Museo Fortuny

Tra, Edge of Becoming is the title given to Museo Fortuny’s current exhibition. In Italian, tra means in between, inside, amongst or betwixt, and in Welsh, during or whilst. It is a common suffix – mantra deriving from man- (think)  -tra (tool). With the subtitle Edge of Becoming, therefore, we sense an exploration of transitions and liminal states of enquiry.

Museo Fortuny, Spanish costume and theatrical designer Mariano Fortuny’s former palazzo, contains coloured glass windows, long daises, and hangings on rough plastered walls. Some of the hangings and wall parts are framed, joining the precious exhibits. The curation of the museum and Tra is very discreet, paintings hung almost invisibly from taut wires, or small hooks supporting fragments of ancient carvings. Fortuny’s own easels and shelves are used instead of plinths, their battered bodies at once characterful and discreet enough to fit into the setting.  Cupboard doors stand open, discreet spotlights inside illuminating engraved artists books, Asian manuscripts, automatons and video screens. Abstract Expressionism sits alongside Muslim prayer rugs, contemporary films and ancient Chinese figures. The exhibition is syncretic, borrowing from a vast array of cultures and time periods. Theatrical lights illuminate some of the pieces, and set the scene for an exhibition and palazzo filled with theatre.

There are many model sets and theatres, inviting puppet shows and make-believe, many made by Fortuny during the 1920s. The larger models are parked like cinquecentos, round and robust. Their backs of plaster and wood are visible, as are their working mechanisms. Architectural models by Venetian Artisans from the 18th century are also present, alongside costumes, including Fortuny’s crepe Delphos dresses, and a peacock feather dress from 1991 by Calugi E Giannelli.
Hans Op De Beeck’s film Silence (2009) is projected in HD onto a rough plaster wall above a doorway, literally on a threshold. A play with scale, in the film we see a hand arrange small scale furniture, trees or window frames on a white ground so that it looks like a real landscape or interior. The hand constantly alters the configuration, at one point pouring salt across the surface to imitate snowdrifts. The film’s playful music adds to its dynamic quality. Almost real, but constantly inviting the imagination, De Beeck’s film complements Marco Tirelli’s painting whose acrylic stain is barely visible as it mistily delineates the base of a doorway and a threshold – again recollecting liminal sites of transition and the Tra title.
A Matthew Barney print of a masked man on stage in an empty theatre, from Cremaster V: Her Diva joins the theatrical collection, alongside copies of Masters, done by Fortuny himself. There is a sense of conjuring beautiful or intriguing objects – Fortuny’s enjoyment in collection and display is continued.
Kim Sooja’s mysterious bundles of Japanese and Korean fabric dot the four floors of the piazza, and there is a room devoted to James Turrell’s light installation. The luxury of having such a rich collection – especially one filled with spectacles and curiosities – is apt for Venice and Fortuny.

A video entitled The Tenant by Rivane Neuenschwander and Cao Guimarães follows a bubble as it floats around a house, gracefully navigating corners and walls that threaten to burst it. The film is beautiful, but on the verge of becoming disturbing, as is Stromboli, Marina Abramović’s black and white film on display in the attic. We see her lying face upwards on a beach as waves near, sometimes making her gasp as they wash over her. Doris Salcedo’s Atrabiliarios, shoes inserted into the wall and covered by a gauze, appear at first gem-like. But as with the Abramović film, the piece soon becomes threatening, with its connotations of victims’ clothes in a collection. Atrabiliarios means defiant in Spanish, and the piece certainly defies settling into a merely decorative role.
With these pieces in mind, all the others in the exhibition take on a different role, slipping between readings and performing ambiguously – the museum is a theatre of imagination.