4 June–27 November 2011
Much has already been written about this year's biennale which officially opened last Saturday, 4 June (professional previews 1–3 June). We have selected some excerpts of reviews that have appeared so far to accompany our photo-tours. We'll begin with the main exhibition 'ILLUMInations / ILLUMInazioni' curated by Bice Curiger at the Padiglione Centrale in the Giardini and at the Arsenale.
On the inclusion of three Tintoretto paintings in the Padiglione Centrale, Giardini:
Adam Kleinman, “ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations”, Art-Agenda, 5 June 2011: At first reading, it seems that we might be in for a show on the artistic play of light and shadow. (…) Normally the suffix –tion alerts the reader that some process has affected the host word it is tagged to, i.e., illumination is the condition of being lit. But at the Biennale, curator Bice Curiger instead turns a homophonic pun by tying –nations to nations, as in states, in the exhibition literature. (...) "Why they [three Tintoretto's paintings 'The Last Supper' (1592–1594), 'The Stealing of the Body of St. Mark' (1562–1566), and 'The Creation of the Animals', (ca. 1550)] were there, exactly, is a bit hard to ascertain, especially since all three of these paintings have been on view to the public in Venice for some time now." (…) In addition, the ahistorical juxtaposition of trusting the work in the center of a contemporary exhibition could blur some notion of antiquarian historicism."
Adrian Searle, 'The Venice Biennale's balance of power', The Guardian, 6 June 2011: (…) Shuttling the canvases across Venice from the Accademia and the church of St Giorgio Maggiore to the Giardini was the perilous bit. But they don't belong here, and add nothing but a frisson of High Art, an intimation of the certainties of the past. In the climate-controlled half-light, they just look big, excessive and out of place.
On Maurizio Cattelan's 'Others' (2011) a re-creation of his 1997 piece 'Turisti' (also presented in the Biennale) with 200 stuffed pigeons and pigeon shit on the floor – also by Adrian Searle: Excess in one way or another marks this biennale more than most. Cattelan's pigeons are everywhere in the central pavilion. He had them here before, in 1997, but they have bred. It's a running gag. [this time 2,000 stuffed pigeons are placed in every room's roof except in Gabriel Kuri's space].
On the German, the Swiss and the Polish pavilions:
Adrian Searle, 'The Venice Biennale's balance of power', The Guardian, 6 June 2011.
(…) Schlingensief was still planning his work when he died, and the final show is an over-the-top mixture of theatre sets and artistic works, film and documentation from his project to build a school and opera house in Burkina Faso. The whole thing is a mock-cathedral of disquiet and rage, loud with recorded voices, fragments of filmed performances and archival footage, copies of Joseph Beuys drawings and diagrams – as well as x-ray images of Schlingensief's own ravaged lungs. I felt hectored. An extraordinary man though Schlingensief undoubtedly was – as much a social critic as an artist – at what point does the artist's work end and curatorial surmise begin?
Germany seemed excessive, but Thomas Hirschhorn filled the Swiss pavilion with a wonderland of gaffer-tape, cardboard and Bacofoil, bevvies of Barbie dolls and other uncountable props. It's great, in a rackety Doctor-Who-set way, but one might say that Hirschhorn is doing what he always does. (This was also Mike Nelson's problem, as I wrote last week.) – Great photos of the pavilion here by Contemporary Art Daily.
(…) More pointed and focused was Israeli-Dutch artist Yael Bartana trilogy of films '... And Europe Will Be Stunned', in the Polish pavilion. This felt right. Bartana's idea is a call for over three million Jews to return to Poland, and her film follows the setting up of a Jewish Renaissance Movement in Poland. The whole thing is both real and unreal, heartfelt and parodic. Perhaps such a movement may now become a reality. Bartana's final film ends with the funeral of the assassinated leader of the movement; there is an implicit critique of Israeli politics, and of xenophobia and nationalism everywhere.
Adam Kleinman, “ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations”, Art-Agenda, 5 June 2011: (…) Yet, these cross-pollinations become even more laughable and glib in the exhibition ephemera as the curator rambles, in one of many examples, that the Tintoretto works somehow have a relation to Urs Fischer’s 'Untitled' (2011), in which a giant modeled souvenir candle of Giambologna’s 'Rape of the Sabine Women' (1574–82), is melted away because they both share some connection to “art history”, or likewise, that James Turrell’s sci-fi light “echoes” Tintoretto’s palette.
Adam Kleinman, “ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations”, Art-Agenda, 5 June 2011: (…) Within the context of the show’s half-formed pairing of light, or let’s say, vision & power, Amalia Pica’s Venn Diagram (Under the spotlight) (2011), is the only work that truly brought notoriety to this coupling, while also touching on ideas of togetherness, socio-political history and the like. Here two lights, each with their own colored gels, shot two beams onto a wall in the Central Pavilion. (…) one beam produced a red circle of light on the wall, and the other a blue light completed by a slight overlap between the two. Underneath these blinkers was a handwritten wall caption on an irrational prohibition by the dictatorship of Argentina in the 1970s. This censorship banned Venn diagrams (…) due to the subversive implications of these models of heterogeneity. As such, these fundamental pedagogical devices were removed from primary school textbooks and overt public usage. (…) Blended in the center of the red and blue surveying alarms was a bright, clear spotlight, which pointed to a need to watch all political and nationalistic colorings.
On the overall focus, the four 'para-pavilions' and, again, the inclusion of Tintoretto:
Article by Georgina Adam and Jane Morris, 'First impressions of “Illuminazioni” exhibition at Venice Biennale. Elegant, intelligent and well paced, but its curator Bice Curiger takes few risks', 3 Jun 2011, The Art Newspaper (web only): (…) Curiger has organised a show that despite its conceptual underpinnings also focuses on the classic themes of form, composition and materials. (…) The critical reaction generally favoured Curiger’s other innovation: the creation of four “para-pavilions”, in which Franz West, Song Dong, Monika Sosnowska and Oscar Tuazon were invited to create individual spaces that could also house works by other artists. West is showing a “reproduction” of his kitchen in Vienna with works that usually hang there by his artist friends. The works are displayed on the outside of the structure. Inside is projected Dream Villa, a work by Dayanita Singh. (…) Ossian Ward, the art critic and art editor of London’s Time Out magazine, said: “The Arsenale is the stronger of the two venues, but overall 'Illuminazioni' fails to take any real risks. Besides, that is, the parachuting of three Tintorettos into its midst, which neither steal nor cement the show.”On the Italian Pavilion, “L'Arte non è Cosa Nostra” in the Arsenale curated by Italian polemicist, politician and art historian Vittorio Sgarbi:
Cristina Ruiz, 'Italian Pavilion: Vittorio Sgarbi’s sprawling, sexed-up show', The Art Newspaper, 3 June 2011: (…) When he announced his decision to include 200 artists selected by 200 intellectuals, the pundits said it couldn't be done. In fact, Scarbi has displayed the 200 he said he would, and then added another 60 for good measure. (…) The resulting display has the sprawling randomness of a flea market. There are works featuring sex, religion, violence, nudity, as well as a giant pomegranate and a polar bear.
Adrian Searle, 'The Venice Biennale's balance of power', The Guardian, 6 June 2011: (…) Sgarbi, a maverick critic and TV personality who hates most contemporary art, has invited leading Italian writers and intellectuals, Dario Fo and Giorgio Agamben among them, to select the works. Boorishly provocative, the resulting show is full of horrible, kitschy things, appallingly installed; with its cliched sentiments and rubbishy populism, it is like a tour of Silvio Berlusconi's brain.
Roberta Smith, 'Venice Biennale: The Enormity of the Beast', The New York Times, 2 June 2011: (…) A new and historic Biennale low is reached in the vast Italian Pavilion where Vittorio Sgarbi, an Italian art historian, television personality and former under-secretary of culture, has overseen a ludicrously dense installation of work by some 260 Italian artists, almost all of it unredeemable still-born schlock. Bristling with an unbelievably venomous hatred of art, the exhibition would be a national scandal, if Italy weren’t already plagued by so many.
Jerry Saltz, 'The Ugly American', Artnet.com: “This makes me embarrassed to be an American,” the mega-curator of an extremely well-known U.S. art museum groaned to me. (…) Artists Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla have placed a 60-ton army tank. It’s a real one, shipped from England at who knows what expense, turned upside-fucking-down, turret and gun barrel on the ground, steel treads to the sky. Atop this warlord wedding cake, they’ve installed a treadmill where a world-class runner works out for 15 minutes of every hour. It’s the health club from Hell, Afghanistan in Venice, and it makes a humongous racket that can be heard all around the Giardini. I looked back at the curator and said, “I think being embarrassed to be an American is partly what this is about.”
Adrian Searle, 'The Venice Biennale's balance of power', The Guardian, 6 June 2011: America, of course, has been flexing its muscles and telling the world to screw itself for years. I heard that Obama personally approved the US pavilion's show Gloria, by Jennifer Allora and Cuban-born Guillermo Calzadilla. Their work really depends on the Olympic athletes who run on their tank-track-powered running machine, and who perform amazing gymnastics on American Airlines first class seats. They leap, fling themselves about, defying both gravity and the imaginary confinement of air travel, slumped on the beds. Extraordinary rendition was never like this. Was this all about American power and choreographed, muscle-bound might? Allora and Calzadilla pirouette on the line between politics and entertainment. The runners go nowhere, and the upside-down tank looks impotent and vulnerable, though it makes a lot of noise – a roaring excess. (video on the US Pavilion, UK Pavilion, Swiss Pavilion, Tintoretto and Maurizio Cattelan at the Central Pavilion, Urs Fischer at the Arsenal)
Carol Vogel, 'Venice Biennale: Money Talks, Make That Sings', The New York Times, 3 June 2011: (…) There is only one A.T.M. machine in the whole of the Giardini, the gardens at the tip of the city that is home to the national pavilions. It’s in a space of its own at the back of the American pavilion. But this is no run-of-the-mill A.T.M. The brainchild of the artist duo Allora & Calzadilla, it is a pipe organ with an A.T.M. embedded in its belly that is computer-programmed to play a tune when a person puts in their pin number. (…) During the first three days of the Biennale’s V.I.P. preview earlier this week, more than 100,000 euros were withdrawn from the machine. That amount, Lisa Freiman, commissioner of the pavilion said, is three or four times the normal activity of an A.T.M. in Italy, according to BNL, the bank that operates it. When it gets low on cash, gun-toting guards can be seen coming to replenish it.
Roberta Smith, 'Venice Biennale: An Installation Art Contest', 1 June 2011: At that pavilion [Czech Republic], a little-known artist named Dominik Lang, barely 30 years old, has mounted a strangely affecting time-capsule-like installation featuring a great deal of generic postwar figurative sculpture by his father, Jiri Lang (1927-1996), who stopped making art years before his son was born. It serves as a sobering reminder of the obscurity that awaits most of the art produced at any given point in time, as well as the ability of art objects, being objects, to wait out different phases of neglect.
Rachel Withers, 'Mike Nelson at the Venice Biennale', The Guardian, 3 June 2011: Nelson's concept for Venice is to test out ideas of repetition and duplication on a giant scale. He tells me he's going to "build a biennial within another biennial" by reconstructing his 2003 Istanbul piece. But he's not stopping there. The Istanbul work was housed in a remarkable building: the Büyük Valide Han, a vast, once-palatial 17th-century travellers' inn that survived, in 2003 at least, as a crumbling warren of artisans' workshops. (…) His goal, he insists, is not to produce a replica of the Han but to realise a memory of it, in all its cobbled-together confusion and curious beauty. (…) "Making the pavilion disappear" means three months of intense work for the artist and his small team of technicians. In the present age of artistic fabrication and delegation, this hands-on approach is relatively uncommon.
On the Spanish Pavilion, 'The Inadequate / Lo inadecuado / L'Inadeguato' a project by Dora García:
Javier Hontoria, 'Dora García, inadecuadamente oportuna', 31/05/2011: Tras varias ediciones frustradas, el pabellón español de la Bienal de Venecia alberga a partir de hoy un proyecto de altura, acorde con las exigencias y expectativas de la cita que mayor visibilidad concentra en el calendario del arte contemporáneo internacional. (…) La artista vallisoletana presenta desde hoy en el pabellón español de los Giardini venecianos un proyecto titulado Lo Inadecuado. Es un concepto que implica, como le dijo a Paula Achiaga en una reciente entrevista “un sentimiento de malestar, de desajuste, de torpeza”. (…) El proyecto que ahora presenta en Venecia es también inadecuado en su forma. Esta no es una exposición al uso. Aunque tiene su emplazamiento en el interior del pabellón español de los Giardini, no está pensado para ser instalado en un lugar sino para que se extienda en el tiempo. (…) Diseminados en el interior del pabellón vemos diversos elementos que no constituyen obras de arte en sí mismas sino apoyos, atrezzo para situaciones que tienen su curso a lo largo de la Bienal. (…) Es un proyecto, digámoslo sin paliativos, de una enorme complejidad pero en el que la artista se reconoce plenamente. Toda su obra, toda su trayectoria, toda inquietud se concentran en estos meses de Bienal. La necesidad de empujar los límites de todo aquello a lo que se enfrenta es visible en cada situación. Lo inadecuado lo es a todos los niveles, formal, conceptual. (…) Durante la Bienal se sucederán las situaciones en forma de performance, charlas y encuentros en los que participan diferentes actores, fundamentalmente italianos, muchos de ellos profesionales del arte contemporáneo.
Ángela Molina, 'Dora García, entre un gato y un ratón', El País, 04 Junio 2011: "De repente entendí la no adecuación de la bienal y de su público como algo interesante. Decidí que mi intervención tendría que hacerse de espaldas al público, en un espacio de precariedad. No se tocan las paredes del pabellón, ni apareceré como autora del proyecto. Se trata de prescindir de la platea, pasar por allí sin mancharse. Tampoco es un proyecto colectivo, sino algo iniciado" (…) "El artista es algo incidental que cede su voz a los marginados. Trato de investigar la idea de exclusión, el autismo, lo que no se entiende o no tiene sentido."
Catalonia and the Balearic Islands also had a pavilion at the Magazzini del Sale, in Dorsoduro, with new works by Mabel Palacín:
Natàlia Farré, 'Mabel Palacín revisa el papel de la imagen en la era digital', El Periódico, 2 Junio: [180º] El propio título de la obra ya remite al séptimo arte, puesto que la regla de los 180º es aquella que asegura que la relación entre imagen y espectador es la correcta, es decir, que la cámara siempre esta en el mismo lado de un eje ficticio para no desconcertar al público. Y lo que hace Palacín es evidenciar que en un mundo en el que cada día se cuelgan 100 millones de fotos en Facebook y se visiona el equivalente a 150 siglos de vídeos en Youtube, el estatus de la imagen ha cambiado y las normas se han roto. «No hay diferencia entre emisario y receptor», apunta Torres. Y añade: «La imagen ha pasado a calificar la realidad». Pero aún hay más: fotografía y vídeo confluyen y se confunden. «Todo es lo mismo» – Better images here and a video tour of the exhibition.
On the 54th Venice Biennale awards announced 4 June, Artforum.com: "The Golden Lion for best national participation went to Germany, represented this year by the artist Christoph Schlingensief, who died last August. The Golden Lion for best artist went to Christian Marclay for his piece The Clock, 2010, on display at the Arsenale, while the Silver Lion for a promising young artist went to Haroon Mirza. The jury—comprising Hassan Khan (Egypt), Carol Yinghua Lu (China), Letizia Ragaglia (Italy), Christine Macel (France), and John Waters—also assigned two special mentions, one to the Lithuanian pavilion, which was represented by Darius Miksys, and one to Klara Lidén’s work Untitled (Trashcan), 2011, on display in the Arsenale. Additionally, according to Curiger’s proposal, the artists Sturtevant and Franz West were awarded Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement."In case you are thirsty for more, here other recommended sources to read/see: for the next two weeks Roberta Smith will discuss one of the 'pieces that stuck with her for good or for bad' on the The New York Time's under the title 'Everyone's a Critic' - you can contribute with your impressions writing 6 words; sweet storytelling NYTimes blog with illustrations by Christoph Niemann, or the ever useful and always growing Center for the Aesthetic Revolution blog by cultural agent, independent curator, exhibition organizer, amateur researcher, public editor, occasional writer, museum-art fairs-collections adviser, retired architect, and aesthetic dilettante Pablo León de la Barra.
And finally, before ending with full slideshows of the Biennale, an interesting article titled 'The Venice Effect' by Olav Velthuis (The Art Newspaper, 3 June 2011) to read on your way to Basel focusing on the dealers’ credo: “See it in Venice, buy it in Basel.”
Slideshow of the Giardini:
Slideshow of the Arsenale:
Some numbers on the 54th Venice Biennale:
- 83 artists
- 28 country pavilions in Giardini, used by the 30 official countries considered permanent participants.
- 89 participating countries this year(77 in the 2009 Biennale)
- 37 Collateral Events
2011 Venice Biennale director Bice Curiger, is an art historian, critic and curator. Her curatorial activity at Kunsthaus Zurich parallels her important work in the publishing sector. In 1984, she co-founded the prestigious art magazine “Parkett”, of which she is editor-in-chief. She has been publishing director of London Tate Gallery’s magazine “Tate etc” since 2004. She is the author of a number of publications on contemporary art, among which “The Collected Writings” (Lindinger+Schmid, Regensburg, 2002), “Looks and tenebrae” (Peter Blum Editions, New York and Zurich, 1983), and a monograph on Meret Oppenheim, “Spuren durchstandener Freiheit” (ABC Publisher, Zurich, 1982, English translation 1990, MIT Press, Boston).
All photos: Latitudes | www.lttds.org