Longitudes

(Part 1/3) The 55th Venice Biennale: "The Encyclopedic Palace" in pictures and as seen by the critics, 1 June–24 November 2013

 Poster announcing the biennale nearby the Accademia.

Following previous years reports (2009, 2011 biennale posts and 2007 photo album 1 and 2) we'd like to share our photo-documentation alongside some articles and interviews related to this year's biennale that we have been reading before, during and after our Venice trip. 

Bit first a bit of recent history. Massimiliano Gioni (Busto Arsizio, 1973), currently Associate Director and Director of Exhibitions at the New Museum as well as Artistic Director of the Fondazione Nicola Trussardi in Milan, was appointed Director of the 55th International Exhibition of the Venice Biennale at the end of January 2012. In October 2012 he announced the title and overall concept of "The Encyclopedic Palace" (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico) and in March 2013, he announced his artist list (over 150 artists from 38 countries, map of the venues here). A real tour de force.


 IL ENCICLOPEDICO PALAZZO DEL MONDO (The Encyclopedic Palace of the World) Marino Auriti (1891–1980), Kennett Square, Pennsylvania, c. 1950. Wood, plastic, glass, metal, hair combs, and model kit parts. American Folk Art Museum, gift of Colette Auriti Firmani in memory of Marino Auriti, 2002.35.1. 

Both frieze magazine and Artforum had published interviews previous to the exhibition's opening. The former with Milan-based art critic Barbara Casavecchia and the latter with the Artistic Director of the 2003 Venice Biennale, Francesco Bonami. A third interesting article to give some background if you're planning a trip to Venice is by Carol Vogel in the New York Times, narrating the previous weeks to the opening.

In the above mentioned interview with Bonami, Gioni describes Il Palazzo Enciclopedico as an attempt "to conceive of the biennial as a temporary museum more than simply as a show that captures the supposed zeitgeist." (...) The title comes from the self-taught Italian- American artist Marino Auriti, who conceived of his own impossible, imaginary museum: a building that would house all the knowledge in the world. Obviously his was a dream that remains only a model, a failed project. By using this title, and by looking at the figure of Auriti, I also hoped to connect to the history of Venice, because it’s the oldest biennial; founded in 1895, it has its roots in the format of the world’s fair, going back to the Great Exhibition of 1851. I wanted to acknowledge the link to the tradition of the universal exposition but also to suggest the failure of that model right from the beginning."

29 May 2013, 9.45am. VIPs and Press gather in front of the door.

On the spirit of the biennial, its zeitgeist and the oft-heard ‘It’s a museum show, not a biennale’, Dan Fox of frieze writes: "During the opening week, I wondered why I felt like giving little more than a shrug of the shoulders whenever I heard the criticism that ‘It’s a museum show, not a biennale’. Long gone are the days when a show such as this – or for example the Sao Paulo Bienal, or the Whitney Biennial – would be the one of the few opportunities one would have to be brought up to speed on the latest art being made in various parts of the world."

With regards to the exhibition design and parcour, Paddy Johnson of Art F City rightly notes that "the grandeur of the Arsenale was greatly diminished through near-obsessive wall building. That decision kept the architecture from overwhelming the work, a godsend to the biennale, which has historically been burdened by relying on spectacle to compete with the architecture." New York-based architect Annabelle Selldorf reconfigured the space into a museum-like suite of  white cube galleries projecting large walls that covered almost entirely the populated columns in the Arsenale, hidding its (rather charming) crumbling walls. This made the visitor focus on the many paintings, drawings and vitrines on display.
Room 1, Arsenale: Auriti's model welcomes visitors in the first room of the Arsenale. Behind one can observe the high walls built to 'block' the grandeur of the Corderie spaces.

Room 1, Arsenale: J. D. 'Okhai Ojeikere's black and white photos of Nigerian women's hairstyles and head wrappings accompanies Auriti's architectural model.

Vincenzo Latronico introduces the linearity of the exhibition: "Gioni’s exhibition focuses on the encyclopedia as an idiosyncratic struggle—the impossible, yet nonetheless deeply human attempt at knowing the structures of the world. The part of the exhibition taking place in the Arsenale is linear and suggests a possible evolution of the way this structure has been imagined. It opens with the Palazzo Enciclopedico, a utopian architectural model for a museum of all human knowledge, patented in 1955 by Marino Auriti, a retired car mechanic. It closes with a sequence of chaotic and overcrowded video works (most notably Stan VanDerBeek’s immersive 1968 Movie Mural), offering a stark rendition of how such encyclopedias have been approximated by the Internet."
 

Room 13, Arsenale: Stan VanDerBeek’s 1968 Movie Mural closes the linear section in the Arsenale (though strictly speaking the show finishes with Walter de Maria's 'Apollo's Ecstasy' (below, Room 16) from 1990, a loan from the Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam). More photos of De Maria's piece via Contemporary Art Daily.


Centering on the much-discussed inclusion of "professional/insider" and "outsider" artists, Holland Cotter argues that the "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." 

Cotter continues "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."   

In an interview with Francesco Bonami, artistic director of the 2003 biennale, wittily argues that "crossing the line between insiders and outsiders is a very dangerous one" (...) "a lot of these artist—outsiders—were presented in a standard label, describing their pathologies, but I think it would have been interesting going a little farther (...) if you want to describe art through the pathology, it should have been presented as all artists are freaks. Like, Bruce Nauman, this guy is a freak that lives in Galisteo, [New Mexico], or Walter De Maria is a freak that lives in a power station in Manhattan, in a small space with a space heater. I mean, that would be, maybe, a fair thing to do, but it would not have been allowed, probably, as an insider artist. So I think that is the only critique that I can bring, that the outsider artists at the end they are presented, but also taken advantage of."
   Room 3, Central Pavilion: Hilma af Klint (wall) and Roger Hiorns (floor) "atomised" altar from and English church. [See profile of the artists]

 
 
Room 12, Arsenale: Alice Channer's digitally stretched images anchored at the floor by slabs of marble.


During a recent Q&A with Gioni at the ICA in London in March 2013, an interesting question arose from a member of the public about interpretative materials, and how the wonderful history that each work encapsulates was going to be received by the viewer. Gioni responed that he was inspired by a show he saw curated by Roger Buergel where the captions created a parallel narrative rather than utilising a more didactic tone, and he has since been writing "extended captions" in collaboration with artist and writer Chris Wiley.

The choice of the works by more contemporary artists often has a outsider "look" that is often played-up by these captions. Such is the case with Eva Kotátková (video here), whose rather beautiful "Asylum" (2013) installation is described as a piece in which she "collaborated with patients at the Bohnice pshychiatric hospital outside Prague, resulting in an installation based on the social hierarchies and modes of communication envisioned by the patients" (Exhibition Guide, text by Rachel Wetzler).

 Room 21, Central Pavilion: Eva Kotátková's "Asylum" (2013), shares room with Anna Zemánková's drawings (wall).

To this much-debated insider-outsider wrangle, Dan Fox of frieze adds: "perhaps Gioni did stack the number of artists expressing dense personal cosmologies rather high in places throughout the show – at points it was a little like going to a party where every guest wishes to corner you and talk intensely about their definition of the universe rather than ask you how you’re doing – but I was never short of something to discover, think about, learn from, agree with or push against."


 Room 7, Central Pavilion: Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser's The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1976–1992).

Adrian Searle writes humourously about the exhibition's megalomaniac ambitions: "You expect Gioni to leap out of Auriti's tiered architectural cake of a building yelling: "Today we curate the biennale! Tomorrow, the world!"" He then continues, "throughout Gioni's exhibition, we are asked where meaning lies. So many artists here seem to be speaking private languages only they can understand: here is a Theosophist, there is a Shaker, and over there are some horrible occult tarot drawings by Aleister Crowley, the satanist once described as the most evil man in the world... What unites this vast rag-bag of sculptures, tantric blobs, errant modernists with esoteric beliefs, and outsiders who fill drawing after drawing with lurching interior worlds, is a sense that everyone here is trying to make sense of the incomprehensible. Much of the time, they just add to it."


 Room 10, Central Pavilion: Enrico David's recent work with distended figures, totemic sculptures and patterned tapestries. More views via Contemporary Art Daily.

An important question is raised by Bonami in the interview: "How to avoid geographic flattening, in which everything from everywhere is thrown in? But then how do you avoid that kind of flattening with respect to history? How do you achieve historical specificity? That is the challenge if you are adopting a Wunderkammer, or encyclopedic, approach." To which Gioni responds "well, it might resemble digital Wunderkammer, or computer desktops." Something to keep in mind...

Room 5, Central Pavilion: (Vitrine) Ron Nagle's moon-rock formations and coral-like spires; (Walls) Anonymous Tantric Paintings produced between the 1960s-2004.

Starting with the Central Pavilion (previously called the "Padiglione Italia"), Vincenzo Latronico
writes in Art Agenda that "one of the Giardini’s most delicate rooms, for instance, displayed French Surrealist Roger Caillois’s collection of over a hundred rare geodes—their flamboyantly colored geometrical patterns and crystalline structures arranged in progressions, suggesting both a museum of natural history and the visionary maps of an alien landscape."


Room 14, Central Pavilion: Collection of Roger Caillois rocks from the Musée National d'Histoire Naturelle in Paris. Caillois shares room with Guo Fengyi, whose ballpoint pen, pencil and ink drawings she created to alleviate her acute arthritis.

Vincenzo Latronico also highlights another central piece: Peter Fischli and David Weiss’s Plötzlich diese Übersicht (1981–), "a collection of over a hundred small clay sculptures offering a depiction of the world through an arbitrary selection of significant minor events. From Einstein’s parents staged at the moment after the conception of their son, to Jacques Lacan first seeing himself in a mirror at age two; from a group of potatoes (asking how they ever got to Europe) to Jagger and Jones going home satisfied after writing “I can’t get no satisfaction” it is an ironic and yet oddly sensitive encyclopedia of banal mysteries and everyday epiphanies. The display, however, is particularly significant. In 2008, when Gioni showed the piece in a Fischli and Weiss retrospective he curated in Milan, he arranged the sculptures’ individual plinths in a linear sequence of groups, suggesting both an intrinsic order and a path the viewer could follow to obtain a complete experience of the work. In the Biennale, however, these are scattered around the room, giving the labyrinthine feeling of a mass of knowledge that could never be fully apprehended."

Room 13 (upper level), Central Pavilion: Peter Fischli & David Weiss, 'Suddenly This Overview' (1981–2012).

Another absorbing piece in the Central Pavilion is Kohei Yoshiyuki series of black-and-white infrared film photographs “The Park” (1971–1979) in which the artist photographed unaware couples having sex in parks at night. An interesting piece of context is that the pictures where originally presented in a dark gallery, offering the possibility of recreating the gloom depicted and making viewers complicit in the act.


Room 17, Central Pavilion: Kohei Yoshiyuki, “The Park” (1971–1979).

Writing about this years's Golden Lion awardees, Amy Sherlock points out that music features heavily in the encyclopedic video Grosse Fatigue (2013) by French artist Camille Henrot in which "computer windows showing photographs, video clips and morphing Wikipedia pages flicker and accumulate to a pulsing baseline whose steady tempo links a primitive, cardiac rhythm with the heady erotic charge of the dancefloor."


Room 3, Arsenale: Still of Grosse Fatigue (2013) by Camille Henrot.

"Tino Seghal picked up a Golden Lion as best participant in the main pavilion for his piece in which performers sit on the floor, beatboxing, singing and humming in a shifting melody of voice and rhythm."


Room 2, Central Pavilion: Tino Sehgal shared room with Rudolf Steiner's blackboards filled with coloured chalk (background).

Also in the Central Pavilion, Italian Marisa Merz and Austrian Maria Lassnig, Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement of the 55th International Art Exhibition, share room 24. See video of the award cerimony. [More photos of Marisa Merz via Contemporary Art Daily.]



In the above-mentioned interview with Bonami, Gioni described that "a few artists in the show will use theatrical stagings or, simply, live actors. But I think of these less as performances than as living sculptures. Tino Sehgal is making a new piece, comprising a mise-en-scène with other works in the main pavilion. It’s on a smaller scale than his most recent works, but it is going to be quite intense. (...) John Bock is creating an installation that will include actors speaking in imaginary languages and what he calls a “house of maggots."
(Above) John Bock's 'Above the Point of Glowing Silence', a 2013 work commissioned by the Biennale at the Giardino delle Vergini. More views of his installation via Contemporary Art Daily.

Sam Thorne: "The Arsenale – the stronger half of the exhibition, I think – is episodic, even insistently narrativizing in its form. It tracks a kind of evolutionary process. The beginning, for example, is pointedly about beginnings of different kinds – Stefan Bertalan’s drawings of the life cycle of a sunflower or the whole of R. Crumb’s illustrated Book of Genesis. Indeed, the refrain of a great new film by Camille Henrot is ‘In the beginning…’ These early stages are also filled with animals and evocations of the natural world: Eliot Porter’s exquisite 1950s photos of birds in flight, Christopher Williams’ forensic photos of Harvard’s collection of glass flowers (1989)."   



Room 2, Arsenale: Christopher Williams, Angola to Vietnam* (1989). A suite of 28 gelatin silver prints of glass flowers from Harvard's Ware Collection portraying the hyperrrealistic glass specimens made by Leopold and Rudolf Blaschka. 


Room 6, Arsenale: R. Crumb's 207 pages of 'The Book of Genesis' (2009).

Having not seen Gioni's much-celebrated '10,000 Lives', 8th Gwangju Biennial (2010), we asked to those who had seen it for their impressions. Back then, Gioni also described it as an exhibition that dealt with ‘our obsession with images’ and has referred to 'The Encyclopedic Palace' as a continuation of this exhibition model proposed in 2010. In Gwangju, Gioni also included several of the works also exhibited in Venice: Shinro Ohtake's scrapbooks (1983); Paul McCarthy’s Children’s Anatomical Educational Figure (1980); Eliot Porter’s colour dye-transfer prints of birds caught in flight; and repeated numerous participating artists such as Dahn Vo, Bruce Nauman, Carl Andre, Stan VanDerBeek, Fischli & Weiss, Aurélien Froment, Morton Bartlett, Dieter Roth, Ryan Trecartin, Christopher Williams, James Lee Byars, Matt Mullican, João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva, Henrik Olesen, Hito Steyerl, Maria Lassnig, Emma Kunz, Mark Leckey, Pawel Althamer, Tino Sehgal and Cindy Sherman, amongst others (see Gwangju images here).

Room 13 (lower level), Central pavilion: Shinro Ohtake's obsessive scrapbooks produced since 1977.
Room 8, Arsenale: Aurélien Froment's new work "Camillo's Idea" (2013), a film featuring a mnemonist in the Teatro Olimpico in Vicenza who demonstrates her own feats of memory and recites the history of mnemonics from teh system devised by Greek lyric poet Simonides of Ceos to Giulio Camillo's Fifteenth-century "Theater of Memory". (Exhibition guide, Text by Chris Wiley)

Room 5, Arsenale: Danh Vo installation with an imported colonial-era Catholic Church from Vietnam. [More photos of his installation via Contemporary Art Daily.]

Room 9, Arsenale: Pawel Althamer's 90 "sci-fi" sculptures with masks of Venetian citizens and plastic bodies are one of the downers of the Arsenale. As Adrian Searle warned "watch out for Pawel Althamer's room of flayed figures, and avoid them if you can."

It would seem that Gwangju's "unauthorized, partial reconstruction and unannounced tribute" of Mike Kelley's 1993 'The Uncanny' exhibition is in Venice echoed with the invitation extended to Cindy Sherman, who curated an excellent show-within-a-show in the Arsenale (Room 10). Sam Thorne describes it as a space with "figures of all shapes and sizes: signature pieces by Charles Ray, Duane Hanson and George Condo, some slightly more surprising inclusions like John Outterbridge and Jimmie Durham, through to Haitian vodou flags and even Sherman’s personal collection of photo albums. It’s quite a coup."    


Vitrines with Shermans' collection of photo albums.


Other highlights (unfortunately not all with photo-documentation to accompany): Tamar Guimarães and Kasper Akhøj's 16mm film examining a map created by a member of Brazil's Spiritists community, one of the few intimate moments in the Arsenale; João Maria Gusmão and Pedro Paiva's immersive room with 16mm projectors presenting a new repertoire of films shot in Mozambique; Eduard Spelterini's black and white 1890s photographs of his ballooning expeditions; Sharon Hayes' video [see interview here] inspired by Pier Paolo Passolini's 1965 documentary Comizi D'amore, in which the artist interviews American women students, executives, artists, poets about their sexuality; Rossella Biscotti's minimal sculptures produced in compost created in collaboration with the inmates of the women's prison in the Guidecca island, accompanied by an hour-long sound piece where the women describe their dreams [see interview here]; and Michael Schmidt's Lebensmitten [Food] (2006–10) photo series for which the artist spent four years documenting all aspects of industrial food production in Europe.

 Room 3, Arsenale: Eduard Spelterini's black and white 1890s photographs of his ballooning expeditions.

 Room 8, Arsenale: Michael Schidt's Lebensmitten [Food] (2006–10).

 Room 8, Arsenale: Sharon Hayes, 'Richerche: three', 2013. 23'

Hito Steyerl's tucked-away video in the Giardini delle Vergini, was certainly one of the best pieces in Gioni's exhibition. Michael Connor of Rhizome has written about the 14 min. video, describing it as an "instructional video informing viewers how to remain invisible in an age of image proliferation". (...) "In the context of the Venice Biennale, which explores the theme of human knowledge and its limits, this discussion brings up fundamental questions about how much of our knowledge is derived through representations of the world, through images and data, and the limits of such knowledge." [Read full text here]

Hito Steyerl, How Not to be Seen: A Fucking Didactic Educational .MOV File (2013).

 Erik van Lieshout's new work Healing (2013), an outdoor drive-in movie installation with a 5 meter LED screen, involves the artist' micro-cosmos: the work and ideals of his family members.

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Founded in 2005 by Max Andrews and Mariana Cánepa Luna, Latitudes is a curatorial office based in Barcelona, Spain, that works internationally across contemporary art practices.

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