One of the best aspects of the Venice Biennale is that for its six month duration, many of the city’s secret places – private palaces, deconsecrated churches, hidden gardens and more – are opened up to the public, hosting a vast array of contemporary art exhibitions. Amongst our favourites is the thought-provoking exhibition by Belgian artist Jan Fabre, which is housed in the tranquil cloisters and chambers of the Abbey of San Gregorio, next to church of the Madonna della Salute.
An official collateral event of the Biennale, the show features a body of work spanning 40 years of the artist’s career from 1977 to 2017, depicting skulls, animals and other forms made exclusively from glass and bone. Fascinated with the alchemy and memory of matter, Fabre pays homage in these delicate sculptures to both the pictorial tradition of Flemish masters, who used to grind bone powder into their colour pigments, and to the artistic craftsmanship of Venetian glassmakers. By using these two hard yet fragile materials, he draws attention to the hardness and fragility of life itself; like glass, bones can shatter, testifying to the precariousness of human existence and prompting a philosophical, spiritual and political reflection of life and death.