By G. James Daichendt
The Venice Biennale is a cross between the Olympics and Epcot Center for the art world. Staged throughout the city of Venice, the main exhibition spaces are situated in the Giardini, a park that was originally created by Napoleon Bonaparte that now features 30 pavilions dedicated to particular nations that host independent exhibitions. Interestingly enough, these structures are considered sovereign spaces and potentially passports could be checked if so desired, an indicator of the national pride placed on these spaces and how this biannual exhibition provides a slice of the international art scene.
The 56th version of the Venice Biennale is titled All the Word’s Future; Okwui Enwezor, director of the Haus der Kunst in Munich, curated the principal exhibition spaces. A confusing and bewildering display of 136 artists are arranged in a maze of galleries spread between the two different locations. Enwezor has curated numerous international exhibitions and biennials and is credited for broadening Western centric concerns. The final display does not have an overall theme but is described appropriately by the curator as tectonic plates that are visible through a series of filters.
Visiting the pavilions is a refreshing experience. Highlights include Sarah Lucas’ humorous innuendos of cigarettes protruding from body cavities for the British pavilion. A captivating piece by Céleste Boursier-Mougenot’s features a kinetic tree that moves about the French gallery via electric current that speaks to the evolution of nature. Within the Swiss pavilion, Pamela Rosenkranz’ liquid installation represents the European flesh tones while it’s eerily contrasted by green lights upon entrance to maximize the difference between culture and nature. The Republic of Kosovo’s exhibit at the Arsenal by Flaka Haliti was one of the strongest. The enclosed space addresses the idea of borders beautifully through an artificial blue landscape. Jolting and immersive, the stripped columns suggest possibility and a new history.
A number of collateral exhibitions dot the landscape of the sunken city that round out and make the Biennale something special to visit. Los Angeles stakes its claim in Venice with such an exhibit entitled We Must Risk Delight featuring 20 artists from southern California. Tony de los Reyes’ seductive aerial paintings provide a topographical yet abstract view of the Western landscape using the Rio Grande while Frank Ryan’s oil paintings of the 2nd Street Tunnel are a stark contrast to the canals of Venice. Amir H. Fallah’s mysterious characters and Robbie Conal’s celebrations of cultural icons become comforting in this bizarre world of taxi boats.
From the main exhibition spaces to the smaller shows throughout Venice, the Biennale is a spectacular experience despite the overwhelming and somewhat unintelligible aspects of the art on display. The cacophony of installations and relational aesthetics are good, and in some ways accurate, indicators of current trends. Truman Capote characterized Venice like eating an entire box of chocolates in one go, and the Biennale with the tremendous amount of work on display easily fits that bill.
G. James Daichendt, Ed.D. is Professor and Dean of the Arts and Humanities at Point Loma Nazarene University in southern California. He is the author of: Shepard Fairey Inc., Artist/Professional/Vandal; Stay Up! Los Angeles Street Art; Artist-Teacher: A Philosophy for Creating and Teaching; and Artist Scholar: Reflections on Writing and Research. He is currently writing the official biography of artist Kenny Scharf. Explore Daichendt’s work on www.artist-teacher.com.
All images by author for editorial purposes only.