Match Made in Venice: Tadao Ando and Zeng Fanzhi

An American institution sponsors an exhibition by a Chinese artist in collaboration with a Japanese architect at a centuries-old Venetian building.

This is the kind of far-flung constellation that can only come together during the Venice Biennale, when the historic Italian lagoon city turns into contemporary art’s grandest stage. While the Biennale itself is famed for its national pavilions, scores of collateral exhibitions, some organized independently, proliferate.

One of this year’s starriest independent collaborations pairs up two masters of form: Zeng Fanzhi, 60, the Beijing-based painter, who is best known for his virtuosic, monumentally scaled canvases that fluidly traverse abstraction and figuration, and Eastern and Western traditions, has teamed with the architect Tadao Ando, 82, the Osaka-based, self-taught Pritzker Prize winner. Ando sculpts intricate yet airy interiors, enlivened by dramatic voids or unexpected lightwells, out of slabs of concrete.

And the matchmaker is the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, which is sponsoring a collaborative exhibition in the impressive space of the Scuola Grande della Misericordia in the Cannaregio district of Venice. “Zeng Fanzhi: Near and Far/Now and Then,” which opens April 17 and continues through Sept. 30, will feature a selection of Zeng’s new oil paintings, ranging from densely-worked studies of light and water to hallucinatory depictions of spiritual motifs like skulls or Buddhist grotto temples — alongside others in mineral pigment on paper.

Ando has conceived a minimalist exhibition design that uses the play of natural light and shadow to accentuate the interaction between Zeng’s paintings and the site, which was built in a neoclassical style in the 16th century as the home for one of Venice’s most venerable confraternities.

Scuola Grande della Misericordia, the site of the installation commissioned by the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, was originally home to one of Venice’s confraternities.Credit…Stefan Altenburger

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