So much of the charm of great European cities can come from what’s old. That’s especially true in Venice, where grand hotels are built in ancient palazzos, the latest cars are eschewed for canal-friendly boats, and even the most talked-about art exhibition in town right now celebrates the 500th anniversary of the birth of the painter Tintoretto.
That’s part of the reason that Homo Faber, a new biennial fair celebrating European craftwork and running through September 30, is so exciting. Instead of focusing on what’s always been, Homo Faber-which boasts the tagline “crafting a more human future”-seems entirely concerned with what might come next.
The event, created by the Michelangelo Foundation, features 16 exhibitions-from a look at the craftwork in fashion, curated by Judith Clark, to a peek inside the process of art restoration and a trip aboard an 68-year-old boat named Eilean that’s been painstakingly restored to what might be better than original condition-as well as workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations at Venice’s Fondazione Giorgio Cini.
Each aspect serves not only to prove an up-close look at stunning design (check out the Parisian embroiderers from Lessage stitching a map of Venice over the course of Homo Faber or the bespoke fragrances from Aquaflor), but also serves to underscore the idea that artisan work has tremendous value, and even in an increasingly digital age, makes clear that some things are best done by human hands. The concept is artfully expanded to include architecture by India Mahdavi, bespoke helicopters by Sergio Bortoluz, and dazzling bookbinding by Martin Frost, among others.
It’s also worth noting what the fair itself is building, and that’s excitement around the idea of craft for a new generation who might not otherwise have the chance to appreciate, or even consider becoming a maker of, the kinds of items that are on display. Instead of just appreciating the talents of others, as Venice's famous art biennale allows, Homo Faber encourages the lightbulb moment where a visitor realizes, I could do that.
A recent visit to the fair served as an enthralling reminder that just because things can be done quickly, doesn’t mean they should. Take, for example, the eyeglasses made by Paris’s Maison Bonnet. The frames have been worn by the likes of Yves Saint Laurent, Le Corbusier, Audrey Hepburn, and Jacques Chirac, but aren’t ordered online; instead, they’re made-to-measure over a series of visits from materials like tortoise shell and buffalo horn by the fourth-generation, family owned company, which recently opened in London and is rumored to be coming to New York next.
Similarly, there are gemstone cutters from Cartier, who set up a mobile operation at the fair, or the artisans who go through the 35 steps required to create a gold nib for a Montblanc fountain pen, or the saddle makers from Hermès, who see each individual saddle through from the first fitting to the final product. These aren’t items that can be made in a rush or by anyone other than an expertly trained artisan-and for Homo Faber, that’s something worth celebrating.
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