MAK in Vienna opens exhibition of the work of Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana
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MAK in Vienna opens exhibition of the work of Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana
Santillana, MAK Permanent Collection Contemporary Art in the front: Laura de Santillana, “Teste” table, 2009–2013 in the background: Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, Dittico, 2013 © MAK/Georg Mayer.

VIENNA.- Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana have chosen glass as their medium, and their work is consciously aligned with contemporary art practices. Their fascinating works can be seen from 19 November 2014 in the exhibition I Santillana, which is being presented in Vienna’s MAK by Le Stanze del Vetro and the Fondazione Giorgio Cini, Venice. Based on the exhibition I Santillana – Works by Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana, conceived by Martin Bethenod and shown in the Le Stanze del Vetro until the beginning of August 2014, this exhibition at the MAK offers the very first insight into the works of the Santillana siblings ever presented in Austria.

Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana epitomize the ideal synthesis of a perfect understanding for the craft, extensive knowledge of the material, and free artistic form-finding. They are the grandchildren of Paolo Venini, founder of the Venini glass company, which was established in 1921 on the island of Murano; the siblings were raised in one of the most significant glassmaker families in Venice. They both worked as designers in the family business, which was run by their father Ludovico Diaz de Santillana from 1959. After Venini had to be sold, they founded the company EOS together with their father in 1986.

From 1993, after selling EOS, they turned their attention away from functional objects and devoted themselves exclusively to art. They understand glass as an autonomous material of artistic expression, which—like other materials—can serve form-finding. Both have individually evolved their works beyond the glass-blowing workshop to reach new dimensions in important centers of artistic glassmaking: in the USA and Venice, and recently also in the Czech Republic and France. They are represented by various galleries; their works have been shown in group and solo exhibitions—for example La Biennale Internazionale d’Arte di Venezia—and can be found in the collections of the world’s most prominent museums.

Freestanding, space-consuming sculptures and anthropomorphic forms dominate the presentation of Laura de Santillana’s work in the MAK. A large steel table with a group of abstract glass Buddha heads stands alongside a white bookcase holding 40 “books” made of glass. Just like a library, here is a synopsis of the numerous colors and surface textures that the artist developed under identical production conditions in a series over the last 15 years. Also on display are Laura’s voluminous slabs, which have a powerful physicality, suggesting that the enclosed space has the potential to be crushed.

The wall objects by Alessandro Diaz de Santillana shown in the MAK reflect the history of hand blown window glass and the effect of ancient, “blind” mirrors. Paintings of black mirror glass reduce a subject to diverse shades of black and gray, conveying the impression that they are part of a larger aesthetic dialog. By experimenting with glass as a medium, the artist tests its limits: undefined forms behind reflective glass are reminiscent of the light and dark areas on celluloid film and of the magical effect of images appearing on photographic paper the moment it is submerged in liquid chemicals in a darkroom.

Alessandro’s wall objects enter into a spatial dialog with Laura’s sculptures. A series of videos in the exhibition shows visitors how the glassworks are made in the glass furnace by the maestro and his assistants. This facilitates an understanding of the creative process and the manner in which the artists push the boundaries of material and craft in the name of artistic expression.

It is no coincidence that I Santillana is being displayed in the MAK Permanent Collection Contemporary Art in close vicinity to the MAK Permanent Collection Vienna 1900. In dialog with the MAK Permanent Collection Vienna 1900, the works of Laura de Santillana and Alessandro Diaz de Santillana are given a separate, new meaning. Involuntarily, you can’t help but think of the huge influence that the designs of Viennese modernism—and particularly Josef Hoffmann—had on the work of Carlo Scarpa. Be- tween 1932 and 1947, Scarpa designed glassworks for Paolo Venini. The way the Santillanas evolved into autonomous artists has many parallels with the artistic design of everyday objects in Vienna around 1900. At that time, artists and architects trans- formed everyday objects into radically modern forms. In the case of glass designs by Koloman Moser and Josef Hoffmann, for example, artistic design prevailed over the demands of usability. “Viewed in this light, the works by the Santillana siblings recall the positions of Viennese modernism,” explains Rainald Franz, MAK Curator of the Glass and Ceramics Collection, who has curated the exhibition in the MAK.

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