Sunday, June 5, 2011

54th Venice International Art Festival - Bits & Pieces

The late Christoph Schlingensief-German Pavilion
Winner of the Golden Lion for best National Participation
photo: Andrea Merola/EPA
(Venice, Italy) Christoph Schlingensief did not live to physically accept the Golden Lion for Best National Participation on behalf of Germany, but I think his spirit was there as Aino Laberenz, his wife and long-time collaborator, and Susanne Gaensheimer, the curator, took the stage on his behalf at the awards ceremony yesterday, June 3, at the 54 Venice International Art Festival. The main hall of the German Pavilion is the stage where the powerful Fluxus Oratorio A Church of Fear vs. the Alien Within has been installed, which Schlingensief conceived for the 2008 Ruhrtriennale when he knew he was dying of lung cancer -- the "alien" that took his life just shy of his 50th birthday. In the right wing of the pavilion's two side wings are selected films created by Schlingensief; the left wing is dedicated to the opera village he was creating in Africa, which includes a school with film and music classrooms, a café, a hospital and a central theater building with a festival hall. According to Wikipedia:

In a note to [Schlingensief's] death in the Süddeutsche Zeitung, Literature Nobel Prize Laureate Elfriede Jelinek wrote: "Schlingensief was one of the greatest artists who ever lived. I always thought one like him can not die. It is as if life itself would be dead. He was not really a stage director (in spite of Bayreuth and Parsifal), he was everything: he was the artist as such. He has coined a new genre that has been removed from each classification. There will be nobody like him."

This year's jury itself is an international potpourri of characters. The president is Hassan Khan (Egypt), Carol Yinghua Lu (China), Letizia Ragaglia (Italy), Christine Macel (France) and John Waters (USA). The Golden Lion for the Best Artist at the ILLUMInations Exhibition went to Christian Marclay (USA) for The Clock, a 24-hour video work which was called "a masterpiece." It is completely addicting; I had to force myself to stop watching the video and yank myself up off the sofa to write this blog. Click HERE to read Roberta Smith's excellent review for the New York Times; the only thing that is different is that real time has been adjusted to keep Venice time, not New York time. Upon accepting the Golden Lion, Christian Marclay said, "Thank you for giving The Clock its fifteen minutes." 

The Silver Lion for a Promising Young Artist at the ILLUMInations Exhibition went to Haroon Mirza of Great Britain. Two special mentions went to Lithuania for Behind the White Curtain by Darius Mikšys and Klara Lidén (Sweden) for Untitled, (Trashcan).  Lifetime achievement Golden Lions went to the Austrian artist, Franz West, and to Sturtevant, the American artist who is based in Paris. 

On Friday, I had the great honor of shaking the hand of Argentine President Cristina Fernández de Kirchner, who has got to be one of the most beautiful and charming presidents in the world. She was here to celebrate the signing of the permanent Argentine Pavilion in the "Sale d'Armi" of the Arsenal. (She is seated there on the right, together with the President of Israel, Shimon Peres, who is seated on the left, and was here for the opening of Israel's pavilion, the optimistic One Man's Floor is Another Man's Ceiling by Sigalit Landau.) 

The Argentine Pavilion features the work of Adrián Villar Rojas, a young artist from Rosario "who is stunning the international art world with monumental works and unconventional materials." The installation is entitled El as asesino de tu herencia (The Murderer of Your Heritage) and was like being in a grey Alice in Wonderland kind of world, with enormous mushroom-like clay sculptures. It was especially thrilling to walk around the installation in the presence of the President of Argentina; she seemed to embody what Biennale President Paolo Baratta had called, "that mysterious goddess quality: an open view of the world." 

Adrian Villar Rojas
The Murderer of Your Heritage
One of the most riveting and emotional installations was Egypt's 30 Days of Running in Place by Ahmed Basiony. Five screens played videos of Basiony's video documentation of a project he had recorded one year ago, when he was, literally, running in place for a performance piece. Alternating with those videos were videos of the uprisings in downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square that Basiouny filmed with his digital camera and phone camera beginning on January 25, 2011 through January 27, 2011. According to the press information, he was killed by snipers of the Egyptian Police Forces in Tahrir Square on January 28, 2011 at the age of 32. These are the last words on Ahmed Basiony's Facebook page:

Please, O Father, O Mother, O Youth, O Student, O Citizen, O Senior, and O more. 
You know this is our last chance for our dignity, the last chance to change the regime that has lasted the past 30 years. Go down to the streets and revolt, bring your food, your clothes, your water, masks and tissues, and a vinegar bottle, and believe me, there is but one very small step left... 
If they want war, we want peace, and I will practice proper restraint until the end to regain my nation's dignity.

Ahmed Basiony left behind a wife and two small children, Adam, age 6 and one-year-old Salma. Basiony was an electronic musician and video artist, and considered one of the most important Egyptian artists of the new generation. He had received his Masters from Art Education-Helwan University, where he was a teacher. After I visited the installation, I spoke to an 11-year-old boy from Egypt who was seated in a chair where the curator was supposed to be. He said that Basiony did not die right away from the bullets, so he was also run over by a car. 

Cat's favorite installation title comes from the Indian Pavilion: EVERYONE AGREES IT'S ABOUT TO EXPLODE.

I'll leave you with a poor-quality version of Martin Sostre's 2009 satirical video, "Tango With Obama," which is looping inside the Latin American Pavilion through November. I must have watched it ten times by now. I'd like to dedicate the video to Sara Jane Boyers, David Gersh, Steven R. Boyers, Megan H. Jones, William R. Gill, Dottie Wydock, the ashes of my father, Christian Bauer III, the memory of Frank Wisner and the 30,000 people killed by the Soviet Union during the Hungarian Revolution of 1956, the same week that France, Great Britain and Israel attacked Egypt in an attempt to recapture the Suez Canal. Can someone please name a country whose soul the "United States of America" has not tried to blacken? The USA our Founders created would never behave in such a fashion. Why did we throw the tea in the harbor? Benjamin Franklin is turning in his grave. 

Ciao from Venice,


  1. Check all list of art galleries in USA states wise

    List of Art Galleries in US

  2. Alternating with those videos were videos of the uprisings in downtown Cairo and Tahrir Square that Basiouny filmed with his digital camera and phone camera beginning on January 25, 2011 through January 27, 2011. According to the press information, he was killed by snipers of the Egyptian Police Forces in Tahrir Square on January 28, 2011 at the age of 32. These are the last words on Ahmed Basiony's Facebook page:

  3. Thank you Cat for bringing a little bit of Venice to me in your posts and your excellent reporting!!! Keep them coming!

  4. Thank you for your great coverage of the Biennale! I have always wanted to go. I also always wondered how my country decided to represent itself each time, and how daunting of a task that is. Did you see any of the Canadian pavilion?

    The Wanderfull Traveler

  5. Hi, Murissa -

    I agree that what a country sends to represent itself during La Biennale is a daunting task. Canada did something amusing this year: "On the approach to the Canada Pavilion Shearer has created a nine-metre-high free-standing mural in response to the architecture of the adjacent British and German Pavilions."

    The British and German Pavilions are enormous and Canada is sort of squeezed between them, set back. So, this year, with the tool shed entrance, your pavilion is much more visible and eye-catching. (I don't know when each pavilion was originally built, or what year Canada came on the scene.)

    I had a spat with the British because of the attitude of the red-haired fellow in charge, which I haven't written about... yet... (perhaps the Archbishop of Canterbury and Philip Pullman have done that better than I could in this week's New Statesman). But Germany was really great, and deserved to win.