Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Blown away by Peter Greenaway

It is not very often when one has the opportunity to say, "I have never seen or experienced any thing like this before". This was my reaction when I saw an exhibit by Peter Greenaway (best known for The cook the thief his wife and her lover) in Venice, The Wedding at Cana (tip from Olga Gershenson). A description of this work can hardly do justice to the experience. He has taken the amazing 16th century painting by Paolo Veronese, The Wedding at Cana, and has added music, dialogue, special effects. No - this is not a movie. The painting (actually, he has used an exact replica of the original - measuring 24 feet by 33 feet) depicts the wedding feast at Cana, where according to the Gospel of John, Jesus performed his first miracle - by turning water into wine.

The painting has phenomenal detail and includes 126 characters. Greenaway makes the wedding come alive by imagining a conversation at the feast and giving dialogue to each of the 126 characters. We don't see any of the mouths move (its a painting!) and yet we get a feeling of a lively event. But, the most incredible thing is Greenaway's play with shadows. This not only provides depth (a 3D feeling on a 2D surface) to the painting but it allows him to create a sense of passing time during the day. He is also able to show as if there is fire on the street behind the wedding feast at one point and pouring rain on the wedding guests at another. It is realy hard to describe the experience and understate the dynamism of this work. The whole event lasts about 50 minutes.

If you are in Venice (yes, I was in Venice yesterday) or are planning on visiting there before the second week of September, please please check out Greenway's take on The Wedding at Cana. In addition, the exhibit is on a small beautiful island of San Giorgio Maggiore, where the original hung from 1562, when Veronese finished it, until 1797 - when Napoleon cut up the painting into pieces and took it back to France as war booty. Idiot!

Here is more information from Peter Greenaway's site. Here is a review from the New York Times (here is apt line from the review: "If nothing else, it is possibly the best unmanned art history lecture you’ll ever experience").

By the way, he intends to have a similar exhibit for several other paintings, including Picasso's Guernica. Can't wait for that one.

For a taste of a similar exhibit (though his The Wedding at Cana seems a grander project), see this 2 minute video extract from Greenaway's The Last Supper:


hedge said...

My experiences with Greenaway's films have left me less than impressed, but this sounds pretty cool.

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