Chief Curator Janice Driesbach recently traveled to Italy where she experienced the Venice Biennale 55th International Art Exhibition.
Our first afternoon we made our way via a short vaporetto ride and on foot to two of the collateral Biennale exhibitions—both in palazzi (palace-like buildings) along the Grand Canal. We saw a section of Glasstress: White Light/White Heat in elegant rooms, each adorned with amazing chandeliers (most of which were part of the original decor, it seemed). Rina Banjeree‘s multimedia installation (photo below) was a highlight there. I have admired her works on paper for some time, but her 3-D work was new to me.
Next we saw Rudolf Stingel’s extraordinary installation at the Palazzo Grassi. 38 rooms (I’m told, didn’t count) with floors and walls covered with inkjet-printed carpet each containing one of Stingel’s paintings. An amazing contemplative space.
On our second day we headed to the first of the two main exhibition sites—the Arnsenale, which formerly housed an armory and shipyards. We were greeted by Marino Aurito’s model that gave the name to this year’s event, The Encyclopedic Palace. Highlights included Camille Henrot’s single-channel video Grosse Fatigue, which earned a Silver Lion award (think Oscars for artists) and is featured on the cover of the current Artforum.
Drawings by the Turkish artist Yüksel Arslan using potash, honey, egg whites, oil, bone marrow, blood and urine were also quite wonderful. While there were few paintings represented at the Arsenal , three canvases by Daniel Hesidence (born in Akron, as it turns out) were quite fine.
A special section of the exhibition was curated with Cindy Sherman—and included photo albums Sherman has collected and used as inspiration for her work. Among the interesting artists featured there was Phyllis Galembo, featuring residents of Ghana dressed for masquerades that parody festivals Europeans introduced.
Beyond the main exhibition galleries were national pavilions, including wonderful representations from Argentina (videos and sculptures evoking Eva Peron), Turkey, and Indonesia. Wandering to the back of the Arsenale at the end of the day, we were serenaded by Ragnar Kjartanssson’s crew of seven musicians aboard the S.S. Hangover and delighted by a wall of drawings by Marco Tirelli in the Italian Pavilion.
Our third day was spent at the second major Biennale site, the Giardini. One room featured a wonderful combination of Ron Nagle’s evocative ceramics, and Tantric paintings and textiles by Geta Bratescu. Another highlight was the performance Tino Sehgal orchestrated with two performers aligned in chanting, dancing, beatboxing (which won Sehgal a Golden Lion).
One example of Tino Seghal’s orchestration—the performers rotate frequently so that the dynamics of the performance change constantly:
As at the Arsenale, there were a number of national pavilions nearby, including Sarah Sze’s carefully calibrated installations in the United States pavilion (which also earned a Golden Lion). Anri Sala’s three-part (four screen) video Ravel Ravel Unravel was also exquisite and Jeremy Deller’s English Magic was Great Britain’s quite fine entry, even accompanied by tea served in a gallery overlooking a garden (much appreciated late in the afternoon on a gray day).
Ai Wei Wei (below) in Germany’s presentation was also riveting. Yes, I know he’s not German, and neither were any of the other three artists in this wide-ranging exhibition (hosted in France’s space no less—France and Germany having traded pavilions this year)!