Venice diary: Chris Ofili’s poolside magic gives Victoria Miro a grand entrance

Chris Ofili at the opening of his show and unveiling of Victoria Miro’s bijou new gallery in Venice

Chris Ofili at the opening of his show and unveiling of Victoria Miro’s bijou new gallery in Venice

The surrounding streets were packed for the unveiling of Victoria Miro’s bijou new gallery in a 17th-century canalside building close to the Fenice Theatre. Many of the art cognoscenti were already familiar with this Venetian outpost, which had a previous incarnation as the Capricorno gallery, founded by another grande dame, Bruna Aickelin in 1971, and with a formidable reputation forged by showing the likes of Lucio Fontana, Robert Rauschenberg and Cy Twombly. Peggy Guggenheim was a regular visitor. 

Miro has been friends with Signora Aickelin for well over a decade and had already borrowed the space to present some of her artists—including Grayson Perry and Wangechi Mutu—in pop-ups over the years. With Aickelin’s blessing she is now building on the Capricorno legacy with the space fully revamped by Claudio Silvestrin and containing an inaugural show by Chris Ofili, who represented Britain at the Venice Biennale in 2003 and also showed a suite of works in the last edition, curated by Okwui Enwezor. 

Victoria Miro gallery’s Glenn Scott Wright with Antony and Vicken Gormley

Among those cramming the calles to admire Ofili’s lush pastel, charcoal and watercolours were Antony Gormley and Vicken Parsons, Studio Museum’s Thelma Golden and her husband the designer and curator Duro Olowu, architect David Adjaye, Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset, and Ofili himself. The artist was looking very spiffy in a white bow tie, wryly chiming with many of the works in his Poolside Magic series, which also feature an elegant bow-tied man in tailcoat serving very potent-looking drinks to a naked woman reclining at the water’s edge. 

It was widely agreed that the works were perfectly suited to the libidinous liquid decadence of Venice, with some also recalling a substantial amount of intoxicated watery naughtiness at the party to celebrate Ofili’s British pavilion at the Hotel des Bains on the Lido, the setting for Visconti’s Death in Venice. After copious cocktails several frisky folk—including your correspondent and Ofili’s artist friend Peter Doig—took an illicit dip in the hotel’s famous pool before being forcibly ejected by the hotel staff, who took a dim view of the frolics. Sadly, the Hotel des Bains is currently closed and boarded up, with no more poolside magic for the foreseeable future.

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