Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Over - La Biennale Art Exhibition 2013 Ends with a Bang

We sit starving amidst our gold by Jeremy Deller painted by Stuart Sam Huges
for the British Pavilion ENGLISH MAGIC
Photo by Cristiano Corte © British Council
(Venice, Italy) I grew up in a typical all-American small town in New Jersey called Pompton Lakes, which is about an hour outside of New York City. When I was thirteen-years-old, my 8th grade art class went on a field trip to MOMA, the Museum of Modern Art. It was like zipping through a wormhole to another universe where the aliens felt like friends. The art dazzled my mind, and made a permanent impression on my spirit.

The Encyclopedic Palace, the 55th La Biennale International Art Exhibition closed on Sunday, November 24, 2013 after setting many new records for attendance, one of the most impressive being that young people and students represented 31.75% of the total visitors.

Yiqing Yin - Photo by Enrico Zilli
Many of you out there do not know what La Biennale in Venice is, and that is understandable. It is sort of like Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida, except it is real. Venice held the very first Biennale on the planet back in 1895. There are national pavilions and other venues, and they are all filled with contemporary art from countries and artists all over the world from the beginning of June to the end of November. The foreign countries own the spaces of the permanent pavilions based in Giardini, which means "Gardens," so there are 30 actual buildings that house the art of each nation sprinkled throughout an enormous park filled with trees and shrubbery; it is like having little Art Embassies based here in Venice. This year there were 88 National Participations. There is no more room in Giardini for more Art Embassies, so the newer nations are based at Arsenale, and at other venues throughout Venice.

This year, Portugal achieved a first by sailing its pavilion
all the way from Lisbon and parking it outside the 
The number of countries that wish to join the World of Art grows larger every year -- this year there were 10 countries participating for the first time: Angola, the Bahamas, the Kingdom of Bahrain, the Republic of the Cote d'Ivoire, the Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu (a Polynesian island nation -- I looked that up for you:) and, most incredibly -- The Holy See! Each country has their own system of how they participate. For example, the pavilion of the United States is owned by the Peggy Guggenheim Collection with the approval of the US State Department. Great Britain's pavilion is managed by the British Council. So what we see is Art that has been filtered through the Government. And there are many governments that don't particularly like each other out there on the globe, but here in Venice they must cooperate and be peaceful and get along with each other in order to live in the World of Art.

Danae by Vadim Zakharov
for the Russian Pavilion
Photo: Contessanally
In addition to all the national goings-on, there is a Curator who decides the theme of the Biennale, and invites artists to bring his or her vision alive in the Central Pavilion at Giardini and over at Arsenale, an entirely different venue a short distance away. Arsenale is an enormous "arsenal" where Venice used to build its renowned ships that made her Queen of the Adriatic during her glory days during the Republic -- they could crank out an entire ship in just one day. This year there were 161 artists from 38 countries; the Curator was Massimilian Gioni, and the theme was The Encyclopedic Palace.

Marino Auriti's "Il Encyclopedico Palazzo del Mondo (ca. 1950s)
surrounded J.D. 'Okhai Ojeikere's photographs

                   Photo By Francesco Galli, Courtesy la Biennale di Venezia 
In addition to all that, there are Collateral Events which are promoted by international organizations and institutions held in different locations in Venice -- many of which are spectacular private palaces that you would never normally have the opportunity to see.

So, if you think visiting Epcot Center is fun, you should think about coming to Venice specifically to visit La Biennale, especially since contemporary art has become all the rage. Biennale, of course, means once every two years. So in odd number years there is Art Biennale, and in even numbered years there is Architecture Biennale, which is equally astonishing.

       Carl Jung, page from The Red Book, 1914-30
At the press conference, Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale said, with his usual wit, "This chapter has come to close with very positive quantitative and qualitative results. Very positive quantitative results are useful, firstly, because they allow us to satisfy those who believe that the task of cultural institutions is increasing hotel reservations -- and this was most certainly the case.

"However, these results are also a sign of a highly significant evolution in terms of quality, our primary concern. Some time ago we began specific research with regard to the people visiting La Biennale to contribute to the critical and cultural enrichment and sophistication of increasingly broad groups of visitors and young people.

"One element stands out," added Baratta. "Those who still only attend la Biennale's more social Vernissage and draw false conclusions must now acknowledge that we recorded more visitors in the three weeks in October than in the opening week. After the opening five days of the exhibition, the yachts all departed and the following six months were characterized by the presence of the backpack crowd. Many of those who came for the pre-opening returned to visit a second and third time; this is another important element, which makes our glorious Vernissage no longer the paradise but the purgatory of super experts in the field."

Photo: La Biennale
The point is that there is a glamour group that zips around the globe by private plane and yacht, attending Art Biennale openings which have sprung up all over the world, drifting from party to party, snatching up contemporary art for investment purposes -- and because it's always fun to hang out with the artists, who are often present. But then, later, there are also the curious, including a good percentage of young people, who come to Biennale and get zapped like I did when I first visited MOMA in NYC 45 years ago.

sarah sze: triple point (gleaner), 2013 US Pavilionphoto: tom powel imaging
Massimiliano Gioni, the Curator said, "The Encyclopedic Palace is an exhibition that tells the impossible desire of knowing and seeing everything: it's an exhibition that collects the adventures, tale and the histories of many individuals that -- often in solitude -- have tried to create a code, an image of the world, that could capture its richness. Many of them -- like Marino Auriti from whom we borrowed the title for this edition of the Biennale -- failed to reach their dreams because they worked in solitude. I had the luck to work with a talented team, with a great institution, with brilliant colleagues and collaborators, with the support of many generous donors, and with so many artists who accepted the invitation to exhibit at the Biennale with great enthusiasm and generosity.

"Therefore, if I was able to build this imaginary museum we call Biennale -- this year's Palazzo Enciclopedico -- I owe it to so many talented fellow adventurers who helped me throughout this journey."

Gioni concluded: "The success of visitors to this edition shows that art is something we do together and is a part of many people's lives."

Photo: Complex Art & Design
One of my favorite pavilions this year was the British's ENGLISH MAGIC by Jeremy Deller. The British seem to have found their sense of humor once again. When I walked in, an eccentric fellow was standing behind a movable counter.

"Have you got some English Magic there?" I asked.

"Indeed. Hold out your hands."

This I did. He placed an strange object in my palms. "That is a Neolithic hand axe dated around 4,000 BCE."

"Really? Wow! Where did they find it?" I could feel the ancient vibrations pulsing through my hands.

"Along the Thames."

"Along the Thames? Just lying around?"

"There are a lot of people who like to walk along the Thames looking for ancient treasures. Would you like to hold another?"


This time the object was shaped like a large arrowhead, with a distinct yellowish color. "That is probably the oldest object you will ever hold in your life," said the fellow. "That is a Lower Palaeolithic hand axe discovered around London. It dates back to 250,000 to 400,000 BCE before we were human beings. It's made of flint and amber."

"Wow. Before we were human. That is magic!"

English Magic by Jeremy Deller on display in the British Pavilion 
Courtesy: British Council. Photo: Simon Grant, Tate
The rest of the British Pavilion was equally entertaining -- they even served tea! That image you see at the very top of this post, We sit starving amidst our gold is described this way in the brochure from the British Council:

In June 2011 Roman Abramovich's 377-foot yacht, Luna, was moored alongside the Giardini quay. It blocked the view for many and a security fence was erected around it, restricting the use of the promenade by locals, tourists and visitors to the Biennale. This act enraged William Morris, the Victorian designer and socialist, who, though long dead, returned as a colossus and threw the yacht into the lagoon. The act is shown with examples of Morris's work, alongside privatisation certificates and coupons from the era following the break-up of the Soviet Union, the accumulation of which became the source of much of the wealth of present-day oligarchs.

Archivio Foto by Cindy Sherman
Photographic Albums
Photo by Francesco Galli
Courtesy by la Biennale di Venezia
It is always a little sad when La Biennale Art closes. This year more than 475,000 visitors attended the exhibition. I predict that in the future the attendance will grow by leaps and bounds as more people find their way into the Magical Mystical World of Art.

Ciao from Venezia,
Venetian Cat - The Venice Blog

1 comment:

  1. Many of you out there do not know what La Biennale in Venice is, and that is understandable. It is sort of like Epcot Center at Disney World in Florida, except it is real. Venice held the very first Biennale on the planet back in 1895.