The first part of my summer was spent engaging in the fantastic entertainment fiasco that was Bravo's art world reality television drama Work of Art. Having been a contestant on the show, I watched along with everyone else in New York and witnessed the simultaneously delightful and ungraceful fallout from bloggers, show judges, newspaper critics, and artists alike, many of whom took matters too seriously in detriment to their good health. I tried as best I could to keep a distance (well, mostly because of the network's lawyers), but it didn't always work out that way. Or this way.
Thanks to being glued to the tube for five weeks, I lost ground in seeing exhibitions around town except for maybe Greater New York at PS1 - which in all honesty, was not all that great - and weekly roamings in the various gallery districts.
In contrast, my "second summer" was spent making atonement (at my leisure, of course) in the great boot of Italy, where I got to temporarily leave behind all the worst parts of the contemporary art scene for something more "edifying" one could say, as I retreated into good ol' tried and true art history - e.g. lots and lots of churches. Welcome back to the Renaissance my friends! From Milan to Florence, Perugia, Assisi and many an enchanting place in between, taking the roads via a light blue Fiat Panda, I was reminded why loving art is the greatest job in the world.
Just like nothing can possibly prepare you for the majesty of Sarah Palin and the Tea Party, no reproduction of any sort, no matter how detailed the jpeg resolution, can ready one's eyes for the feast of seeing firsthand the Italian High (and Low) Renaissance treasure trove in person. Forget the mundanity of St. Patrick's cathedral or the forthcoming Freedom Tower, everyone must add to their long lists and see the following before they dissolve into stardust, in no particular order: Leonardo's radiant Last Supper in Milan, which even under its decrepit state still manages to cast a spell; at the Uffizi Boticelli's immaculate conception the Birth of Venus and divine Michelangelo's Doni Tondo - painting was this man's secondary medium people, but this perfect composition and its daring colors look as if it were just mixed yesterday, outshining any painting you've seen in the last five years in New York; Fra Angelico's frescoes in the Dominican priory of San Marco - all jail cells should be decorated so beautifully; and last but not least, Giotto's St. Francis fresco cycle (and everything else around it) in the Basilica of Saint Francesco in the medieval city of Assisi. I won't even get into the great civic sculptures of Florentine virtue, such as the David and Cellini's Perseus.
Side note... to mock the unevolved, wretched, greedy and hypocritical "chumps" (oh Floyd Mayweather, oh Glenn Beck) who've fastened their high coffers to low standards of humanity and culture, not to mention those enlightened protesters of the Muslim community center being proposed for Lower Manhattan. To them I say this: Those old school Christians may have pillaged many a village and violated a zillion innocent people (a la the Americas - remember the natives anyone?) in the process, but they at least spent large chunks of blood money on art instead of multiple foreign cars, prostitutes on Craig's List, and dog-fighting.
Apologies, and back to Italy and money well spent.
All this talk about art and I've neglected to even mention the dizzying postcard landscapes that follow your Panda wherever you go. And the food. And the wine. The iffy internet and awful Vodafone service left me wanting, but the the rest of Italy left me wanting even more. One day outside Assisi I walked the same quiet forest and hermitage where Saint Francis found solace eight hundred years ago. I saw myself contentedly laying on the ground like the whimsical, odd statue of our lazy saint, meditating and daydreaming of an indian summer filled with unforgettable art and all else.
Bring on the Fall.
--Trong Gia Nguyen
(Images: Cathedral in Orvieto; Michelangelo Buonarroti, Doni Tondo, 1506, oil on wood, Uffizi Gallery; Anonymous statue of St. Francis, Erme delle Carceri, Assisi.)