Passion Points: Arts/Culture
While I loved every minute of my first-ever Venice Biennale, I felt like I barely scratched the surface of this sprawling, exciting exhibition which uses the entire city as its canvas. From the moment I dropped my suitcase off at the Danielli (Venice’s aging empress in need of more than a little botox), I was racing from place to place dodging the crowds, waiting in lines and generally thinking, I must return when it’s quieter. I think the best way to see the Biennale if one is really interested in seeing the art and not the people is to visit this jewel of a city sometime after the Biennale’s initial June VIP opening and before its November 22 close.
While I found the quality of the work hit or miss, there are plenty of hits. Starting with the leafy Giardini, home to the larger country pavilions. The International pavilion in the main building is a must-see. Artist Tomas Saraceno has created a realistic, giant-size spider web of the world made from black elastic ropes. And those looking to laugh should check out “The Collectors” organized by Elmgreen & Dragset for the Danish and Nordic pavilions. Actors feigning to be real estate agents take viewers through two neighboring houses, one where a dysfunctional family resides (“You will never come back to this place” is scrawled on a mirror while a huge crack runs though the dining room table). The other house belongs to a porn-loving gay poet who is floating face-down in the swimming pool. Various artists have made everything from bathroom fixtures to paintings for the part fun/part dark installation.
Housed in a lovely Art Deco building, the Hungary pavilion shows “Col Tempo,” an exhibition of changing faces. Images of various artists like Rembrandt go from being young to old and back again. Images of Nazi POW’s watch us eerily as we move through the room. Fiona Tan’s videos in the Dutch pavilion were also mesmerizing, and I also liked the lovely foam paintings by Miquel Barcelo in the Spanish pavilion.
I missed seeing Steve Mc Queen’s video for the UK pavilion, which was partially sponsored by Outset, the zippy London-based arts charity I was traveling with. Reviews were mixed; many found the video a bit long and dull, not the talented McQueen’s finest. The Russian pavilion also produced mixed reactions. I listened to curator Olga Sviblova explain how the house of horrors with its creepy fake arms and stuffed cat was art. I did like the video of two huge bodies, one pumping with blood, the other petroleum (symbolizing life and death apparently) and the Easy Rider-esque Dennis Hopper motorcycle protruding from the side of the pavilion.
When we had taken in enough at the Giardini, Outset founders Yana Peel and Candida Guertler decided it was time to head off to Attilio Codognato for a jewelry break. We passed a show of artist Rebecca Horn on Piazza San Marco, but the shopping bug had taken hold as we walked to 1295 S. Marco, just off the main piazza near Chanel. Traditional-looking, but edgy broaches, necklaces and rings filled the Attilio’s window, a Damien Hirst-meets-Boucheron kind-of-shop.
On day two we hit the Arsenale, a former shipyard and rope factory, which now held a group show entitled “Making Worlds,” and curated by the youthful, Swedish-born Daniel Birnbaum. Many found that the strongest piece is—conveniently—the first. Made by Brazilian artist Leggia Pape, the serene, beautiful work is made from gold twine with light shining onto it. A few rooms down, I enjoyed “Human Being at Work” by a Camaroon artist bringing his village vividly to life. And just beyond that room, a Tibetan artist injects traditional Buddhist paintings, known as Tangkhas, with images from modern day, such as Donald Duck and Gordon Brown. Give yourself all morning to wander through the Arsenale.
PUNTA DELLA DOGANA
Architecture buffs will appreciate French tycoon Francois Pinault’s new vast gallery space designed by Japanese architect Tadao Ando. Housed in a former customs building that dates form the 17th century, the Punta Della Dogana Museum of Contemporary Art shows a laundry list of fashionable names. Maurizio Cattelan, Rachel Whiteread, Hiroshi Sugimoto, Sigmar Polke, Glenn Brown, Cindy Sherman, Paul McCarthey are all there, along with a host of other household names.
OTHER EXHIBITIONS NOT TO MISS
Beyond the Giardini and the Arsenale, definite highlights include the Palazzo Fortuny, the Mona Hotoum show at the Palazzo Querini Stampalia and a Rebecca Horn video in La Fenice’s opera house. My friend and art lover Claus Moelman describes the Palazzo Fortuny as a trove of treasures spanning 2,500 years. From a Bronze cat dating back to 206 B.C. through to a James Turrell soft-pink light installation that simultaneously resembles a huge rose-hued painting, window and TV screen. What makes the palazzo so special, says Moelman, is its intimacy. None of these works by a range of artists, from Picasso to Anish Kapoor, are signposted. On the top floor is an installation of a log cabin made from driftwood nailed to the wall. Look a little closer above the rustic bed and you’ll spot a little Rothko.
Palestinian artist Mona Hotoum has a brilliant exhibition called “Interior Landscape” in the 17th-century Palazzo Querini. Hotoum has subtly mixed her own politically charged modern pieces with the museum’s traditional works. Murano glass hand grenades sit alongside other more traditional pieces in a cabinet. Muslim prayer beads are magnified to canon ball size. Rebecca Horn’s surreal video “Fata Morgana,” meanwhile, is projected on the fire curtain of La Fenice and is a must see. Donald Southerland and Geraldine Chaplin star in the 20-minute film.
And if you have the energy, take the vaporetto over to Peggy Guggenheim’s Collection to see “Gluts”, a wonderful show of Robert Rauschenberg sculptures made from road signs, metal fans and abandoned car parts made by the American artist after visiting Texas during a glut in the oil boom of the ‘80’s.
Read the in-depth destination report about Venice
Read about other exciting museum debuts around the world this summer
Read an interview with Muriel Quancard-Johnson who offers insider tours around the Venice Biennale
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