Our Director of Studies, Anthony Rayworth visited the Venice Biennale for this month’s Theme of The Month, he shares his coverage of some of the fantastic exhibits at this year’s event.
Every two years Venice hosts its renowned International Arts & Architecture Biennale from May-November. Visitors get to explore the beautiful streets discovering non-commercial art from around the world, and get to take in some of the inspiring architecture and exhibits dotted around Venice.
There are also a host of other activities, such as theatre performances, film and off-site exhibitions throughout Venice which mean visitors also get to explore private palaces and venues that are not usually open to the public.
This year is its 56th year, and celebrates the 120th anniversary of the first Art Exhibition in 1895. I was lucky enough to attend this year’s prestigious Venice Biennale and got to see a fantastic array of architectural and contemporary art exhibitions in the main pavilions, which were centred around this year’s theme ‘All the World’s Futures’ chosen by this year’s curator, Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor.
About the Venice Biennale
Founded in 1895, the Biennale has actively promoted the research and promotion of new contemporary art trends, as well as organising exhibitions and research in all relevant sectors: Arts, Architecture, Cinema, Dance, Music and Theatre. Growing in popularity, the La Biennale di Venezia is now recognised as the world leader for both its contemporary art exhibition and for its Architecture Biennale, and is now one of the most famous and prestigious cultural organizations in the world.
Since 1998 the Art Biennale and Architecture Biennale are no longer simply exhibitions organized with the contribution of National Pavilions, but rest instead on three pillars:
· The exhibitions by National Pavilions, each with its own curator and project
· The International Exhibition by the Biennale curator, chosen specifically for this task
· Collateral Events, approved by the Biennale curator
This year saw 89 countries participate increasing from just 59 back in 1999, with its growing popularity the exhibition spaces have grown accordingly including a complete restoration of the 16th century Arsenale area which is still in progress. During the Biennale I made my way to several of the exhibitions situated within the beautiful buildings; the Giardini, Central Pavilion, the Italian Pavilion, the Arsenale and the National Pavilions. See the full list of venues here. Below I share my personal highlights of the Venice Biennale exhibitions.
The Proportio’ Museo Fortuny
An astonishing show on all four floors of this fantastic building curated by Axel Vervoordt. The quality of the thinking behind the exhibition restored my faith in the art of curation. The Axel & May Vervoordt Foundation have put together a rich collection of artefacts and artworks from across centuries that are related by proportion.
Exposed plaster walls, still bearing traces of moulding and painting from earlier centuries, along with antique Fortuny fabrics form the background to works as diverse as Botticelli and Elsworth Kelly paintings, an ancient architectural fragment from the Yemen, a 300BC Cycladic figure, a Carl Andre floor piece and a library of priceless books, including first editions of I Quattro libri dell’architettura written in 1570 by Andrea Palladio. The best exhibition in Venice without a doubt.
The Italien Pavillion; Arsenale
The exhibition featured homages from Jean-Marie Straub, William Kentridge, Davide Ferrario and a video-installation by UK Film director and Artist Peter Greenaway who was also selected to participate in this year’s “Tribute to Italy” exhibition at the Arsenale.
The Japanese Pavillion; Arsenale
Another favourite was the spectacular installation of red nets in the Japanese pavilion, thousands of keys from all over the world cascade down from above – some lost, and others caught in a wooden boat below to symbolise memories. A video of children summoning their earliest memories accompanied the installation to complete the metaphor that has been visualised so simply and beautifully.
The Australian Pavilion; Arsenale
One that was not to be missed, was the newly designed Australian pavilion which housed Fiona Hall’s immersive and intricate exhibition Wrong Way Time.
It was an interesting one to see, filled with an array of curiosities, objects and sculptural pieces like ‘All the King’s Men’, an 18 part display made from: wire, animal bones, horns and teeth, dice, knitted military uniforms, glass, leather boxing gloves and a pool ball.
The USA Pavillion; Arsenale
In the US Pavillion veteran American artist Joan Jonas’ multimedia installation ‘They Come to Us Without a Word’ drew a great level of attention during the event. With an almost eery atmosphere, the double exposed videos filled the room with scenes of children performing skits and dances in white paper hats & masks whilst ghost stories were re-told alongside creating a dream-like atmosphere.
The Central Pavilion, Giardini
I was also lucky enough to see a compact survey of works by the late Fabio Mauri whose work is often filled with poetic imagery and direct references to the Second World War, the rise of Fascism and the Holocaust and their lingering presence in today’s society.
In the cavernous warehouse Arsenale that has already been referred to as as a ‘glum assault course’ and ‘glum trudge,’ viewers are met with provocative imagery that depicts Venice’s past, conflict, violence and war.
Also in the Arsenale was Katharina Grosse’s eye-catching installation which was part of ‘All The World’s Futures‘ exhibition. The chaotic bursts of colour, jagged edges and wild spray painted sheets clash with their dark surrounding exhibits in terms of both colour and content, like the machetes welded to look like aloe vera fronds from Adel Abdessemed’s, or Monica Bonvicini’s black, dipped chainsaws that hang ominously from the ceiling.
And at the end of the Arsenale which goes on forever, I was greeted by an incredible sight of two, dragon-like symbolic creatures above the water by Chinese Artist Xu Bing.
But with so much to see and do whilst at this years Biennale, this is just a few of the fantastic exhibitions on until the 22nd November. I really would recommend visiting if you get the chance. Until next time, Anthony.