Friday, 21 June 2013

Venetian Magic: An Overview of This Year's Biennale

As a Venice first timer I found the whole experience of the Biennale pretty exciting. I am also suffering from the feeling that I have missed out on so much, and desperately want to go back.

One of the first openings I went to really set the scene, an enchanting Antoni Tàpies exhibition hosted at the Museo Fortuny. Tàpies work was shown alongside the museum collection, a stunning selection of mysterious artefacts, dresses and paintings that belonged to the nineteenth century designer and art collector Mariano Fortuny.

From the Museo Fortuny collection

The Giardini is one of the main areas of the Biennale. It is a large park space with assorted pavilions to represent many of the participating countries. I was pretty underwhelmed, even disappointed, by what most countries chose to show as the best representation of their own art worlds. 

The Canadian Pavilion, displaying the work of artist Shary Boyle, stood out from the others. Heavy velvet walls gathered by a large tree formed a strange, dark, room, like a disorienting gypsy tent at a regional funfair. In the room were small spinning glittery figurines of monsters holding worlds on their backs, and as you left there was a theatrical set up that would transform whenever it was lit up by different translucent collages radiating from an overhead projector. The work had the aesthetic of a tiny toy theatre but was very large. 

Shary Boyle, The Cave Painter

Another favourite was the British Pavilion with Jeremy Deller’s exhibition English Magic, which contained wall murals of endangered birds attacking Range Rovers and William Morris throwing Ambramovic’s super yacht into the ocean. There were also real William Morris woodblocks, charming drawings by prison inmates, free tea and a video with a steel drum soundtrack. Like every other encounter I have had with Deller’s work, I had a blast.

The overall theme of Biennale was Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopaedic Palace). This spanned the two main sites of the Biennale and consisted of hundreds of artists (well, over 150) and what felt like billions of artworks; a genuinely encyclopaedic experience. 

from Jeremy Deller's English Magic

Some of the work was unbearable, I couldn’t even be in the same room as the Tino Seghal Performance and there were too many hideous, macho sculptures, but when you found something good, it was really good, especially the section curated by Cindy Sherman. This is where I discovered the work of Carol Rama; there were a number of her strange but fascinating watercolours on display. Similarly captivating were Laurie Simmons' photographs of microscopic melted doll faces and collections of weird old Victorian photographs, preparatory tattoo drawings and creepy doll sculptures.

The strongest pavilions were out in the labyrinthine streets of Venice, dotted around the city, hidden away in dusty palazzos, with period décor, baroque silk and crumbly wall murals. These buildings only open their doors to the public every couple of years. This is what I love most about Venice: the potent visual setting and the different ways in which each exhibition compliments or clashes with it. The pattern from the palazzo's marble floor was used throughout Bedwyr Williams’ exhibition at the Welsh Pavilion (The Starry Messenger) as part of a witty journey through the concept of space and universal time.

Carol Rama, Gebisse

Another highlight was the future generation prize, which was hosted within the beautiful and crumbly Palazzo Contarini Polignac. Xing Yan's performance was a favourite of mine from this show. It appeared to be a porn shoot, taking place in one of the beautiful 17th century bedrooms, with a naked man writhing around in the bed and stroking the sheets with comedy dramatics. A bunch of melodramatic actors played the parts of the film crew; barking orders, having tantrums, swearing and storming through the peeping crowd at the doorway whilst shouting on their mobile phones, it was really entertaining, I kept going back for more.

I can’t help but liken the Venice Biennale experience to that of a music festival; waking up early and walking around with a mission to see as many shows as you possibly can in the rain, and in the evening comparing highlights with your friends and then partying until 6 in the morning.

Kirsty Buchanan

Venice Biennale,
1 June - 24 November 2013

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