55th International Art Exhibition
1 June – 24 November 2013
Below is an interactive Table of Contents for this write-up. You can simply scroll down through the entire document, or you can click on any of these exhibition titles and go directly to that particular place in the document. (To return to the Table of contents, hit “Back” on your browser.)
IN THE GIARDINI:
IN BOTH THE GIARDINI AND THE CORDERIE IN THE ARSENALE:
OTHER BIENNALE-RELATED EVENTS AND EXHIBITIONS:
This 55th edition of the biennial International Art Exhibition in Venice officially opened on 1 June, and runs through 24 November. The larger umbrella of the Venice Biennale includes several other components: the Architecture Biennale (Biennale di Architettura), with which the Art Biennale alternates (vid., my write up of the 2006 Architecture Biennale, of which our friend Ricky Burdett was director); the annual Venice Film Festival; and Biennali for Dance, Music, and Theater. This current edition of the Art Biennale has been named by the Biennale’s Director, Massimiliano Gioni (head curator of NYC’s New Museum; q.v., an interesting article in the NY Times), “The Encyclopedic Palace” (“Il Palazzo Enciclopedico”), a title based on Italian-American artist Marino Auriti’s 1955 architectural model (image below)
for a cylindrical skyscraper intended as a museum to “house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite” (and which Auriti imagined being built on the National Mall in Washington); “the dream of universal, all-embracing knowledge crops up throughout history, as one that eccentrics like Auriti share with many other artists, writers, scientists, and prophets who have tried - often in vain - to fashion an image of the world that will capture its infinite variety and richness.” (from the Biennale’s website; for introductory remarks by Massimiliano Gioni, click here) According to Carol Vogel’s article in the NY Times, “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 [sic—a rather humorous error, in my ‘umble opinion!] of the art world today.’” (editorial snarkiness my own)
The Biennale is primarily based in two areas in Venice’s Castello sestiere (“district,” based on the fact that there are six such districts into which the city is divided): the Giardini (“Gardens,”) which includes a large exhibition hall that houses part of Director Gioni’s main exhibition, and 30 permanent national pavilions; and the Arsenale (Venice’s Arsenal), a collection of ship yards and armories, where a number of other national exhibitions were held, and its fabulous 1583 Corderie [designed Antonio da Ponte, the same man who designed Venice’s beloved Rialto Bridge—an incredibly vast building, the 300 meter-long unbroken longitudinal axis of which was for the purpose of being able to make rope there in single pieces of a dimension necessary for naval purposes], which houses the rest of Gioni’s main exhibition. There are also numerous other collateral events and exhibitions—more or less officially linked to the Biennale proper—scattered at sites throughout the city (click here for a complete listing). This Biennale is exhibiting the work of more than 150 artists, with 89 countries represented (10 of the countries new to the Biennale this year; for a listing, click here). Each country manages its pavilion differently (e.g., the Great Britain pavilion is always managed by the British Council, whereas the US pavilion is run by a public gallery chosen by the State Department—which for the last three decades has been the Peggy Guggenheim Collection. The financing of the pavilions varies by country; according to a most interesting article in The Economist,
Some are financed through their culture ministries, such as Italy's, others, like Britain's, through the ministry of foreign affairs. The Ukraine pavilion is paid for by a private collector, Poland's via multiple sources. For 55 years there were fewer than 20 entrants, but in 1950 the number began to grow. This year, despite last-minute cancellations from Bahrain and Lebanon, there are 89 national pavilions, the highest number ever and up from 77 two years ago, proof of the global spread of contemporary art.
IN THE GIARDINI
Probably the most deeply satisfying part of our experience was the site-specific set of sculptures, entitled “Triple Point,” done by Sarah Sze (pronounced “ZEE”) for the US Pavilion in the Giardini. The catalogue for the show claims that, “In thermodynamics, ‘triple point’ designates a singular combination of temperature and pressure at which all three phases of a substance (gas, liquid, and solid) can exist in perfect equilibrium”; and this sort of framework of intellectualization did not bode well for my liking Sze’s exhibition. In general I was not expecting to like these intricate constructions, and my first view (below)
of the work adorning the outer courtyard and entrance to the building did not satisfyingly engage me. But, by the time I had moved through the series of rooms, I was so drawn into, absorbed in, and entranced by Sze's vocabulary and her idiom that I found myself loving the exterior once I saw it again upon exiting the Pavilion. I was completely won over by the amazing sculpture in the first room. (partial view, below).
The diaphanous spheres she constructs create surfaces through which one is drawn by a set of converging lines moving at different angles into the central regions, only to have one's eye centrifugally sent repeatedly back to the surface (q.v., below).
There are also flat planes that draw the eye into the center, but then eventually capture one in the wild array of objects they support. The more I gazed at and into this masterpiece, the more absorbed I became in it: different areas containing different collections of materials--often with its own self-contained lighting (desk lamps, globes, light bulbs, spot lights) —and sources of independent movement--electric fans blowing certain elements gently in their breeze; eye-catching areas of color—especially blues; and stupendous details like an aging dandelion blossom hanging over a suspended paper cup, positioned so as to catch its falling petals (detail below);
and a series of actual color photographs of a path moving back into the green space of the countryside (below)
—just as the photographs themselves recede into the space of Sze's sculpture.
The next room contained two pieces: the first, largely constructed of horizontal planes—but penetrated vertically by round voids which seem to go right down at least to the floor, often culminating in piles of sand—the floor space is actively used by Sze in virtually all of these works (below);
the second, a single horizontal plane with an aluminum ladder at one end, a rectilinear superstructure above—largely held together by Sze's ever-present profusion of colorful c-clamps (below),
and penetrated to the floor by parallel verticals of colored string, which then form patterns on the floor extending far beyond the expanse of the solid parts of the construction.
Even a small supply closet is turned into a sculpture:
Throughout the Pavilion there are mind-bending "rocks" that Sze has constructed—paper sculptural creations covered with photographs of actual rocks:
In the penultimate room there is a massive construction that is a nearly closed circular form that created in me the feeling that I had somehow entered into one of the spherical forms of the first room (below).
Within this circle were dense collections of various sorts of objects: metal hand tools, the handgrips of which were encased in gray clay; several carpenter's levels, in various orientations; pieces of china, series of paper cups, sets of plastic water bottles, rows of nails; set of photographs, real objects and paper recreations of them (as a single, white, paper shoe)...layer upon layer of complexity and self-referential detail. It is hard to explain just how profoundly satisfying, powerfully engaging, and fabulously beautiful these works are. The final room seems almost to be a repository for collections of the components out of which the other works were formed (below)
—a kind of vocabulary list for the language Sze has created;
but by the time one has reached this point, one recognizes all the collection of bits in the context in which they have appeared.
This last room both returns one to the construction outside of the entrance while at the same time drawing that work inside into itself: the outer wall of this room is floor-to-ceiling glass looking out into a sculptural area in the outer courtyard not easily visible from outside, and it abuts at 90 degrees a floor-to-ceiling mirror which essentially doubles the effect of bringing the outside in.
By the time I exited, I was in love with what I saw in the outer courtyard, despite the fact I had considered it unlovely when first I approached it. What a tour de force!
The artist who did the wonderful exhibition in the Spanish Pavilion is Lara Almarcegui, who was born in 1972 in Zaragoza, Spain, and who lives and works in Rotterdam.
Her work for the Biennale consists of two parts: a research project on the island of Sacca San Mattia in Murano, and a far more interesting, large sculpture installation in the pavilion in the Giardini.
With regard to the former, Almarcegui has devised A Guide to Sacca San Mattia, the Abandoned Island of Murano, Venice, a research project that focuses on the Sacca San Mattia, an artificial island formed by the waste deposits of Murano’s glassmaking industry. The project is actually a study of an empty plot on that island, how it was formed, the site’s current geological and environmental conditions, the projects that have been planned for this plot, and the reasons why none have come to fruition.
Almarcegui notes, “The Sacca San Mattia seemed like the most suitable wasteland in the area of Venice because of its odd, complex configuration: a piece of land formed by layers of waste produced by the glass and construction industries.” Indeed, according to the exhibition press materials, the Sacca is an abandoned tip created between 1930 and 1950 by the repeated dumping of rubble and dredging of the lagoon. This undeveloped plot with a surface area of 26 hectares is the largest piece of available empty land in Venice. The artist further remarked, “I’m interested in wastelands as spaces that don’t fit in any city planning design. These spaces are important in and of themselves”, and she adds, “I feel very comfortable in them. They give me a lovely sensation of freedom.” Lara’s guides to wastelands have become her best-known works
While the research project is of some intellectual interest, it is the artistic reality of her work within the Spanish Pavilion itself that was so extraordinary. It revolves around a huge mountain of cement rubble, roofing tiles and bricks smashed to gravel which occupies the central room, making it virtually impossible to enter this space directly. This rubble pours out through the several doorways of the central space into all of the adjoining side rooms:
In the side rooms, other lesser mounds, each of a different material (sawdust, glass and a blend of iron slag and ashes), will be located in the side rooms, which visitors will be able to walk through and so circle around the large central mound.
Almarcegui explains, “The materials are the rubble from demolitions which, after being recycled, have been transformed into gravel by means of the treatment process currently used in Venice.”
The effect of being in this space is both powerful and subtly beautiful. It succeeds in creating an experience that is deeply evocative in its own terms—and does not require the intellectual framework necessitated to grasp the meaning of the other half of her project.
“Falling Trees” was a great experience in two distinct parts.
The first part, “The Evidence of Bare Life,” in the Finland Pavilion, consists of works by Antii Laitinen. As the catalogue puts it, he
is an artist whose works defy words—not because they would be conceptually opaque or obscure, but for the opposite reason: because they present situations that are clear and undeniable, making words unnecessary. The works place before us, in plain sight, matter-of-fact, the collected evidence of an arduous event… [but] the toil has ceased; it has been stripped bare, down to the bare necessities.
The first of his works, “Tree Reconstruction,” is described as an “installation/performance”: outside the Finland Pavilion, Laitinen works hard to reconstruct trees from logs—obviously cut from trees. He further chops the pieces of trees into smaller segments-
and then carefully considers how to reassemble them into reconstituted “trees”:
Watching this very intense, ultimately bizarre enterprise was completely enthralling. Inside the Finland Pavilion, there is a video of the “Tree Reconstruction” that is also taking place real-time outside the pavilion:
Also within the Finland Pavilion is a second work, “It’s My Island,” a 3-channel video projection from 2007, in which Laitinen builds an island for himself.
As the catalogue describes,
In addition to presenting the artist’s struggle against the forces of the sea and of gravity (issues most poignant in Venice), and displaying the awe of nature’s changing conditions, the work plays with the want of ownership, with the dream shared by many of us to have a place and land of our own. The work questions to what extent the things we create with our own hands can ever truly belong to us.
A third work, “Lake Deconstruction,” a “C-print on dibond, diasec” from 2011, is in some ways the inverse of “It’s My Island”:
The cubicle made of ice blocks has been crafted in image form, the lake itself becoming a temporary monument of water in its solid state—a mesh of transformations in many ways.
The second part of “Falling Trees” took place inside the Nordic Pavilion. Entitled “Closed Circuit—Open Duration,” an installation by Helsinki-based visual artist, Terike Haapoja. One enters the deep darkness of the pavilion, and finds a rather rich, beautiful, and intense—but disconcertingly weird—world. According to the catalogue article “Mirrors of E-den”:
Instead of an Eden the exhibition is an e-den, an intimate cave garden, both metaphorically and literally electrified, constituting a meeting-place of different discourses and life forms wired to each other so as to form a system of polemical, metabolic, and allegorical exchange. It is a garden traversed by the meandering gimmickry of art and science.
As one moves through the deep darkness of the building, one begins to see—and eventually walks in the midst of—“Community,” (a 5–channel video installation, projected surfaces, sound,” 2007/2013) consisting of five round video screens that appear to hover slightly above the floor of the pavilion.
Projected in eerie blue on each horizontal screen is an infra-red heat photograph of an animal—a dog, a horse, a cat, a calf, and a bird—that has recently died, showing the progressive loss of body temperature. As the catalogue puts it:
Colorful life fades away in front of our eyes and vanishes into the deep blue background, Islands of living matter drown in the entropic sea. What kind of community is this? Are we part of it?
As one wanders through the eerie darkness of the pavilion, one comes across other works, as her 2008 “Inhale Exhale,” her “mixed media: glass, mdf, soil, electronics, sound”:
“Intercourses” is a strangely engaging moving-image creation by Danish artist Jesper Just. He chooses to set the films in a suburb of Hangzhou, China, which was built to be a replica of Paris—replete with Haussmann-like boulevards and a replica of the Eiffel Tower:
As described by Guiliana Bruno in an article, “The Imaginary Landscapes of Jesper Just,”
…a place that people inhabit, in states of construction that evoke decay. In this composite setting that is the site of imaginary projections, we follow three men in a meandering, interwoven narrative that makes them connect psychically via the space, in an atmospheric way.
As Just writes, “In the film, they’re still building the city, but it’s already falling apart. That’s why it looks so strange—like a ruin already. I like the idea of a ruin in progress.”
As one moves through the space of the Danish Pavilion, one begins to inhabit the unreal-feeling actual space of the pavilion—with real plants, but all bathed in unworldly magenta light—within which projections of various sizes (from 1-15 meters) of Just’s incredibly real-looking, unreal-feeling created world rivet your attention. As Just writes,
Once you’re inside the pavilion, you will likely see two films at a time. The sound will bleed from all of them to create one soundscape and to kind of underline that it’s one film [made up of five channels]. So there’s this expanded narrative. Five projections will be looping, each approximately ten minutes long. You’ll never have the same experience because it’s a loop, not finite.
The experience of this strangely wonderful world begins before who enters the space of the pavilion, which one does via a long, narrow, completely unexpected dirt pathway around the side of the building, rather than what would normally be its main entrance,
And one exits in an equally unexpected and disorienting way, through a long, magenta-illuminated, tree-lined hallway, and then through a shockingly mundane storage closet, and only finally back into the outside world:
As Just put it,
I wanted the experience of the work to start before you’re even inside the pavilion, to make an installation that dissolves the work as a physical entity with a singular, physical presence. I wanted the pavilion itself to be part of it.
I’d say Just succeeds mightily in all this.
For his exhibition, “Room with Broken Sentences,” Mark Manders has covered all the windows of the entrance to the Netherlands Pavilion with fake newspapers: “Like a thin layer of skin, the outside world is separated from an inner world…I cannot use real newspapers, because my work would then be linked to a certain date and place in the world.”
We found his “Composition with Blue” to be particularly wonderful:
Manders work is somewhat enigmatic, yet it always seems graspable, as his “Mind Study,” below,
and his series of heads (“Girl with Yellow Vertical,” “Head Study,” “Head Study,” “Girl Study,” and “Girl Study”):
[For the 2013 Venice Biennale, France and Germany, whose pavilions directly face each other across a square (with the UK Pavilion interestingly in between, on the side of this square), decided to switch pavilions. The exhibition entitled “French Pavilion” is the one which physically took place in the German Pavilion, and vice versa.]
In 2013, “as an understanding of Germany as an active participant in a complex, worldwide constellation of influences and dependencies—[rather than]…a hermetic national unit,” Germany is represented by Ai Weiwei, Romualdo Karmakar, Santu Mofokeng, and Dayanita Singh.
Ai Weiwei’s installation, “Bang,” consists of 886 three-legged wooden stools—of the sort that had been in use in China for centuries, but which, following the Cultural Revolution have been almost completely replaced by furniture made from aluminum and plastic.
Using these “stereotyped and yet highly individual objects” which have in today’s China become antiques, Ai Weiwei “has created an expansive rhizomatic structure whose sprawling growth recalls the rampantly proliferating organisms of the world’s megacities.”
The single stool as part of an encompassing sculptural structure may be read as image for the individual and its relation to an overarching and excessive system in a postmodern world developing at lightning speed.
In the next room of the German Pavilion, filmmaker Romuald Karmakar presents two main video presentations.
Susanne Gaensheimer (in the foreword of the official publication of the German Pavilion), writes,
In his documentary, feature, and conceptual films, the artist and Filmmaker Romuald Karmakar has devoted himself for three decades to the investigation in mechanisms of violence and mass phenomena, often exploring the perpetrators’ perspective and uncompromisingly focusing particularly on German history. As part of the German contribution at the French Pavilion, he shows the documentary “8. Mai” (2005/2013), a documentary film shot during the large demonstration the Neo-Nationalist Party of Germany held on Berlin’s Alexanderplatz on May 8, 2005, on occasion of the 60th anniversary of the end of the Second World War.
He also presents the film “Hamburger Lektionen” (“Hamburg Lectures”), 2006, in which the famous German stage and movie actor Manfred Zapatka, appearing in front of a neutral backdrop and speaking without emotion, recites the German translations of two sermons the Moroccan-born Salafi imam Mohammed Fizazi delivered in January 2000 at Hamburg’s Al Quds Mosque – the Muslim community center also frequented by the terrorists who took part in the September 11, 2001 attacks.
Moreover, Karmakar screens several shorts he made for his personal film archive on YouTube and Vimeo over the past few years and has not published anywhere else. Some of them are animal films, shot at the Berlin zoo. Not unlike Ai Weiwei’s stools, the wild animals kept in cages and enclosures may be read as universal metaphors for life within a social system, an existence conditioned by external constraints and injunctions. Yet the “Hamburg Lectures”, which Karmakar calls a “German history,” as well as the documentary from the neo-Nazi demonstration in Berlin, which was also a manifestation of how the network of neo-Nazis operates internationally, provide quite tangible examples that today’s ideological identities evolve across borders between countries and elude classical national categories.
Another room contains a series of photographs by South African photographer, Santu Mofokeng, entitled, “Ancestors / Fearing the Shadows”:
Again, from Susanne Gaensheimer:
Santu Mofokeng’s photographic series…similarly reveal collisions between transnational developments, ancient traditions, and personal fates. Mofokeng started out as a street photographer in Soweto in the 1970s and subsequently documented the battles South Africa’s black people waged against apartheid as well as their everyday life in the townships; he is now regarded as one of the country’s preeminent and most respected black artists and photographers. …his contribution for Venice…documents how the spiritually charged landscapes of Mpumalanga Province in northeastern South Africa fall victim to the appropriation of land by mining corporations and are desecrated, a growing development all over the world. …Santu Mofokeng’s photographs show the perspectives of those who experienced everyday life under apartheid and their view onto the landscapes they have imbued with spiritual meaning and their renewed defilement today
Once more, from Susanne Gaensheimer in the catalogue:
The world of Dayanita Singh’s pictures is informed by a way of life in which classical Indian traditions of society and family clash with modern existence. …As though in a dreamlike state, her photographic essays and slide projections fuse innumerable images from her Indian past with her perceptions of the present. Mona is the heart and anchor of Singh’s nomadic life. Probably the one person whom the artist has portrayed more often than anyone else, she stands at the center of a film Singh has developed for the German contribution at the French Pavilion. Mona is a eunuch, without a past or relatives, a double outcast rejected first by her family and society and eventually even by the community of eunuchs. Mona now lives in a cemetery in Old Delhi; without a family of her own, she has become Singh’s surrogate family.
The most powerful images occur in a slide presentation, “Sea of Files,” on the center wall. These powerful black and white images have a haunting impact:
The title of Anri Sarla’s three part film presentation for the French Pavilion, “Ravel Ravel Unravel,” is a play on words: taken as a verb, “ravel” has its opposite in “unravel”; but “ravel” also has a reference to the proper name “Ravel,” the French composer. At the heart of the project is the piano piece composed by Maurice Ravel, Concerto in D for the Left Hand:
When he returned after two years of captivity in a Russian camp, the Viennese pianist Paul Wittgenstein (the brother of philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein), whose right arm had been amputated during the First World War, commissioned works for himself…from famous composers such as Hindemith,…Strauss,…Prokofiev, and above all, Ravel.
…the Concerto in D for the Left Hand, [was] completed in 1930. This seventeen-minute concerto, in one movement, is energetic and very rhythmical with jazz-like effects…
(by Christine Macel, the curator, in the book about this exhibition)
The first of the three rooms of the pavilion, there is an HD video projection of the face of a woman, concentrating hard on something—although there is no indication as to who she is or what she is doing. As Macel writes, “The viewer first discovers a film…whose meaning, in the absence of any music, remains open.” (This and the film in the third room are both identically entitled, “Unravel.”
In the large, darkened central room of the pavilion, there is the simultaneous projection of two HD videos, entitled “Ravel Ravel.” Each film—projected one above the other—focuses on the left hand of a famous pianist—Louis Lortie in the one and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet in the other, each performing Ravel’s Concerto in D for the Left Hand, each accompanied by the Orchestra National de France, conducted by Didier Benetti. Here the audio is extremely intense: the two pianists’ interpretations and pacing of the Ravel Concerto are quite different, and the discrepancies between their tempos have been combined into an amazingly heavy, complex musical texture by Sarla in collaboration with the composer/conductor Ari Benjamin Meyers. It sounds ridiculous, but the musical effect actually works—and the intensity of the sound, combined with the visual complexity of the pianists’ left hands on their respective keyboards, creates a rather captivating effect.
The piece rather falls apart in the third room, where the woman from the first room, who turns out to be a DJ named Chloé, creates yet another version of the musical production, manipulating two turntables, DJ-style. This segment is as off-putting visually as it is musically; and, unfortunately, undercuts whatever the positive aspects of the central room’s experience had been.
Wifredo Díaz Valdéz primarily uses found wooden objects in his work. In the exhibition in the Uruguay Pavilion, “Time (Time) Time,” Valdéz has constructed sculptures using an ingenious mechanical system employing wooden hinges that allow him to open up the found objects in unexpected ways, creating surprising and pleasing spatial effects. I found the following three sculptures to be particularly wonderful (although I do not have identifying information about any of them):
For the Brazil Pavilion, curator Luis Pérez-Oramas selected five Brazilian artists from different generations along with one Bauhaus artist. Together, their works are shown in a project that studies the Möbius strip—the infamous single-sided surface with only one boundary component.
There was only one of the five, Odires Mláshzho, who had work that captivated us—his “Voices in the Curtains,” a series of sculptures constructed out of identically-sized books:
The exhibition in the Venice Pavilion, “Silk Map,” was curated by Ewald Stastny, who chose six artists to use as their inspiration Venice’s historical involvement as the production center, still active today, amidst the network of trade and maritime routes between East and West that have been operating for a thousand years, bringing together rare and precious materials, refined techniques, and artistic vision to produce the fabrics and art the city remains famous for. Three historic fabric companies—Bevilacqua, Fortuny, and Rubelli—join with these artists to showcase what all this “soft art” of weaving has produced. As the catalogue puts it,
AES+F as Baroque visionaries, Mimmo Roselli in the visualization of ethno-cultural parallel worlds, Marialuisa Tade on the micro-stage of the cosmos, Marya Kazoun in the interaction of textile with gesture as performance, Anahita Razmi in her exploration of aesthetics and value, and Yiqing Yin in a dialogue of form and gestalt—all take part in this journey along old routes with contemporary contents and identities.
Marya Kazoun’s strange “Of Selves Pixies and Goons,” combine sculptural form with two live performers:
Marialuisa Tade’s beautiful ovoid solid invited one inside its outer beautiful surface into the darkly colorful world within:
Anahita Razmi’s “Iranian Beauty” video projection was quire captivating:
And the fabrics, like this “Madama Butterfly” from Rubelli, were breath-takingly sumptuous:
IN BOTH THE GIARDINI AND THE CORDERIE IN THE ARSENALE
The main show, “The Encyclopedic Palace” (“Il Palazzo Enciclopedico”), organized by Massimiliano Gioni, while essentially a continuous exhibition, is physically spread over two sites—the Central Pavilion in the Giardini and the Corderie in the Arsenale.
“The Encyclopedic Palace,” a title based on Italian-American artist Marino Auriti’s 1955 architectural model (description above in the Introduction) for a museum to “house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race,” is an immense international exhibit with more than 150 artists from 38 countries participating. According to the Biennale website,
Massimiliano Gioni, much more than presenting us with a list of contemporary artists, wishes to reflect on their creative urges and seems to push the question even further: what is the artists' world? The prospective interest goes so far as to search for relations with different worlds; thus the Exhibition presents works by contemporary artists, but also historical works, different references, and works that do not claim to be works of art but which are nonetheless compose the stimuli that allow us to imagine and dream beyond reality, dream another reality. That is, the visions that in the classical period helped arouse artists’ “aspirations,” and in modern times are the “obsessions” of the same; and to give tangible form to both, down to the present time when there is a real reversal. Today, as Gioni’s exhibition suggests, reality lays a plethora of images and visions on a lavishly decked out table; all these images strike us and, though we are unable to escape them, it is perhaps the artist who, if anyone, might pass through them unharmed, as Moses did in the Red Sea.”
The Encyclopedic Palace investigates the desire to see and know everything: it is a show about obsessions and about the transformative power of the imagination. The exhibition opens in the Central Pavilion with a presentation of Carl Gustav Jung’s Red Book. “In the vast hall of the Arsenale - redesigned for this occasion in collaboration with architect Annabelle Selldorf - the exhibition sketches a progression from natural forms to studies of the human body, to the artifice of the digital age, loosely following the typical layout of sixteenth- and seventeenth-century cabinets of curiosities. Through the many examples of artworks and figurative expressions on view, including films, photographs, videos, bestiaries, labyrinths, performances and installations, The Encyclopedic Palace emerges as an elaborate but fragile construction, a mental architecture that is as fantastical as it is delirious.”
The Encyclopedic Palace – concludes Gioni - is a show that illustrate a condition we all share: we ourselves are media, channeling images, or at times even finding ourselves possessed by images.”
The great profusion and variety of works contained within it—and the limited time we had to absorb it all—left me with too few images of what this vast collection of works contained and without specific memories of what many of the pieces I did photograph are; but I am nevertheless including a number of the photographs I took of things in both venues that caught my eye, as I believe they may catch yours, as well. (I have, however, described below those of the photographs that are identifiable to me.)
Carl Gustav Jung’s The Red Book (Liber Novus) is a 205-page illustrated manuscript, begun in about 1914 (after the dissolution of Jung’s relationship with Freud) and not completed until 1930. Jung and his heirs did not permit scholars access to it until 2001; and it was not actually published (in digitally reproduced facsimile form) until 2009. It is being displayed for the first time in Italy in this Biennale. The Red Book is made up of a collection of visions and fantasies. Jung is quoted on the back cover of the 2009 edition as having said about this time and this project,
The years… when I pursued the inner images, were the most important time of my life. Everything else is to be derived from this. It began at that time, and the later details hardly matter anymore. My entire life consisted in elaborating what had burst forth from the unconscious and flooded me like an enigmatic stream and threatened to break me. That was the stuff and material for more than only one life. Everything later was merely the outer classification, scientific elaboration, and the integration into life. But the numinous beginning, which contained everything, was then.
There are many who romanticize this episode in Jung’s life, but is far more likely that he was experiencing a psychotic break of some form—at least at the earlier end of it.
Here is an image of the actual book and a couple of pages from it:
Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser, “387 Houses of Peter Fritz:
A performance piece
One of my few great disappointments at this Biennale, having seen the Corderie in all its glory when we were at the 2006 Biennale for Architecture, was the way the magnificent 300 meter-long unbroken longitudinal axis of Antonio da Ponte’s incredibly vast 16th century rope-making building was completely broken up by the rooms created within it for the exhibits. At the Biennale for Architecture, one could get a view down the central axis of this space and get the feel for the grandeur of this incredible building (vid., my write up of the 2006 Architecture Biennale, and the image below of the raw space of the Corderie).
My friend Ricky Burdett, Director of that Biennale, explained to me, however, that the Corderie poses one major obstacle to art exhibits: the rules prohibit attaching anything—even a single nail—to its 16th century walls, which poses quite a problem for an exhibition of this sort. Nevertheless, I was still disappointed not to be able to have much of any sense of the form and fabric of this great building.
One of a series of photographs of sculpted head-styles,
A photograph of Cairo,
A video presentation of a man stacking eggs:
An array of video loops:
One of our favorite surprises was a huge room, the outer walls and solid circular center of which were lined with individually matted and framed copies of every page of Book of Genesis—Illustrated, by R. Crumb–author of the iconic “Keep On Truckin” comic that was published as part of the first edition of Zap Comix in 1968, and probably best known for his comic book series, Fritz the Cat (definitely not “Felix the Cat”), which began in 1965)
Here are the first two pages:
I, naturally, had to find a copy for myself (and did so on Amazon.com), and it is from W. W. Norton & Company, New York, 2009. Here is a scanned copy (from my new copy of the book, and therefore higher resolution than my BlackBerry photographs) of a page from the Adam and Eve story, which rather gives the feel of R. Crumb’s illustrations:
It should be noted that the book has the following three notations on its cover (q.v., on the Biennale version, above):
ALL 50 CHAPTERS
THE FIRST BOOK OF THE BIBLE GRAPHICALLY DEPICTED! NOTHING LEFT OUT!
ADULT SUPERVISION RECOMMENDED FOR MINORS
The text of the R. Crumb edition, by the way, accurately reproduces the complete text of Genesis: Translation and Commentary, translated by Robert Alter, W. W. Norton & Co., 1996—a rather credible translation.
A Haitian Vodou Flag,
OTHER BIENNALE-RELATED EVENTS AND EXHIBITIONS
There are many other events that take place in Venice which are directly or indirectly related to the Biennale: there are the Collateral Events (click here for a complete listing), and exhibitions that take place in some of the museums, galleries, and institutions of Venice. I am going to describe here four wonderful ones—The Tàpies exhibit at the Palazzo Fortuny, The Acqua Alta exhibit at the Rubelli Showrooms, and two wonderful exhibits at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection (long our favorite place in Venice, and always the home of our favorite art there [q.v., my-write up of Venice in my travel piece on Italy—soon to have major revisions after this latest visit to Venice and Florence]), Robert Motherwell: Early Collages and The Schulhof Collection—although there were so many that we never even had any chance of seeing.
One of the most exquisite surprises of our visit to Venice was the show at the Palazzo Fortuny about the Catalan artist, Antoni Tàpies. The exhibition, curated in close collaboration with the Tàpies family, shows an amazing collection of his works, along with some fabulous works of art by others (e.g., Miró, Picasso, Kline, Pollock) which he had in his personal collection—and all within the grand Palazzo of Marian Fortuny, himself an amazingly eclectic collector.
Born in Barcelona in 1923, Tàpies is the best-known Catalan artist of the 20th century (and any trip to Barcelona should include a visit to the Fundació Antoni Tàpies). Heavily influenced by Miró and Klee, Tàpies developed a technique often called “pintura matèrica (material painting),” using non-traditional materials within his paintings, and a style of mixed-media painting, collage, and assemblage that combined abstraction with symbolism and political content.
I include here just a few wonderful images from the show (all by Tàpies, unless otherwise noted).
(A painted bronze sculpture)
Ulls I crreus en vertical 2008
A most unusual and beautiful bronze sculpture by Alberto Giacometti, Homme (Apollon), 1929:
An extremely unusual untitled Robert Motherwell painting from 1963:
In the wonderful Rubelli Showrooms, within the marvelous Palazzo Corner Spinelli, is a special exhibition—Acqua Alta (High Tide)—hosted by Rubelli and designed to coincide with the Biennale. Acqua Alta is a reference to the tidal nature of Venice’s ecosystem in general, and to the very specific effects of the very high tides that Venice has experienced recently—and the “mark” they have left on the city.
The project is meant to emphasize multiple aspects of the importance of Venice and the region of the Veneto—their cultural and historical heritage and the unique techniques and the numerous secrets of their artisans. Venice has been a center of trade and world commerce for centuries—ranging from textile art with its precious fabrics to glass-blowing in Murano. According to the Rubelli website,
Acqua Alta...is the tie that binds all these techniques together starting from the unique natural phenomenon that embraces them all: water as a means of transport, water as a source of energy, water as a complexity that influences the lives of its citizens often leaving indelible signs.
These reflections have become the inspiration for the first Acqua Alta collection that includes a series of precious fabrics made in collaboration with Rubelli – an established Venetian company -, a carpet, a collection of exclusive ambiance fragrances with diffusers made of blown glass and a marble lamp. Acqua Alta is the consequence of the careful observation of different effects provoked by this particular and natural phenomenon which is the high tide.
The aim of this collection is to translate a serious and delicate theme such as the particularity of the high water in Venice into objects which adapt to the contemporary life.
Working from photographs of the “marks” and colors the high tides have left on the walls and buildings of Venice,
the artists at Rubelli have created a series of precious fabrics entitled “I Sestieri” (a reference to the six districts into which Venice is divided) which recreate in their elegant weave (again, from the Rubelli website),
all the colors and textures that have appeared over time on the plasters and marbles scattered everywhere on the Venetian walls, due to the erosive action of sea water. After elaborate research along the streets of Venice, trying to capture the different combinations of colors, gradients and textures, we developed several patterns to create a collection of textiles to be expressed in a variety of uses, from curtains to furniture upholstering.
Here are some examples of these exquisite fabrics:
Another important element of the collection is La Giudecca—a carpet designed based on a photo taken to some steps in the Guidecca sistiere of Venice,
recreating the same effect of steps’ depth and color gradation produced by the effects of the water:
The Biennale-relate Robert Motherwell: Early Collages show at The Peggy Guggenheim Collection was quite an impressive treat. Motherwell is a long-time favorite of ours (and Nancy’s most important mentor in collage was Leo Manso, one of Motherwell’s good friends and colleagues), and we had not before had the opportunity to see many of these early works.
Motherwell first experimented with collage in 1943, and this show presents 44 works from this earliest period from museums and private collections from across the world. According to the Peggy Guggenheim’s website.
The exhibition also honors Peggy Guggenheim. Friendship, patronage, stimulus, and promotion were all components of Peggy’s manifold generosity to Motherwell as well as to other Americans while still in their formative years as artists. In fact, Peggy Guggenheim’s catalytic impact on Motherwell’s development is typical of her crucial role in New York’s 1940s art scene. Thanks to her encouragement and under the tutelage of Chilean Surrealist artist Matta (Roberto Antonio Sebastián Matta Echaurren), Motherwell first experimented with collage in 1943. As he recalled years later, “I might never have done it otherwise, and it was here that I found […] my ‘identity’.” Motherwell’s earliest papier collé works were featured in Exhibition of Collage, the first international presentation of collage in the United States. This groundbreaking show was held at Peggy Guggenheim’s Art of This Century museum-gallery in spring 1943. On this occasion, Motherwell displayed his works next to other European artists who were working with collage, such as Henri Matisse, Pablo Picasso and Kurt Schwitters. Little more than a year later, in autumn 1944, Peggy mounted Motherwell’s first solo U.S. exhibition, which proved to be one of the largest shows in the history of Art of This Century. Over the next decade, Motherwell’s production of large-scale collages even outpaced his creation of paintings; his enthusiasm for and dedication to the collage technique for the remainder of his career sets Motherwell apart from other artists of his generation.
We loved the earliest of Motherwell’s collages that were in the show:
Untitled, 1943, Ink, gouache, watercolor, pastel, and pasted colored papers and printed paper on Japanese paper, mounted on paperboard (Galerie Jeanne-Bucher, Paris; © Dedalus Foundation, Inc/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
Figure with Blots 1943,Oil, ink, crayon, and pasted paper and Japanese paper on paperboard (David and Audrey Mirvish, Toronto; © Dedalus Foundation, Inc/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
Personage (Autoportrait), December 9, 1943, Gouache, ink, and Japanese paper collage on paperboard (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Venice ; © Dedalus Foundation, Inc/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
The Door, July 1943, Ink on paper (Private collection; © Dedalus Foundation, Inc/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
We also really loved a couple of the later in the series:
Collage in Yellow and White, with Torn Elements, 1949, Casein, watercolor, graphite, pasted Kraft papers, Japanese paper, glassine tissue, drawing papers, and wood veneer on board (Collection Mr. and Mrs. Eugene F. Williams III; © Dedalus Foundation, Inc/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY)
If the truth be known, we both prefer some of Motherwell’s collages from a later period in his career—although some of these earlier ones were, indeed, wonderful. There is a show of Motherwell’s later collages in London, Robert Motherwell: Collage (at the Bernard Jacobson Gallery, 5 June - 27 July2013) designed to coincide with this Peggy Guggenheim Collection's exhibition. Unfortunately, we just missed the opening of that show during our brief stay in London on our return from the Biennale—but it claims to be “the most comprehensive exhibition of Motherwell's collages ever to be held.” So those of you in London during that time period…take note!
Those of you in New York, on the other hand, should take note that, after Venice, the exhibition (Robert Motherwell: Early Collages) will be on display at the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum in New York, 27 September 2013 – 5 January 2014.
Hannelore B. Schulhof has made the gift of 80 works of post-World War II European and American art to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice (where they will remain permanently). These incredibly important paintings, sculptures and works on paper—collected by Mrs. Schulhof and her late husband Rudolph B. Schulhof—represent an incredible addition to this museum’s already amazing collection (the Peggy is our favorite place in Venice, and always the home of our favorite art there [q.v., my-write up of Venice in my travel piece on Italy—soon to have major revisions after this latest visit to Venice and Florence]). Many wonderful works from the Schulhof Collection are on exhibit currently at the Peggy. It is a truly magnificent collection.
The Schulhof Collection contains several fabulous works by Jean Dubuffet, including this one,
And Dubuffet’s wonderful, Staircase VII, 1967, Acrylic on canvas (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012; © Jean Dubuffet, by SIAE 2012):
The collection has what I found to be the most totally satisfying painting by Andy Warhol I have ever seen: Flowers, 1964, Oil on canvas (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012; © Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts):
There are a couple of great paintings by Ellsworth Kelly, including this one:
which was interestingly displayed in beautiful juxtaposition with a great Alexander Calder sculpture, Red Disc-White Dots, 1960, Sheet metal, wire, and paint (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012; © Calder Foundation, New York / Artists Rights Society [ARS], New York):
There is a terrific Cy Twombly, Untitled, 1967, Oil and crayon on canvas (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012; © Cy Twombly Archive)-
The collection includes a fabulous painting by Willem de Kooning, Nude Figure— Woman on the Beach, 1963, Oil on paper, mounted on canvas (Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, Hannelore B. and Rudolph B. Schulhof Collection, bequest of Hannelore B. Schulhof, 2012; © 2012 The Willem de Kooning Foundation):
A couple of marvelous works by Richard Diebenkorn, including the following:
A most unusual and beautiful work by Brice Marden,
And a terrific Donald Judd-