In the space of a year, Ágnes Nagy's sculptures have flown to the United States, sailed the Grand Canal and the Venetian lagoons. In February, they made their debut in Venice, which reopened after the pandemic, at the prestigious Albrizi-Capello Palace.
At the end of January, Italy announced which provinces would be placed in the yellow zone for epidemiological reasons. This is how Venice, perhaps the most beautiful city in the world, became one of the places where the rules were much more relaxed, and life could be carefully resumed. Of course, art lovers were not forgotten. (In the meantime, the province of Veneto, and with it Venice, has been reclassified as an orange zone, which entails stricter epidemiological regulations - ed.) From 1 February, shops, restaurants and bars in Venice are open during the day, and museums are open again on weekdays. True, the theatres, cinemas and concert halls are still closed, there are no tourists and no transit from other regions, but at least the locals can enjoy their city and the curfew only starts at 10 pm.
The organisers of CONTEMPORARY VENICE 2021 - ITSLIQUID International Art Exhibition were ready to jump, opening on 1 February instead of November, but then immediately. THE ROOM in St Mark's Square and the exhibition spaces in the Albrizi-Capello Palace were fitted out last year so that they could open as soon as possible. From Hungary, the unique animal sculptures of sculptor Ágnes Nagy, the first Hungarian artist in the seven-year history of the exhibition, arrived in the reviving city.
Naturally, there was great anticipation for the art fair, as it was one of the first art events in post-pandemic Venice and indeed in Europe.
In this context, even more attention has been paid to the one hundred and thirty-three artists in the selection who work in photography, painting, video, installation, sculpture and performance art in some forty countries around the world. Few people could make the trip in person, and Ágnes Nagy had to decide whether to take the risk. Especially as the sculptures were almost ready to take the road twice, packed and insured, when they had to cancel their journey.
The Hungarian sculptor made one of the best decisions of her life when she decided to accompany her sculptures. In the end, she spent twice five days in the lagoon city. She is enthusiastic about the welcome, the strange, deserted Venice and the inspiration of Italian culture: "Culture, religion and lifestyle always have a very strong influence on me. The nacelles were now moored, but the Grand Canal was still beautiful as if it was our own! It was beautiful in the sun and the evening, with the lights of the illuminated palaces. The churches, the atmosphere of the city, the passion of the Italian people were all a source of inspiration. I deeply treasure, for example, the putto drawings that decorate the canal side walls."
The sculptures of Ágnes Nagy are robust, their transport requires great care, and the Venetian lagoons are particularly tricky, but fortunately, the bronze lion "Venezia II", the steel bull "Europe II" and the steel crawfish "Verona II" arrived safely at the stately Albrizzi-Capello Palace. "The rapid change of tide created exciting situations," says the artist.
"The transporters brought the sculptures knee-deep in water into the palace, and I was pushed in on a pig cart, but that's natural there. The only way to get under the small arched bridges was to keep everyone's necks tucked in, and by the time we got from Tronchetto's big harbour to the lagoons, the transport ship and the statues on it, unmoored, were being battered by the waves."
The three metal sculptures were last on display on the terrace of the Castle Garden Bazaar in September last year, just before the second wave of the pandemic hit. A year ago in February, a few days before the world closed down completely, they made their debut at Art Palm Beach: "I had some promising inquiries after the fair, and it looked like I would be able to continue working in the US, but unfortunately the pandemic has overtaken that for the time being." But the good news is that the unique sculpture ensemble is welcome back to Venice and will next be on show at the Art Fair at the end of March. "This is good news indeed, but the third wave makes the transport of large ceramic sculptures seem even riskier than before. They cannot go without me, but whether I can travel with them is uncertain until the last minute. So now "only" smaller metal sculptures, Verona II, Creeping Jaguar and the new steel shark will travel, but this time they will be exhibited in THE ROOM exhibition space in St Mark's Square.
"The artist, who has a strong figurative interest, expresses her own world through her dynamic animal sculptures.
The Renaissance palace in the Cannaregio district is also a homecoming for her works. "The bronze lion, in particular, is linked to the city, as it was inspired by St Mark, even if it is very different from the original representation. I often thought about how it would look in a Venetian-inspired palace, and very soon, my dream came true," she says. Her choice of materials is particularly interesting since she came to sculpture from the ceramic world. Her technique of building from fire-clay offers a very different possibility from working with stone or bronze; for example, she does not use bracing. Her unique, hollow works are able to hold their own. "I base all my sculptures on the anatomy of animals, but I'm increasingly brave enough to move away from that. My very first works were more figurative, more detailed, but I got to the point where I could express myself with just a few lines. I can already see the arc in my style, and I know that it will change a lot. Of course, in Venice, the detailed, almost kitschy effects are always exciting for me."
The sculptures take time, Ágnes Nagy admits, as they can take up to two or three months to create. Sometimes it indeed takes years of reflection to develop an inner picture of them. It's the excitement, the atmosphere, that creates the tension, especially since she doesn't draw her designs, at most, she makes a few sketches of them before she starts to shape them. A true contemporary artist, her unicorn Terra Antiqua, covered with engravings, was a unique visual experience on the terrace of the Castle Garden Bazaar, and it might even be made into a pegasus. She is currently working on her steel shark, which will be part of a national art collection and will reflect the ping-pong racket of a Hungarian-Australian table tennis player.
Increasingly, ceramic sculptures are also being turned into metal castings - depending on how much imagination you see in them: "I think stainless steel is very progressive because it gives a completely different quality. Otherwise, the more I am drawn to a sculpture, the more it grows on me, the more likely I am to keep the original ceramic version. More than anything, I want to take them to an exhibition and show them."
Interestingly, she can rather compare the feeling of life, the visual impulses with which she can identify, to film experiences. "I really love Paolo Sorrentino's films; La Grande Bellezza and The Young Pope are defining experiences for me. I also feel that you can break away from dogma, rewrite the rules and look at life with humour. It's hard to describe in words, but ultimately I want to show the 'great beauty' with my sculptures."