Just returned from the 53rd International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale, which was pretty spectacular, especially for a Biennale newbie like myself. The scale of it was rather overwhelming, spanning not just the expansive Giardini grounds with its 30 national pavilions but also the massive Arsenale, site of the world’s oldest naval shipyard. Needless to say, the gorgeous setting of Venice made it one of the most pleasant art-viewing experiences in recent memory. The overarching theme for this year’s exhibition was Making Worlds, with works curated loosely around the idea of artists creating various visions of the world in the tensions of globalization. The simple graphics for the festival shown below are taken from national flags of the world, which according to director Daniel Birnbaum “can be broken down to basic visual shapes that display unexpected painterly qualities,” resulting in a new visual language. Very cool.
Many countries and individual galleries that don’t have permanent pavilions in the Giardini hold exhibitions in various locations scattered throughout Venice, so one the most delightful aspects of the Biennale is that you can wander the canals and walk into a church or palazzo and come across everything from a pop Taiwanese take on Buddhist icons and caged birds playing the piano, to a giant tunnel made out of magnetic tape.
One of my favorite pieces was a beautiful walk-through installation by Brazilian artist Cildo Meireles, who created a series of colored rooms, each with a flatscreen monitor showing a section of painted wall that changed colors as you passed through. Simple and sublime!
A funny little piece was Venezia by Aleksandra Mir, which consisted of a million tourist postcards of Venice, only the images had nothing to do with the actual city and were taken from things consistently found in other postcards like snow-capped mountains and a family of white-water rafters. The kooky postcards were also available to take home for free in a separate part of the exhibition outside the giftshop.
Of all the national pavilions, the Nordic Pavilion was the most impressive, with a fantastic installation by Elmgreen & Dragset of a man drowned in a swimming pool outside the entryway. The pavilion was set up as the fictional bachelor pad of the drowned playboy, whose name on the post box indicates “Mr. B.” I was disappointed by the Japan Pavilion, which was oddly covered up by what appeared to be black sails and housed an equally unimpressive exhibition by Miwa Yanagi of aging Amazon women with sagging breasts. The Korean Pavilion next door was much less somber, letting in lots of natural light for its exhibition of a colorful piece by Haegue Yang utilizing Venetian blinds. Get it?
Given how huge the exhibition is, I wasn’t able to finish seeing all of it before closing time. But that said, it was truly bizarre how not tired I was at the end of all that walking and observation. Normally a couple of hours at the MoMA is enough to do me in, but something about the way each exhibit at the Biennale naturally leads to the next created a sense of momentum that prevented art-exhaustion. Truly a fantastic experience!