Fang Lijun’s oil painting Dream of Peace. Photos Provided to China Daily
An untitled work by Fang from 2011.
Cai Guoqiang’s work A Wolf Among Wolves.
An artist with his shells at this year’s Venice Biennale.
Europeans have developed taste for diverse array of work by china’s artists
Contemporary Chinese art has a strong presence at this year’s Venice Biennale, evidence of a growing appetite for it across Europe.
Stimulating exhibitions displaying the work of both new and established artists that is surprising, entertaining and moving represents a diverse national artistic landscape that is winning growing global respect.
An exhibition titled Culture-Mind-Becoming, which opened at the Biennale on June 1, aims to embrace the complexity of thought and themes characteristic of contemporary Chinese art, with its free and unexpected aesthetics. Presented by the Global Art Center Foundation at Palazzo Mora and Palazzo Marcello, it illustrates and interprets the major expressions of an extremely heterogeneous art scene.
The exhibiting artists include renowned names familiar to the US and European art circuits such as Xu Bing and Cai Guoqiang, while the solo show A Cautionary Vision is devoted to Fang Lijun, a prominent representative of the 1990s China New Art, and an exponent of the so-called cynical realism movement.
Fang’s art is an emblematic and remarkable example of how a modern-day A-list Chinese artist pushes deeply into pure painting, avoiding the influences of the signal movements of modern art.
Fang took a formative trip to Germany, but his approach is immediate, not mediated by the European avant-garde, from futurism to surrealism, which changed the course of painting so dramatically.
Fang’s 15 large paintings are on display at Palazzo Marcello: each 7 to 8 meters wide depicting magnificent scenery, figures of people either floating in clouds or dwelling in the sea, and newborn babies riding storks or enclosed in claustrophobic bubbles. All the well-balanced compositions are characterized by a playful, ironic painterly touch, and a vivid sense of fragments.
According to curator Danilo Eccher, current director of Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin, Fang’s art expresses a cautionary vision of the structural intricacies of world reality, so it demands to be analyzed and interpreted in the context of complexity theory, which interconnects with chaos theory, complex algorithms and quantum physics.
“In this context, the work of Fang testifies to the complex relationship between one-off and multiple, singularity and quantity, just as, in the algorithm of starlings in flight, the chaotic unpredictability of one bird’s movement triggers an orderly collective of birds that move together in unison,” the curator says.
His art is imbued with the Eastern metaphorical visual tradition. “It enshrines all the secrets of the East,” Eccher says. “A sweet, simple figurative style enveloped in a brilliant use of color; a visionary, childlike fascination with an unattainable world; and a calm, graceful, balanced narrative. But all of this is just the brilliant patina of a style of painting that is able to suggest the contemporary anguish of loss of identity, the obsession of the collective, the presence of disease, pain, sin. It is an art of ambiguity and deceit, of levity and depth, of nightmares and emotions, of cynical fantasies.
“Solar luminosity and nocturnal tragedy coexist in these works, which liberate bats and mice, cram jubilant crowds of madmen on the edge of the abyss. Fang Lijun does not simply dramatize contradiction; rather than limit himself to the astonishing effect of opposition, his cynical realism is in reality a narrative about complexity, about the art of chaos that refutes linear interpretation, and that is immersed in an engorgement of languages and meanings.”
Having innate insights into the popular knowledge of his national heritage, Fang is an epic storyteller whose art derives from a sensitive observance of the vast reality of his native China.
Eccher considers Fang one of the most innovative of today’s painters. “His figurative paintings, so purely Chinese, are at virtuoso level both in technique and precision, especially regarding his passion, so typically Chinese, for details.”
Fang calls himself a “wild dog”: the last thing he needs is conversion to any symbol. He resists all symbols.
Interest in contemporary Chinese art has grown enormously over the past 20 years. But in general, how is contemporary Chinese art perceived in Europe?
The International Art Venice Biennale presented the first artists from the Chinese mainland exactly 20 years ago.
“After the pioneering phase of great enthusiasm and curiosity, which started in the early 90s, about 10 years ago we moved on to a second phase, entirely focused on investigation, a more accurate study and critical analysis,” Eccher says. Germany was the first European country to establish stable relationships with Chinese artists, he says. “Nevertheless, some artists preferred to deal with French galleries and art dealers.” Eccher insists that Italy today is one of the countries most interested in Chinese art.
“Several collectors and specialized galleries, such as Galleria Continua and Primo Marella, have opened branches in Beijing. In general, many galleries both in Europe and America have expanded their operations into China, an extremely creative part of the world nowadays.”
Today’s Chinese artists are at a riveting stage, with the majority erudite, according to Eccher. “A-list Chinese artists know Western art history quite well, but are not affected by the very idea of the avant-garde, which has been introduced through contact with the West, since it does not belong to their own spirit and DNA.
“That is why their signature iconography is very much freer; that is why Chinese art is an incredible aesthetic laboratory in which artists can experiment with new interpretative methodologies. I personally spot exceptional talent every time I visit China.”
The European viewer interacts with a Chinese painting in a less predictable way than when put in front of a contemporary Western art object, he says.
“Unexpected surprises are disclosed to a Western gaze; she or he can experience a sense of disorientation or alienation in front of a Chinese artwork. Because any aesthetic experience is not a gratuitous epiphany: viewers bring their aesthetic knowledge to the aesthetic encounter with the art object.”
This makes this particular “Chinese experience” more challenging, he says.
“We are inviting European viewers to interact with fascinating art codes coming from China.”
It is almost obligatory now to mention the presence of Xu Bing and Cai Guo-Quiang, both in the first and second sections of the exhibition. Xu, widely regarded as one of the most important artists of his generation for informing his work with the engagement of language and history, in Venice presents his new multimedia installation Work on Site. Cai, whose artistic language has a direct and deliberate reference to Chinese iconography (his gunpowder works are renowned on a global scale) returns to Venice for the third time.
The first collective section titled Rediscover, which is organized by independent Dutch curator Karlyn De Jong, highlights the fact that many Chinese artists feel obliged to rediscover their own cultural roots as a source of nutrition for their work.
According to De Jong, in Europe there are two different perceptions towards contemporary Chinese art. “One is that of curiosity and interest for what is happening in your country, an attitude that goes beyond personal taste. China and Chinese art is a ‘world’ that for us Europeans is very difficult to get an insight into. To understand such a varied culture is not easy and requires serious research in many aspects of Chinese life.”
The second attitude? “I am afraid it is a negative one: a large number of Europeans are not open enough to learning new things. It is an opinion that considers European, or Western, art as the main or the real art.
“Chinese art is visually quite different, for example, from the European Zero movement. Since it is so richly varied, and understanding it requires a lot of knowledge, it is an easy way out to just say it is ‘not good’. For me, art is always an expression of a human act, no matter whether I personally like it or not.”
The second section, Ingrandimento (Enlargment), which is curated by Huang Du and Yang Shinyi, aims to show the contemporary Chinese aesthetic in its grandest variety, and reflects on the value of contemporary Chinese art, which lies in refracting cultural potential and vitality in the process of China’s modernization.
By contrast a delicacy and gentleness pervades Mao Lizi’s abstract artworks, inventive and very poetic in a minimalist manner in his personal quest for infinity.
For China Daily
55th Venice Biennale Part I: The Pavillions
17 June 2013
Carmen Ansaldo – Venice
The start of June (2013) marks the public opening of the world’s largest art fair, the Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, commonly known as the Venice Biennale. The Biennale’s 55th installment includes 88 national pavilions and 48 collateral exhibitions spread throughout the traditional venues of the Giardini and Arsenale, as well as the city of Venice itself. Of the 88 countries holding official pavilions this year, ten are debuting for the first time. and the inclusion of Angola, Bahamas, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu and the Vatican was highly anticipated by Biennale attendees.
Unsurprisingly, some of the established pavilions invested seriously in large-scale artworks of spectacle, with far more of these works being pulled off successfully compared to previous Biennales. Vadim Zakharov’s interactive installation for the Russian pavilion, Danae, involves an actor dressed as a corporate businessman watching over a shower of gold coins that fall from the roof to the pavilion floor two stories below. Female participants are invited to scoop up the coins and pour them back into a machine which would start the process again. Referencing the Greek myth of the same name, Danae considers the patriarchal nature of capitalism and its corresponding emotions of greed and corruption. In the Israeli pavilion, Gilad Ratman’s The Workshop, also makes a monumental effort to create a non-linear narrative of travelling artists who make a pilgrimage from Israel to Venice. Arriving at the Israeli pavilion through a hole in the floor, they use the space to create self portraiture busts out of clay, a gesture that is concerned with youth resistance, nationalism, self and place.
A third and more surprising large scale entry was Latvia’s North By Northeast, a joint installation by Kaspars Podnieks and Krišs Salmanis that features photographic portraits of rural Latvians posing in the thick of Winter. Their subjects’ gaze toward the viewer is constantly broken by a massive, leafless tree suspended to the pavilion roof. The tree swings continuously like a pendulum down the length of the room. This organic theme was exceptionally prominent within the pavilions; Berlinde de Bruyckere consuming Belgium’s entire space with a sculpture of a dead trunk made entirely out of bruised, fleshy coloured wax; Finland’s Aalto pavilion features work from Antti Laitinen who separated 100 m² of forest floor into distinct layers in order to document each layer and present them as a photographic collage; Spain’s Laura Almarcegui had collected massive piles of glass, stone and dirt from defunct industrial sites and meticulously separated them into massive piles which elegantly spill from the gallery spaces of the pavilion.
Although the gesture of international collaboration is not lost on any attendee, smaller countries, especially those who have endured European (cultural) colonisation, would benefit far more from granting their national artists the exposure Venice provides before showcasing the work of established internationals.
The inclusion of the Vatican bore the brunt of expectation among the new inclusions. Predictably titled In the Beginning, the Holy See steered away from exhibiting its own art collection and invited contemporary artists to interpret the first book of Genesis and themes of creation and destruction. The interactive projection by Studio Azzurro that dominated the pavilion lacked the conceptual power to grapple with the allocated theme, despite a noticeable investment in the technology and resolution of the artwork (viewers could activate stories from subjects within the projection by touching them). Criticisms of strong religious overtones, too much money and not enough substance could have also been applied to the Chinese pavilion’s group exhibition Transfiguration. Curator Wang Chunchen’s ambition to create a Chinese method for constructing a Chinese art history which stood outside the Western canon fell flat, perhaps due to the crude parallels he attempts to make between the transformation of Jesus and the changing cultural landscape of China.
Some of the other major pavilions have clearly made a conscious step away from larger scale works to showcase more modest and contemplative artists. It appears as though the USA has taken on board criticism from their last pavilion entry (which was considered to be tacky in its overt references to US militarism) and is exhibiting Sarah Sze’s Triple Point. Sze’s intricate, thoughtful, yet ambitious system of everyday materials are arranged into massive sculptural systems that function toward no determinable ends. Likewise, Ari Sala’s Ravel Ravel Unravel at the French Pavilion consists of three simple, inter-related projections that interpret through piano and DJ booth the 1930 composition of Concerto in D for the Left Hand by Maurice Ravel. Smaller pavilions who have similarly taken a more circumspect and focused approach include the New Zealand pavilion with Bill Culbert’s sculptures of domestic furniture intersected with fluorescent lights, the ceramic and wood sculptures of the Netherlands’ Mark Manders whose materials similarly collide with each other with exceptional results. Most notably, the particularly well-curated Latin American pavilion. Titled IILA, the cluster of disparate artists and concerns from sixteen countries including Argentina, Brazil, Peru, Venezuela and Cuba form a vibrant and eclectic cohesion that engages with international contemporary art while revealing previously unknown particulars of their locales and cultural contexts.
Pavilions who have their finger firmly on the pulse of political events include Greece, who exhibit Stefanos Tsivopoulos’s three narrative videos staging relationships between affluent individuals and money called History Zero; the Japanese pavilion who host the experimental collaborations of Koki Tanaka in the exhibition Abstractly Speaking – Sharing uncertainty and collective acts, and Turkey’s three channel video collage by Ali Kazama Resistance which documents various sub-cultural forms of defiance that manifest themselves on the body. Other pavilions reference national politics in less successful ways, and it was disappointing to find that Kuwait’s debut appeared to be a photographic installation in service of the state, rather than an exhibition involving freely formed artistic motivation.
The cultural specificity of nationality was resisted by some other pavilions for gestures of internationalism. Germany offering the main room of their pavilion to one of Ai Wei Wei’s older works Bang (2010); Kenya opened their pavilion to showcase the works of eight Chinese artists (whilst only including two of their own two nationals); the United Arab Emirates’ Mohammed Kazem devoting their entire pavilion to an immersive installation of a vast and dark ocean-scape complete with GPS coordinates; and the Bahamas debuted with documentation of artist Tavares Strachan’s expedition to the Arctic, mimicking the 1909 expedition of Americans Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson. Although the gesture of international collaboration is not lost on any attendee, smaller countries, especially those who have endured European (cultural) colonisation, would benefit far more from granting their national artists the exposure Venice provides before showcasing the work of established internationals.
The contemplative and concise curatorial direction many pavilions demonstrated at the 55th Venice Biennale offers many possibilities for the future. There is a decisive movement away from the ‘bigger is better’ attitude of past years. Instead of riding the rollercoaster of tremendous successes and flops, the standard of the pavilions this year is consistent in its high quality. The inclusion of younger and emerging artists, more contemporary works and so many new countries has breathed life into the usual roll-call of blockbusters to prove that the world’s largest biennale still has the capacity to be brave, edgy and relevant. — [O]
Carmen Ansaldo is a freelance art writer from Brisbane, Australia; based in Berlin. Carmenansaldo.wordpress.com
This summer, for the 55th time, the Venice Biennale features an overwhelming amount of art from all over the world. With the spotlight on the nations that for years have brought their art to the City of Water, there are some new additions outside of the main space of the Arsenale and Giardini park. Artists from Eastern Europe and Central Asia – regions separated for decades by the so-called iron curtain – are now regular participants of the Biennale.
Lost in Translation; Tolstoy and Hens, installation by Oleg Kulik
Russia. Russia is definitely not staying on the sidelines this year. Russian art patron Leonid Mikhelson (net worth $15.4 bln, Russia’s third richest man), through his foundation V-A-C, is one of the main sponsors of this year’s Biennale. The Russian pavilion in Giardini Park is represented by Vadim Zakharov’s installation Danaë (curated by Udo Kittelmann), a modern interpretation of an old Greek myth, with golden coins falling from the roof into a “ladies only” zone where female visitors can walk protected by umbrellas, while men eye them from the upper level. Russian art is not limited by the sleek and shiny national pavilion: The Moscow Museum of Modern Art (MMOMA) brought a couple of exhibitions to this year’s Biennale—a group exhibition Lost in Translation and Katya, photographic plates and bronze sculpture by an American artist, Bart Dorsa.
Lost in Translation, a large show featuring artwork by more then 100 Russian artists, found a place in the exhibition space at the main building of the Ca’ Foscari University. With paintings, drawings, photographs, sculptures, videos, installations, performances produced between the 1970s and today, the show has become an intersection of politics, social issues and art. Some pieces like Sergey Bratkov’s “Slogan” or Pavel Peppershtein’s “Socialism Will Be Back” can indeed lose something in translation, but by no means does it lessen the artistic quality. It offers an intense overview of Russian art made over the past four decades. The show is haunted by the shadows of the soviet past and seems to be bridging it into an uncertain future. Which, admittedly, is a theme that’s common for other exhibitions created by countries that have undergone serious transitions in their recent history.
Slogan, by Sergey Bratkov
Ukrainian national pavilion. The Monument to a Monument is a show by artists of the younger generation. Mykola Ridnyj, Hamlet Zinkovskyi and Zhanna Kadyrova displayed their artwork in Palazzo Loredan. There are no wooden eggs and iconographic references that Oksana Mas showed at the previous year’s Biennale.
The Monument to a Monument, sculptures by Mykola Ridnyj
This time, Ukrainians delivered sculptures and drawings (a wall full of match boxes with tiny portraits sketched inside them), installations (a video camera with a beam of light made of concrete), and videos filling rooms with glimpses of Ukraine’s turbulent recent years, with the destruction of the utopia of the past and history manipulation as some of the motifs.
Ukraine is no stranger to social and political problems: “An artist, I believe, must not forget about them and has to reflect on them in some way,” said Mykola Ridnyj, whose project was inspired by the recent dismantling of an old Soviet monument that for four decades was a landmark in his native city of Kharkiv. In addition to showing the monument being taken down, he brought videos with stories from the 1990s.
Sergej Khachaturov, an art critic from Russia, said at the opening that he appreciated the artists’ efforts to integrate social and political issues. “It’s nice that this show suggests creative participation of the audience,” he added.
Azerbaijan. The national pavilion presented Ornamentation, an exhibition featuring six artists from Baku (Rashad Alakbarov, Sanan Aleskerov, Chingiz Babayev, Butunay Hagverdiyev, Fakhriyya Mammadova, Farid Rasulov), and it was commissioned by a foundation headed by Azerbaijan’s First Lady, Mehriban Aliyeva. The pavilion is adorned with traditional, decorative patterns and displays photographs, installations and paintings.
Love Me, Love Me Not; Recycled, by Aida Mahmudova
Besides the Azerbaijani Pavilion, there was a group show produced by YARAT! – a relatively new non-profit organization from Baku. It’s titled Love Me, Love Me Not, and located on the north side of Arsenale, showcasing work by 17 artists from Azerbaijan and its neighbors – Iran, Turkey, Russia, and Georgia.
“We wanted to show the connection between these countries that are in close contact—and the differences between us, at the same time.” Said Aida Mahmudova, the founder of YARAT! and an artist herself. She brought to Venice a sculpture, Recycled, made of metal window grates she had found in Baku and stainless steel.
Traditional carpets seem to be an infinite source of inspiration for Azerbaijani artists. However, Faig Ahmed’s thread installation breaks the pattern: he destroyed the carpet by pulling the threads out of a carpet, creating an “embroidered space”. “I like to make them and change them” Ahmed said.
Thread installation by Faig Ahmed
The time of transition – breaking ties with the Soviet Union and forging on into mysterious capitalism – shows through various parts of the exhibition, such as Orkhan Huseynov’s recreation of a typical living room of the 1990s, full of western VHS tapes and posters of Bruce Lee.
While some may have described this year’s Biennale as political and “bleak, recession-era”, emerging countries (not just Ukraine, Russia, and Azerbaijan but also Georgia, Lithuania, Armenia, countries of Central Europe and the Middle East among others) generate art that captures change and irony, often creating unexpected narratives.
I magine a single work of art that captured a sense that, after all these decades of trying, modern art hasn’t managed to change the world, or even much affect it. A sense that, for all its variety, modern art—maybe most of Western art for the last 500 years—has been nothing more than a series of moves in a series of games, like clever new plays in clever new versions of football. And imagine that this imaginary artwork managed to condense all the longings of every artist, curator, and critic for an art that was much more than such games, for an art that truly mattered. And then imagine that this work packaged that longing as one giant sigh, from knowing it could never be more than longing.
That artwork is this year’s Venice Biennale, the 55th edition of the world’s most prestigious aesthetic pulse taking, which opened to the public Saturday. At the heart of the this year’s Biennale is a giant group exhibition called The Encyclopedic Palace, put together by Italian curator Massimiliano Gioni, on secondment from his day job at the New Museum in New York. And Gioni’s group show, more focused and polished than any previous year’s, utters the pungent sigh I’ve described.
Rather than offer up a sampling of the best and brightest work being made today, the show digs back into the last 100 years or so of making art, looking for all the times when art has had ambitions beyond merely being good. At the show’s beginning, in the Central Pavilion in the Biennale gardens, there is a room dedicated to Carl Jung’s Red Book, the manuscript in which the famous analyst recorded the images he saw in his dreams and that he thought would grant new access to our hive mind. (The drawings are vaguely medieval and corny, like something out of Game of Thrones: “Bring forth the Red Book of necromancy! We shall conjure the spirits of Targaryens past.”)
Scattered elsewhere throughout the show are works by outsider artists (even more “outside” than the nutty Jung) whose manic objects arose in response to compulsions or madness. There are the lifelike plaster dolls of a Chicago man named Morton Bartlett, made and kept in the privacy of his home; there are private erotic drawings by a repressed Soviet teenager and secret naughty photos of a visionary’s wife; there are arcane images made in the 1920s by Rudolf Steiner and at various times by any number of his colleagues in theosophical and mystic pursuits. These people’s works weren’t meant as clever art-world conceits or witty decoration or fancy goods for sale. However bizarre the look of this outsider art, it almost always has a function that transcends simply looking.
Gioni balances that strangeness with works that take a very different, but equally “functional,” approach to art making: images that address reality with an almost scientific reverence for what’s in it. They give a sense that the world itself, rather than the artistic act of picturing it, is what’s really at stake. The second half of Gioni’s show, filling the vast warehouses of Venice’s old Arsenale, begins with J.D. ’Okhai Ojeikere’s wonderful photos of elaborate Nigerian hairstyles, but also touches down on the stunning bird photography of Eliot Porter (son of Fairfield, the great realist painter) and on Kan Xuan’s giddy slide show of every surviving imperial burial mound in China. A French artist named Camille Henrot, while on fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C., cobbled together a manic video collage of all the different aspects of her host’s famous dedication to the “increase and diffusion of knowledge.” It is exploration on both steroids and speed, as Henrot explores the explorers.
And here’s what happens when all of these different kinds of images, with their very un-arty goals, get included in the Venice Biennale: each and every one becomes art, not so different from a Jeff Koons dog or a Damien Hirst spot.
Ever since Duchamp’s urinal hit the scene in 1917, and possibly for a dozen or more decades before that, what has set artwork off from other things in the world is not what it looks like or what it references or anything it does, but the fact that we’ve been invited to contemplate it as art. And that’s what every visitor was doing with every work on view during the preview days of the Venice Biennale. (Although “contemplate” is a rather grand word for the casual grazing that was going on, with the audience acting more like shoppers at Bloomingdale’s than reflective Kenneth Clarks.) The show’s mystic art wasn’t giving anyone mystic powers; visitors were hardly “using” the erotica the way its makers had. The most informative photos were barely informing; they were being enjoyed as fine art with an informative flair.
Gioni’s show, for all the old ghosts it channels, also seems to insist that looking back to a time when art mattered cannot be the way forward for the art of today. Or maybe it suggests something rather more melancholic than that: that there’s not really a way forward at all, because art’s games, on view in this show in every possible permutation, have simply exhausted themselves. Whatever ambitions a work of art may have, it ends up being just more of the same.
A talisman for this view might be a recent video by the Pole Artur Żmijewski, one of the grimmest and greatest artists working today. In this work, titled Blindly, Żmijewski offers paper and paint to a number of unsighted people, getting them to depict themselves and landscapes and beasts. He documents the eagerness of their attempts as well as their befuddlement when faced with the task, not to mention their moments of evident failure: a brush still being used once it has run dry; a blind artist wanting to add on to his sun but losing track of where he painted it. And, of course, Żmijewski documents the sorry results of their efforts: gloppings and scratchings of color that barely depict what they show. And it’s impossible not to think that Żmijewski feels that their fates as artists are the same as his: condemned to a blind groping for success, without ever sensing where success might lie or knowing if it’s in reach.
But here’s the thing: even for the blind making useless messes, the attempt somehow seems worth the trouble.
Katya Soldak, Contributor I cover business, politics and culture in Eastern Europe
Palazzo Contarini Polignac (Venice, Italy) Take a vaporetto down the Canal Grande in Venice, Italy, towards Accademia Bridge and nearby you’ll see a cheerful, multicolored banner that reads “Future Generation Art Prize” and a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag mounted on an old Palazzo Contarini Polignac. Part of the 55th Venice Biennale – a major contemporary art festival running from June to November this year – the Future Generation Art Prize is a show that exhibits work by 21 young artists from all over the world, including the main prize winner Lynette Yiadom-Boakye, selected by a reputable international jury for a $100,000 biennial award established by the Victor Pinchuk Foundation for artists under the age of 35. Sculptures, video art, installations, performances and paintings by artists from 16 different countries have filled the walls of the renaissance palace built in the 15th century providing a galvanic collision of space and content. “People are always impressed by the capacity of these young artists who take a space like this” said Bjorn Geldhof, deputy artistic director forPinchukArtCenter (PAC). This is the second time The Future Generation Art Prize, financed by a Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist Victor Pinchuk, has appeared in Venice. “Venice is really its own city with its own climate and its own identity and to have a young generation of artists come here is very special” Conceptually diverse, artworks come in various forms, from wood block toys to split video screens to old Venetian piles and plastic bags, not forgetting to mention shadows and sounds. Bjorn Geldhof of PAC and artist Lynette Yiadom-Boakye; Photo: Sergey Illin The winner of the prize, Yiadom-Boakye, 36, has a room full of paintings—oil on canvas in muted dark colors, images of black people shaking hands, moving, walking (“I imagine they are going to the beach at night time – it’s more about motion” she said about one of her works). Yiadom-Boakye, an artist of Ghanaian descent, was born in London, graduated from Saint Martins College of Art and Design at Falmouth University and received her Master’s at the Royal Academy Schools in Britain. The jury that chose her as the main winner was the remarkable ensemble of curators and art professionals: Massimiliano Gioni, the curator of this year’s Venice Biennale and the associate director of the New Museum in New York; Nancy Spector, the deputy director of the Guggenheim Museum in New York; Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, Artistic Director of dOCUMENTA in Kassel; Hans Ulrich Obrist, the co-director of London’s Serpentine Gallery; the curators Agnaldo Farias (Brazil) and Carol Yinghua Lu (China) – and, of course, the general director of the PAC, Eckhard Schneider, who used to be the director of the Kunsthaus Bregenz in Austria before moving to Ukraine. They came together in Kyev in December 2012, looked at the art on display at a special show at PAC, and, after long and opinionated discussions, anonymously decided to give the main prize to Yiadom-Boakye. “I think it enables you to keep working – that’s all, really. That’s nice to be recognized,” Yiadom-Boakye commented on winning the prize that totals $100,000 ( $60,000 in cash and $40,000 investment into an art project). She said she already has something in mind that she would like to work on: “I’ve had this idea of making some kind of an artist book for a while – so maybe I would do that” In addition to getting the Future Generation Art award, she’s shortlisted for this year’s Turner prize. Works by João Maria Gusmão & Pedro Paiva collective Geldhof said that during the discussion process members of the jury looked, mainly, for the highest quality work and they all had very strong opinions that varied. “They gave five special prizes – which means something” he said. Five special prizes ($20,000 each) went to Jonathas de Andrade, Brazil; Marwa Arsanios, Lebanon; Micol Assael, Italy; Ahmet Ogut, Turkey; and Rayyane Tabet, Lebanon. They artwork was featured at the show in Venice, among 21 artists that were shortlisted from more than 4,000 applicants. The Future Generation Art Prize is a very young addition to the art world scene. The first award went to Brazilian artist Cinthia Marcelle in 2010. The prize is founded and financed by Pinchuk, a Ukrainian billionaire and self-made tycoon whose fortune comes from producing steel pipes in the 90s and who, over the past decade, has shown some serious appreciation of contemporary art (he acquired a collection of contemporary art work by artists like Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, and Andreas Gursky among others). Agnieszka Polska, My Favourite Things Just beginning to get broader acknowledgement within the art world, the Prize nevertheless has quite prominent members on itsboard: the directors of Tate, MoMA, Centre Georges Pompidou, Guggenheim Museum; a few internationally acclaimed artists, foundation founders, and Sir Elton John. British artist Damien Hirst, who is on the board of the prize, said that he first got involved with the award because it’s “a lot of money and it’s great for a young artist” and lack of recourse can be inhibiting for talented people. “It’s brilliant” he said about the prize. Well, everyone agrees it’s a huge amount of money — but what about prestige? “I think it’s beginning to be (prestigious), it’s still relatively new,” Hirst said. Jon Kessler, New York based artist and professor at Columbia University School of The Arts, said that Mr. Pinchuk’s activities in the art world – with the help of his financial resources – are in some ways similar to the early history of established foundations such as Carnegie Hall, Rockefeller Foundation and the Guggenheim Foundation in the US back in the days. He said that it’s important to have differences and diversity within the jury. “I think what you have in the art world – that the same people choosing the same people choosing the same people all the time, that is definitely the tendency,” Kessler said during an interview in New York. The Future Generation Art Prize has a chance to bring something fresh. “It (the award) is gonna live or die by the transparency of the process, it’s gonna live or die by the quality of the artists that they pick,” he said. Marc Quinn – a British artist known for his sculptures of people with missing limbs – attended the opening and said he enjoyed the exhibition. “It’s good to have an alternative to Turner prize,” Quinn said. “There is more people involved, it’s more loose, it brings more excitement”. What did he think about the quality of the art? “Some you like, some you don’t like – but that’s good.” “I like the paintings by the winner. She’s a good artist,” he added. The prize comes with a Ukrainian twist—the blue and yellow flag on the Pallazzo wasn’t just to cheer Ukrainian financial backing. “Our home is Kyev, Ukraine,” said Eckhard Schneider, the general director of the PAC. At a separate chapter of the prize, they select a national winner among Ukrainian artists (this time it was Mykyta Kadan) who gets automatically nominated for the international prize. “We bridge the national identity and international challenge”.
VENICE — Dark weather and high water were the backdrop to the start of the 55th Venice Biennale, an event that predictably combines enough cold cash and hot air to create a storm system of critical opinion. The main barometric indicator is always the big show that gives each Biennale its theme, and on this score, for the first time in years, there’s fairly smooth sailing
The main show, “The Encyclopedic Palace” — organized by Massimiliano Gioni, 39, chief curator at the New Museum in Manhattan and this Biennale’s director — is a quiet success. Spread over two sites, in the park called the Giardini and the fortresslike Arsenale nearby, it’s immense, with more than 150 artists, but as tightly thought out as a small show — maybe too tightly to allow for wild-card surprises. Most shows on this scale are too messy; this one may be too neat. But it works. Plus — a significant plus for anyone fed up to here with big-buck art — “Palace” doesn’t seem to have much interest in the mainstream market. It doesn’t say no to it, exactly. It just goes its own interesting way, not without problems. And of course, the show is not the whole story. The Biennale is as much an archipelago of islands as Venice itself is. Clustered around the main exhibition are dozens of national pavilions, each with an exhibition of its own, with more pavilions scattered around town in premises — churches and palazzi — more interesting than any on the Biennale grounds. Nearly 50 “collateral events,” semiofficially part of the Biennale, must be included in any comprehensive tour. The total is overwhelming, but equipped with decent shoes and multiday vaporetto pass, I saw roughly 80 percent of this year’s sights on a trek that took me through most of city, always the Biennale’s real attraction. Mr. Gioni titled his exhibition after a single piece of art, an 11-foot-high tower built by the self-taught artist Marino Auriti. Born in Italy in 1891, Auriti moved to the United States in the 1920s, settling in Kennett Square, Pa., where he ran an auto body shop while painting on the side. After retiring in the 1950s, he began work on the tower, a stack of seven cylindrical layers surrounded by a colonnaded piazza, constructed of wood, glass and plastic (including hair combs). He conceived it as a model for a museum to be called the Encyclopedic Palace of the World, which would display the range of human achievement, “from the wheel to the satellite.” He also made it a monument to ethical values, spelled out on the colonnade entablatures: “Live by your work,” “Make friends of your enemies,” “Watch that you don’t become greedy.” He wanted the museum to be erected on the Mall in Washington, took out a patent on it, even initiated a fund-raising campaign. Mr. Gioni has placed Auriti’s dream tower up front in the Arsenale as a key to what follows: art that embodies utopian and dystopian visions; or attempts to encompass and categorize vast amounts of data; or is composed of many small and repeated parts. Among works that qualify are paintings by the Swedish artist Hilma af Klint, who claimed to receive her images from otherworldly beings. A video by the young French artist Camille Henrot jams the entire creation story into one short, percussively edited video. A set of 130 small clay sculptures made by the Swiss artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss cover a period of 30 years. Although Mr. Gioni includes several young artists on the rise — Ed Atkins, Helen Marten, Paloma Polo, James Richards, Shinichi Sawada — he also chooses some offbeat figures, like the nature photographer Eliot Porter, and brings in spiritual utilitarian objects like Tantric paintings and Roman Catholic ex-votos that were not created to be art in the conventional sense. In combining these things, Mr. Gioni refers to the model of the “wunderkammer,” or cabinet of curiosities, collections of uncategorizable, often exotic objects first assembled in Renaissance Europe. This concept is not original, and it gets tricky when, as here, some curiosities are works by “outsider artists,” which can simply mean self-taught, but often implies having some form of physical, social or psychiatric disability. The outsider art concept is tired by now, even ethically suspect, the equivalent of “primitive art” from decades ago. Mr. Gioni finesses the problem without really addressing it by integrating outsider-ish-looking inside art (there’s more and more of this around) so the two designations get blurred. However you label them, it’s great to see in one place outsider pieces like the embroidery-encrusted vestments of the Brazilian Arthur Bispo do Rosario and the paper and twine sculptures of the American James Castle together with out-of-the-mainstream art like the copper-wire paintings by Prabhavathi Meppayil from Bangalore, and the thickly collaged notebooks of the Japanese noise-rock musician Shinro Ohtake. That they’re elbow to elbow with Bruce Nauman, Charles Ray, Cindy Sherman, Rosemarie Trockel and Jack Whitten is nice too. Ms. Sherman is here as guest curator of a minishow embedded within Mr. Gioni’s larger one, but so much in its spirit as to be indistinguishable as a separate entity. Ms. Trockel is represented by components from the exhibition “A Cosmos,” from the New Museum. She’s an artist I admire, but I found that show surprisingly unsurprising. With a blend of insider-outsider and art-nonart components, it could have been stimulating. But the objects had little to say to one another. I feel a lack of surprise in Mr. Gioni’s show for the opposite reason: Its pairings — spiritualists paintings by af Klint and Emma Kunz, digital-printer abstractions by Alice Channer and Wade Guyton — are too neat and museumy. Yet at the same time, the show’s curatorial line is so firm, its choice of artists so strong and its pacing so expert that you are carried along, and ultimately rewarded. This is particularly true toward the conclusion of the Arsenale, with its purgatory of sculptures by Pawel Althamer, followed by Ryan Trecartin’s video hell, followed by Walter De Maria’s Minimalist heaven. It’s a great end to a serious, standard-setting endeavor. Once outside, you’re in a world of hit and miss among the national pavilions, which tend to be high in polish, low in impact. Some of the best extend the accumulative density of Mr. Gioni’s show. This is true of Sarah Sze’s assemblages of countless tiny found things in the United States pavilion, and of archival photographic installations by Petra Feriancova at the pavilion of the Czech Republic and Slovakia. There are persuasive alternatives to material density. In the otherwise empty Romania pavilion, Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus have directed performers in stylized enactments of art from Biennales past. The work owes much to the example of Tino Sehgal, but it has its own charms. (Mr. Sehgal, who is in Mr. Gioni’s show, received the Gold Lion award for best artist this year.) Three young artists, Ei Arakawa, Gela Patashuri and Sergei Tcherepnin, make similarly interactive use the Georgia pavilion, a temporary, raised, loftlike enclosure at the edge the Arsenale for more sporadic performances. And Alfredo Jaar’s show at the Chile pavilion is centered around a sculpture that moves, an exact model of the Giardini campus that emerges from and sinks back into a vat of fetid-looking water. Mr. Jaar is telling a story about the alignment of art and power: Many of the older, pre-World War II pavilions are relics of a murderous nationalism were built as cultural trophies by economically competitive nations that created colonial empires and eventually led Europe into war. This show is filled with narratives. Everything seems to have a back story, many of them politically inflected. Tavares Strachan’s entrancing installation at the Bahamas pavilion tells of exploration and who really got where first. At the Lebanon pavilion, a film by Akram Zaatari fleshes out a real-life account of an Israeli Air Force fighter who, in 1982, was sent to destroy a building in a Lebanese town, recognized the place as a school and dropped his bombs into the sea. And in a church converted into an exhibition space, a group of dioramas installed in a church dramatize, in exacting detail, the ordeal that artist Ai Weiwei underwent in police custody in China. This notable display, technically a collateral event, is not far from the Arsenale but hard to find. Others are long walks or boat rides away, but worth tracking down. An Iraq pavilion is an informal affair up the Grand Canal. You’re invited to relax, read up on Iraq, have tea. And the artists, based in Babylon, Basra and Baghdad, are terrific, from Abdul Raheem Yassir, who has been producing mordant political cartoons since 1970, to the two-man collective called WAMI (Hashin Taeeh and Yaseen Wami), which produces ingenious furniture from cardboard boxes. Without biennales we would probably never see shows of such art, made under truly challenging conditions. And without such shows, we would never see so many of Venice’s varied interiors, from sports arenas (the Cyprus and Lithuania pavilions), to commercial galleries (the Kosovo pavilion), to the National Archaeological Museum, where work by the Cuban-American artist María Magdalena Campos-Pons sits amid Roman sculptures. Every now and then, a visit gives a shock. When I climbed the stairs of an old building to the Angola pavilion, I couldn’t believe my eyes. Gorgeous photographs by Edson Chagas, from the city of Luanda, were there, in neat stacks of giveaway prints. And the walls around them were lined with Renaissance paintings: Sassetta, Bernardo Daddi, Botticelli and Piero di Cosimo. I and Angola were in the Palazzo Cini, a private museum that, except during the Biennale, keeps eccentric hours. Mr. Chagas worked perfectly into the setting. (The pavilion, with his installation, was later awarded best of show.) He and the young curators, Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera, had keyed colors in the photographs to the paintings: a stack of prints of a blue-painted Luanda door stood in front of a blue-robed Botticelli Virgin. Neither blue was more beautiful than the other, but the African blue was soaked in sunlight. And I could take it away. It made my Venice stay. <nyt_author_id>
The 55th Venice Biennale continues at various locations through Nov. 24; labiennale.org/en/biennale.
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: June 7, 2013 Because of an editing error, a picture caption on Thursday with an art review of the Venice Biennale misstated part of the name of the main show in some editions. As the review correctly noted, it is “The Encyclopedic Palace,” not “The Encyclopedia Palace.” In addition, the review misstated the surname of an artist whose work sits amid Roman sculptures at the National Archaeological Museum and referred incompletely to her. She is María Magdalena Campos-Pons, not Camos-Pons, and while she was born in Cuba, she is an American citizen and lives in Massachusetts.
Biennale Art Exhibition Draws Leonardo DiCaprio, Salma Hayek
3:37 PM PDT 6/6/2013 by Christopher Wyrick
Cristiano Corte/Courtesy of British Council
The 55th edition of the oldest international art exhibition featured British artist Jeremy Deller.
Trying to take a vaporetto, the world’s most elegant public bus, in Venice during the Biennale — prime tourist season — is like trying to get from Venice Beach to Chateau Marmont at rush hour. And every car in front of you is full of tourists snapping photos of all the historic buildings along the 10 and the 405. The Hollywood Reporter  hopped some planes, trains, automobiles and boats to see how some of the finest artists around the world would represent their native country at the 55th edition of La Biennale di Venezia. The oldest international art exhibition in operation opened on Saturday, June 1, with much fanfare. With its elegant formal pavilion buildings set in the venerable gardens off the Grand Canal, the Biennale is the Wimbledon to Art Basel Miami Beach’s Indian Wells tournament. Consistent with the recent Hollywood involvement in the modern and contemporary auction market, a number of big names were spotted in the fairy tale city in recent days. Leonardo DiCaprio, Elton John and David Furnish; Salma Hayek and husband François-Henri Pinault;Tilda Swinton; and Milla Jovovich were all in Venice this past week. STORY: Tattoo Artist Scott Campbell on His New Exhibit and Visiting a Mexican Prison  Artist Cindy Sherman stopped by the party for Tavares Strachan, the Bahamian artist representing his country for the first time at the Venice Biennale. More than 70 countries select one artist for this honor every other year. Strachan’s multimedia installation was inspired by the 1909 polar expedition of Robert Peary and Matthew Alexander Henson. In Strachan’s wondrous collection of works, three geographically and culturally disparate sites — the Venetian Arsenale, downtown Nassau and the North Pole — momentarily coexist in the Bahamian pavilion. His work represents the best of a new generation of artists merging concept and craft in a highly personal and progressive way. All told, over 150 artists represented 88 countries at the event. Notable artists and exhibitions in Venice include Ai Weiwei’s two-part politically charged sculpture exhibition “Disposition”; Tino Seghal, the British-born, Berlin-based conceptual artist who was awarded the Golden Lion award (the Oscar of the Biennale) for best artist for his untitled performance piece; and the Angolan Pavilion, which was awarded the Golden Lion for Best National Participation. THR  spoke with Jeremy Deller, representing Great Britain at the Biennale, about his controversial installation at the British Pavilion in the Giardini. Fashionably playing the role of bad boy at this year’s Biennale, Deller greeted viewers with an enormous mural of a large predatory bird with a tiny Range Rover in its talons — his response to an incident in recent years involving two highly endangered Hen Harriers that were shot and killed on the Queen’s estate where only Prince Harry and a colleague had been shooting. The investigation was dropped because the birds were never found. Deller shared some thoughts about the provocative works in his exhibition. THR: What an honor. Congratulations. Deller: Thank you. It doesn’t get much bigger than this for an artist. STORY: LACMA Raises Record $3 Million for New Works With Support of Brian Grazer, Bryan Lourd  THR: You are working with elements of history in your installation — objects and artifacts from the past as part of the work. Can you talk about your motivation for this? Deller: I may be coming at history from a slightly different angle — a visual angle — a more creative interpretation of history than a textbook version of history. I’m trying to make connections between times of history, people, events, places. In one room there is a mural of William Morris, this great Victorian arts and crafts designer and artist and thinker — a visionary — a painting of a giant William Morris as a colossus throwing Roman Abramovich’s yacht into the lagoon. Two years ago, Roman Abramovich came in his yacht to Venice and just blocked the way — took over the pavement — put up fencing so you couldn’t get around, just basically took over. People were very upset about it. But the way I see it, that’s the reality of the world we’re living in now. So I thought wouldn’t it be great if a giant from the past came back as a real giant, a colossus — as a mythological superhero — and threw this yacht and destroyed it out of rage at this man’s wealth. So that’s what I did. It’s all kind of Ray Harryhausen, the guy who did all the models — Jason and the Argonauts and others. I saw that in the cinema as a child — as a five- or six-year-old that’s pretty intense stuff. It’s a contemporary version of that. That’s the great thing about art: You can have an idea and actually do something. It’s only a painting, we’re not actually making this happen. It’s a fantasy. THR: There is a part of the exhibition that involved you borrowing some Cold War memorabilia from the Wende Museum in Los Angeles. Deller: Yes, that room is about recent history, but it’s also about Victorian Britain and about the industrialization of Britain and the brutality of all that. And it’s also about the end of the Soviet Union. And that’s how I got in touch with Justin Jampol at the Wende Museum. I went to Los Angeles and met Justin. He had some things, but he said, “Look, now that you’ve told us about this material, we will find it and we will lend you whatever you want that we find.” This was only about four months ago. And so they bought tons of stuff — you can see it up on the wall. And it’s all the material from the end of the Soviet Union when nationalized industries were being sold off to the workers or citizens, but these oligarchs — like the Abramovichs today — they managed to get a hold of all the share certificates, to get the workers’ coupons, to buy them en masse through bank systems, insurance systems, pension systems. And basically own companies at a cut price. They’d use the judiciary and the police to pay off people and if that didn’t work, then they had other means that were a bit more extreme — more final.
Africa triumphs at the Venice BiennaleBy BBC | Friday, June 7 2013 at 14:05
The long queues in front of Angola’s pavilion at the Venice Biennale bear witness to the extraordinary success that Africa has just had at the ‘Olympics of the art world.’
Ever since it was announced that, out of 88 contenders, Angola had won the Golden Lion award for the best national participation, art lovers and journalists from all over the world have been flocking across the Accademia bridge – from the distant main exhibition areas, the Giardini and the Arsenale – to try to see the show.
Many have left Venice without being able to do so.
The centrepiece of the pavilion – located in a 16th-century building, the Palazzo Cini – is a series of 23 posters, which visitors can take home, with images of objects that photographer Edson Chagas found in the streets of Luanda.
“I waited an hour and a half to get in. After they won the Venice Biennale everyone wanted to see Angola, and it was very much worth the wait,” said Callum Schuster, 24, from Toronto, Canada..
“Inside this beautiful building, [with] very decorative, ornate structures, porcelain, paintings, everything you can imagine inside your typical Venetian palace, they have wooden skids [palettes] filled with posters, cheap paper posters with derelict objects and scenery from the street,” he said.
“Amongst this beautiful interior you see people going crazy, just tearing up the paper; they want to collect these limited edition prints, these photographs from this famous artist who won the Venice Biennale.”
The Angolan show was curated by architects Paula Nascimento and Stefano Rabolli Pansera.
“We work a lot on issues of urbanism, territory, space and habitation within the city, and we found in the work of Edson Chagas a link through these issues because what Edson does, for us, is not simply an act of documentation but it’s an act of creation and invention,” Ms Nascimento said.
The photographer said that when he finds discarded objects that interest him, he carries them around the city, like performance art.
“I grab the objects and then I find the place that it’s suitable for them to be photographed nicely, giving kind of some importance to them, so they become a piece of art,” Mr Chagas said.
“The idea for the pavilion was to make this performance come inside the pavilion so people could engage with the pictures the same way I was engaging with the objects in the street.”
Angola’s triumph has been celebrated across Venice by the other participating African nations.
“The excitement to me is overwhelming because it’s very important. Angola, this is their first participation and they’ve done it, and they’ve done Africa proud… And if we’re celebrating 50 years after the formation of the OAU (Organization of African Union) with a Golden Lion, it’s viva Africa,” the curator of the Zimbabwe pavilion, Raphael Chikukwa, said.
“This year is amazing because in the last Venice Biennale we were two African countries – South Africa and Zimbabwe – and now we’ve been joined by Ivory Coast, Angola and Kenya. The visibility of African countries this year has increased,” he pointed out.
Zimbabwe is showcasing the work of five artists – Portia Zvavahera, Voti Thebe, Rashid Jogee, Virginia Chihota and Michele Mathison.
The artistic solution
The main theme at the Venice Biennale is: how did the world get into such a mess?
THE world’s biggest art festival, the Venice Biennale, has never been just about art. In 1930 Italy’s Fascist dictator, Benito Mussolini, saw the Biennale’s potential as a propaganda showcase and ran it from his office. He regarded the event as such a success that four years later he took Hitler on a personal tour. Since the second world war state involvement has been more arm’s length. The British pavilion, for example, is run by the British Council and the State Department delegates responsibility for the American pavilion to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, which is based in Venice. This year many of the artists selected to fill their national pavilions are again taking the pulse of their own nations. Ten countries are new participants, including Bosnia and Herzegovina (after a ten-year break), the Bahamas, Angola (which carried off the prize for best pavilion), Tuvalu and the Holy See. The Vatican has used its first appearance to “rebuild relations between art and faith”, in the words of Cardinal Ravasi, the telegenic prelate who is overseeing the project. Its three galleries have been turned over to the creation of the world, though anyone expecting images of the Almighty will be disappointed. The high point is “a sensory journey where the audience is involved in a dialogue that encompasses a crossing of temporal experience”. This is Biennale-speak for an interactive video. In “Creation” by Studio Azzurro, an Italian art collective, the viewer can stretch out a hand in the manner of God on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and touch a figure on a film being screened on the surrounding walls. The pavilion, which also includes photographs of disintegrating landscapes by a Czech artist, Josef Koudelka, is regarded as a success for its dogma-lite approach. The Iraqi pavilion, in Venice for the second time only, won plaudits for pluck. Jonathan Watkins, its curator, travelled to Baghdad, Basra, Babylon and Kurdistan in an armoured car visiting more than 100 artists before selecting 11 to take part. This is art made against all odds. There is cardboard furniture and a bench that looks like a Chinese bronze, but which has been created from parts of a bicycle. The pavilion has transformed the stately rooms of the Venetian mansion, Ca’ Dandolo, on the Grand Canal into a cosy hospitality suite with sofas, low tables piled with books, and a kitchen that serves mint tea. The euro-zone countries’ pavilions reflect common anxieties. Money, or lack of it, is a major preoccupation. In the Spanish pavilion Lara Almarcegui has placed a vast mound of rubble that reaches up to the ceiling; Stefanos Tsivopoulos in the Greek pavilion has created a wall of text about alternative currencies and a three-part film in which a woman makes bouquets of flowers out of euro notes. The Romanians are on such a tight budget that the walls in their pavilion are completely bare. Instead, five people use only their bodies to “enact” artworks that have featured at past Biennales. The Germans are not the only pavilion to want to stress how open they are to international co-operation and exploring cultural boundaries. But these concepts have special resonance among Germans because, as one attendant said, “Everyone hates us.” Germany has swapped pavilions with France (a nod to the anniversary of the 1963 Treaty of Friendship signed by Charles de Gaulle and Konrad Adenauer). But the only artist present who could qualify as a German is Romuald Karmakar, a French passport holder born in Wiesbaden. The others are China’s Ai Weiwei, Santu Mofokeng from South Africa and Dayanita Singh from India. The French pavilion has not returned the compliment. Its chosen artist is Anri Sala, a Franco-Albanian, who is showing a sophisticated but ultimately unmoving film about musicians interpreting a piece by Maurice Ravel. In the British pavilion Jeremy Deller, a Turner prize-winning conceptual artist, is having a rant.“We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold” depicts William Morris, a radical Victorian artist and designer, as a superhero rising from the Venice lagoon to crush the yacht of Roman Abramovich, a London-based oligarch. Another room is dominated by a painting of a giant hen harrier carrying a Range Rover in its claws (pictured), an allusion to an incident when two hen harriers, a protected species, were allegedly shot from the royal Sandringham estate. Prince Harry and a friend were accused of being involved, but both denied any knowledge of the affair. Undeterred, Mr Deller pursues the idea in a film showing a Range Rover being repeatedly pounded by the claw of a crushing machine. Subtle this is not. By contrast, Sarah Sze, in the American pavilion, has looked outside her backyard. Her installation consists of worlds (globe-shaped in case you do not get the point) made out of everyday household objects such as tins of paint, espresso cups, lamps and napkins. The result is ingenious and visually compelling, though in an environment where art has to shout to gain attention her message about sustainable ecosystems goes unheard. The Russian pavilion drives its point home. Vadim Zakharov’s “Danae”, based on the Greek myth in which Zeus seduces Danae disguised as a golden shower, is about at least three of the seven deadly sins: greed, lust and envy. Here, a man sits on a high beam eating nuts, while a stream of golden coins rains down from a shower head onto the floor below. If you are female, and thus eligible for the attentions of Zeus, you are allowed to watch the money pouring down on your head from beneath a see-through umbrella. An attendant then requires you to fill a bucket with the coins to keep both the economy—and corruption—flowing. Alongside the pavilions is the main show. Often a disappointment, this year it is the highlight of the festival. “The Encyclopedic Palace”, curated by Massimiliano Gioni of the New Museum in New York, is about how people order all the information that bombards them. Alongside some well-known names, Mr Gioni has included works made by self-trained artists from the periphery of society, such as asylum inmates and autistics. Shinichi Sawada, who barely speaks, has a gallery dedicated to his deeply sinister clay animals. His work—and the show as a whole—offers something different: art that is genuinely surprising.
Beyond the Arty Parties: A Look Inside the Venice Biennale
June 3, 2013 12:34pm
Things must once have been so much easier for the social set. They simply followed the sun. But in the past few weeks alone, the bold-type butterflies have winged from Frieze in New York to the film festival in Cannes—with diversions to Monte Carlo for the Dior Resort show and the Grand Prix—and, now, to Venice, where the Biennale, the senior citizen of international art events, swung into gear with three preview days. They launched with the New Museum’s dinner on Tuesday night for its director of exhibitions, Massimiliano Gioni (left), who is not only the curator of this year’s Biennale but also the artistic director of the Nicola Trussardi Foundation in Milan. On Thursday night, it was the Trussardis’ turn to host a party in honor of Gioni. Jessica Chastain and Leonardo DiCaprio were among the guests. Bridging the two evenings was an opening at the Fondazione Prada of an exhibition that fetishistically re-creates, down to the size of the rooms in the original, a watershed show from the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969. All in all, the preview days perfectly captured the swirling symbiosis of art, film, and fashion that is currently gilding popular culture with a hectic glamour. But even the movie stars couldn’t deflect the spotlight from the 39-year-old Gioni, who, with charisma to spare, has hitched his own star to the venerable wagon of the Biennale, in the process creating the kind of art happening that people will buzz about for years—or at least for the rest of 2013 (it closes November 24). If you have the great good fortune to make it to Venice this summer, you’ll be able to experience Gioni’s recasting of contemporary art as something playful, wondrous, mythic. His launchpad—and the title he has given his curatorial effort—is The Encyclopedic Palace. In 1955, an Italian immigrant named Marino Auriti imagined a towering structure covering sixteen blocks on the National Mall in Washington, DC, where all the world’s knowledge could be stored (above). The scale model Auriti built is the centerpiece of Gioni’s exhibition in the Arsenale, the complex of ancient warehouses and armories that is one of the Biennale’s “official” locations. So powerful is Auriti’s concept that it immediately strikes an obsessive, fantastical, almost dreamlike chord, which echoes not just through the Arsenale but through the work of the dozens of artists Gioni has curated in the huge central pavilion of the Giardini, the municipal gardens that are the Biennale’s other focal point. In fact, that chord is so insanely irresistible (literally—the obsession bordering on madness of outsider art is one of the dominant sensibilities on display) that it seemed to infect the exhibitions staged in the international pavilions that encircled Gioni’s playground. These ambassadorial exercises in aesthetics (picture a World’s Fair of art) are often heavy-going, but I tried to imagine what kids would make of Jeremy Deller’s murals and bird-of-prey movie in the UK pavilion, or Vadim Zakharov’s huge showerhead raining gold coins down on the crowd in the Russian pavilion (below), or Mathias Poledna’s three-minute cartoon in the Austrian pavilion, which revives Disney’s labor-intensive pre-digital animation of the late thirties and early forties to gorgeous, disturbing effect. I felt like a kid myself looking at these things, thrilled, enthralled, slightly derailed, but refreshed of vision. Then there’s Venice itself, a city whose labyrinthine beauty is an open invitation to get lost. You’re never exactly sure just where you are, and that vague and pleasurable sense of discombobulation is enough to turn any old sophisticate into a slack-jawed yokel. It comes in other ways, too. On Tuesday night, Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson had an after-party in the first-floor salon of the palazzo where he was staying (maybe it wasn’t actually a palazzo, but after a few hours, every place in Venice feels like a palace, though—footnote—there’ll be little to touch the latest outpost of the Aman hotel chain when it opens in what was once the Palazzo Papadopoli next week). When partygoers made to leave some time later, the tide had risen and the Grand Canal had crept across the ground floor. Our boat was unable to dock. That’s the kind of arcane problem that brings out the poet in a guy.
Photos: Neil Rasmus/BFAnyc.com (Massimiliano Giorni); Courtesy of the Venice Biennale
At the Venice Biennale, philanthropy abounds but Britain should be ashamed
By Darius Sanai 31 May 13
Contemporary art is a big business, or a big bubble, depending on your perspective, and the Venice Biennale is a good place to see the very best and worst of it. The Biennale – whose VIP previews run this week and which then opens to the public until November – is a showcase for (almost) every country in the world to present its most interesting/emerging/controversial artists. It is also the biggest party in the billionaire-fuelled frenzy of the contemporary art world, lent legitimacy by the fact that unlike Frieze or Art Basel or any of the other big international art get-togethers, the Venice Biennale it is, ostensibly, non-commercial. The art is for show, not sale (officially at least), meaning traditionally artists who would not set foot in commercial art fairs are spotted among the collectors, dealers and connoisseurs in Venice.
In 24 hours at the preview this week I suspect I experienced the best and the worst of the contemporary art world. On Wednesday evening Conde Nast’s Baku magazine, of which I have the good fortune to be Editor, held a party on the balcony of the very grand Europa & Regina Hotel, overlooking the Grand Canal. My co-hosts were Leyla Aliyeva, our formidable and brilliant client, and the peerless Simon de Pury, our Editor-at-Large, who is one of the great forces in the art market. Chatting to our guests reminded me of the forces for good that any high-end investment market triggers. Candida Gertler, co-founder of the Frieze Outset Fund, which buys works for the public to enjoy at Tate Modern, through channeling private philanthropy, told me of her latest art-philanthropic ventures. At a time of decreasing government funding, people like Candida, driven solely by a desire to secure art for public consumption, are increasingly important. Another committed philanthropist told me about her latest plans for a travelling free show of contemporary art visiting every small town in two continents.
Leyla’s own plans for Baku are even more ambitious. A huge amount of talent and resource is being devoted to discovering, nurturing and showcasing home-grown artists, relighting the flame of a local artistic tradition in Azerbaijan that has 1000 years of history but which was suppressed by 70 years of Soviet rule. Baku itself (the capital of Azerbaijan, a country on the coast of the Caspian Sea, between Iran, Turkey and Russia) has had a creative blossoming over the past decade that comes from below – visual, decorative and performing arts – as much as it does above – the government giving Zaha Hadid and other super-architects virtual carte blanche to create a new city beside the beguiling Old Town. It puts the more vainglorious projects by certain evolving nations to shame. The buzz generated by catching up with our guests was counterbalanced by the heart-draining gloom of visiting our own country’s showcase. The British pavilion is in a perfect location at the end of a tree-lined avenue in the Giardini, the park where many countries are showing their creative wares. You could make a virtually unarguable case for Britain being the most important territory on the global art map right now. In the last 12 months, as a part-time art amateur, I would wager I have seen better art in London than anyone in any other country (let alone city) could have. (I am mindful this excludes the rest of Britain, which includes sites like Turner Contemporary in Margate, the Tates in St Ives and Liverpool, shows at the amazing Glasgow School of Art, and so much else.) Inspirational highlights include Gilbert and George and Anthony Gormley at White Cube; Kurt Schwitters and Howard Hodgkin at Tate Britain; Damien Hirst and Roy Lichtenstein at Tate Modern; and too many shows to name at spots from the Whitechapel Gallery to the Saatchi and points between. Not to mention Frieze, the New Sensations and other shows peripheral to Frieze. And nobody can travel around London without the joy of spotting a Banksy or two (or an imitator). Ninety per cent of these shows are free, to anyone who turns up.
Half these artists are British, and the rest were on show in Britain and collectively make the UK the gold standard for art right now. So what to make of a British pavilion in Venice, ostensibly showcasing the finest British art, or at least the most interesting, or important, which has as its piece de resistance a room full of poor-quality drawings by criminals? Or, apologies, was it the room with archive pictures of the David Bowie tour and some unrelated civil unrest in 1972, as to be found in any online picture archive? You may have read about Jeremy Deller, the artist showcased here, and his heavy-handed visual commentaries on wealth and privilege. These are crude, unenlightening pictures that do exactly what they say on the tin; they are schoolkid protest as art, bereft of imagination, vision, creativity or wit, let alone artistry. They are to art as social commentary what Bernard Manning was to satire. The wealthy and the privileged – whether philanthropic, like my friends, or otherwise – must be delighted at having such an inept foe. I was with a (British) friend who knows a little about art, and he was so incensed with the floppy non-apology for artistry representing our nation that, despite being a mild-mannered man, he almost picked a fight with the curator. Perhaps it was the final insult that sent him over the edge, a misplaced apostrophe in a prominent place on the official brochure published by the British Council, the taxpayer-funded organization responsible for the promotion of the English language around the world. So, whether you are a billionaire or a busker, try and make it to Venice this summer. Drop in on some of the pavilions scattered around the city: I personally enjoyed Austria and Brazil, although you would still find better art on a tour of London’s public and private galleries. Take a Vaporetto to San Giorgio and wander around the silent back quarters of the city. Buy a rose from an Indian rose seller on Piazza San Marco, negotiate your latest Gerhard Richter with your dealer over a Bellini by the pool at the Cipriani, eat an ice cream from an artisanal gelateria, have lunch at the Parisian-Thai Biennale pop up at the Hotel Bauer (excellent, by the way), check out the sculpture at the Azerbaijan pavilion which is only visible through your mobile phone camera, or fall in love with the woman selling macaroons near the Rialto. But boycott the dreary, dreadful British pavilion, a representation of a Britain otherwise disappeared, municipal, corporatist, shorn of verve, imagination and confidence.
Darius Sanai has been Editor in Chief of Conde Nast Contract Publishing since 2003. He is also Editorial Director of Baku, Conde Nast’s quarterly international art & culture magazine, Editor-in-Chief of LUX magazine, and a Contributing Editor of GQ. He runs an independent consultancy, Editorialise, advising private clients around the world on strategy, branding and investment.
It has been an intense 3 day preview for the press, but it was worth it. Massimiliano Gioni announced an Encyclopedic Biennale, a Wunderkammer of contemporary art, and so it was. The essence of this Biennale starts from what was the most difficult loan of all – as Gioni himself said – The Red Book by Carl Gustav Jung at Giardini Biennale. Experiencing hallucinations since a young age, this is the visual journal he kept for over 16 years since 1913, self-inducing visions he would interpret as premonitions. In a round, dark room with frescoes this work is displayed for the first time to a vast public, while before was shared only with the few relatives of Jung, the most famous psychiatrist of the 20th Century along with Freud. The Red Book or Liber Novus, so called for its red leather cover, looks like a medieval manuscript, beautifully decorated with colors that describe the visions – and their explanations -in every single detail. Jung would later say that this work would influence all his theories and ideas. Such a complex, primordial work is a strong statement for the Biennale: an invitation to keep your mind open and alert. The International Pavilion where visitors are welcomed this way is a labyrinth of ideas and inspirations through different media, from painting to performance. I was struck by the works ofLynette Yiadom-Boakye, with delicate and yet strong ballerina figures. Thierry De Cordier depicts a dark, stormy sea that makes it impossible not to feel engaged, almost hearing the noise of the waves while looking at his paintings. United States strikes a chord – in the literal sense- thanks to Sarah Sze who transforms the Pavilion from 1930 by Delano & Aldrich in a disorienting adventure through architecture and abstraction. Japan – special mention Award – focuses on human interaction with Koki Tanaka, his works inspired by the Earthquake of 11 March 2011: clever, engaging projects have you looking at daily things (like tea) in a whole different way. Great Britain’s Jeremy Deller is a big pop frame England that at the same time mirrors difficult times through music (very interesting the parallel between David Bowie’s tour photographs and testimony of tragic contemporary events to the tour). Germany’s Pavilion was one of the most interesting to me: welcomed to a huge installation by Ai Weiwei, the Chinese dissident artist, the visitor has to go through a gigantic room filled with tens of hanging stools, always present in Chinese’s houses. South African, Germany and India artists are protagonists too through videos and photography, which witness the internationality of the Country. Imitation of Life is a clever work by Mathias Poledna – Austria Pavilion – a video cartoon old style in colors 35mm with a soundtrack of a whole orchestra recorded in LA. A triumph of beauty from the past makes so that the audience claps at the end of the short movie – the only time I have witnessed that at the Biennale, which says something about coming back to “artisanal” art today. Another incredible achievement is the one of Alfredo Jaar, who once again succeeds in being politically engaging: a lightbox with a photo of Lucio Fontana visiting his tumbledown studio right after WWII introduces the visitors to the second space of the exhibit leading to a 5×5 meters tank filled with water containing a perfectly reproduced scale model of Giardini Biennale that re-emerges and sinks again. Egypt focuses on the human figure and its interaction with nature in a beautiful encounter between modern materials and ancient shapes. Greece Pavilion is a breathe of fresh air with Stefanos Tsivopoulos, succeeding in crossing a thorough research on money exchange and a sociological focus on Alzheimer’s disease. The Israel Pavilion is the most disturbing one – in a good way – with a work by Gilad Ratman, The Workshop, featuring a multi-media space (with wooden stands, clay portraits, microphones, sound mixer kit) where the artists digged underground and emerged at the center of the Ground floor (a reference to smuggling tunnels between Palestine and Egypt?) Terike Haapoja at the Nordic Pavilion presents an interactive Nature in “Falling Trees”, with “breathing” bushes and water installations. Wifredo Díaz Valdéz works at the Uruguay Pavilion with wooden objects and studies their mechanism by disassembling them and showing the inside-out of the artifacts to the public in an effort to focus on their meanings. Russia Pavilion through the mythological figure of Danae discusses the role of men and women and the greediness of this society. The Venezia Pavilion shelters one of the best works on display, revisiting old textile Venetian tradition – through Venetian and Oriental artists. The highlight? A red threaded body portrait of a woman by Yiqing Yin, ghostly hanging in the middle of the room. At the Arsenale space we are taken in a whimsical, completely different space than Giardini: here, the space collects different works by different artists in a constant aim to surprise and inspire the visitors, between old media and new ones. The video work by Sharon Hayes on gay adolescents sexuality wins a special mention at this Biennale not by chance, documenting with irony and sensibility their world. Cindy Sherman’s album collection collected in flea markets coexists with the melting, elastic, haunting creatures by Jim Shaw and the iper-realistic painted bronze by John DeAndrea. The Arab Emirates Pavilion becomes an open sea thanks to Mohammed Kazem, a work characterized by the use of GPS. The installation mirrors a personal experience, when he got lost in the sea for over half an hour. It’s a beautiful work the one of South Africa, especially the one by Wim Botha who uses African Encyclopedias to create three dimensional portraits – a way to use the past to create new ideas. The Holy See overcomes every expectation: it’s a stunning work the one of the three artists involved in the representation of the Genesis. Studio Azzurro (which includes the interactive installations of three artists) depicts the Creation, Josef Koudelka the De-Creation and Lawrence Carrol the Re-Creation. Josef Koudelka’s stunning black and white photography mirrors de-Creation through big frames that look like they just fell from the wall. China’s remake of Last Judgment by Michelangelo stands tall in front of me: The Last Judgment in Cyberspace is the virtual digitalized version by Miao Xiaochun. Differently from Michelangelo, though, he uses the same figure for all the 400 protagonists, pointing out the identity’s issues in the digital world, in a dialogue that connects China with the western world through history and the present. The concept of past and present is to be found also in the work of Nicola Costantino at Argentina Pavilion, through a re-interpretation of Eva Peron’s life with video and abstract installations, the ice melting on a table under warm lamps as a reminder of the sound of the rain on Eva’s funeral day. Italy’s Pavilion is organized in a constant dialogue between the artists, using all sorts of site-specific installations and performances. An interesting aspect to me was that very few artists used smells and perfumes. Sounds, images, photography, dance and tactile experiences are big protagonists in this International Exhibition but this aspect was almost never addressed, and yet is one that – at least for me – is fundamental to recall emotions and memories. Certainly this is a Biennale of struggles, of resistance, which mirrors our times: a time in which there are more questions than answers, and this has been – in my personal opinion – the approach of most artists: a serious work of introspection and criticism towards today’s society and at the same time a willingness to encourage rebirth and to celebrate human’s genius. Quite an ambitious aim, very well accomplished at this Venice Biennale 2013. 55th International Art Exhibition The Encyclopedic Palace 1.6 – 24.11 Venice, Giardini, Arsenale Photo credits: Elisa della Barba
What is your curatorial angle for 2013? The exhibition is titled “The Encyclopedic Palace,” after the model for an imaginary museum that was built by Marino Auriti, a self-taught Italian-American artist. Auriti’s museum was supposed to house all the knowledge in the world, and obviously it was never completed or realized. Taking inspiration from Auriti’s impossible dream of universal knowledge, “The Encyclopedic Palace” looks at the flights of imagination of artists who have tried to understand and see everything. It’s about visions and about the space left for internal images, for dreams, and for imagination in a culture submerged by artificial images.
What led you to invite the artist Cindy Sherman to curate an exhibition within the exhibition? Cindy has been working all her life on portraying herself as an other. In an exhibition about images–and the word “imago” comes from the Romans’ tradition of casting the face of the dead–I felt it was important to look at the way in which artists have created stand-ins, surrogates, and avatars. Ultimately, you could say that Cindy’s section is about dolls.
What are some of the themes in the pavilions? One of the most apparent novelties this year will be the exchange of pavilions between France and Germany, who have agreed to swap venues. And Germany has in turn invited artists from all over the world–including Ai Weiwei from China and Dayanita Singh from India–to be in its exhibition. So a more flexible idea of national identity seems to be emerging from these presentations.
This year, for the first time, the Vatican is participating. Most people don’t associate the Vatican with contemporary art. One could argue that the Vatican–more than any nation–has understood the power of art to communicate and educate. If millions of people visit the Vatican, it is partly because of the incredible artworks commissioned there throughout the centuries. Recently, within the Vatican there has been an interest in exploring new dialogues between contemporary art and religion. This pavilion will be the expression of this renewed curiosity.
What is the one work of art that you never leave Venice without looking at? The Pietà, by Titian, in the Accademia. It’s supposedly Titian’s last painting, and in it you can see the whole history of Western art, from Venice to Velázquez all the way to Manet.
Strangest antics or moment you have witnessed at a Biennale over the years? Once I saw Jeff Koons trying to explain to the ticket office that he was one of the artists in the show. That’s one of the craziest aspects of Venice: It doesn’t really matter who you are. Nobody is a VIP.
Morton Bartlett’s Untitled (Doll), 1936-65.
Photo: Atelier de Numerisation–Ville de Lausanne
Rudolf Steiner’s Disegni alla Lavagna, 1923.
Photo: Atelier de Numerisation–Ville de Lausanne
John Bock’s Unzone/Eierloch, 2012.
Copyright the artist/Courtesy of Sadie Coles, London
Marino Auriti’s Encyclopedic Palace of the World, ’50s.
Collection of American Folk Art Museum, New York
Ragnar Kjartansson’s Bliss, 2011.
Elisabet Davidsdottir, Courtesy of the artist, i8 Gallery, Reykjavik, and Luhring Augustine, New York
Eliot Porter’s Chipping Sparrow, Great Spruce Head Island, Maine, 1979
Courtesy of Daniel Greenberg and Scheinbaum & Russek Ltd., New Mexico
Pawel Althamer’s Almech, 2011-2012.
J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere’s Aja Nloso Family, 1980.
Courtesy of Andre Magnin (MAGNIN-A), Paris
Thierry De Cordier’s Mer Montée, 2011.
Courtesy of the Artist and Xavier Hufkens, Brussels
Drossos P. Skyllas’s Three Sisters, 1950-53.
Collection of Robert M. Greenberg and Corvova Lee, Image Courtesy of Ricco/Maresca Gallery, NY
FINANCIAL TIMES LONDON
May 24, 2013 6:50 pm
The lagoon show
By Griselda Murray Brown
Is it the most prestigious contemporary art event, an opportunity to project soft power, or just an excuse for great parties?
The International Art Exhibition of the City of Venice, as its inaugural edition in 1895 was known, was the first such event conceived as a global meeting. In 1907, the first national pavilion – Belgium’s – was built in Venice’s spacious Giardini, a public park at the eastern tip of the island. Over the next 25 years, many western European countries and the US followed suit, building their own permanent pavilions there.
For the next 50 years, fewer than 20 countries participated but that number rose after 1945 and again in the 1980s and 1990s. Soon the Giardini reached capacity and nowadays countries rent spaces in the old shipbuilding hangars of the Arsenale or around the city.
This year’s event, the 55th, is entitled The Encyclopedic Palace and curated by Massimiliano Gioni. Young and fresh artists abound but this year’s Golden Lions go to two European veterans, Marisa Merz, aged 83, and Maria Lassnig, 94.
At the Biennale’s heart, the curated International Exhibition provides thematic coherence but what undoubtedly sets Venice apart from other biennales is its nationalistic flavour. Yet the national pavilion model now looks anachronistic: many artists live and work outside their native countries, while a class of globetrotting curators, collectors, gallerists and hangers-on flits from biennale to art fair to gallery opening.
So, in one way, Venice may seem outdated yet it is apparently increasingly popular, with new hopefuls finding space in the crowded city each year. Of the 88 participants this year, 10 are first-timers, whose names tell a complicated geopolitical story: Angola, the Bahamas, Bahrain, Ivory Coast, Kosovo, Kuwait, the Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu, the Holy See. I spoke to a range of artists and curators about why the Venice Biennale still matters.
Alfredo Jaar, artist, Chilean pavilion
‘Milan, 1946, Lucio Fontana visits his studio on his return from Argentina’, part of Alfredo Jaar’s installation ‘Venezia, Venezia’
“I was first invited to Venice in 1986 and that exhibition put me on the international map of the art world. I was a young, unknown artist from Chile living in New York, and this was not the globalised art world that we’re living in today: it was very difficult to penetrate the bunker of the western art world.
The potential for a great audience is huge, so I am looking forward to sharing my ideas this year. But Venice is still an exclusive club. Things have changed slowly but the official pavilions in the Giardini still gather the most attention. You have 160 countries that are not represented officially and, when they are, they have to struggle financially to find a space in Venice. My piece, Venezia, Venezia, responds to the fact that a small country like Chile has to rent a space in the Arsenale to be present.
The national pavilion model does not represent at all what the world of culture has become. I see a [not too distant] future where the entire Giardini will become a park of exhibitions and the curator will invite artists from around the world to occupy it. Slowly, the pavilions will fade into history.”
Susanne Gaensheimer, curator, German pavilion
“More countries each year decide to participate in the Venice Biennale. It seems to be really important for countries to represent themselves through art in an international context.
It is really important for us to have the chance to decide how to represent Germany this year – to represent it as a place of cosmopolitanism, where there’s an international art scene. In our daily reality we can see that our society becomes more diverse. The three international artists I have chosen [Ai Weiwei, Santu Mofokeng and Dayanita Singh] all have a strong relationship to Germany, but it was also important for me that there is one German artist [Romuald Karmakar] in the group.
I chose to represent the country by thinking about national identity as an open concept not as a closed one. This relates to our decision to switch pavilions with France, which was suggested 10 years ago and this year everyone agreed that we should do it.
I don’t think the national pavilion model has become outdated – as long as you think of national identity as representing the complexities of a country. The national pavilion is not only about showing the most famous artist in one country.”
Gilad Ratman, artist, Israeli pavilion
A still from ‘The Workshop’ (2013) by Gilad Ratman
“The Biennale is a huge challenge for me. [This is Ratman’s first time exhibiting. Born in 1975, he is the youngest artist ever to represent Israel.] The first challenge is scale – working in a pavilion which is three levels – and the second is the format of the Biennale: the tension between the concepts of nationality and the global world.
For the Biennale, I am trying to create something that is quite funny and absurd. It’s about a journey underground that starts in Israel and ends up in the Israeli pavilion in Venice. Moving underground is moving without borders because national definitions do not count. The internet works like that: you click “here” and you are “there” and you cannot see the route you travel. But, actually, everything is being mapped by Google so maybe the only way to move without being watched is to go back to the old way – under the ground.
The national pavilion is a cute concept. Of course, it smells like yesterday and we can say it’s old school but it brings a discussion. Nowadays our identity is being shaped by different models, but still the model of the nation state is maybe the strongest.”
“I am an architect working in Europe, the Mediterranean and Africa. In 2012, my partner Paula Nascimento and I proposed to the Angolan minister of culture that they participate in the Architectural Biennale [the Venice Biennales for art and architecture happen on alternate years].
Angola is one of the fastest growing economies and one of the largest exporters of oil to China. My argument to the minister was that, as it becomes an economic centre in Africa, it is important that Angola takes a stand from the cultural point of view. The Biennale is not simply an entertainment, it is really a moment of critical reflection upon the development of Luanda [Angola’s capital] and how artists can contribute.
We were keen to answer to the theme of [this year’s International Exhibition], The Encyclopedic Palace. We are exhibiting the work of a young talented photographer called Edson Chagas, who takes pictures of derelict objects in Luanda. It becomes a sort of catalogue of urban conditions; he discovers a beauty in the daily objects we dismiss. Venice is a great opportunity for an unknown Angolan artist to introduce his work to the world art community.”
“This is the first time for the Bahamas at Venice. We thought it was an interesting platform because people usually see the Bahamas as a tourist destination. Coming to the Biennale is an initiative on the part of the country. It’s really about people who want to join the conversation, a conversation which started in the 19th century with colonial powers displaying their cultural spoils. Now the Biennale is seen as a place where you can assert a national identity, so you have places participating such as Catalonia, which has being trying to assert itself as a nation for decades.
It’s exciting to take part in a new pavilion. It’s a chance to say something not only about the artist [Tavares Strachan] but about the supposedly transnational space of the Venice Biennale. The national pavilion is a curious anachronism; it makes for a complicated space that many artists try to deconstruct.
Although none of [the three curators] are Bahamian, we’re well suited because of our long relationship with Tavares. But it would be seriously remiss if future curators were not from the Bahamas. This is the beginning of a process, not the statement on Bahamian cultural production in the international arena.”
55th Venice Biennale – review
There is some unforgettable art at the 55th Venice Biennale, but most of it is outside the star pavilions of the Giardini
‘Britain puffed up’: Marc Quinn’s inflatable edition of Alison Lapper Pregnant, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Photograph: Gabriel Bouys/AFP/Getty Images
A silk-suited oligarch rides high above the crowds in the Russian pavilion, booted and saddled on a lofty beam, idly tossing peanut shells on the worthless groundlings below. In the next room, cascades of bright coins rain down from the cupola. A sinister middleman draws the money back up from the basement by the bucket-load, returning it by conveyor belt to the roof – where the cycle begins all over again. This is Danaë’s golden shower in perpetual motion: an allegory of power and monstrous greed. How is anyone to stop it? You could break the system by refusing to put the coins in the middleman’s bucket, but that would bring an end to the spectacle in which all the art-worlders at the biennale have become willing stooges, picking the money from the floor. Vadim Zakharov is a brave and ingenious artist who worked underground in Moscow for decades; his startlingly powerful drama clearly centres on Putin’s regime. But it carries many other levels of metaphor too, some of them piquantly lost on this audience. Russia is getting it in the neck at the 55th Venice Biennale. In the British pavilion a towering William Morris hurls Roman Abramovich’s superyacht into the lagoon in disgust, though the public quay where such symbols are moored remains cordoned against the riff-raff. Hungary is presenting a drastic visual record of the many tonnes of Soviet shells dropped on the nation during the last war. These linger in the landscape still undiscovered and unexploded: the damage never ends. The biennale is sombre, provocative and rich in art for anyone prepared to walk the needful treasure-seeking miles across the city. For the usual order has been turned on its head. The official Giardini is dense with dud pavilions, including every one of the so-called Big Three. America has an irritatingly complex “ecosystem” composed of millions of fribbling bits of paper, string and gum by Sarah Sze for which there is simply not world enough and time. France has swapped pavilions with Germany, but Germany is showing what is conceivably the Chinese artist Ai Weiwei‘s least interesting work, a hanging garden of wooden stools; while the French have selected an almost classically boring three-screen video installation by Anri Sala that attempts to orchestrate images to Ravel’s Piano Concerto in D Major. Sala’s conceit turns upon a hopeless Ravel/Unravel pun; still the music soars undiminished. Jeremy Deller‘s British pavilion is by general consent the main attraction at the Giardini, and a wondrously Reithian experience it is. Here you may hold ice age axes found in the Thames in your palm, with archaeologists in attendance answering your every question, or make prints using the woodblock techniques practised by William Morris. A superb film of a hen harrier on the wing cross-fades into its rapine counterpart, a demolition machine clawing a Range Rover from the scrapheap and crushing it to death (you are sitting on top of the cubed wreckage) to the sound of a steel band performing Bowie’s The Man Who Sold the World. Weapons, predators, princes (two rare hen harriers were shot by nameless persons, let us say, on a royal estate), manufacturing, cars, steel: only connect. Bowie is the soundtrack to a year – 1972 – of political headlines and photographs that take you back into a past that turns out to be anything but another country, as a subsequent gallery devoted to David Kelly, Iraq and WMD reveals. I am missing out here a hundred nuances set up by the juxtaposition of objects, words and images in this 360-degree portrait of Britain, which culminates with the Lord Mayor’s Parade filmed in all its staggering variety, and climaxes with a rush of children bouncing joyfully all over Deller’s blow-up Stonehenge. The associations are enthralling, lucid and quite remarkably unforced. Deller, whose material is drawn straight from the life around him, from people’s experiences, from writing and history almost as it happens, is an enabler, intermediary, collaborator and all-round enlightenment artist. He has more intelligence and generosity of spirit than many of his predecessors in Venice and entirely deserves this pavilion. Elsewhere, Britain is puffed up – the banners for Anthony Caro’s solo show dominate St Mark’s Square, which takes some doing – then properly deflated. Marc Quinn’s self-serving gigantism – yet another edition of his nude statue Alison Lapper Pregnant, in mauve and blown up so huge it obscures the façade of San Giorgio Maggiore – turned out to be inflatable and briefly subsided one fine day. In the Arsenale, the Vatican has filled its first-ever pavilion with quasi-numinous videos in the style of Bill Viola and paintings that appear to weep gelatinous tears. Fellow newcomers the Bahamas have a counterintuitive meditation on the weightless white world of the north pole, beautifully strange with starry bears and smoking columns of ice. The Italians have crowdfunded their own show for the first time (and filled it with murmuring crowds: all conversation welcome). And Georgia has built a frighteningly perilous plywood edifice up the side of the old munitions factory. Known as a kamikaze loggia back home in Tblisi, this is fast becoming the only kind of shelter most people can afford. Art can take you anywhere. In Venice, up the Grand Canal, a 14th-century palazzo transformed into an Iraqi home is filled with sharp art. How else would one ever come across the succinct political cartoons ofAbdul Rahim Yasser – a man with a gun frisked by a man with a gun – or the film of Iraqis smuggling alcohol over the Kurdistan border by night? Saddle-sore, stinking of horses, exhausted but desperate for a living, one young man holds up a can of Amstel: “For this I am shot at?” Cross the water and you are in eastern Congo by way of the Irish pavilion and Richard Mosse‘s astounding stills and videos of rebel-filled forests made using military surveillance film that turns the world psychedelic cobalt, magenta and puce. A forgotten war, in all its horror, yields a wonderland of cruel and indelible beauty. Keep on, and you’ll find Wales’s marvellous Bedwyr Williams musing on terrazzo flooring, inspiration for a picaresque film trip through the cosmos from marble chips to moons to broken teeth and home-cooking in a tiny backstreet chapel; James Joyce with added humour. On again, and here is the Sisyphean Finnish artist who puts shattered trees back together, root and branch, producing supernaturally animated glades. The sense of possessive joy in discovering gold at the end of some remote Venetian labyrinth is a galvanising spur at the biennale – this year more than ever, given the disappointingly weak official pavilions. The most unforgettable sight, for me, came without any of the usual fanfare, not even the customary handout puffing all the numerous curators and sponsors involved. It was a small white boat drifting slowly across the final harbour of the Arsenale bearing a crew of musicians playing a graceful lament by the Icelandic composer Kjartan Sveinsson. It touched everyone who stopped to listen to the elegiac music, and to witness this haunting vision of sailors crossing the bar. And it will be there still, continuously returning and departing even in the mists of November, long after all the superyachts have gone. Jeremy Deller‘s British Council commission is at the Venice Biennale until 24 November and will tour national venues in 2014 Read Tim Adams’s interview with Jeremy Deller her
In the spring of 2011, just after his release from illegal detention in Beijing, I interviewed Ai Weiwei about the 81 days he had spent inside. Now that he was “free”, I asked him, would he return to work? After all he was one of the lucky ones: many people who were arrested at the same time as Ai have not been heard of since. Surely he would now give up art and activism and go and lead a quiet life?
“All the time I was inside,” said Ai, “I thought that if ever I get out I will stop all this – I will just go and sit on a beach. But then a day after I was released, a human rights lawyer friend who had also been detained and tortured came to my door. Under the terms of my bail, I was not allowed to meet this man, but there he was outside on the street. I couldn’t turn him away. And also I couldn’t just forget about all those people who were still inside. I will have to carry on.”
Ai Weiwei has been as good as his word. The mammoth work now on display in the Church of Sant’Antonin in Venice is the product of the two years that have passed since he was released. The work is made up of six black shoulder-high iron boxes, each one about 5 metres by 3 metres and weighing 2.5 tonnes. The boxes occupy the nave of the church, which has been cleared of pews. At first glance, the containers appear to be hermetically sealed boxes, or perhaps even lumps of solid black iron. There is something deeply, viscerally unsettling about their brooding presence in the church, their heaviness and scale.
On closer inspection, the viewer notices that each metal block contains a letterbox-like viewing slit. Inside, shrunk to three-quarter size we can see Ai going about his prison routines. In one box he is eating while two guards stand to attention next to him; in another he is showering, with two guards watching his every move; in another he is sleeping, the two guards standing over his bed. Watching this series of horrific tableaux is nausea-inducing. It is a very simple and incredibly powerful work.
In a phone interview, just before the opening of the Biennale, Ai explained the genesis of the work. “All the time I was in jail, I kept thinking about my father. He was an artist and he went to Paris in the early 1930s to study art. But when he returned to Shanghai in 1932, it was the time of the civil war and he was arrested by the Nationalists. He was in jail for almost three years. Obviously he couldn’t paint, so he began to write poetry.”
Ai Qing, Ai Weiwei’s father, wrote many poems in jail. They were smuggled out, and very quickly he became the unofficial poet laureate of the fledgling Communist party. In 1942, Chairman Mao wrote to Ai Qing and invited him to come to the party headquarters at Yanan and discuss how poetry and art should be treated after the revolution. Today the poems that Ai Qing wrote in jail are often quoted by Politburo members during official speeches.
“When I was a small boy, my father used to tell me about his time in jail. He almost died of pneumonia but he was always a positive man. I think I always felt jealous of him for his experience in jail. It was so important to him: it made him a great poet. And when I suddenly found myself sitting in a cell, I think I was a bit relieved. I thought: ‘Now at last, I am like you. I will use this time like you did.’ So, I memorised every crack in the ceiling, every mark on the wall. I am an artist and an architect, so I have a good memory for these things.”
Ai’s goal from the start has been to expose the bullying and the torture methods of the Chinese regime, to turn his prison experience – the interrogation, the guards, the Politburo – into a ready-made work in the manner of Marcel Duchamp, who turned non-art objects into works of art.
Ai’s 81-day experience has been recreated in many different media. The transcripts of my original interview with him became the basis for my book Hanging Man: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei. Hanging Man in turn became the basis for Howard Brenton’s play #aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei . A week ago, Ai released a music video, “Dumbass”, which again portrayed his time inside. Now, finally, with the opening of “S.A.C.R.E.D.” in Venice, we get the artist’s definitive recreation of what it is like to be arrested and detained without trial at the beginning of the 21st century in China.
Simon Mordant | Commissioner of the Australian Pavilion, Venice Biennale of Art, 2013
By Louise Martin-Chew | Posted in Art Class | 23 May 2013 12:01PM
In Australian public life it is refreshing to find an individual who connects business and culture. Simon Mordant AM is one of these and his contribution is both inspirational and passionate. As Vice Chairman and Managing Director of Greenhill & Co Inc., he operates at the highest level and remarked, ‘I love my work in advising major corporates. I also enjoy, greatly, our community engagement’. This year, he is Commissioner of the Australian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, which opens to the public on June 2.
The Venice Biennale is the Olympics of contemporary art, and our national representation is highly scrutinised. Mordant noted, ‘The Venice Biennale is the world’s most important contemporary art exposition and the only Biennale where countries select their own artists. As such, it is a unique opportunity for Australia to present itself. In the Vernissage [opening] week, over 30,000 curators, collectors, and arts media are present and almost 500,000 visit during the six month exhibition.’
Representing Australia may be a life-changing experience for the selected artist. Previous Australian VB artists include Bill Henson (1995), Howard Arkley (1999), Patricia Piccinini (2003), Ricky Swallow (2005), and Hany Armanious (2011). This year, artist Simryn Gill’s ruminations on place, and the fluidity she finds in the occupation of space, titled Here art grows on trees, will fill the Australian Pavilion.
Simon Mordant is working to ensure the 2013 Venice Biennale is a significant success for Gill. He describes her exhibition for the Australian Pavilion as a quite extraordinary body of new work. ‘Visitors will be intrigued by the way Simryn has engaged with the Pavilion, blending the everyday elements of her practice toward a powerful, radical result.’
The role of Commissioner is little understood and Mordant describes it as, ‘leading the advocacy for Australia in the international art community and looking after our supporters’. He is comfortable on the international stage, given his position on the Executive Committee of the Tate International Council (London), the International Council of the Museum of Modern Art, and the Leadership Council of the New Museum (both New York). His familiarity with the Venice Biennale is also significant. Simon and wife Catriona have been visitors for over twenty years, and Mordant has been part of the Australian Commissioner’s Council since 2009. His reappointment as Commissioner for 2015 is indicative of his efficacy.
Within Australia, Mordant is recognized as a philanthropist and is best known as Chairman of Sydney’s Museum of Contemporary Art Australia. He led by example in the fundraising for the MCA extension, contributing $15 million toward the new Mordant wing that opened in 2012.
Simon and Catriona Mordant are passionate supporters of all art forms and their cultural directorship interests range from the ABC to the Sydney Theatre Company and Queensland Ballet. This commitment derives from a long held belief: ‘If you want a vibrant society and the type of community that we all want to live in, then the arts and creativity are central. We enjoy the creative process and our time with creative people. Supporting institutions that we are passionate about and where we believe in the vision and creative leadership is central to our involvement.’
The Mordants are also unusual in that they have pledged to make a difference within their own lifetimes. On this Mordant is unequivocal. ‘We want to leave the community in better shape during our lifetime. We don’t believe in significant inheritance and have seen the damage it has done to some families. We get enormous pleasure from the community endeavours we are involved with.’
Mordant also noted that making a contribution to your community does not need to be financial. ‘Australians are generally a generous nation, but some wealthy Australians haven’t thought enough about their community. Statistics show wealthy Australians lag very much in peer metrics for charitable endeavours. However, the issue shouldn’t just be about money—there are many ways people can help their community.’
Indeed. Simon and Catriona Mordant walk their inspirational talk.
Where: 55th International Art Exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace: Venice Biennale of Art, Venice, Italy.
When: Opens 1st June until 24th November 2013, Previews from 29th-31st May.
TUL Note: Louise Martin-Chew’s most recent book LINDE IVIMEY explores the life and work of the Sydney-based sculptor. Louise is co-director of mc/k art (with Alison Kubler) and their current project (with architects Richards & Spence) is creating an integrated art program for the redevelopment of the Brisbane International Airport. Louise is travelling to the Venice Biennale later this month and will share her experience of five nights in Venice with TUL.
Simon Mordant: Brendan Read and courtesy the Museum of Contemporary Art, Sydney
Every two years, the floating city of Venice floods with with the multitudes of art visitors, customers, gallerists and exhibitions that are all a part of the Venice Biennale. This year, marking the 55th edition of the world’s largest art fair, sees the continuation of an event that first began in 1896. Between June 1st and November 24th over 300,000 visitors will travel to Venice for the expansive installations of exhibitions of work from artists in 88 nations, at both official and fringe sites. Art Observed will be on-site this week, with photos from variety of events around the city.
Ai Weiwei, Straight (2012), via Art in America Magazine
The main exhibition, Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), is displayed at the Giardini and in the Arsenale. Taking its inspiration from the project of Italian-American artist Marino Auriti, the Palazzo Enciclopedico refers to an imaginary museum intended to display all worldly knowledge. The beacon to universal understanding was modeled to have 136 stories and to be seven hundred meters tall. The Biennale’s version of this noble concept, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, explores Autri’s dream on the artistic landscape. The show combines works of contemporary art with historical artifacts and found objects, and takes an anthropological approach to artistic imagery. The central pavilion includes the work of more than 150 artists from 37 countries, including the original manuscript of Carl Gustav Jung’s The Red Book, the paintings of Hilma af Klint, video work by Steve McQueen and a smaller show within the main pavilion, curated by Cindy Sherman.
Massimiliano Gioni, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia
Gioni’s pavilion will also include a group of young British artists, hailed as the next generation in the lineage of challenging talent from the British isles. The trio of artists; James Richards, Ed Atkins and Helen Marten, are the youngest artists chosen by Gioni (himself the youngest curator the Biennale has ever had), and are linked by their insights into art in the post-digital age, with their skilled use of processes and techniques that blur the line between digital rendering, art theory and conceptual frameworks.
In addition to the Central Pavilion, the Giardini will house 29 additional country pavilions. Each pavilion is a permanent structure, built and owned by the individual country. Notably, Gerrit Rietvald, a major contributor to the Dutch artistic movement called De Stijl, designed the Dutch pavilion, and the Finnish pavilion was designed by Alvar Aalto. The United States has selected Boston born, New-York based artist Sarah Sze to exhibit in its national pavilion. Sze will reveal one of her signature installations, a large-scale, intricate compilation of thousands of ordinary objects, from toothpicks to light bulbs, which engage with the architecture of their surroundings.
Simon Denny, Deep Sea Vaudeo (2009), Courtesy Galerie Buchholz
The Vatican Pavilion, one of the many nations that will be displaying work at the Biennale this year, is participating in its first ever Biennale, presenting a show about creation, destruction and renewal from Magnum photographer Josef Koudelka and painter Lawrence Carroll. Through these artists and thematic elements, the Vatican aims to offer conceptual and modern interpretations of subjects addressed by a myriad of renowned artists over the history of art, including Michelangelo’s frescoes from the Book of Genesis on the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Shirazeh Houshiary, Between (2010-11), via Wall Street International
In keeping with the overarching theme of universal knowledge, the Latin American Pavilion will feature artists from 16 South American countries and 3 European artists showcasing artistic collaboration between the continents. Titled The Atlas of Empire,the show was inspired by Argentinean author Jorge Luis Borges, who envisioned an empire so intricate and precise that only scale cartography suffices. As such, the artists on view have each designed his or her own personal, symbolic cartography, including work by Juliana Stein, Guillermo Srodek-Hart, and Humberto Diaz.
Ragnar Kjartansson, Bliss (2011), Courtesy of the artist, i8 Gallery, Reykjavik and Luhring Augustine, New York Photo: Elísabet Davíðsdóttir
In addition to the exhibition at the main pavilion, this year will also see an additional 48 collateral events, up from 37 in 2011, featured throughout Venice. The events are all organized by non-profit organizations. A highlight of the event will be Glasstress, involving over 50 artists, including Tracey Emin, Cornelia Parker and Ron Arad at the Palazoon Cavalli Franchetti. Also among the lists of artists contributing are Ai Weiwei, Lawrence Weiner, Antoni Tapies, Shirazeh Houshiary and Thomas Zipp. The Biennale will mark Ai Weiwei’s only major solo show in 2013, presented by Zuecca Projects at the Zitelle Complex and the church of Sant’Antonin. The church will house new work by the Chinese dissident artist; while the Zitelle Complex will hold his installation Straight, developed from his ongoing practice of using steel reinforcing bars recovered from the schools that collapsed during the 2008 Sichuan earthquake.
True to its goals of universal knowledge, the 55th Venice Biennale promises a nearly endless global contribution of works for the visiting art lover. While Autri’s palace may have been 136-stories, this Encyclopedia Palace provides a new model for the expansive space of knowledge, incorporating a whole city.
“Klimt showed there in 1905,” he said. “That is mind-blowing to me. Since then there has been Morandi and Picasso, Rauschenberg, Johns and so on. Maybe I’m romanticizing, but the past is still very present.” On a rainy afternoon in April Mr. Gioni was having lunch at his regular haunt, a tiny Italian restaurant in Lower Manhattan near the New Museum, where he is associate director and director of exhibitions. His BlackBerry was buzzing with e-mails and his phone kept ringing. Yet Mr. Gioni, 39, ignored it all, speaking earnestly with his usual intellectual intensity jolted with unexpected moments of deadpan humor. He was explaining what it’s like to be the youngest artistic director in 110 years to organize the first, oldest and most venerable international art event in a calendar packed with an unrivaled number of them. “Of course I’m nervous,” he said. “This is center stage and it’s difficult because it comes with so many expectations and so much history.” As he braces for the art world to descend on Venice for three preview days beginning on Wednesday, followed by the public opening on Saturday, Mr. Gioni estimated that nearly 500,000 people would come to see the Biennale by the time it ends on Nov. 24. As artistic director, his job is not only to be the diplomatic face of the Biennale but also to organize an enormous exhibition in two sites: one in a central building in the shaded gardens at the tip of Venice where the national pavilions are, and the other in the nearby Arsenale, the meandering medieval network of shipyards. The job entails an overwhelming amount of juggling and his ambitious vision has only made it worse. Even though Mr. Gioni was born in Italy — in Busto Arsizio, 40 minutes northwest of Milan — the logistics of working in a city like Venice are a notorious nightmare. Adamant that this will not be a boiler plate survey of contemporary art, Mr. Gioni has enlisted 158 artists, nearly double the number of the two previous Biennales. “It will zigzag across histories, covering 100 years of dreams and visions,” said Mr. Gioni, noting 38 countries are represented. “A biennale can be pedagogical without being boring.” “The Encyclopedic Palace” is the theme. It is taken from the title of a symbol of 1950s-era Futurism — an 11-foot-tall architectural model of a 136-story cylindrical skyscraper that was intended to house all the knowledge in the world. Its creator, the self-taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti, dreamed it would be built on the National Mall in Washington. The model now belongs to the American Folk Art Museum in Manhattan, which is lending it to the Biennale. “It best reflects the giant scope of this international exhibition,” Mr. Gioni said, “the impossibility of capturing the sheer enormity of the art world today.” Paolo Baratta, the longtime president of the Biennale, said that “after 14 years of having traditional curators I thought it was time to ask a man of the next generation.” “At a time when contemporary art is flooding the world,” he added, “it seemed to make more sense to present a show that doesn’t just include a list of artists from the present but rather looks at today’s art through the eyes of history.” Philippe Ségalot, a private art dealer, called Mr. Gioni “a rising star.” “Even though he’s so young,” Mr. Ségalot said, “he’s already a brand and one of the most sought after curators around. As a result expectations are unusually high. Everyone wants to see what he’ll deliver.” Mr. Gioni is mixing high and low, with masters mingling with self-taught and outsider artists. Besides Mr. Auriti, there will be work by names likely to be unfamiliar to even art world insiders. There are arcane objects like a deck of tarot cards created by the British occultist and artist Aleister Crowley, abstract paintings by the Swedish artist and mystic Hilma af Klint and shaker drawings on loan from the Hancock Shaker Village in Pittsfield, Mass. For one show within a show, the photographer Cindy Sherman is organizing an exhibition at the Arsenale. Known for photographing herself transformed into hundreds of different personas, including movie stars, Valley girls and menacing clowns, she appealed to Mr. Gioni because, he said, “image plays a big role at this year’s Biennale, and Cindy has spent her life representing herself as others.” Ms. Sherman is creating a kind of bizarre doll’s house with works by little-known artists, prison inmates and popular figures like Robert Gober, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy and Rosemarie Trockel. An old ship is coming by boat from Iceland; a 200-year-old church is en route from Vietnam; and dozens of contemporary artists need hand-holding while they grapple with installing videos or preparing for complex performances. “Right now I wish there was another me,” Mr. Gioni said with a sigh. Besides organizing the event he has also been a fund-raiser. Money is always tight at any Biennale, and his budget of about $2.3 million simply wasn’t enough to cover his expenses. He has raised more than $2 million on top of that, he said, “mostly from private individuals and foundations and philanthropists.” Although Mr. Gioni is considered something of a star within the close-knit world of contemporary art, he had a larger presence early in his career as the doppelgänger of the mischievous Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan. Mr. Cattelan, who is more than a decade older, routinely sent him in his place to do radio and television interviews and even lectures. The prank worked for a while, Mr. Gioni recalled, until a series of mishaps. He was speaking at a lecture organized by the Public Art Fund when Tom Eccles, its director, showed slides of Mr. Cattelan’s self-portraits. “It was obvious I wasn’t him,” Mr. Gioni recalled. Then there was the time he posed as Mr. Cattelan on television and the station’s switchboard became jammed with viewers complaining that an impostor was on the air. “Maurizio was so in demand and I liked it because I thought it was a way to be a committed critic, giving your words to an artist,” Mr. Gioni said. Less than a month before the Biennale was set to open, Mr. Gioni could be found sitting around the dining room table of his apartment, a spare sun-filled East Village walk-up that he shares with his wife of three years, Cecilia Alemani, director of art at the High Line. With him were three assistants, each glued to laptops. Wearing jeans, a white shirt and red sneakers, Mr. Gioni had a way of juggling complex issues with a cool head, quoting wise words from a philosopher one moment and making a wry joke the next. The group was reviewing each artist in the exhibition, name by name, and checking the status of their work. What about Roger Hiorns? Mr. Gioni asked. “He’s concerned his installation will be too near a door,” replied Helga Christoffersen, an assistant. Mr. Gioni explained, “It’s a pulverized altar from a church from England.” “That’s going to be a big hit with the Catholic folks,” he said deadpan, receiving a big laugh from the group. (For the first time the Vatican is represented in its own pavilion at the Biennale.) Camille Henrot? “Missing in action,” Mr. Gioni said slightly nervously. The group then looked at images online of the “S. S. Hangover,” the Icelandic artist Ragnar Kjartansson’s fishing boat that will have six horn players performing on the water in the Arsenale for four hours every day for six months. “We’re working with a conservatory in Venice to find the players,” Mr. Gioni said. When trying to visualize the installation of the circular entrance in the main pavilion where he plans to display 40 pages of Carl Jung’s “Red Book,” an illuminated manuscript on which he worked for more than 16 years, Mr. Gioni grabbed a ruler, went into the living room and measured out the space on the floor with masking tape, trying to figure out the correct height for the climate-controlled vitrine. “He’s obsessed,” Mr. Cattelan said. “When he gets in bed at night he’s not just thinking about the big picture but also about the number of electrical outlets or the height of a video. He gets caught up in the details most curators normally don’t take care of. Being super bright helps; so does his superior knowledge of art.” Mr. Gioni’s methods may be a bit unconventional, but then he didn’t come to the job in the same way as many of his predecessors. He never got a Ph.D. in art history; nor did he spend years climbing his way up the curatorial ladder. But at 39 he has had more hands-on experience overseeing biennales than anyone of his generation: In 2003 he was the curator of the section called “La Zona” at the Venice Biennale. In 2004 he was co-curator of the fifth edition of the traveling biennial Manifesta, a roving European event that was held that year in San Sebastián, Spain; in 2006 he organized the fourth Berlin Biennale in collaboration with Mr. Cattelan and Ali Subotnick, a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. And in 2010 he was the youngest and first European director of the Gwangju Biennale in South Korea, its eighth, which attracted more than 500,000 visitors and got rave reviews. Besides his role at the New Museum, where he has spearheaded many ground breaking shows including “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus,” its first triennial, he is also artistic director of the Nicola Trussardi Foundation in Milan. Lisa Phillips, director of the New Museum, said Mr. Gioni “sees curating as an art form.” “He is terribly well read without being academic so that he can cut across centuries and create a new story,” Ms. Phillips said. Although it all sounds like pretty serious stuff, but Mr. Gioni has a lighter side too. In 2002 Mr. Gioni, along with Mr. Cattelan and Ms. Subotnick, started “The Wrong Gallery,” a minuscule space that was little more than a doorway with a classic Chelsea aluminum-glass front door on West 20th Street. (In 2005 the spoof gallery was evicted, then decamped to the Tate Modern in London in 2005, closing three years later.) Mr. Gioni’s parents are retired — his mother was a schoolteacher and his father was the manager of an ink factory. When he was 15 he moved on his own to Vancouver Island in Canada, where he attended the United World Colleges; later he received a degree in art history from the University of Bologna. The youngest of three siblings, he describes himself as the black sheep of the family. To support himself through school he worked as a translator and eventually became editor of the Italian edition of Flash Art, where he met Mr. Cattelan; in 1999 he moved to New York as its American editor. He met Francesco Bonami, now an independent curator, and did some work with him. Mr. Bonami was the artistic director of the Venice Biennale in 2003 and it was he who asked Mr. Gioni to organize “La Zona” there. Ms. Phillips hired him at the New Museum in 2006 after seeing the Berlin Biennale, which she called “a standout.” Despite the instantaneous nature of culture today and the proliferation of art fairs and giant exhibitions, Mr. Gioni still believes there is a place for biennales. “I grew up with them,” he said. “I saw my first one in Venice in 1993. They are no longer a fixed formula. This is the first decade of a new century and this show will deal with our age of hyperconnectivity, by looking at what goes on in our heads rather than online. It is about the synchronicity of the past, the present and the future.”
This article has been revised to reflect the following correction: Correction: May 23, 2013 An earlier version of this article and an accompanying caption misstated the age of Massimiliano Gioni. He is 39, not 40. The article also misstated the employment status of Ali Subotnik. She is a curator at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles — not an independent curator.
A version of this article appeared in print on May 26, 2013, on page AR1 of the New York edition with the headline: New Guide in Venice.
Marc Quinn,55th Venice Biennale, Germano Celant
New Marc Quinn Exhibition Parallels 55th Venice Biennale
DATE: 01 MAY 2013
A major exhibition of works by Marc Quinn, opens on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore on 29 May 2013, at the Giorgio Cini Foundation. Running in tandem with the inauguration of the 55th Venice Biennale of Visual Arts, the show is curated by Germano Celant and includes sculptures, paintings and other art objects by one of the original YBAs. Admission to the exhibition is free and it runs until 29 September 2013.
Consisting of more than 50 works, including the public debut of at least 13 new works, Marc Quinn will be one of the artist’s most important exhibitions to date. In addition to reuniting Quinn and Celant, who last worked together on the exhibition Garden at the Prada Foundation, (Milan, 2000) Marc Quinn marks a return of the artist to Venice, following his 2003 show at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, The Overwhelming World of Desire, and highlights the Giorgio Cini Foundation’s growing interest in contemporary art.
Marc Quinn began his career exploring issues such as the relation between art and science, the human body and its survival mechanisms, life and its preservation, and beauty and death. Slated to open to the public on 29 May 2013, Quinn describes the exhibition as “a journey from the origins of life” that celebrates through very powerful works “the awe and wonder of the world in which we live.”
The works on view will include a unique site-specific installation specially adapted for the island of San Giorgio titled Evolution (2005). This series of ten monumental flesh-pink marble sculptures represent foetuses at different stages of gestation. Placed in the water these sculptures conjure up the mystery of life as an extraterrestrial gift that emerges from the lagoon. In another homage to nature, seven colossal seashells in the series The Archaeology of Art seem to ask if art is an enigmatic, intrinsic part of nature. These perfectly symmetrical, naturally occurring forms belie a strange intelligence and seem to follow some order greater than themselves. Lastly, also on view is a new form of the artist’s monumental work, Alison Lapper Pregnant (2005), the original having been previously installed in September 2005 on the fourth plinth of London’s Trafalgar Square. Also a prominent feature in London’s Paralympic Games’ closing ceremony, the work celebrates the triumph of life force over adversity and suggests “a new model for female heroism” in which love, maternity and vitality take on an unexpected form and reach new heights.
Quinn’s conceptual practice incorporates sculpture, painting, installations and films. The artist’s preoccupation with the metamorphic ability of both human life and nature points to his fascination with our innate spirituality. Quinn questions the codes of nature through his use of uncompromising materials such as ice, blood, marble, glass and lead. Through the use of such materials, Quinn’s works are at once poetic and confrontational through their exploration of life, death, sexuality and religion. Quinn transforms the act of seeing by forcing us to question what is around us, propelling us into the unknown in order to rediscover.
Marc Quinn A solo show of works curated by Germano Celant
Marc Quinn and Fondazione Giorgio Cini onlus – 27-28 May 2013, 10 AM – 7 Pm – 29 May – 29 September 2013 – 10 AM – 7 PM – Island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice ==
Massimiliano Gioni. Foto by Giorgio Zucchiatti, courtesy of La Biennale di Venezia
The Art Newspaper: What are the themes and questions raised by your exhibition?
Massimiliano Gioni: The title is taken from a project that Marino Auriti, a self-taught American artist, presented to the patent office in Pennsylvania in 1955. His museum, which was never built, had 136 floors and was intended to house all of mankind’s great discoveries and inventions. My idea was to explore the idea of knowledge and the quest for an absolute knowledge that eventually becomes a kind of delirium of the imagination. This also connects with the idea of using images to organise, structure and visualise knowledge, which, in turn, connects to a third theme, which is that of the relationship between internal images—dreams, hallucinations, visions—and external images of the real world that impress themselves upon us. However, Auriti also makes us think about the identity and role of the artist in today’s society. This led to the inclusion of less orthodox artists in the show, “outsider artists” who have close ties to self-taught artists who are constantly battling with their own “innocence”. In a way, I identify with them in relation to my work here at the Biennale.
Outsider artists are enjoying wide exposure in international exhibitions, as are artists who are now long dead. What are you trying to show with this mix and with the references to the past?
My show has, more than previous Biennale exhibitions, a certain historical breadth to it—it goes back to the early 20th century, if not the 19th. I couldn’t explore the notion of a thirst for ultimate knowledge by focusing exclusively on contemporary art by young artists. I also believe that you have to include non-mainstream artists to tackle such an ambitious theme properly. This is why I’ve included work by figures such as Carl Gustav Jung, Rudolf Steiner, Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris. Another reason was my belief that if we look upon contemporary art simply as a profession, it becomes mere visual entertainment. This brings us to the idea that culture and visual communication don’t need to involve the artists any more, despite the fact that some artists are becoming richer and more famous. By including outsider artists and liminal figures, we’re widening the traditional canons and reminding people that art has a primary and existential function.
How far has your vision of what art is [ie, not mere visual entertainment] required the presence of political themes in the exhibition?
I debated long and hard over this when organising the show. When you organise a show of this kind, you have to make many choices, edits, exclusions. This is just one of many possible shows that deal with a certain intolerance of politics. At the same time, however, and maybe because you only organise the Biennale once in your life, the themes have to transcend the here and now, and should really confront themselves profoundly with the past and the present. Maybe I’m wrong but I think the theme of knowledge and the role of images in relation to mankind’s identity and make-up has a wider scope. Of course, there are works that also deal with the present day, such as the Moroccan artist Bouchra Khalili’s video work that contains interviews with immigrants who speak of their dreams. Rossella Biscotti, meanwhile, started working with female prison inmates eight months ago and discussing their dreams with them. Sharon Hayes has made a documentary about sexuality in America. But it’s not an exhibition about politics—it’s not a replica of Artur Żmijewski’s Berlin Biennial . Even though politics infiltrate the show, there is still the idea that dreams and visions have the power to imagine a different future. I might be accused of idealism or cryptofascism, just like Breton and Bataille, because I’m putting on an “intimate” show at a time like this. But there are always those who protest against times like these by creating microcosms as ways of escape or as models for the future.
You used the term “temporary museum” when presenting “The Encyclopaedic Palace”, and previously used the term when you organised the Gwangju Biennial. Are the two shows linked in any way?
I think of this show in Venice as the “second volume” of a research project that I started at Gwangju and then carried on in numerous other shows. In Gwangju I focused on the idea of “the image” as characteristic of our present, particularly photography. It was also an exhibition that celebrated the end of analogue photography. “The Encyclopaedic Palace” is a show about imagination, the visualisation of dreams and internal imagery, and relating them to artificial imagery. The main theme in Gwangju was “the portrait”, while in Venice it’s the images that lie within us and our attempts to understand the world and to organise it within our own minds. A “temporary museum” can mean many things—it can signify an exhibition that is less “biennial”, if we take that term to mean a festival in which young contemporary artists do what they want. Instead it’s a mixture of different historical moments, which is even reflected in the layout of the show.
The Arsenale has been the delight and the bane of many of your predecessors. It’s a great space but also sprawling.
I tried to structure the Arsenale according to a museum exhibition blueprint rather than a biennial exhibition blueprint. This means we’ve used a more rigid set-up with spaces that are suitable for small-scale works too. I was thinking more along the lines of a wunderkammer than a contemporary art museum. The model, if you will, of an ethnographic museum.
A show this obsessed with the idea of universal knowledge can’t escape the birth of the internet, can it? What is your take?
I like to think of “The Encyclopaedic Palace” as a kind of prehistory of the digital age. Obviously this kind of exhibition that deals with knowledge and images must necessarily deal with digital information. The end of the show features works by Wade Guyton, Mark Leckey, Helen Marten, Hito Steyerl and Yuri Ancarani that address today’s digital culture. Sure, the exhibition, in a way, is about today’s Wikipedia and Wikileaks society, but it approaches these topics by looking at their precursors and discovering that this thirst for knowledge and understanding has characterised most of the 20th century. The show is an attempt to chart the precursors of this notion and various people’s failings to achieve this desired goal. Given my age [Gioni was born in 1974], people were probably expecting a youth-oriented exhibition. I think that everything that defines the present is the result of the coexistence of various historical moments and knowledge that all become accessible simultaneously in the digital age. It is digital culture that allows the present to coexist with historical moments. The show explores the desire to see and know everything, but it also addresses the melancholy that comes from the realisation that we can never have enough time or brain power to do so.
Who is the artist today?
The “revival” of Marino Auriti is a way of reminding us that the artists that sell at auction aren’t the only artists around. For me, an artist is someone who is capable of producing or finding an image, buried in the “contemporary magma of images”, that has an intensity that sets it apart from all the others. An artist can produce a visual language that rejects the simplification that characterises most of contemporary visual culture.
• This interview was translated from Italian and appears in the June edition of our sister paper, Il Giornale dell’Art
55th VENICE BIENNALE :: THE ENCYCLOPEDIC PALACE
A research-exhibition about relationships and knowledge. The next International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will be titled The Encyclopedic Palace and will be curated by the enfant prodige of the Italian contemporary art, Massimiliano Gioni (on the photo). From June 1st to November 24th 2013, the Padiglione Centrale (Giardini) and the Arsenale will host 155 artists coming from 37 countries, representing a time lapse from the last century to nowadays. Among the news of this edition, there will be the exhibition curated by Cindy Sherman and the presentation of the original manuscript of Carl Gustav Jung’s The Red Book. The title of the exhibition is inspired by a project of the Italo-american Marino Auriti, who patented the idea of the Encyclopedic Palace on November 16th, 1955. It was an imaginary museum that would host all the human knowledge, from wheel to satellite, everything concentrated inside a unique building composed by 136 floors, 700 meters high, that would be able to occupy more than 16 blocks of Washington. “This exhibition wants to explore how the artist can give form to his inner images, when he is surrounded by artificial images, while he lives in a information overload – Gioni explained – We try to talk about imagination through an anthropological approach, taking the Umberto Eco’s idea of encyclopedia as our starting point”. Indeed, the biennials model is similar to Aurity’s dream: it attempts to assemble the endless worlds of contemporary art into a unique place. Aiming to express these ideas, The Encyclopedic Palace will present paintings, films, pictures, videos, bestiaries, encyclopedic figures, performances, installations, without any distinction between the institutional art and the so-called „low“ art, from the academic artist and the self-taught artist. Inside the Padiglione Centrale space, the Hilma af Klimt‘s and Papa Ibra Tall‘s paintings will be close to the Augustin Lesage‘s works, to the Shake community’s or the shamans of the Salamon Island’s drawings. The complete Roger Caillois’ collection of stones or the Rudolf Steiner‘s sketches will be next to Robert Crumb‘s illustrations or to Hito Steyerl‘s and Sharon Hayes‘ videos, and even to the tarots realized by Aleister Crowley (“The clairvoyant role is really contemporary – Gioni clarified – And then he lived in Italy for a period of time”). “In these years, our curators’ desire to put the artist into a historical or relational prospective increased”, declared Paolo Baratta, the President of the Venice Biennale. A prospective that is also so inclusive that it became an exhibition inside the exhibition. Indeed, the artist Cindy Sherman will present at the Arsenale a show curated by her own – more than 200 artworks made by about 30 artists, among which there will be Carol Rama, John De Andrea, Herbert List. “Plato said that there is nothing as sweet as to know everything”, Gioni quoted smiling, and after all he knows a lot about biennial shows. Born in 1973, he curated the exhibition called “La Zona” in the 50th Venice Biennale when he was 30 years old, then he curated Manifesta 5 in 2004 and the Berlin Biennial in 2006 (with Maurizio Cattelan and Ali Subotnick), without considering the other shows and his role as director of the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. “About art, Italy is a nation that plays in the major league, sometimes with resources that are suitable for the minor league – he confided. So, if they want to make their work known, the Italian artists are forced to travel abroad more than their colleagues coming form the other countries”. The Encyclopedic Palace has been the Auriti’s unattainable dream and, as much as all the unattainable dreams and utopias, it will never stop to inspire art and imagination.
Yuri Ancarani, Da Vinci, 2012, Digital video, Courtesy the artist and Galleria Zero, Milan
Walter Pichler, Bewegliche Figur (Movable Figure), 1982, Brass, zinc, tin, fabric, Courtesy of Venice Biennale, Venice
Walter Pichler, Bewegliche Figur (Movable Figure), 1982, Brass, zinc, tin, fabric, Courtesy of Venice Biennale, Venice
Shinro Ohtake, Scrapbook #1-66, 1977–2012, Mixed Media Artist Book, Courtesy the artist and Take Ninagawa, Tokyo
Rudolf Steiner, Sketches on blackboard, 1923, Courtesy of Rudolf Steiner Archive, Dornach
Melvin Moti, Eigenlicht, 2012, 35mm film, Courtesy of the artist and Meyer Riegger
Jamal Penjweny’s series of photographs, Saddam Is Here, shows ordinary Iraqis holding Saddam masks over their own faces. Photograph: Jamal Penjweny
“You have no idea how difficult the biscuits were,” said Tamara Chalabi, one of the commissioners of the Iraq pavilion at the Venice Biennale, as she described her idea of providing traditional cakes and tea for visitors along with the best of the nation’s art. “We couldn’t bring them from Baghdad, because of EU regulations. It was too expensive to import them from London. “So I put out a message on Facebook asking if anyone knew an Iraqi living in Italy who could bake them (kleytcha bil joz – sesame seed biscuits stuffed with walnuts, cardamom and rose water). I even contacted an Iraqi nun living in Rome. We found someone, but she couldn’t get a visa. Finally an old family connection appeared out of nowhere, and she had a Swedish passport. She came to Venice and gave a three-day workshop to a Venetian bakery.” A picture from Jamal Penjweny’s series of photographs, Saddam Is Here. Photograph: Jamal Penjweny The biscuit problem was only one of innumerable obstacles standing in the way of the creation of the Iraq pavilion – the second time the nation has fielded work at the world’s most important international art event, but the first time it has showed artists living and working in the country, rather than those exiled overseas. The first challenge was finding artists in a country where making paintings or sculpture might seem at best a secondary concern compared with keeping body and soul together. But Chalabi, one of the figures behind the Ruya Foundation for Contemporary Culture in Iraq, was determined to dent the mainstream western “Newsnight version” of the country: “Tanks, bombs, rockets, blood. It’s not about whitewashing that – but rather about giving a voice to human beings that have been overlooked.” Another picture from Jamal Penjweny’s series of photographs, Saddam Is Here. Photograph: Jamal Penjweny Chalabi described an art world that is painstakingly emerging not only from the crippling effects of invasion and the struggle to exist in a postwar world of fragile security, but from years of the dead hand of the Saddam regime, when the only art training available was deeply conservative and tinged by a prevailing social-realist aesthetic. “Even self-respecting artists will have had to do portraits of the leader,” she said. But she and British curator Jonathan Watkins, director of Birmingham’s Ikon gallery, went on the road to find and meet artists from Kurdistan to Basra and Baghdad, ranging from the caustically witty political cartoonist Abdul Raheem Yassir to photographer Jamal Penjweny, whose series of photographs Saddam Is Here shows ordinary Iraqis in everyday situations holding an image of Saddam over their own faces like a mask. The latter work is a reminder, according to Watkins, that the “mentality of the regime lingers in the mind”.
Untitled, 2013, from Welcome to Iraq by WAMI at the Iraq Pavilion. Photograph by David Levene for the Guardian Hashim Taeeh, from Basra, is one half of an artistic duo called WAMI. Together with Yassen Wami, he makes sculpture from discarded cardboard boxes. A whole room of the exhibition, titled Welcome to Iraq, in the exquisite Ca’ Dandolo on the Grand Canal, is furnished with furniture made from old packaging: a cardboard bed with cardboard pillow and eiderdown; a cardboard lamp, clock and a whole bookshelf loaded with cardboard books.
Untitled, 2013, from Welcome to Iraq by WAMI at the Iraq Pavilion. Photograph by David Levene for the Guardian Taeeh, a self-taught artist and poet, who also works in Iraq’s agriculture ministry, said: “I started using this material in 1991, the year Iraq was under economic punishment [sanctions]. Everything immediately became extremely expensive, including artists’ materials, so I was not able to buy oils or acrylic paints or canvas, and I was obliged to use this cheap cardboard. It is also a fragile material, like our fragile life. Our democracy is very fragile.”Watkins added: “A lot of the art is about making do and getting by: how to improvise in this difficult situation.”Furat al Jamil, who lives in Baghdad where she works as a film-maker, has one piece in the show: a sculpture of a broken, 300-year-old Mesopotamian ceramic vessel hung over with honeycombs. The pot, she said, might be seen as “symbolic of a broken culture, or of a broken life”. The idea of honey and the beehive, she says, “in mythology represents the soul” – there is, she says, a sense of healing or reparation, however tentative. A picture from Jamal Penjweny’s series of photographs, Saddam Is Here. Photograph: Jamal Penjweny Chalabi believes “it will take another generation to process what has happened over the past decade: there needs to be more time and distance to discuss the war artistically”. For some artists, making work is a retreat, rather than a place for commentary on politics: “You’d be amazed by how many people are doing flower paintings,” she said.”An artist lives in his or her own world,” said al Jamil. “You create your own environment and keep the outside world at bay. I live in Baghdad in a house with a garden and big walls: I can somehow separate the outside world with what’s happening inside. Of course when you leave and try and get around the city, you get upset: when you stop at a checkpoint you wonder if an IED is going to explode. But after a while you begin to ignore it. It becomes part of life.”==ARTFORUM MAGAZINE
Left: Victoria Mikhelson and Venice Biennale artistic director Massimiliano Gioni. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Ragnar Kjartansson (left).
EVEN BEFORE THE FIRST BELLINIS could be served, this year’s Venice Biennale kicked off with a hangover. The S.S. Hangover, to be precise—a repurposed Icelandic sailing ship loaded with chamber musicians, the latest in Ragnar Kjartansson’s endurance-based performances. “When I first saw the boat, I thought it looked like something made by a set designer,” chuckled the artist. “It’s like a bastard of all the boats I could have wanted.” We stood on the lawn beside the Gaggiandre, the dock area outside the Arsenale where the work makes its rounds. At that early hour, 10 AM on Tuesday, I harbored high hopes that the biennial would offer a comparable love child—just the right amount of everything. I wasn’t disappointed. This year, Venice may have lost its Charles Ray, but the biennial itself saw some welcome updates. Chief among them was the introduction of a sane and orderly Tuesday press preview, which meant relative calm in the Giardini, with manageable queues, artists breathing easily, and tote bags still available at every folding table. I was a bit taken aback, then, to run into dealer Alexander Hertling and artist Neil Beloufa amid the crowd in front of the Italian Pavilion. “I thought today was just for press?” Leery after reports of unreliable weather, some of us had gone out the door in our shabby-chic (and weather-friendly) reporter duds—hardly a match for a fleet of well-dressed dealers. “No, artists too,” Hertling corrected, as Mario Testino sailed by to double kiss a collector in the doorway.
Anything goes, I suppose, which was certainly the feel of this year’s main exhibition, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” curated by the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni. Rather than try to recap trends of the past two years, the exhibition finds inspiration in outsider artist Marino Auriti, who in 1955 took out a patent on an imaginary museum that could contain all manner of human endeavor. Following this conceit, Gioni has transformed the Italian Pavilion into a “temporary museum” of knick-knacks, oddballs, and hermetic wonders, a disparate collection of works—from Henry Fisher Ames’s hand-carved creatures to critic Roger Caillois’s rock collections to Maria Lassnig’s electric-lemonade-edged “drastic paintings”—that share one thing: a kind of obsessive relation to the world. Some might complain that the “have your cake and eat it too” encyclopedia scenario enables a dicey slippage between museum and biennial curatorial strategies. But of course historical and structural promiscuity has its advantages—and not just for the curator. The Italian Pavilion was riveting from the get-go, with Achilles G. Rizzoli’s early-twentieth-century “symbolic sketches” of people-as-architecture juxtaposed with Jack Whitten’s bricolage memorial to 9/11. Further on, Ron Nagle’s marvelous Sleep Study ceramics (he makes them before going to bed) canoodle with collages by Geta Bratescu and a procession of lilting shiva linga paintings, anonymous works with tantric purposes. An outdoor garden is punctuated with Sarah Lucas’s sculptures, her puckered “Nuds” now cast in bronze, as evocative as ever, though now with more (literal) gravity. A Dorothea Tanning self-portrait of the artist on the edge of a precipice in Sedona, Arizona, is hung so that the abyss she faces is filled with Fischli & Weiss’s Suddenly This Overview, 1981–, a sprawling collection of witty clay sculptures illustrating phrases ranging from “Doctor Hoffmann on the first LSD trip” (a man on a bike) to “Mr and Mrs. Einstein, shortly after the conception of their son Albert” (a couple in a bed). The oldest works in the “Palace” were a set of intricate drawings from a Shaker community that had experienced visions, which they tried to record in what became known as “gift paintings.”
Left: French pavilion curator Christine Macel. Right: White Columns director Matthew Higgs, artist Anne Collier, and dealers Eva Presenhuber and Toby Webster in the British pavilion.
In the Arsenale, Gioni routed visitors through several gauntlets of photographs by the likes of J.D. ‘Okhai Ojeikere, Eliot Porter, and Christopher Williams (“He wasn’t kidding about that encyclopedia thing, was he?” a friend mused) before leading into works by Danh Vo, Eugene Von Bruenchenhein, Albert Oehlen, and R. Crumb, whose sprawling Book of Genesis appears in full. This was all capped by a new three-thousand-square-foot installation by Ryan Trecartin, a section guest-curated by Cindy Sherman, and a pseudoretrospective of Stan VanDerBeek (via his own “encyclopedic” Movie-Drome). In the Giardini, architecture itself seemed the theme of the day, with Sarah Sze dissolving the bounds between indoors and out with her expansive installation Triple Point at the US pavilion, and Simryn Gill removing the roof altogether from the Australian digs. The Georgian pavilion looked a little Swiss Family Robinshvili, a treehouse tacked onto an older building, but, as artists Sergei Tcherepnin and Gela Patashuri explained, this type of parasitic “kamikaze loggia” is a relatively common feature in Tbilisi. In the Israeli pavilion, a giant hole in the floor marks the “tunnel” used by the long-distance spelunkers of Gilad Ratman’s The Workshop, who leave behind crude clay portraits as proof of their passage. Korean curator Seungduk Kim wanted the country’s artist to feature the pavilion, rather than the other way around. Accordingly, Kimsooja’s To Breathe covered the walls and floor in reflective paneling, drawing attention to the building itself. Visitors removed their shoes and went one by one into a sensory deprivation chamber. An intoxicating experience to be sure, but the combined odor of all that calle-cruising had me wishing for a more sustained olfactory deprivation. France and Germany swapped pavilions this year, allowing Christine Macel’s installation of a stunning Anri Sala video to take full advantage of the borrowed building’s height. Germany, meanwhile, thematized the shake-up, expanding the concept of “nation” by importing four non-German-born artists, including Ai Weiwei. Meanwhile, at the British pavilion, Jeremy Deller unleashed some English Magic, featuring, among other engagé works, a mural resurrecting Victorian socialist and aesthete William Morris so he could shuck Roman Abramovich’s yacht Luna—infamous for ruining the vista at the last Biennale—into the Grand Canal. Narratives collide in a film playing in the back room, where viewers watched from a seat on an overturned car. “I haven’t seen anything yet,” Gioni moaned, edging closer to the video monitor. He paused, in obvious thought: “You know, that would actually make for a good show title.”
Show titles made up the substance of the Romanian pavilion across the bridge, where artists Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus used Tino Sehgal–tested tactics to present An Immaterial Retrospective of the Venice Biennale, which retold pivotal moments of the exhibition’s history through choreographed miming with what, at first, seemed incidental audience members. I walked in on David Lamelas’s Office of Information. “There was a desk,” the narrator announces, as one performer gets on his hands and knees. “And a window,” the narrator continues, spurring a second figure to flatten himself into a more or less convincing pane. Next door, crowds recollect their own highlights while waiting for Konrad Smoleński’s bells to ring (every hour on the hour) at the Polish pavilion. The waning crowds and peeling bells reminded me of other, “collateral” commitments. So then it was off to the Palazzo Pisani Moretta for a lavish dinner in honor of Gioni, cohosted by the New Museum, Lietta and Dakis Joannou, Beatrice Trussardi, and Leonid Mikhelson, who presented the man of the week with a photo from an ice-fishing expedition in Russia. “I hooked two fish at once,” the curator beamed. “I don’t know how or what it means, but I did it.” Later on, New Museum director Lisa Phillips stood up to give a toast: “Massimiliano has raised the bar, not only for biennials, but for museums as well.” Gioni ducked under his napkin in embarrassment, then countered with a toast of his own. Pulling out a set of cards (“I know I’m supposed to be the youngest director, but I’m already losing my memory”), Gioni graciously thanked those who have stood by him: “There is this quote I like about how art is exercise to learn the things you can’t understand. Let’s just say, the New Museum has been my gym.” As everyone turned back to their risotto, Dakis Joannou stood to give the last word: “Massimiliano, Lisa said you reinvented fire. The problem now is that you’ve set us all on fire too.”
Left: At the Romanian pavilion. (Photo: Kate Sutton) Right: Artist Helen Marten (left).
While the pavilions at this year’s Biennale attempt to outdo one another in terms of architectural grandeur and artistic wackiness, to wander through them is a joy. And if the colossal range of art isn’t enough, the people-watching is fantastic. The wealthy, the weird, and the art-loving have turned up to sip bellinis in the Venetian sunshine and contemplate everything from mounds of conceptual rubble (Spain) to graffiti art that appears to write itself onto the gallery wall (Venezuela). The quality of the art is varied but the range is thrilling. Artist Vadim Zakharov has created an installation in the Russian Pavilion that is both enchanting and politically charged. Female visitors are handed transparent umbrellas and ushered into a room wherein gold coins rain down the ceiling; men are barred. Upstairs, a suited and stony-faced bureaucrat keeps watch over bags of money. A flow of cold hard cash runs throughout the gallery. This political allegory works to brilliant (and bewildering) effect. The Finnish Pavilion is another highlight. Artist Terike Haapoja has transformed the gallery into a cross between a post-apocalyptic moonscape and a zen garden. Pools of still water are interspersed with trees fitted with censors. Visitors are invited to talk to the trees, which respond by breathing harder. Their strange scientific petals open. The experience is eerie and poetic. The Israeli Pavilion is likewise fascinating. Artist Gilad Ratman has made a film of hippies tunnelling through the bowels of the earth and emerging into a gallery. They set up a workshop and mould clay into busts; faces take shape. The hippies claw at the eyes and mouths they have created, before burrowing microphones into the clay heads and howling strange incantations. Like a ship of fools, this is art made feral and disturbing. The Encyclopaedic Palace is this year’s international art exhibition, in which a performance art piece by Tino Sehgal takes place in a gallery filled with the drawings of visionary educationalist Rudolph Steiner. They are diagrams of ideas in electrically bright colours on black paper. The Palace is named after a 1955 design proposal for “an imaginary museum” by Italian-American artist Marino Auriti that would “house all worldly knowledge.” While the deluxe yachts line up outside the Giardini and the champagne corks pop, much of the art here retains some revolutionary zeal. It seems to delight in poking fun at the only people who can afford it. 1st June – 24th November ============ FRONT ROW D MAGAZINE – DALLAS
This article originally appeared in the May issue of D Magazine. The Venice Biennale kicks-off this week. Every other year in May, the sinking streets and labyrinthine waterways of Venice are overrun by collectors and curators, dealers and museum directors, artists and art aficionados who descend on the Italian city for the Venice Biennale. The sprawling art expo features a curated exhibition as well as artists chosen by countries to represent them in various national pavilions, thus mixing aspects of major art survey with the boosterism of a world’s fair. This year, however a number of lucky visitors to the Venice Biennale will fine an unassuming publication with a curious tittle slipped into their hands. It is called The Dallas Pavilion. Flipping it open, people will be confronted with images of a foreign landscape – a concrete strip of interstate and a seemingly endless, flat grassland overhung by an expanse of bright blue sky. “Approaching the Metroplex,” the tile reads. “DFW and the Unframed Urban Landscape.” There is no spot on the globe quite like Venice, a compressed and contained urban ecosystem made up of pedestrian-scaled streets, navigable canals, and piazzas that pool between baroque buildings. Compare that with the sprawling, wide-open, uncontained urban environment of North Texas. This jarring contrast is just one of a few disconnects meant to provoke interest in the little book that was imagined, in part, as a way of thrusting the overlooked artistic endeavors of North Texas onto the stage of one of the world’s oldest and most renowned showcases of contemporary art. The Dallas Pavilion is the project of two artists, Jasper Joseph-Lester and Southern Methodist University professor Michael Corris. It is a clever cross between tongue-in-cheek jingoistic civic marketing and renegade pop-up art show, a municipal pavilion couched in the form of an art book. Featuring a series of essays, interviews, and reproduced text-based art pieces and prints, the book presents features on a number of local art spaces and events—from 500X and Barry Whistler Gallery to the Tuesday night lecture series at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth and the original Fair Park location of the Dallas Museum of Art—as a way of cataloging the locations that exhibit and give form to North Texas’ art community. Think of it as a way of placing Dallas’ creative output in its own book-size pavilion. “A pavilion is just a way of bringing things together,” Corris says. “It doesn’t have to be architectural.” The Dallas Pavilion isn’t the first art book distributed at the Venice Biennale. England-based Joseph-Lester previously created another such publication, Project Biennale. It offered a play on the promotional aspect of the Venice Biennale, serving both as commentary on the form of the biennale itself, a manifestation of art world power structures, and as a shameless display of opportunism on the part of the artists who operate outside the confines of those structures. Joseph-Lester met Corris when they taught together years ago at Sheffield Hallam University, and he took an interest in Dallas when he visited last year and started asking artists and gallerists which spaces in town they saw as important locations for art-making and exhibition. He and Corris figured that those spaces themselves offered a portrait of the local scene. They also determined what locally is understood as art that contributes to the region’s cultural identity—much as a biennale does. Corris says he and Joseph-Lester will print 1,500 copies of The Dallas Pavilion, 500 of which they’ll hand out in Venice. He says outright that he has no delusions about what it will accomplish. While the book bears some similarity to the kind of brochure the Dallas Convention & Visitors Bureau might distribute (if it were actually savvy to the Dallas art scene), civic marketing is a point of reference or an organizing intent, not an end goal for The Dallas Pavilion. In fact, you could make the argument that the publication’s primary audience is not the bewildered art lovers in Venice who will toss their copies of the book into the bottoms of their suitcases after a week of romping past work by some of the world’s major art protagonists. Rather, from reproductions of provocative works of art to shots of sculpture at NorthPark, from obscure text-based pieces to images of Museum Tower thrusting its way into the oculus of James Turrell’s ruined Tending, (Blue) at the Nasher Sculpture Center, The Dallas Pavilion depicts an eccentric cross section of Dallas culture. It offers local audiences a glimpse of what this city looks like when it’s packed up for international export – even if no one overseas is buying it. Image from The Dallas Pavilion. ====
Once owned by the ancestral Pesaro family, this palazzo served as Mariano Fortuny’s atelier, where he worked in photography, paint, stage design and, perhaps most famously, textiles. Centrally located in San Marco, the museum, which houses the artist’s original collections, is a safe bet for an unexpected cultural foray. Its new exhibition, which runs for the length of the Biennale (June 1 through November 24), is devoted to the work of the late Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies, who represented Spain in the 45th Biennale in 1993. The show will celebrate the artist’s gaze through many of his key works (both paintings and mixed-media pieces) and those of notable contemporaries like Enrique Tábara, Antonio Saura and Manolo Millares. San Marco 3958; 39-041/520-0995; fortuny.visitmuve.it.
Widely acknowledged as one of the most important museums in Italy for early-20th-century art, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection is the perfect place to put the artistic experience of the Biennale in perspective. The museum is located in Guggenheim’s former home, the elegant Palazzo Venier dei Leoni on the Grand Canal, and will feature collages by Robert Motherwell, an artist who exemplifies a particular slice of art history—the rise of Abstract Expressionism—from May 26 through September 8. Guggenheim was a longtime collector of Motherwell’s work. He held a solo exhibition at her New York gallery in 1944, and their relationship is evident in the scope of this show. Dorsoduro 701; 39-041/240-5411; guggenheim-venice.it.
As the cultural arm of the fashion house, Fondazione Prada, conceived by Miuccia Prada, Patrizio Bertelli and art historian and curator Germano Celant, is committed to coproducing site-specific projects with renowned artists. In honor of this year’s Biennale, the Fondazione is staging a reinvention of the exhibition “Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form” (pictured above), which originally showed at the Kunsthalle Bern in 1969. Presented at the Ca’ Corner della Regina, the foundation’s Venetian event space, the exhibit focuses on post-pop and post-minimalist art, maintaining the visual and curatorial spirit of the original show with the energy and novelty of a new environment. The result is an examination of how this work evolves, not only in the context of the art world but also through changes in time and space. Santa Croce 2215; 39-041/810-9161; fondazioneprada.org.
Il Prato is a truly Venetian find devoted to the highest level of artisanship. The tiny shop is known for its fine paper products (sold here for more than two decades), beautifully hand-printed with wooden blocks using a 16th-century technique. You can also find beautiful glassware and luxury leather goods; the leather trays in vibrant shades of red and orange are especially striking. The store’s reputation, widely known among tourists and locals alike, is built on originality and exclusivity, and it is hard to imagine finding these sorts of treasures—like elegant paper boxes secured with ribbon or a set of pencils printed a perfect shade of mossy green—anywhere else. Calle delle Ostreghe; San Marco 2456/8; 39-041/523-1148; ilpratovenezia.com.