+ Waking up in paradise +
by Fiammetta De Michele

As I woke up after Fashion week in Milan, I was convinced to attend the pre-opening party of Villa Lena in Palaia, Tuscany, by some friends who had come to visit me.

How could I ever resist to the perspective of spending more time with my friends, breathing some fresh air, eating the glorious food of Tuscany and meeting the creators of Villa Lena again.

Andrè, Jerome, Lionel and Lena. a very cool and interesting  gang of friends bond by the love for music and art.

I still remember when we all were in Venice, in the bloom of the hot days of the Biennale Opening. Jerome dj at the baron at the Bauer Hotel and I talked a lot to her wife Lena about Contemporary art.Andrè was there too, he’s a very well known french artist and runs Le Baron together with Lionel. The city was full of his billboards, announcing a concert the next month in Paris.Daft Punk, Phoenix, Air, Justice, Cassius, Kavinsky, Sébastien Tellier. His dream concert.The last day of the opening of the Biennale opening I had an amazing trip on a designer transparent  boat with Lionel and some friends while heading to an art  party in some palazzo.There was  french music playing, the river was almost empty, but you could still feel in the dark of the night the echo of all the celebrations of the past days.

They’ re all very inspired and they used their skills and love for art to create an Art Residency  and  agritourism in Tuscany.
They offer artists to stay on rotation and work peacefully, cuddled and inspired by the very landscapes that inspired so many Renaissance geniuses.All artists can receive the tools they need from one of the most famous dealers in Florence, whose enterprise has been supplying fine arts tools since..

For each resident artist, Villa Lena then selects a work released during the residency period and turns it into a unique poster documenting his or her visit.

The board of curators choosing the upcoming artists is so far still unknown, but for sure the guest lists will feature international artists, and some big names will no doubt pop up.

The first resident artist, who came here to start the Art foundation, was Maria Von Thurn Und Taxis  whom I unfortunately missed by a few days.

The artists currently on residency are all British. Shaun McDowell, Bobby Dowler, Christopher Green, and James Capper are part of a collective named Peckham-New York- Paris. Not to mention another amazing artist, that is Kate Groobey.
Their studios are located in the former workshop, which has now been emptied, renewed and transformed into beautiful minimal boxes providing a fluid interaction between the light and the space’s geometrical shapes.

Only just arrived and not yet accustomed to the breathtaking scenario, I was surprised by the landscape sometimes winking from the open windows of the block buildings.

Indeed, here artists can find the peace of mind they need to concentrate on abstract painting and drawing or get mad and make their creativity explode in their sculptures and installations.All the pictures in the site are images of their work in progress.

James Capper is working on an installation made with saws he found in factories. Even though he removes the extremities so as to make them harmless, they still keep a violent look and they still work.
His plan is to paint them green, the same green as “Fiat Uno” car.
Being a master in technologies and mechanics, he also fixed an old jeep of the Villa, so that now and then he can take the guest for a ride in the parks around the residency. Thank you, James, for this amazing experience! Christopher Green is an abstract minimalist artist whose research focuses on color.

He wonders which shade of color may appear between the ripped part of a sheet of paper and its background. He creates a sort of modern primitivism by using blank nuances on paper and canvas painted with fluorescent Acrylics and graphite. The result is a most intimist work.

Bobby Dowler makes paintings, sculptures, and installations. I met him at Villa Lena while he was contemplating and investigating some of his works, and I found his intimacy almost disturbing.

Nuances made with oil pastels, oil paint, and emulsion paint are roughly mixed n wood frames. Sometimes he reassembles various canvases on the same support. His work is filled with matter and yet organic, geometrical with a modern taste.

Katy Groobey’s artworks focus on human figure. The contouring line of the figure always changes like in a dance, or as if it were seen from different perspectives at once. Tiny watercolors and a large oil painting stand in her studio. The colors are light and quiet, they express a sense of deep concentration and gathering.

At her desk she is working at plenty of watercolors studies that are ready or wait the final touch. She is really concentrated on them.
Even though Shaun McDowell’s paintings look abstract at a first glance, he explained me he actually starts from a figure. These ones are portraits. First of all he traces the colored lines and waits for them to dry.
He has already been in this place the year before it became Villa Lena and made a portrait of his then girlfriend.
He is now working on several canvases and enjoys creating art furniture with a chainsaw. He would like to leave some of the deign furniture to the Villa.

I had already been here in Villa Lena to celebrate my friend Dani Morla’s birthday but a lot of things then were still in the early stages.
During the pre-opening for friends and family, the crew of “La clique” and “Le Baron” invited among others an outstanding dj from Paris and a musician.

Lola Schnabel, a most talented artist, was among the guests and she decided to portray the musician Benjamin Clementine in a painting for her upcoming exhibition in South Hampton at Tripoly Patterson Gallery.

The day I left Lola decided to shoot a video of Benjamin, who had performed the first concert in the Villa the night before. The piano concert was amplified by the acoustic of the concert venue, one of the Villa’s souls.

There’s also  a recording studio under construction in one of the several villas that are part of the whole property.

A place almost magical in a paradise valley filled with international and cosmopolitan talented people inspiring each other: such is Villa Lena. I just wish to be back in this beautiful place as soon as possible, to relax and find out what is happening in the cream of the artistic world.

Just over a year before Warhol had had his first solo show in New York; while Sonnabend alerted the French of his existence, he was busy opening his first Factory at 231 East 47th Street. She bravely Paired him with more established artists such as James Rosenquist and Lee Bontecou.

She then moved  her headquartes back to NYC, where she became queen of the SoHo art world.

Ileana Sonnabend Gallery introduced new figures like Jeff Koons and  european artist  Gilbert & George, Jannis Kounellis, Christo, Baselitz, Vito Acconci.

At the Sonnabend Gallery Vito Acconci performed the notorious piece Seedbed where the artist masturbated in her gallery for two weeks. (1972)

in 1991 she exhibited Made in Heaven by Jeff Koons, most likely one of his most celebrated exhibitions. It consisted of a series of paintings and sculptures that show the artist having sex with  his wife Ilona Staller .

Ileana Sonnabend loved Venice and Venice pays homage to her with this exhibition, The Sonnabend Collection. That is a sort of self-portrait, an autobiography of Ileana, and her ideosincrasyes.

Here part of her collection displaying works by Jasper Johns’ Figure 8 of 1959, and Interior (Combine painting) of 1956, Payload (1962) and Kite (1963) by Robert Rauschenberg, whom Ileana, together with Leo Castelli and Alan Solomon, helped to bring to the Biennale di Venezia in 1964, where he won the Grand Prix for Painting.

Alongside these masters, there will also be the great exponents of the various forms of Pop Art, which Ileana Sonnabend helped discover: Jim Dine will be on show with two fine works, together with Claes Oldenburg and his amusing Roast Beef of 1961, as will be the current associated with the media culture, with Roy Lichtenstein, whose Little Aloha(1962) will also be on display. And there will be James Rosenquist with Balcony of 1961, Tom Wesselman with Still life #45 and Seascape #14 and, above all, Andy Warhol, with an incredible group of eight works, including Nine Jackies (1964), Triple Rauschenberg and Campbell’s Soup Can (Turkey Noodle), both of 1962. It ends with minimalist masters like Donald Judd, Dan Flavin, Robert Morris

During the same time at the Moma in NYC, the show Ileana Sonnabend, Ambassador of the New is on display.

check here , to view another part of her collection, including the most famous painting she owned — Mr. Rauschenberg’s 1959  Canyonand read more about her collection.

by Fiammetta De Michele


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