TRAVEL

Collision wine and art: Ornellaia's breaks the tension with a very special limited edition La Tensione

Ornellaia Vineyards, courtesy of Ornellaia.

End of August and we are thinking about wine…..

I love it when worlds collide - when art becomes wearable fashion, fashion becomes functional experience, habitation becomes installation and culinary becomes performance. It happens in any media, in any art and every day, and it can even happen on the table. One of the best collisions, or what I like to call and overlap, is art and wine. Products of intense creativity, hardworking and community, there is a lot of commonality in both industries. There are the makers, the artists and artisans who move material to create one-of-a-kind visual and palatable experiences. There are the fans - whether FOMO or long-term invested - who go to every opening, taste every bottle, peruse every Instagram. And then there are mecenati - the patrons and ollectors who drop dollars to make these creations immortal - whether liquid, canvas, video or experience. And I love them all, even more so when one of the main ingredients to the overlap is Italy.

Olga Fusari, Ornellaia’s enologist and Axel Heinz, estate director. Courtesy of Ornellaia.

Enter Ornellaia

One of the heavy hitters on the wine scene, Ornellaia is a DOC Bolghieri that came almost out of nowhere with its first bottles from 1985. Decades of articles, awards, success and drinking followed. Ornellaia became a dream, a bucket list item, and even a hashtag #winegoals. Sometime in 2008, Ornellaia - CEO Giovanni Geddes da Filicaia and president Fernando Frescobaldi - decided to put their love for contemporary art on the very bottles that they were producing, bringing in curator Bartolomeo Pietromarchi to help choose artists who would imbibe the terroir as well as the wines to create Vendemmia dell’Artista, a limited artist edition of bottles- 100 double magnums, 10 Imperials (6L) and a single Salamanazar (9L). But there’s a catch: the artist would be inspired by a single word.

Every year, estate director Axel Heinz walks through the vineyards and reflects on the year’s winemaking, paring down an incredible, year-long experience from bud-break to barrel into a single word which then becomes inspiration and (dare I write) theme for a contemporary artist to create limited edition bottle labels (and eventually larger scale artwork) for the selected vedemmia. Past editions include Charisma (William Kentridge), Essence (Ernesto Neto), Equilibrium (Zhang Huan) and Energy (Rebecca Horn). Select bottles are available for purchase, but 111 bottles are chosen specifically for auction (with proceeds donated to a non-profit arts organization). To me, this is the most low profile and natural interactive art experience you’ll find.

Shirin Neshat, Courtesy of Ornellaia.

La Tensione (2016) by Shirin Neshat.- the ten Imperials (6L). Courtesy of Ornellaia.

La Tensione (Tension) is eleventh word in a decade of experiences bottled into Ornellaia’s Vendemmia dell’Artista. For the 2016 vintage, the Super Tuscan asked super artist Shirin Neshat to create tension, a perfect pairing as Neshat has long been known for her evocative photography and video installations that play on tension and fragility. Her response was photo series of gesturing hands calligraphed with words from the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam (lines which refer to how wine elevates the human spirit) on the Double Magnums, Methuselahs (Imperials) and Salamanazar, while there are limited edition 1 liters calligraphed with Khayyam’s poem and signed by the artist.

“The entire Ornellaia team contributed throughout the year with extreme tension. The word can seem suggestive. It has so many meanings- attention, apprehension, that relate to the different phases of the process. Great wines can be of two kinds of equilibrium- harmony or an almost static balance,'“ says Heinz. And the wine is great. I should know, I tasted it in a pre-auction debut.

La Tension’s 111 bottles (100 double magnums, 10 Methuselahs (6L) and a single Salamanazar (9L)) are being auctioned at Sotheby’s online with all proceeds donated Minds Eye project ( Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation) which helps blind and visually impaired people to experience art with all their senses.

Neshat signs every bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In some cases…. you’ll find a Vendemmia dell’Artista bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

In some cases…. you’ll find a Vendemmia dell’Artista bottle. Photo by Erica Firpo.

The one and only Salmanazar. The 2015 edition sold for £45,000. Let’s hope 2016 is record breaking. Photo by Erica Firpo.

5 Places To See Contemporary Art In Rome

Palazzo Merulana. Credit: Palazzo Merulana

Want to spend a weekend exploring Rome as a contemporary outpost? I’ve lined up where you need to go and stay in my latest update on contemporary art in Rome for Forbes Travel, December 2018.

Rome is where the art is, but these days it’s more than just colossal monuments, dusty archeological sites and beautifully decorated Baroque churches.

Contemporary art is finally making a significant mark on the Eternal City’s landscape. The destination is now replete with an itinerary of museums, galleries, concept spaces and creative hubs. We’ve plotted out five top places that bring this ancient city back to the future.

WHAT TO SEE

Palazzo Merulana
One of the newest galleries on the scene, this former municipal office building underwent a three-year renovation in preparation for the eclectic, 90-piece collection of Elena and Claudio Cerasi, prominent local patrons of the arts. Most of the museum’s works are Italian pieces created between World War I and II by artists such as Giacomo Balla, Giorgio de Chirico and Alighiero Boetti.   

Art aficionado or not, you’ll want to hang around at CafeCulture, the palazzo’s boutique and coffee shop. The menu features a variety of fare sourced from local purveyors, such as cheeses from ProLoco DOL, hamburgers from famed butcher Bottega Liberati and sweets from patisserie Cristalli di Zucchero.

Contemporary Cluster 
This avant-garde experience is the 21st-century manifestation of those iconic multidisciplinary performances of the 1960s and ’70s: a boutique/art gallery/event space housed in a decadent 17th-century palace on a side street off Campo de’ Fiori. 

The hybrid art and commercial venue hosts monthly exhibitions, weekly performances and DJ sets, while its grounds have permanent and pop-up shops and cafés.

In essence, Contemporary Cluster is a concept store with an artsy vibe that constantly draws an eclectic crowd with almost everything being for sale as a bonus.

Sarah Sze at Crypta Balbi
It’s not every day that one of the world’s most famous contemporary art galleries joins forces with an ancient archaeological site. Gagosian, whose imprint in Rome has upgraded the art scene over the past 10 years, has turned to the past for a site-specific, National Roman Museum-partnered installation at the Crypta Balbi ruins.

Through January 27, the first-century theater provides a rustic backdrop for contemporary sculpture Split Stone (7:34) by American artist Sarah Sze. Using an ultra-modern process by which thousands of tiny cavities etched into the rock are filled with pigment, Sze has created a captivating crystalized sunset scene on the stone’s mirror-like surface.  

Sant’Andrea de Scaphi. Credit: Erica Firpo

Gavin Brown’s Enterprise: Sant’Andrea de Scaphis
To find the pulse of the international art scene, head for British art dealer Gavin Brown’s Rome outpost — it’s everything and nothing you’d expect. Located in a nondescript, deconsecrated church on a side street of Trastevere, Sant’Andrea de Scaphis is a single, rustic room of hauntingly charming medieval architecture that usually features a single artist installation.

Exhibits rotate every few months, so it’s unlikely you’ll run into the same works twice. The historic space is hosting a politically charged display by American graphic designer Sam Pulitzer, “May The Last Nationalist Be Strangled With The Guts Of The Last Technocrat,” through December 8.

Palazzo Rhinoceros. Credit: Pino LePera

Palazzo Rhinoceros
The name Fendi is synonymous with Rome’s fashion scene, but the designers’ youngest sister, Alda, opts for a more innovative interpretation with Fondazione Alda Fendi — Esperimenti, her nonprofit arts foundation.  

The group’s latest experiment is Palazzo Rhinoceros, a new creative hub in the Velabro neighborhood that opened in October. Architect Jean Nouvel rebooted a centuries-old palazzo into a multi-level gallery, 24 luxury apartments and a rooftop restaurant, without altering the building’s historic bones.   

While the interiors are stunning, some of the venue’s highlights are actually found outside, including a can’t-miss portrait projection of Alda by Pierre et Gilles on the façade and a life-sized resin rhino that lurks in the front yard.   

Hotel Eden’s La Terrazza. Credit: Hotel Eden

WHERE TO STAY

Hotel Eden
Rome’s undeniable harbinger of style and hospitality, this Forbes Travel Guide Five-Star stunner is dripping in fashionable touches — think art deco details, custom furniture and resplendent marble accents.

For a picture-perfect end to a day of gallery-hopping, dine at La Terrazza, the luxury hotel’s rooftop restaurant boasting some of the best views of the city.  

Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina. Credit: Melia Hotels & Resorts


Gran Meliá Rome Villa Agrippina
Located on the bluffs of the famed Janiculum hill (between Trastevere and Vatican’s Borgo neighborhood) on the site of an imperial villa, this Four-Star retreat is a city-center oasis that comes complete with a 1920s-era pool and lush greenery.

Though its origins are ancient, Gran Meliá’s style is contemporary: sleek modern furnishings, wide-open spaces and the sophisticated My Blend by Clarins spa.

The Rooms of Rome
Stay in the heart of the action when you book into Palazzo Rhinoceros’s fully immersive-art experience on the edge of the Roman Forum. Each of its 24 rooms is minimalist chic, meticulously designed and curated by the aforementioned Jean Nouvel, the superstar architect behind the cutting-edge Louvre Abu Dhabi.

The stylish rooms are outfitted with luxe touches, too, like Bang & Olufsen TVs, fully equipped kitchens and L’Occitane amenities.

An Art Lover's Guide to 36 Hours in Milan

Photo Credit: Erica Firpo

Fashion, food, finance and all-round fabulousness. Here’s how to spend an inspired 36 hours in Milan, Italy’s “It” city.

10am: Check in at Hotel Indigo Milan – Corso Monforte and you’ll find yourself in the centre of an art-focused crossroads, from Milan’s illustrious Baroque to its contemporary cultural kingpin vibe. Step into modern Milan of the 1930s at the Villa Necchi Campiglio, in park Villa Campiglio directly across the from the hotel.

Named for socialite sisters Gigina and Nedda Necchi and Gigina’s husband, Angelo Campiglio, the Villa Necchi Campiglio was the centre and centrepiece of Milan’s mid-twentieth century social scene. Architect Piero Portaluppi combined his unique rationalist flair of sleek lines and materials with Frank Lloyd Wright’s functional sensibilities (including custom pieces and built-ins). His 1930s design was innovative in details both inside and out. In 2000, Gigina bequeathed the property to FAI, Italy’s national trust, which opened the villa as a museum in 2008.

Photo credit: Villa Necchi Campiglio.

12pm: For lunch, the villa’s solarium doubles as a charming cafeteria and features favourite Milanese dishes including a green risotto and traditional veal cutlets. Wondering why the Villa Necchi Campiglio looks familiar? The iconic home was setting for the 2009 Italian movie I Am Love, starring Tilda Swinton.

3pm: Make your way to Fondazione Prada. This 205,000-square-foot complex is home to an intense collection of contemporary art works by 20th and 21st-century Italian and international artists—from Giacomo Balla to Francesco Vezzuoli and Damien Hirst. Its 2015 Rem Koolhaas/OMA design includes a cinema.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

Photo Credit:  Fondazione Prada.

6pm: Stop for aperitivi at Fondazione Prada’s cocktail hub Bar Luce, the Art Deco–inspired bar designed by director Wes Anderson. And then make your way up the newly opened Torre, a nine-story modernist tower, with art galleries that eventually lead to the rooftop terrace bar.

8:30pm: After drinks, stay for dinner at Ristorante Torre, the Fondazione’s tower restaurant. The illuminated cityscape of Milan sprawls away beyond its floor to ceiling windows, and the views inside are equally good with art work including custom wall-hung plates and midcentury design pieces like Tulip tables, and executive chairs by Eero Saarinen. The menu features regular new tasting dishes created by a rotation of Michelin rising star chefs from the CARE’s Chef Under 30 project.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Ristorante Torre. Photo credit: Fondazione Prada.

Day 2

8.30 am: Build up an appetite with a stroll through the historic Giardini Pubblici, established 1784 and considered the oldest city park in Milan. Then find a counter spot at Pasticceria Marchesi, the posh cafe on via Montenapoleone in Milan’s Fashion Quadrilateral. A city landmark, Marchesi is the perfect scene for morning coffee, and has a mouthwatering line up of pastries, traditional pralines and savoury treats. Take a look around the Fashion Quadrilateral, an oasis of haute couture. Via Montenapoleone and its side streets are lined with beautiful boutiques representing some of the world’s most admired fashion houses.

11.30 am: Milan’s designers all know that contemporary style comes from centuries of culture. Catch up on Milan’s history at the Galleria Arte Moderna, a late 18th century villa whose Baroque trappings are the backdrop to an enviable collection of Italian and European artwork from the 18th to the 20th century. The rise of modern Milan is shown through key work by Balla, Boccioni, Canova and Segantini, which sit side by side with Van Gogh, Manet, Cezanne and Gaugin.

1pm: For lunch, head to LuBar, the galleria’s on site cafe for creative Sicilian street food in a whimsical fin-de-siècle setting.

 

3pm It’s time to go back to the future by visiting the Pirelli Hangar Biccocaa free-entry contemporary complex on the grounds of a former Pirelli tire factory. This is now one of Europe’s largest exhibition spaces, with three buildings covering 100,000 square feet. It’s dedicated to contemporary art exhibitions featuring works by Italian and international artists. Guides are on hand to help you navigate around the vast complex.

8pm By early evening, you’ll want to grab an outside table at Iuta BistrotHangar Bicohcca’s onsite gourmet restaurant where the city’s cognoscenti congregate for stylish conversation and aptly-mixed cocktail.

10pm Ready to head home to the hotel? Before you do, make a pit stop at Bar Basso, a cult classic popular with the fashion and design crowd, known for introducing the world to “aperitivi” hour and its own take on the negroni.

This article first appeared in Belong Magazine, June 2018.

Did You See the Dramatic Hands Trying to Save Venice from Drowning?

This article first appeared in Fathom, February 2018.

The hands that shot out of the sea and were seen around the world. Photo courtesy of Halcyon Gallery.

Venice is a floating city of a million unforgettable moments. And in 2017, the most unforgettable was Support, a Venice Biennale sculpture by Lorenzo Quinn depicting a pair of colossal hands rising out of the Grand Canal, seeming to hold up the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. If you happened to be in Venice this year, you know what I’m talking about. (If you're desperate to see it before it goes, the show closes on February 28. Hop the 1 or 2 vaporetto water bus from Santa Lucia train station and get off at the Ca d’Oro stop.)

The stark white hands look like a submerged Atlas reaching out to support (or grasp) the closest palazzo. Quinn created Support as a site-specific piece that was both a figurative and a physical support to Venice. The idea was (and still is) to open the doors to a discussion on climate change, global warming, and cultural heritage. Did it work? Yes, and then some. Magical, absurd, funny, poignant: No matter what your mood, the hands drew you in and brought out emotion.

The first time I saw Support, I laughed. A good, happy, hearty laugh. It was a clear, sunny day, and Venice was giving me everything — and I felt like those hands were giving me the world. I came back in the late afternoon and watched the sun set on the canal in a rainbow fire while those white hands practically prayed in gratitude to the raw siena color of the palazzo. 

Another time, I saw the sculpture on a raining morning on the way to Piazza San Marco. I was elbowed into an uncomfortable corner of the vaporetto with what felt like every tourist Venice has ever seen. The hands seemed to desperately claw at Ca’ Sagredo’s walls. The last time I saw it was at twilight, when those fathomless colors of Venice were fading and the hands seemed to be gently cradling the side of the palazzo, protecting it, holding it, cherishing it. Magical. Powerful. Venice.

Find It

Support will be on display until February 28, 2018. It is best visible from the 1 or 2 line of the vaporetto water bus at the Ca d'Oro stop. 

Learn more: Lorenzo Quinn's website.

What's Going in Rome - January through March

If you haven't been following me on Twitter and Instagram, you probably haven't caught my 8 am soap-boxing where Darius and I free-form overshare to our hearts' content about how amazing it is to experience Rome in the early morning hours.  We go on and on about how the city is ours because no one - except a smattering of rushed parents, busy bar guys, precocious lawyers,  on fleek cleaners and chill security guards- is around.  Big tour groups? Not until post-9am.

But the truly best time to visit Rome is right now, aka, those very chilly, sometimes rainy post-vacation January to Valentine's weeks when the city is cold and quiet all  day long.  Forbes Travel Guide asked me to share What We Adore About Rome Right Now - here's my reboot on what to do in Rome:

The Ancient. 

Right now is the time to visit all of Rome's ancient sites. Personally, I'm a big fan of heading underground.  It's already cold so why not go subterranean and subzero. But in January and February, I'll go with Darius 's Anytime-of-The-Year Go-To spot: Roman Forum .   We're at the very nadir of the tourism lull, which means little to no lines to queue, especially when it rains.  If the sun is shining, you'll get that epic selfie.  January and February can be slightly schizophrenic weather-wise, and if you're lucky, you'll have that once in a life-time snow day in the Roman Forum. Tip: make it a point to visit our friend Werner's restorations at the ancient Church of Santa Maria Antiqua for the exhibition “Santa Maria Antiqua between Rome and Bisanzio” (ends March 17).

The Arts.

I am so happy it is cold.  There is a lot going on, and getting inside is the only way to escape the weather. My first stop would be Artemisia at Palazzo Braschi.  In brief, it's a collective of 30 of the 17th century artist's major works, plus some scenery by her contemporaries. I've been three times to the exhibit since it opened, and I don't think I can get enough of watching her sly look as she slays Holofernes. (Ends May 7).  I'd follow up Artemisa with some more very visceral work that brings you right up to the 21st century- Anish Kapoor’s Exhibition at Museo d’Arte Contemporanea di Roma.  As I wrote in my previous post, Indo-Brit artist Kapoor gets under your skin with 30 provocative pieces, from paintings to monumental sculptures (through April 17).

Er Pupone

This could be it.  This could be the very last season of Er Pupone - Francesco Totti with AS Roma. Rome's golden boy of the football (ahem, soccer) pitch and Italy's Golden Footis also approaching his golden years, so there is speculation that these could be very well be his last appearances on thefield.  A tribuna ticket for any of these upcoming home games at Stadio Olimpico — Sampdoria (January 19), Cagliari (January 22), Fiorentina (February 7), Torino (February 19), Villarreal (February 23, European league), Napoli (March 5) and Sassuolo (March 17) — is now more important than ever. And if you just don't get football, grab a ticket for Six Nations Rugby.  This year, Rome’s Stadio Olimpico hosts three matches as Azzurri, Italy’s national team, battles Wales (February 5), Ireland (February 11) and France (March 11).

What We Adore About Rome Right Now, originally appeared in Forbes Travel, January 10, 2017.

Anish Kapoor in Rome

Carne Trémula.

The name of Pedro Almodovar's 1997 film is running through my head as I walk through a ground floor gallery , navigating fleshy red sculptures, monumental canvas and pvc architectural pieces, and vicious paintings/vivisections. This is what it must feel like to be inside a body, or more likely inside Anish Kapoor's brain, the artist whose eponymous exhibition at the Museo d'Arte Contemporanea Roma (MACRO) is making half the guests shy away or inspiring a series of selfies (it's a thing. Kapoor's art makes a great selfie backdrop, subject or frame).

I love it.

Kapoor is a pretty brainy Indian-British artist, whose sculpture and paintings are best described as boundary-testing and bombastically biomorphic. Using material includingdirt, fiberglass, resin, canvas, steel, pvc, silicon, wood, wax and paint, playing on themes such as trauma, transformation, size, sexuality and emptiness, an single piece by Kapoor easily dominates the space around it.  For the MACRO, Kapoor is showing 30 works of art (from 2005 to 2016), which beautifully fight for attention in a lone, white gallery.

"This is not art, this is science!", shouts my eight-year-old and tireless colleague who has worked with me side by side for the past eight years, shuffling and hustling across Italy at every kind of exhibition possible- antiquities, Baroque masters, architecture.  She is impressed and at the same time disgusted with Kapoor's work.  Animal hides hang like paintings (or is that the reverse?) and paintings seem to cavern into discombobulated body parts.

She tells me prefers his solid sculpture, both large and small.  They are happier.  But it seems that every piece makes hersmile as she cracks up at the names.  Hunter. Flayed. Unborn. Hung. Inner Stuff. First Milk. Disrobe. Stench. Curtain.  They sound like a forensics report.  I'll admit I cringe a little as I peer into what looks like the cross section of biopsy.  When I lean in, I get lost in the depths of crimsons and vermillions.  Every piece by Kapoor traps you inside with deliberate intensity and meticulous beauty.  And shown together in a collective, the 30 pieces show off the bicameral mind of the artist. Hot and cold, solid and fragile, big and small, reflective and porous, durability and decay.  Duality at its biggest and best.

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Processed with VSCO with n1 preset

Oh yeah, now I get.  Kapoor is playing with me, the viewer, and he's playing with time.  I have to come back.

ANISH KAPOOR at MACRO via Nizza

Through April 17, 2017