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WALTON FORD  Lion of God

Curated by Udo Kittelmann

Ateneo Veneto, Venice
17.04 – 22.09.2024

This year in Venice, Walton Ford will unveil a major site-specific exhibition featuring a new body of work conceived in response to the collection of the city’s historical institution Ateneo Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti. Lion of God will be Ford’s first solo exhibition in Italy, consisting of a series of monumental watercolor paintings that explore the historical, biological, and environmental resonance of the subjects of the library’s collection, particularly the figure of the lion in Tintoretto’s Apparizione della Vergine a San Girolamo (The Apparition of the Virgin to St. Jerome) (c. 1580). The presentation will span two rooms in the Ateneo— the Aula Magna on the ground floor, and the Sala Tommaseo hall where Tintoretto’s work will be moved into public view for the exhibition’s duration. Curated by Udo Kittelmann, who worked with Ford on the artist’s 2010-11 traveling European retrospective Bestiarium, Lion of God will open during La Biennale di Venezia’s preview week and remain on view through September 2024. 

Ford has described Tintoretto’s Apparizione della Vergine a San Girolamo as “A poignant entry point into a visual discussion of our relationship with the natural world.” Depicting Saint Jerome in ecstasy, in the midst of a vision in which the Virgin Mary descends from heaven, the historic painting features the lion that the legend describes as befriending St Jerome after he pulls a thorn from its paw. The unlikely bond between the two characters is detailed in the The Golden Legend, a text that was widely circulated in Europe during the late Middle Ages and which has acted as a reference for Ford. Demonstrating a mastery of narrative that Ford himself shares, Tintoretto has rendered his lion in shadow. One of Ford’s new paintings—spanning almost ten feet in length—will invert the Venetian painter’s framing to powerfully foreground the animal’s experience. 

Ford’s ongoing philosophical inquiry into the ways in which we interact with and estrange ourselves from the animal species on this planet invokes one of the most urgent questions of our time. Curator Udo Kittelmann says of the project: “In search of finding analogies between the past and the present, Walton Ford’s paintings superimpose intricate natural history depictions with current perceptions and critical commentaries, as well as adding quotes from literary sources from past centuries, rendered in the style of the old masters. In his artworks, which can be seen as satires on political oppression and the exploitation of the environment, he casts doubt on the ‘ever new’ and the ‘ever better’. At the same time Ford has always been raising questions on a diverse range of expectations and established rules in contemporary aesthetics. To be precise, his paintings are a plot about the arrogance of human nature. Yesterday, today and tomorrow.” 

Ford’s work subverts conventions relating to humanity’s attempts to categorize and interpret the natural world by drawing on naturalist sketches and dioramas, zoological records, mythology, fables, and art history. While alluding to the form of naturalist field studies from the 19th century, Ford’s coded poetics are wide-ranging in their references, calling upon the viewer to use these fragmented clues as a guide by which to untangle the folkloric, historical, or imaginary event depicted in the work. Anatomically precise as a result of close observation of taxidermized specimens in museum collections, these works by Ford vividly project the lives, experiences, observations, and hidden histories of their human and animal subjects. 

The exhibition in Venice will run concurrently with Walton Ford: Birds and Beasts of the Studio, a major solo exhibition at The Morgan Library & Museum in New York City celebrating the artist’s drawings. On view from April 12 through October 6, 2024, the exhibition is organized by Isabelle Dervaux, Acquavella Curator and Department Head of Modern and Contemporary Drawings. 

Lion of God is organized by Kasmin, New York. Kasmin has presented 11 solo exhibitions of Ford’s work since 1997, including Barbary in 2018—a body of work exploring the fate of the North African Barbary lion. The exhibition has been designed by StudioMDA.
Preview Days:
Wednesday, April 17, 9am–8pm
Thursday, April 18, 9am–8pm
Friday, April 19, 10am–8pm

Opening Reception:
Wednesday, April 17, 5–8pm

Breakfast Receptions:
Wednesday, April 17, 9am–12pm
Thursday, April 18, 9am–12pm

In Conversation:
Artist Walton Ford  & Curator Udo Kittelmann
Sala Lettura, Ateneo Veneto, Campo San Fantin, 1897
Thursday, April 18, 12pm CET

Installation view of Walton Ford: Lion of God, Ateneo Veneto, Venice, 2024.

Organized by Kasmin