TRAVEL

Your Guide to the Venice Biennale

Every two years I make the annual pilgrimage to the Venice for the Venice Biennale, a six-month city-wide contemporary art festival. As an art fan, I am in heaven in my 24/7 full immersion art experience and as a freelance journalist, I am unstoppable, taking advantage as many platforms as possible- Instagram, Twitter and now my podcast- to bring my excitement into your hands. Join me for Forbes Travel, June 2019 exploring every corner and calle of Venice for the maximum Biennale experience.

Venice. Credit: Joseph Costa

Venice may be a fantasy archipelago of beautiful islands caught in centuries past, but every two years, the floating city transforms into the ultimate interactive contemporary art experience. The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia is a six-month event bringing contemporary artists from around the world to create boundary-pushing pieces that inhabit sites all over the city.  

Themed “May You Live in Interesting Times,” the 2019 edition (running through November 24) is an invitation to open your eyes to new perspectives. With 79 artists, 90 national pavilions and more than 20 collateral and pop-up events, there’s a lot to see. 

Of course, with so many options, not to mention Venice’s constant flood of usual tourists, visiting the Biennale can be a bit overwhelming. Luckily, with the guide we’ve drawn up, it won’t matter if you’re a first-time visitor or veteran art aficionado because you’ll know precisely what to see, where to stay and how to make the most of your experience.

Mastering the Basics

To make it easy, the first thing you need to do is head to the exhibition’s original 1895 venue: Giardini della Biennale, Venice’s verdant public gardens where 29 of the national pavilions reside. Boasting both historic architecture and new builds, the country-designated areas showcase handpicked artists interpreting the Biennale’s theme however they choose. 

Inside the Central Pavilion is a densely packed collective exhibition featuring pieces by artists invited by this year’s Biennale curator, London-based Hayward Gallery director Ralph Rugoff.   

The Arsenale, Venice’s historic shipyard, is the other major Biennale venue. The building’s original corderie (a 1,000-foot-long hall used for rope making) houses some of the show’s more avant-garde pieces, including Michael Armitage’s beautiful paintings, large-format photographs by Martine Gutierrez and Alex da Corte’s interactive videos. 

You’ll also find satellite rooms hosting newer national pavilions, including first-time participants representing Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan.

Off-site Spectacles

No longer confined to just the Giardini and Arsenale, the Biennale extends across all six of Venice’s sestieri(neighborhoods), with national pavilions and pop-up exhibitions in private palazzi, museums and galleries.  

Start your off-site tour just outside Arsenale with Building Bridges, artist Lorenzo Quinn’s monumental sculpture made of six pairs of hands reaching together to the sky — it’s equally Instagrammable and thought-provoking. 

Next, head west to Canareggio to see “HILLARY: The Hillary Clinton Emails” by artist and poet Kenneth Goldsmith. The politically charged exhibit showcases nearly 60,000 documents neatly printed, stacked and shelved on a very presidential desk on the first floor of contemporary supermarket Despar Teatro Italia. 

Continue your sightseeing tour in the central San Polo district, where contemporary glass installation The Spirit of Murano resides. Created by the Seguso family (Murano glass artisans since 1397), the piece is made of hand-blown glass handkerchiefs, each engraved with a short story or poem about Venice. Before you leave, you’ll be invited to write your own musings on cloth — a memento that will be added to the sculpture.

Visit the renowned Fondazione Prada for a retrospective on late artist Jannis Kounellis before stopping by the southern Dorsoduro neighborhood to take in works from another late talent in “The Death Of James Byers.”  

Last, but not least, visit the Lithuania Pavilion in Castello to see an award-winning 13-person opera, Sun & Sea (Marina), performed while the singers suntan on a “beach” made from sand imported from the Baltic Sea.

Where to Eat

Take a caffeine break at Gran Caffè Quadri, the magnificently historic and impeccably restored café in Piazza San Marco. The pastries, coffees and setting are incredible and, if sweet isn’t your flavor, come back in the afternoon for an Italian tradition: aperitivi

For heartier fare, check out Osteria Bancogiro, a tiny, rustic bacarò (restaurant) next to the Rialto Bridge, where you’ll find Biennale glitterati catching sun while sipping spritzes. 

Other tasty spots in the heart of Venice include Osteria da Carla, a modernly styled bolthole, or the more traditional Trattoria da Fiore, both in San Marco. 

For an intimate seafood-focused dinner near Santa Lucia train station, snag a seat at the tiny Osteria Trefanti.

If exploring the Gardens and Arsenale has left you too tired to trek across town, book a table at Biennale favorite Corte Sconta in Castello, the sestiere adjacent to the event venues. This popular seafood restaurant has a cornucopia of fresh catches (including moecche, local soft-shell crab) among its traditional revival plates, not to mention a gorgeous garden courtyard. 

Nearby, canal-side Local offers a contemporary version of the classic Venetian trattoria.  But for food as unforgettable as the Biennale’s displays, take a water taxi around the lagoon to the island of Mazzorbo to dine at renowned Venissa. Modern, chic and quiet, this secluded establishment is immersed in vineyards of Dorona di Venezia, one of the world’s rarest grapes.  The cuisine is a modern take on Venetian dishes using only island-grown and -fished ingredients. The result is a one-of-a-kind wine-paired meal that reflects Mazzorbo’s unique terroir. 

The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel. Credit: The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel

Where to Sleep

If you want to hit as many Biennale venues as possible, your best bet is staying central. Forbes Travel Guide Four-Star The Gritti Palace, A Luxury Collection Hotel, on the edge of the Grand Canal, is an ideal address. Its San Marco-adjacent location makes for easy walks to the Biennale Gardens and Arsenale, and its proximity to the San Marco vaporetto (waterbus) stop means convenient public transport access. The hotel even has a historic yacht you can reserve for a private cruise.  

Should you prefer to explore on foot, Forbes Travel Guide Recommended stays Hotel Londra Palace and Hotel Metropole Venice both offer stylish options less than a mile from Giardini della Biennale. 

But if you insist on Five-Star accommodations for resting your head, Belmond Hotel Cipriani is an ultra-plush retreat perched on the tip of nearby Giudecca Island.

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7 Rome Exhibitions You Don’t Want To Miss

This article was first published in Forbes Travel, December 2017.

he Canvas That Is Rome. Credit: patrizio1948

From monumental to peculiar, and ancient to contemporary, Rome has it all for art aficionados. And thankfully, there’s no better time than right now to traverse the Eternal City and catch up with these not-to-be-missed exhibitions.

History comes alive
If there is one thing ancient Rome was known for, it was making a colossal impression. And no emperor did it better than Trajan, whose two decades in the city expanded the empire beyond anyone’s wildest dreams.

Archaeological site Mercati di Traiano (Trajan’s markets) showcases the emperor’s imperial advances — from infrastructure and economic services to architectural and urban development — in “Trajan: Building the Empire, Creating Europe,” on display through September 9.

Peruse Picasso
Bring yourself back to the modern age by visiting “Picasso: Tra Cubismo e Classicismo 1915-1925” at the Scuderie del QuirinaleThe exhibit explores the fantastic mind of the artistic genius in a display of 100 works that visually catalog his 1917 Italian travels with playwright Jean Cocteau as they searched for inspiration by following Sergei Diaghilev’s touring ballet company throughout the country.

Drawings, watercolors, sketches and stage costumes on display through January 21 honor the centenary of their auspicious journey.

A post shared by MAXXI (@museomaxxi) on

Revel in the Renaissance
Through February 11, the beautiful and historic Palazzo Barberini plays host to “Arcimboldo,” an exhibition of 20 works by 16th-century Lombard painter Giuseppe Arcimboldi. His paintings are an exploration of creative portraiture using objects such as flowers, fruit and animals.  Accompanying Arcimboldi’s amazing efforts are 100 pieces by his contemporaries.

Meanwhile, across town, Galleria Borghese is celebrating its beloved Baroque artist Gian Lorenzo Bernini with 60 treasures that join the galleria’s already substantial collection of Bernini sculptures in a spectacular feature exhibition, on display through February 4. 

Check out contemporary culture
While Rome may be the world’s best open-air museum of ancient monuments and Baroque palaces, it is also a tiny hub of contemporary art. “Home Beirut. Sounding the Neighbors” is the third part of the internationally acclaimed Maxxi Museum’s series Interactions across the MediterraneanThe installment focuses on the contemporary art scene in Beirut, Lebanon, through four variants of the concept of “home” seen through the eyes of 36 artists, musicians, publishers, designers and filmmakers, on display through May 20. 

And for a different take on a museum experience, the tiny Chiostro del Bramante asks you to “Enjoy” art in an interactive exhibit of installations, optical illusions, paintings, sculptures and videos all meant to be played with. This amusing display is available through February 25.

Fornasetti At Palazzo Altemps. Credit: Palazzo Altemps

The best of both visual worlds
For a fun-and-fabulous mix of modern design, ancient art and Renaissance beauty, catch Fornasetti a Palazzo Altemps. Through May 6, be spellbound by art and design pieces from whimsical Italian artist/interior decorator Piero Fornasetti that intermingle with the Palazzo Altemps’ incredible collection of Greek and Roman sculpture displayed in the palace’s resplendently decorated Renaissance rooms.  

Etel sets its Brazilian roots down in a new organic Milan Flagship

This article first appeared in WallPaper, December 2017.

Brazilian furniture company Etel has opened a new European flagship store in Milan
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

When Etel decided to open its European flagship in Milan, they wanted to reflect the palimpsest of the city today – a place enriched with tradition, innovation and style. Collaborating with Como-based architecture firm Superluna, a triad of Italian architects whose cumulative work traverse four continents, Etel chose a former gallery in the Maroncelli district, a neighbourhood where classic boutiques and independent shops rub shoulders with Italy’s most innovative architectural endeavours, like the Bosco Verticale and the Unicredit Tower.

With a goal of creating a conceptual meeting point between Brazilian and Italian culture and design, Superluna stripped the detritus decor of the two-level gallery space and removed extraneous walls, transforming the space into a white-washed surface, with original symmetry and ornaments beccoming a canvas. And from there, Etel would grow. Literally.

Etel Carmona and the Superluna team at the new Etel Milan flagship

Centrepiece at the two-level gallery is an undulating wooden screen, hand-made and designed by Etel founder Etel Carmona, that is deliberately reminiscent of a tree trunk. The trunk cuts the centre of the showroom physically and figuratively, from its visual impact as the most organic element in the space to its functional aspect as a hidden staircase, bringing you into the space and inside the world of Etel. ‘Since the tree is the heart of Etel Design, we wanted to give the feeling that we planted one right here,’ says Superluna’s Luca Sartori.

Divided into two almost equal sections, Etel’s ground floor is an exhibition area – a modern salon where curated pieces by historic modernist designers like Oscar Niemeyer and Isay Weinfeld, as well as Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions. Case in point: the current photo show by Ruy Teixeira and upcoming Véio exhibition, both highlight a harmony with the different pieces and history between them. Upstairs, the mezzanine level is a more cinematic experience, in fact, it’s more than a showroom, it’s a living space, work area and library.

Etel is all about organic growth. What you see today will transform into another ‘situation,’ Sartori explains of the coming months. ‘It’s all about the celebration of the human level of design and its relationship with organic materials, a continuous evolution.’

Split over two floors, the ground floor acts as an exhibition space of its collections
Read more at https://www.wallpaper.com/design/etel-milan-flagship#DU1ZtFA7xzIJRQej.99

The space features an undulating wooden screen that acts as a hidden staircase that cuts through the building's two floors

Etel’s own creations are in constant dialogue with contemporary art exhibitions in the space

Whilst a showroom in its function, the second floor also feels like a living space, work area and library

Superluna's overarching goal was to create the conceptual meeting point of Brazilian and Italian culture and design

Unbelievable: Damien Hirst in Venice {Review}

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A shipwreck.  A disaster.  A failure - that’s what the art world said about Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable , his mega-exhibition at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi/Punta della Dogana double header.    Lighten up, this is Damien Hirst, YBA poster boy and mug shot.  And the Wreck is the kind of show where that only asks for a bit of humor as you enjoy the lavish fantasy and Palazzo Grassi’s gorgeous exhibition spaces.

A legendary exhibition, Treasures from the Wreck of The Unbelievable is a visual story about the discovery of an ancient shipwreck and its unfathomable cargo, a collection of monumental bronze and marble statues and gold coins and ingot, from Cif Amotan II, slave-turned-freedman.  It’s big, it’s extravagant, it’s over the top.  And it’s fun.  Best of all, it’s all Hirst, who bankrolled the research, discovery and subacquatic archaeological excavation of the 100 works of art which, um, he created. Yeah, you read correctly.  Hirst is behind all of it: from the production of incredible bronzes (seemingly distressed from centuries underwater) and the “contemporary reproductions” to the discovery backstory, images/videos and research collaboration with University of Southampton’s Center for Maritime Studies.  Kind of like having a dinner party with Steve Zissou, Jacques Cousteau, Indiana Jones and Marcel Duchamp, and Baron Munchaussen’s cooking.  In other words, eckless abandon.

Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at Palazzo Grassi and Punta della Dogana through Sunday, December 3.  Coming soon-  Darius Arya’s 360 video, Archaeologist Examines the Unbelievable.

And even more unbelievable: Venice is just a day trip from Rome.  For real.

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Weekender: Lisbon

Requisite, shameless Lisbon self-portrait.

Lisbon, it’s about time.  Over the past few years, I’ve heard so much about Portugal’s capital - from its food scene and azulegos to its 2017 title as Ibero-American Capital of Culture, that I finally booked a flight for a long weekend.  I had a pretty good idea I would like the city, but I didn't expect I would fall head-over-heels in love.

The City of the Seven Hills, Lisbon is an easy like.  Cascading hills with beautiful architecture, an incredible history thanks to the Age of Discovery history, and its sunshine- Portugal’s capital has the most optimal number of daylight hours in Europe.  Lisbon is so easy to like.   And then add its uncanny similarities with twin city, San Francisco- west coast, hills, waterfront, suspension bridge, cable cars and an epic earthquake that transformed the city.  But to love Lisbon?  For me, it was all down to the small details - the expected like the azulejos (color, patterned ceramics) decorating buildings in every neighborhood, the obvious like the vintage trams, and the subtle like the art nouveau leftovers, forgotten 1960s and 70s neon signs and the sweet yellow mustard on the bifana sandwich. 

With only 72 hours to get to know Lisbon, we had to have a plan, and over the years, we perfected our version of a great weekender: Choose Your Own Adventure, i.e. pick a monument, neighborhood, food, and see what happens.  Lisbon is perfect for that mentality.  It's a puzzle of neighborhoods built into the hills- filled with colors, history and great smells.   For the map-curious: we chose the historic Avenida da Liberdade, a long and luscious boulevard spanning 1100 meters across the old city to water, as home base and reference since the Avenida is visible from any high point.

Roterdao  (Cais do Sodré)


Roterdao (Cais do Sodré)

Monument

Castelo de São Jorge, an 11th century castle and fort in Alfama, one of the oldest areas of the city.  The Castelo is prime lookout over the entire city-  the entire city is laid out at Alfama's feet the east, a cascade of red terracotta roofs leading down to the glassy Tager river.  From here, you can snake your way down through Alfama - camera ready, of course, for its gorgeous Gothic churches, azulejo-tiled buildings and vintage trams (yes, they are part of public transportation) - to Baixa. Redesigned after the 1755 earthquake, Baixa is an easy grid, a tic-tac-toe of long boulevards leading to Praca de Comercio, the enormous waterfront plaza with even more monumental arc.   Pay attention as you may your way to the Praca and you'll find art deco and art nouveau signage and storefronts decorating new shops as well as some vintage finds.  There are sardine shops designed as 1920s boutiques and yesteryear caffes selling pastel de nata,a yes-you-must-eat pastry, as well the gambit of shopping- contemporary stores with early 1920s die cute lettering from boutiques past.  In Baixa center is a 45-meter-high and very elaborate wrought iron elevator, Elevador de Santa Justa, a panoramic from the 19th century.  Perfect for people with patience and looking for a Pay-Per-View.  If not, skip past and walk up Rua do Carmo, a shopping street, to the Bellalisa elevator for a great short cut to Carmo Convent, the ghostly remains of a 14th century gothic church destroyed in the earthquake. 

Monuments come in so many forms. Be on the look out for the Ponte de 25 Abril, a Golden Gate lookalike (and ironically built by the same team behind the Bay Bridge), and Ponte Vasco de Gama, a futuristic cable-stay bridge that sneaks up on you.

Ascensor da Glòria (Baixa/Bairro Alto)

Neighborhood

So many neighborhood to explore, so once you've walked Alfama, your next stop should be Bairro Alto and Principe Reale, two pocket neighborhoods on the western overlooking hills that will eventually lead you down to Chaido, Baixa and the rest of Lisbon.   Calm and collected, Principe Real is an easy hike from Avenida, serpentining past small parks and crumbling azulejos-decorated buildings to the park itself, a green square with playground, caffes and weekend street market.  The area is a Pandora's box of local flavor.  Hidden in the park is an underground museum-  Museo del Agua- an octagonal reservoir that was the city’s water source, while facing it is Embaixada, a concept store featuring local designers in a neo-classical Arabian palace.  The Rua Dom Pedro V is lined with boutiques, eateries and bars.  You'll have your choice for whatever your flavor but be on the look out for Solar, a family-run antiques store with catacombs of authentic azulejos, and Pastelaria Padaria Sao Roque, an art nouveau coffee shop.  Bairro Alto is where you'll want to make sure you have your back up battery- this is where you'll find in situ azulejos on decadent, abandoned and recycled buildings and inside churches.  Make three wishes when you stop in Sao Pedro de Alcantara, Sao Roque and Santa Catarina- beautifully decorated churches worth stepping into.   Short cut to Baixa with Ascensor da Gloria, a vintage tram whose single route it's a straight shot up and down a steep incline.  Or keep walking, you'll find yourself in Chaido, where the relaxed pace of Bairro Alto moves into more frenetic rhythm with its shops, cafes and businesses.  Meander and you'll find MAAT, the contemporary art museum and eventually Cais do Sodré, the former red light district close to the water. In the daytime, it's simply another charming distressed neighborhood with street art, great late 60s/70s signage, and everyone's favorite canned fish and aperitivo at Sol e Pesca, and at night, it's a scene- more hot pink, than red light.

If you want to flip the script on traditional, take the metro to Parque das Naçoes, a modern microcosm that requires only a 30 minute metro ride to Lisbon's northeast.   Designed and constructed for 1998 World Fair, Parque das Nacoes is a Portuguese Gattaca of wide streets, slick architecture and rectilinear design. From the moment you step out of Oriente Station, you get the vibe. An eco-concerned (and friendly) Lisbon Future where organization, intellectual stimulation and perhaps even art are paramount.  Large maps line the boulevards detailing public art and architecture. And accenting the grid of museums (science, Oceanarium, et cetera), parks and playgrounds, are environmentally-forward projects including public bike stands and recycled waterfalls. This is where you bring kids like me.

Oceanario (Parque de Naçoes

Food

It's always good to have goals and mine are double the fun- pastel de natas, that delicious egg tart, that if slightly singed makes my heart sing, and bifana, a braised pork sandwich garnished with a sweet mustard.  Make it easy by starting in Baixa and follow your nose around Praca Rossio, a large square in Baixa where there are several pastry shops and caffes.  Chances are you'll find pastel de natas and more, and it can't hurt to try them all. In fact, my rule of thumb is no matter where you are in Lisbon, if there is a pastel de nata, eat it.  (For the serious foodie, you can take a 3O metro ride from Rossio to Pasteis de Belem, considered the very best pastry in Lisbon and located near national monument Belem tower).  Bifanas require more foot work and on hand cash.  Baixa is also ideal for bifanas since it always has the most concentration of people and these no frills sandwiches are best enjoyed at no frills caffes, aka cheap.  East of Pracas Rossio is Casas das Bifanas, aka the home of the pork sandwich, and around the NW corner of Pracas Rossio is Cafe Beira Gare, a stand up bar with table service and barely any elbow room.  Though I enjoyed several a bifana, I was completely captivated by its beef counterpart-  the prego, marinated beef strips on bread bun.  Bar tab: 4 euro, sandwich and beer.   No, we did not just snack. Cataplana, a traditional seafood dish from the Algarve region, should be Unesco recognized.  If it's not, we recognized it, as with the rest of Lisbon's seafood.

Prego at Cafe Beira Gare (Baixa)

Tips and Tricks

GUIDE: Lisboa Autentica is a grassroots organization of Lisbon academics who organize tours- walking, biking, around the city- themed and bespoke.  They love Lisbon and it shows. We spent a few hours walking from Principe Real to Chaido with Davide.  Tell him we said hello.

GETTING THERE: Easy.  National carrier TAP Air Portugal dominates the skies.  From Rome FCO, it’s an easy 3-hour direct flight. The planes were modern, the staff young and very friendly. TAP flies non-stop from New York JFK ,and London (along with British Airways.  We hired a car but getting from the airport to the city center is as simple as a metro ride, taxi or bus.

SLEEP: We rested our heads at Tivoli Avenida Liberdade- a reboot of what may be an Art Deco palace on the very posh Avenida da Liberdade, a long, tree-lined boulevard with public squares decorated with monuments and caffe chiosks, while shops with the occasional art deco facade flank.  Avenida's lobby set the stage for what we considered the best weekend ever: luminous, lush couches, vintage decor, contemporary art and an incredible floral arrangement.  Our rooms were modern minimalist, in other words, sleek and spacious, perfect meditation after a long day walking around. Avenida's best kept secret is not only the rooftop Skybar and Terrace restaurant (which is pretty amazing with that all encompassing view) but the backyard pool and spa, a seemingly private piscine (totally round!) surrounded by monumental magnolia trees and azulejos tiles.

EAT: You eat well in Lisbon and quality is priced well.  Along with Tivoli's terrace, think about 100 maneiras, Peixaria da Esquina, Tasca da Esquina  .  And peruse Nelson Carvalheiro's Lisbon-centric website.

#Girlisthenewtime, a women-only Empty event at La Galleria Nazionale for Museum Week

Girls, girls, girls....  What happens when a gang of girls hang out at in an empty art gallery?  That's the question we threw out for Museum Week 2017 at La Galleria Nazionale, in a collaboration instameet #GirlisTheNewTime with myself and GirlsInMuseums.  We brought together approximately 16 women whose single prerequisite was passion for the arts and giving them full reign of the museum including Conversation Piece (the latest exhibition) and behind-the-scenes of Body to Body, a capsule show focusing on 15 female artists' perspective on feminism.  

What is the purpose of the Empty, you may ask? For me, any opportunity to bring people inside an Italian museum, gallery or cultural site is an opportunity to inspire dialog that spreads outside of the museum and inspires visitors to come back inside.  Italy has an incredible wealth of cultural sites, but many get an unwarranted wallflower as more popular museums (hey, Uffizi and Musei Vaticani) are bucket list must sees.  I am to change that, or at least make a little dent by bringing Italy's museums to your small screens.

As a participant, I tend to take a roll of art voyeur and I've noticed in my photos that art work takes center stage and the viewer is simply a supporting role.  It makes sense, I love art. (And, Yes, I will lurk for what seems like hours by a favorite painting or sculpture, waiting to catch the right moment).  For #GirlIsTheNewTime, I set out to be, well, decisive and take individual (or small group portraits) of each participant where I would capture the vibe of each woman, and let art work - whether partially in frame or out - be a cultural background.  I wanted to force dialog between myself and each participant, a technique I've honed over the years of being extremely shy.

A week dedicated to women and museums is not enough.  Nor are Emptys, but I do think continuing the dialog on the importance of women in the arts is fundamental, and even more so, the dialog about the female communication.  Do I think that the dialog that women have with art is any different from that of a man? I couldn't tell you, I am so XX, but I do think the dialog among women is complicated.

Scroll down, catch up on all the scenes from #GirlIsTheNewTime in Instagram and in my VSCO journal.  Thank you to all the participants who patiently allowed me to push them around the galleries in search of a great vibe.

Wanna join us? For more info, here's where and how I started in 2014 and how it has spread from La Galleria Nazionale to Milan's La Triennale and GAM, back to Rome and the Vatican. Email me at erica@ericafirpo.com

Thank you, Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada, thank you.  I have been waiting for an arts complex like this to come to Italy for ten years.  An incredible fashion-based arts foundation with not just the big bucks but bigger balls to show off what seems like an entire contemporary art collection [nope, there's more in storage],  a temporary show bringing priceless antiquities from collections including the Vatican, debut its onsite cinema with a retrospective film on Roman Polanski, and hire aesthete auteur Wes Anderson to design its bar, all the meanwhile sitting pretty in a 19,000 sq m complex from mastermind starchitect Rem Koolhaas.

Koolhaas, an architect who is known for ability to transcend space with a good dose of ego,  transformed a former distillery in Milan's southwest into a 21st century artsy mall.  And of course, it balances the quintessential Prada vibe- sleek and cool-toned, with a slight hand at playful.  Gorgeous,  24 karat gold leafed covers the "Haunted House", a four+ level temporary exhibition area, the cinema is horizontal mirrored reflection of the "podium", Koolhaas' glass box where Prada's debut exhibition Serial Classic resides, a concrete cistern houses lets us get up front and above a Damien Hirst piece, and all is enclosed by perimeter walls housing more of Prada's never-ending collection.

More than anything, Fondazione Prada isn't just about the exhibition [though Serial Classic ranks as 'blockbuster', tens of sculptures exploring the multiples in antiquity, curated by archeologist Salvatore Settis and Anna Anguissola]- it's about the experience.  Like any museum or gallery space, you are meant to walk through halls of installations, sculpture and painting and more than anything you are meant to enjoy yourself in every single space- whether it be art car collection, the Robert Gober installations in the haunted, or an evening at the on site cinema.

Everyone seems to be talking about Bar Luce, the deliciously decor'd, ersatz vintage bar by filmmaker Wes Anderson. Anderson is a long time Prada collaborator who created and filmed the 2013 Prada short film Castello Calvacanti (starring my friend Giorgio along with Jason Schwartzman) which makes an appearance in one of the fully functioning pin ball machines in the bar's hall [the other is themed The Life Aquatic].  And I agree, it is charming- Anderson designed the wall paper, curated jukebox, and hand picked the food and beverages, as well as everything else. I just hope that aperitivi hour at Bar Luce doesn't overshadow the point of Fondazione Prada- art.

I'm just going to take a moment to add one more element to Fondazione Prada- it all about  repeat performance and the 5th wall.  In two months, I've visted Fondazione Prada in three different incarnations-- as intrepid art reporter- taking in the entire complex in a sugar-fueled afternoon,  as aperitivo aficionado sitting pretty at Bar Luce and as best daytime date ever when I took my husband Darius for a walk through Serial Classic so that he could see his favorite antiquities on, well,  repeat (mind you, I snuck in the Haunted House as well).  And I've already lined up a Friday night cinema date with my friend Laura.

Perhaps this is the new form of mall entertainment?

Bar Luce

CNN Instagram Challenge #CNNMURALSTORIES

This article appeared in CNN in December 2013.

 

Photographers shared their favorite murals and the stories behind them in CNN's first Instagram challenge.

STORY HIGHLIGHTS

  • Photographers share stories of their favorite murals for CNN's first Instagram challenge
  • Murals pay tribute to political leaders, social justice movements, coffee shops
  • Mural in Toledo, Ohio, of boy laughing "stands for hope and change," Instagrammer says

This is the first in a series of community assignments for CNN and CNN iReport through the Instagram platform. For each challenge, we'll ask our Instagram followers to take a picture and and tell a story about it. Follow CNN and CNN iReport on Instagram for the next challenge, and your image might be included in our next feature.

(CNN) -- We often walk past them without a second thought, but most murals tell a story about the communities in which they live. And yet, as features of our public spaces, they mean something different to each of us when we view them through our own individual filters.

For our first CNN Instagram community assignment we invited followers to photograph murals or street art in their communities and tell us about them. We were thrilled to see more than 300 submissions from all over the world and hear the many stories behind them.

Below are just a few highlights. Check out all of the submissions by searching the #CNNMuralStories tag in Instagram.

 

Erica Firpo: Rome, Italy

Erica Firpo captured the latest mural by renowned Italian street artists Sten and Lex, whose stencil art has appeared in cities worldwide. This mural on the side of a building in Rome's Garbatella neighborhood was completed in December. "This abstract landscape (a deviation from their usual pointillist portrait) was entirely locally crowd-funded and chosen by the neighborhood to be a permanent public work, blurring the lines between street and fine art," Firpo noted.

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