jetties of Venice Airport. People are waiting to get on. They are on their way to Venice...lucky things. I pay my 110 Euro.

The Foundation family for this trip comprise, Michael and Sally Manford, Marlene and Graham Stafford, Elizabeth Vinnicombe, Marco D'Orsogna and Terry Scott, Gene Tilbrook and Anne Seghezzi, Eileen Bond, Ian and Chris Fletcher, Sheldon Coxon and Caroline Christie, Stuart Miller, Veronique Ramen, Hamish and Ngaire Beck.

Written by Foundation Member Katherine Kalaf

Photographs taken by Sallie Anne Manford





See also






Last reviewed 16 December 2011

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