Wallace Chan.
Photo: Massimo Pistore

Explore Wallace Chan’s Transcendent New Exhibition in Venice

The master jewelry artist and sculptor presents a deeply moving show that pushes the boundaries between the material and metaphysical

Santa Maria della Pietà. Photo: Federico Sutera

It’s not easy to make an impact during the Venice Biennale, the world’s largest and most prestigious recurring art exhibition, where hundreds of artists from across the globe take over the floating city every two years. But Wallace Chan, the multidisciplinary Chinese artist and Galerie 2023 Creative Mind who is known for his awe-inspiring use of titanium, has pulled this off with aplomb.

Along the bustling Riva degli Schiavoni, in front of the majestic Grand Canal, the Chapel of Santa Maria della Pietà beckons. It is here where the Hong Kong–based talent has created a poignant exhibition running through September 30 featuring a series of four large-scale sculptures suspended from the ceiling of the church, a jewel of Venetian architecture built in the 18th century. Titled “Transcendence,” the show is the third edition in a series of exhibitions that Chan has staged in Venice starting in 2021.

Wallace Chan's exhibition "Transcendence" at the Santa Maria della Pietà. Photo: Federico Sutera

Wallace Chan's exhibition "Transcendence" at the Santa Maria della Pietà. Photo: Federico Sutera

Once inside the darkened space, it takes a moment for the eyes to adjust from the light, and a haunting soundscape by pioneering musician and composer Brian Eno begins to reverberate throughout. The viewer is invited to move through the narrow space, towards the alter at the back, engaging with the sculptures at eye level. The first work is an expressive, harrowing face with large blown out craters for the eyes and mouth—a smaller face is depicted within. In the darkness, it teeters on the edge of beauty and horror.

The second work features multiple faces twisting and turning in a tornado-like fashion. Next is a large flower-like form, a tulip bursting with life. The final sculptures are a pair of figures, one with the head of Jesus on the body of Buddha and vice versa for the other, representing Buddhism and Christianity. Together with the musical score, the show calls for the viewer to enter into a meditative state, exploring the boundary between the material and metaphysical.

“For this exhibition, which is an extension of my first two Venice shows, I wanted to go beyond the physical limitations of material—to reach a meditative state and experience of spirituality,” Chan told Galerie before the VIP opening, dressed in an elegant black shirt and sporting his signature long beard and round spectacles. “Creating is cyclical. To me, there is no end and there is no beginning. The end is the beginning, and the beginning is the end. Every work serves as a foundation to the next. Every exhibition serves as the foundation for the next exhibition.

Wallace Chan's exhibition "Transcendence" at the Santa Maria della Pietà. Photo: Federico Sutera

The works crafted in titanium—a space-age material with an incredible strength to weight ratio—are beautifully juxtaposed against the rich history of the church settings with its ornate baroque architecture and interiors forming a magnificent dialogue between old and new, past and future. “Curator James Putnam and I decided on this space together,” says Chan. “I think we both were intrigued by the idea that we could not change a thing about this space if we were to have an exhibition here. Of course, I worked on the lighting. But other than that, the chapel remains how it has always been. I think it enhances the overall experience. It is a journey where the space, the sculptures, and the sound merge as one.”

The poetic exhibition is the culmination of Chan’s life experiences and lessons—and his life story is certainly remarkable. Born in China in 1956, he began his creative career as a self-taught carver at the age of 16. Now, half a century later, he is known throughout the world for his trailblazing high-jewelry creations, and more recently his sculpture, pioneering the use of titanium in large-scale works of incredible complexity. Seamlessly blending traditional techniques and materials with innovative technologies, his works explore themes of nature, philosophy, and spirituality.

“I spent the first decade of my creative career in carving traditional Chinese and Buddhist statues,” Chan explains. “It has perhaps made an impact on what I consider an ideal face—elongated eyes and ears, as well as thick, round lips, on a face that is ageless and genderless. It is a universal face to me. A face without earthly traces.” Each work is impressive its technical skill but they also serve as important lessons. “The tulip at the end of the exhibition is meant to be glorious, for example. It is blooming. It is full of life,” he says. “However, if you look closer you can see the many faces on its petals and stems. I just wanted to tell from my own experience that there is no glory without struggle.” Small, quotidian moments can also spark inspiration for his art, too. “One day, I was just having breakfast on my own. I cracked an egg open and I started thinking, how beautiful. The egg nurtures life within itself, and what it contains inside nurtures me. Even when it is broken, it is beautiful. So I took that shape and made it the form of one of my sculptures.”

Wallace Chan's exhibition "Transcendence" at the Santa Maria della Pietà. Photo: Federico Sutera

In pursuit of pure creativity, Chan does not see a distinction between jewelry and art—and he finds freedom in this lack of categorization. “I didn’t receive any formal education; I don’t have a degree. When I was younger, I had an identity crisis because I didn’t know who I was. When I worked as a carver, I knew there were many fields, like gem-setting, gold-smithing, and so on, but later I figured out I don’t need to define myself. I am just someone who loves creating. I don’t need to say, I am a jewelry artist or a sculptor. Everything is interconnected. Because of this lack of labeling gave me more freedom to create.”

Universal notions of time and timelessness are also key to the show, as the visitor forgets about the world outside while immersed in the works. “The notion of time is deceptive,” he says. “I don’t know what time of day it is or what day it is. I am immersed in creation. When I create, I totally forget myself and I forget everything so I can focus on this creation. I am trying to create something that will last for hundreds of years—an embodiment of our current moment.”

Wallace Chan and James Putnam. Photo: Federico Sutera

Up next, Chan will be the first living artist to have a solo exhibition at the prestigious Shanghai Museum, from July 3 to October 7, 2024.”Wallace Chan: Half a Century” will be the artist’s largest jewelry exhibition to date, showcasing around 200 of his creations juxtaposed with some 30 antique jewelry and artifacts loaned from the collections of Shanghai Museum, the Palace Museum, the V&A Museum, Schmuckmuseum Pforzheim, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art. “I have a new dream every minute,” Chan says. “There are so many in a day. But I know one thing for sure, that if I have my work done to perfection today, my dream will come true tomorrow. So I focus on the moment in my hand.”

“Transcendence” is on view through September 30, 2024. 

Cover: Wallace Chan.
Photo: Massimo Pistore


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