Fondazione Berengo was originally established to give a platform and space to explore the relationship between glass and contemporary art. January 2020 saw the final chapter of its contemporary art exhibition series RADICAL, which has brought an incredible range of works to the institution over the last few years.

The project was originally conceived in 2018 by the artistic duo Penzo+Fiore as a cycle of contemporary art exhibitions that would focus on research, using glass as a conceptual  – rather than physical – starting point. Why Radical? For Penzo+Fiore it was about the “change that aims to modify an order or an institution, from the foundations.” Research based, using medium as an inspiration to a new kind of contemporary thinking about the creative potential and limits of glass.

The exhibition cycle strived “to be irreverent, determined, courageous, but above all meaningful and necessary”. The artistic directors of the project wrote how: “The general guidelines are the characteristics we may attribute to the material: glass is unforgiving. While crafting it you have to respect its times; it’s a fragile and precious material, precious because it’s fragile; a material where there can be no half measures. You must know how to manage it with intention, so that nothing is ruined. Glass is a sincere, transparent yet opaque and enigmatic material. Constantly challenged by the force of gravity, constantly risking being burned. We want the Radical exhibitions to be like this—direct, straightforward, provocative if necessary, certain, groundbreaking. We want them to face important topics head-on, giving the present a lesson in style, to observe and redefine through militant artistic practices. The choice of this initial curating pool aims to be the first guarantee underlying a project that can trace a horizon, a vision.”

Giovanni Morbin's Scultura sociale, applicazione n. 7

Giovanni Morbin, Scultura sociale, applicazione n. 7, 2018 – photo credit Valentina Cavion

The following exhibitions certainly took this message to heart. With a powerful start at the end of 2018 the cycle opened with “Linea di principio” (8 December 2018 – 9 February 2019) with works by Nemanja Cvijanović and Giovanni Morbin curated by Daniele Capra. Both artists explored the importance of the concept of lines of thinking, obedience, and physical barriers with a captivating political lens. Together they mapped the lines that govern our lines, those lines that define choices, states, boundaries and belonging.

The second instalment “To wake up the living, to wake up the dead” (8 March – 13 April 2019) featured the work of Marcella Vanzo curated by Matteo Bergamini. Vanzo presented a detailed survey through photographs, installations, and video footage to revive the bodies of the 100,000 soliders buried at Redipuglia, one of the largest war memorials in the world. In Redipuglia, along the North Eastern strip of Italy, trench warfare was merciless during the first World War. In her moving tribute Vanzo highlighted the atrocities of war, both past and present, along with the fragility of life itself.

Marcella Vanzo's To wake up the living to wake up the dead

Marcella Vanzo, To wake up the living, to wake up the dead, 2019 – Image courtesy of the artist

The third exhibition (September 20 – November 2, 2019) was curated by Pietro Gaglianò and brought together the works of contemporary Italian artists Loredana Longo and Elena El Asmar in “La Conservazione della Libertà” (The Preservation of Freedom”). Both artists in turn explored the idea of migrations and imagined landscapes. For Longo inspiration came from fishermen, culminating in a central sculpture of burned velvet that hung like a net from a central window. For El Asmar maps became a central element, with real and imagined landscapes emerging to guide the audience into a dialogue about personal histories and the amalgamation of influences that come together to form our lives.

Elena El Asmar's Baalbek, 2019

Elena El Asmar, Baalbek, 2019 – Image courtesy of the artist

Loredana Longo's Net#4, 2019

Loredana Longo, Net#4, 2019 – Image courtesy Francesco Pantaleone Palermo/Milano

Finally in December the last chapter of RADICAL saw Lorenzo Balbi curate the first solo show of Italian artist Giovanna Repetto in “Atmosfera” (6 December 2019 – January 18 2020). This final chapter saw the rooms in Palazzo Franchetti spring to life with a vibrant floral installation. Repetto mapped the lives of local flora and fauna and contrasted it to that of the tropical flowers imported to the city everyday to be sold. In turn Repetto’s portrait of these contrasting lives, of the natural laguna and the processed artificially treated blooms gave way to a metaphor about Venice itself and its struggle with over tourism and the dwindling resident population.

Giovanna Repetto's Atmosfera, 2019

Giovanna Repetto, Atmosfera, installation view, 2019 – Photo credit Alessandro Sambini

The range of works we’ve seen over the course of this project is staggering, and the variety of talent and skill a true pleasure to have witnessed. RADICAL brought new artists, curators, and audiences to the heart of Venice in Palazzo Franchetti with contemporary art that used the medium of glass as an inspiration in more ways than we could have imagined possible.