28 August 2008


La Serenissima has a rare beauty but recently, in the name of profit, she has been trashing it up with more and more ugly billboards – something I never dreamed I would have to see here.

Just a few years ago there were no such things. And when a palazzo or public building was being renovated or maintained, city fathers would only permit plain canvas or a life-size, fool-the-eye painted screen mimicking the building’s façade to hide the work in progress. A few small, discreet sponsors’ logos could be shown at the bottom. Really, I thought these screens were rather clever, and served their purpose gracefully. I still enjoy seeing the nicely detailed one at Casino Vendramin when I pass by.

But then the big Times Square-style billboards started popping up, all on the Grand Canal and almost all advertising some lifestyle brand – a grubby-sexy cowgirl & cowboy couple in their dusty Replay jeans, a tanned, glossy-haired fashion model type showing off his new Movado watch, and the like.

And now comes this – the beautiful Ponte dei Sospiri (Bridge of Sighs) flattened out and reduced to a puny illustration in a giant cluster of floodlit billboards that obscure much of the Palazzo Ducale and the prigione (prisons) and nearly block the view of the canal altogether. All this cheap, plastic ugliness just to promote a movie called Il Cielo dei Sospiri, currently featured at the Biennale. When I saw this mess, I nearly wept.

Tell me. What in this world is not for sale these days?