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Vincent Katz & Vivien Bittencourt

Villa Doria Pamphili
Bruno Marina

Vivien Bittencourt, “Winter (Villa Doria Pamphili)” (2001-2002). Courtesy of Bruno Marina Gallery.

Of the quality of Vincent Katz’s confessional poetry on the walls of Bruno Marina Gallery, I am little qualified to judge, except to say that it is touching in its intimacy. But paired with the landscape photographs of his wife, Vivien Bittencourt, it makes for an exquisite exhibition.

Bittencourt approaches her motif with exceptional skill, squeezing every ounce of poetry from the changing mood of what seems to be a single stand of trees in Rome’s park, the Villa Doria Pamphili. Seen through the changing seasons, their aspects vary accordingly, yet subtly—one might imagine that these photographs document the changing light of a single day. They do reveal the various qualities of tree-framed sky blue, of green grass deep in shadow and light with sun. The tree’s bushy boughs, seen now through fog, now silhouetted in plumes against the sky, hang as clouds might, only dark and heavy.

These photographs, seen on their own, might be nature studies or investigations of abstraction through organic form. They have a nobility often associated with such concerns. Yet Katz’s poetry, penned large in pencil, casts them in a more personal light. “I have been happy to look at these trees so long,” he writes, “Can we accept each other’s foibles?” And later, “THAT was how my wife found me loved and loves and THAT was what I wanted for all my life. What I’d give, love, for my sons and her.”

Having read these lines, the former scrawled floor to ceiling over a pale blue swath of paint, it is almost impossible not to ascribe some intimate symbolic meaning to the stand of trees which Bittencourt makes her focus. Katz’s writing entwines his feelings toward the tress with his feeling for his family. Could this park be the site of their first meeting? Of whose foibles does the poet speak? I thought of trees, steady over time, as a symbol of enduring affection, the connection to time derived from the photograph’s clockwise placement.

As if to reinforce this interpretation, on a rear wall of the gallery, Bittencourt groups six four-image prints that move clockwise in quartets from spring, through summer, to winter. The prints, expertly arranged, all depict the same trees, twenty-four images in all. This repetition gives the stand an iconic quality reinforcing a symbolic reading.

The true nature of the artists’ feelings about the Villa Doria Pamphili are ultimately unimportant. What is important is that their show keeps the viewer’s thoughts and curiosity alive. Bittencourt’s photos and Katz’s wall poetry, an unlikely pair, compliment rather than compete. One might imagine that if art is any sort of metaphor for life, the couple does likewise. They illustrate in their work’s elegant simplicity how little it takes to make a great exhibition.


Ben La Rocco


The Brooklyn Rail

NOV 2004

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