Venice, Tuesday morning, June 18, 2013

venice 572Breakfast outside on the top floor of the hotel.  I’m used to the small birds watching carefully for crumbs, but this seagull swooped in on a table that had just been vacated.  Seagulls are pretty big!  (But at the Serengeti Sopa Lodge in Tanzania – where I was on safari four years ago – monkeys waited for you to leave your breakfast table so they could grab packages of sugar and butter, and any of the delicious small bananas left over.)

After breakfast we walked to Giardini della Biennale for Il Palazzo Enciclopedico.

The Venice giardini is an area of parkland in the historic city of Venice which hosts the Venice Biennale Art Festival, a major part of the city’s cultural biennale. The gardens were created by Napoleon Bonaparte who drained an area of marshland in order to create a public garden on the banks of the Bacino di San Marco which is a narrow stretch of water dividing the gardens from St. Mark’s Square and the Doge’s Palace.

The gardens contain 30 permanent pavilions. Each pavilion is allocated to a particular nation and displays works of art by its nationals during the Venice Biennale. Several of the pavilions were designed by leading architects of the 20th century, including Carlo Scarpa and Alvar Aalto.

From Google maps (the quote above from Wikipedia), here is most of the triangle of the park, sprinkled with the pavilions.  The large one in the upper right is the Central Pavilion.


push cartA bit of a walk along the Grand Canal, up and down stairs crossing minor canals.  But if we thought there were a lot of stairs, consider that the only way to get merchandise around a city of canals includes bouncing a cart up and down the stairs.

Realized, as we were walking 15 minutes from our hotel to the Giardini della Biennale, that there are 12 steps up a bridge over each minor canal, 12 steps down, hard on my knees.  But half of those in our group have bad feet, knees, hips, back.   At least there was a ramp over the highest flight of steps.

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Note: visiting Venice in June one should bring an attractive umbrella or a good fan.  Our group was starting to look like an Asian tour group, the women holding umbrellas, except that we had brought our umbrellas expecting rain and were now using them to venice 574combat the heat!

There were people dressed in cheesy carnival costumes posing along the canal.  (Notice the Asian group behind with umbrellas.)



The Encyclopedic Palace (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico) is the title of the Venice Biennale’s 55th International Art Exhibition.venice 654

The Exhibition draws inspiration from the model of a utopian dream by Marino Auriti who filed a design with the U.S. Patent office in 1955, depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico, a museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge. Auriti created a model of a 136-story building to be built in Washington D.C., which would stand seven hundred meters tall and take up over sixteen square city blocks.

(We saw the huge model later in the day but I’ll insert it here.)

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First the American Pavilion.   New Yorker Sarah Sze (her father is Chinese, hence the last name) uses ordinary objects to create sculptures and site-specific installations.  Called “Triple Point,” her exhibition is about “orientation and disorientation.”  The New York Times has an interesting review (just the first page).  sarah-szes

Her art is totally weird and ambitious.  Imagine fixing these fake rocks to the roof of the pavilion.  The inside is even weirder!  I kinda stood there gap-mouthed.  Here are just a few of my photos to give you an idea of her montage, which takes up all of the rooms of the pavilion as well as the outside.  And I know my mother’s first comment would have been, How would you dust it?



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venice 580Then the Dutch Pavilion with Mark Manders’ Room with Broken Sentence, which starts with Window with Fake Newspapers, newspapers as vitrines (glass display cases), no word repeated, our relationship with words via newspapers.  Inside Working Table.  The head an important element – compare self with artwork.  And Mind Study.  Notice that the table is held up by the chairs, and the clay figure is supported by tension cables.  The sculpture and the woodwork are beautifully done.  A joke – what we expect to see v. art.  (Our guide, Francesca, who has pre-looked at everything, and culled for our “short” schedule, gives us insights into the artworks.)

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My favorite, however, is his Fox/Mouse/Belt.  My photo of it here, and a photo of it in a Via Garibaldi mini-mart:

since 1991 I always test a work that I’ve just finished in a supermarket. I just imagine a new work there and I check if it can survive where it doesn’t have the label of an artwork. It is just a thing that someone placed in a supermarket. Now I am sure that all of my works can stand in that environment.1

venice 585Venice: Fox/Mouse/Belt by Mark Manders, in a Via Garibaldi mini-mart

finland1findland2Next Finlandia with Falling Trees.  Outside Antii Laitinen has  done Tree Reconstruction, an installation/ performance.   (These two construction venice 587photos from the web site2.)

True to its title, the exhibition concept revisits a dramatic event at the 2011 biennale: the abrupt falling of a large tree that left the Finnish pavilion severely damaged and effectively closed the exhibition ahead of time. With this singular event as its starting point, Falling Trees reassesses our relationship with nature through multiple means of re-enactment and repetition. 3

venice 588Inside is his second work, It’s My Island, a 3-channel video projection in which Laitinen builds an island for himself.

venice 508Francesca talked about the microcosm, change of scale, an untidy world, ellipses, spheres, the environment – an unstable world.

venice 603On to the Belgian pavilion which

… featured the work of artist Berlinde de Bruyckere titled Cripplewood. This large scale wax installation that accurately reproduces a vast fallen tree trunk, with a disturbing resemblance to the bones, muscles and tendons of the human form. 4

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Notice how some of the branches are bandaged, and bleeding, as though cut.  Bruyckere has made the tree, an elm tree cast in wax, which took her a year and a half to complete, human.  There are no electric lights, just the large skylight covered with gunny sacks.

If you inspect other works of hers, they’re all pretty gruesome.   She alludes to the dark, pain, suffering, death around the corner.  Her human-sized pieces go for about €300K.

venice 579venice 696Now the Central Pavilion: The Encyclopedic Palace, curated by Massimiliano Gioni, is meant to house all worldly art, encompassing over 150 artists from 37 different countries. at least a representation for the last maybe two hundred years (?)  We are bombarded by information, newspaper, TV, computer, and so on, under attack by images. So Massimiliano assembled thousands of drawings, sculptures from central Africa, stones from gem and mineral museums.  No one in the world knows everything, so walk through and build up your own story.

Interesting comment from the Huffington Postil-palazzo-enciclopedico

There was Carl Gustav Jung’s The Red Book, a vision of god, drawn monsters, fears (plus awesome calligraphy).

venice 611The central space, a tall dome.  These figures by architect Walter Pichler.  The New York Times mentioned in his recent obituary,

His architectural drawings were not just plans; they were also works of art in and of themselves. Other images — “dream drawings,” as he called them — were dark and psychologically loaded. His figures were often skeletal or robotic.5  

venice 609From Germany the performance of two people (at other times three), moving about almost in dance, singing in what sounded like the Bantu click language, Tino Sehgal’s untitled new work.  (Sehgal was awarded this year’s Golden Lion for Best Artist for his bizarre, kinetic performance piece.  (!)

Tino Sehgal is a British-German artist of partly Indian origin, based in Berlin. His works, which he calls “constructed situations”, involve one or more people carrying out instructions conceived by the artist.

Check out Wikipedia for descriptions of his varied works, such as:

In 1999, Sehgal worked with a dance collective in Belgium and developed a piece, a series of movements performed in twenty different dance styles, from Nijinsky to Balanchine to Cunningham, and so forth. The piece last 55 minutes as the artist danced completely naked on an empty stage.

For Polish visual artist, filmmaker and photographer Artur Żmijewski’s video Blindly, he asked a group of blind people to make paintings.  Is this art?  A number of his works have been controversial.  Read this article: Artur Żmijewski. And The Daily Beast comments:

If Zmijewski’s greatest video showed deaf people learning to grunt out a Bach cantata, this more recent one shows the messes blind people make when asked to paint. In my full review of the Biennale in this week’s Newsweek, I argue that Zmijewski’s video represents the dilemma at the heart of all artmaking today, including in the Venice show: A sense of absolute pointlessness and powerlessness, and a determination nevertheless to go on making art. 6

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venice 614Then there are the Shaker Gift Drawings, the minerals (not that exciting after you’ve been to the Tucson Gem and Mineral Show), and works by Israeli Uri Aran.  This is an interesting interview with him:  Uri Aran

Austrian Maria Lassnig, now ninety-three years old, is known for her self-portraits.  I rather like this one, Even with guinea pigs, a large painting, over 3’ x 4’.  (Can do without the one with the gun to her head.)

venice 615One of the women I work with, who is from Iran (although she does not wear a hijab, she has some of that ethos) asked why artists have to paint the naked body.  I said that a naked body is Granny Centerfoldbeautiful, but I have to edit that to young naked body.  Lassnig’s sagging breasts aren’t exactly beautiful, although she reminds me of Robert ‘Buck’ Brown’s famous Granny cartoon character in Playboy magazine.

venice 616I didn’t like Italian Marisa Merz’s colorful drawings, but then she is known as a sculptor, and I preferred this female head in a cocoon-like shell, done with aluminum.  She is eighty-four years old and is known for her postwar organic forms.




Both Maria Lassnig and Marisa Merz received Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement at the exhibition’s opening.


Lynette Yiadom-Boakye is an artist of Ghanaian descent based in London.  She won the Future Generation Art Prize, presented by the PinchukArtCentre through the Victor Pinchuk Foundation.  (The PinchukArtCentrevenice 617 – one word – is an international centre for 21st century contemporary art located in Kyiv, Ukraine.  Victor Pinchuk is a Ukrainian businessman and philanthropist.)  I took a photo of one of the pieces that I couldn’t find a name for on the internet.  We were told that she started in Harlem, and wanted to paint black people to make up for all of the white people in paintings.  Reverse racism.

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Then there’s Polish artist Eva Kotátková’s Asylum.  But the New York Times saw an arm that I missed.  We are told that she uses an archeological approach.  This is a gate for the human shape, a re-education machine, a torture chamber.

In Asylum she collaborated with patients at a psychiatric hospital outside Prague. The individual pieces reflect patients’ social hierarchies and ways of communication. 7

venice 622venice 621In the next room Richard Serra’s iconic (every article today has to use that word) blocks.  From British newspaper The Guardian comment by art critic Adrian Searle entitled Venice Biennale: how much is that fox in the mini-mart?

…a great two-part Richard Serra sculpture, titled Pasolini (after the Italian film director), shares a space with recent, black seascapes by Belgian artist Thierry de Cordier. 8

I love Cordier’s paintings, but the glass on them reflects too much; looks like we’re all swimming under water.  But if you click on the photo you can zoom in and look at the brush technique.  There’s a lot of information about him on the Belgium Pavilion site:

…seascapes that are partly inspired by the vast, black and white topographical paintings made in China during the 10th and 11th century, yet capture the essential qualities of the landscape and light of Northern Europe. The grey skies and ink black seas of his monochromatic paintings evoke melancholy, with the most dramatic scenes being those in which waves and mountainous cliffs fuse together to embody the forces of nature within a single primal image. 9

venice 628Carlo Scarpa was the architect for the Venezuelan Pavilion in 1954.  (Did you know that Venezuela means “little Venice”?)  Sure makes our American Doric-columned pavilion look stodgy.   (We didn’t go in.)  Henry Vicente practically has an orgasm describing it in Dawn.10

Interesting that the Germany‘s national exhibition is located in France‘s pavilion (they swapped pavilions) but showcases Chinese artist Ai Weiwei’s Bang.

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…886 wooden antique stools. For centuries in Chinese culture it was common for families to have at least one of these handcrafted 3-leg stools for use in the home that was often passed down through generations. As the country has developed at lightning speed the stools have quickly been replaced by plastic and metal alternatives. Weiwei salvaged hundreds of these stools and used them to build this sprawling and nearly organic installation.

Reminiscent of his Forever Bicycles that I blogged about11 on our Cuba last year.  (Note: Sunday’s NY Times travel section had an article Cuba Opens Up, Group by Group12.)

venice 637In an adjoining room, Indian photographer Dayanita Singh with slide projections of her life as a woman in Indian society.

In another room, brief films by Romuald Karmakar, a French film director, screenwriter and producer. He was born in Germany as the venice 635son of an Iranian father and a French mother.  (So he does have ties to both Germany and France.)

This article in Arterritory titled The Venice Biennale, with an Odor of Decaying Capitalism discusses the pavilion’s contents and Karmakar’s videos Rhinoceros and Anticipation.  (It’s a long quote, but I thought that it was good.)

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The amount of visitors allowed in at one time to Germany’s national exhibition is being carefully rationed. Speaking in various tongues, the line of art lovers patiently wait their turn. While we wait, a short film by French artist and film director Romuald Karmakar is being shown in a loop, projected onto the outer wall of the pavilion; it is of a rhinoceros eating hay at the Berlin Zoo. At first, it looks as if it’s impossible to even enter the pavilion due to the humongous pile of three-legged stools that can be seen over the heads of those in front of me – they appear to be stretching out in all directions, practically reaching the white wooden beams that support the pavilion’s glass ceiling. As written in the annotation, each stool in the gargantuan installation represents an individual’s relationship to the postmodern world, which is developing at the speed of light. Immediately behind Ai Weiwei’s sculpture, in the final room, is another of Karmakar’s videos – a large-scale, grainy depiction of tree-tops being whipped by a storm. It is the short film “Anticipation”, which depicts the moments before the culmination of Tropical Storm Sandy in October of 2012. 13

Great Britian’s pavilion with English Magic by Turner Prize winning artist Jeremy Deller is provocative. The theme of the exhibition itself is broadly about British culture and national identity, and the ideas that are highlighted include popular culture, music, tax evasion, accountability, history, arts and crafts, the military, prisons and the natural world.

The Turner Prize, named after the painter J. M. W. Turner, is an annual prize presented to a British visual artist under the age of 50. Awarding the prize is organised by the Tate gallery and staged at Tate Britain.

venice 639First thing you see is a mural of a harrier hen hawk clutching a red Range Rover in its talons, A Good Day for Cyclists.  This replaced Deller’s original posters.

Subject: Political/Economic/Social Opinion
Medium: Mixed Media, Painting
Confronting Bodies: The British Council
Description of Artwork: Posters depiciting two protected harrier hen hawks and a banner emblazoned with the words “Prince Harry Kills Me” were planned as part of artist Jeremy Deller’s British pavilion at the Venice Biennale.
The Incident: At the behest of the British Council, the posters and banner were left out of the exhibition. “We asked Jeremy to reconsider the banner and poster … on the grounds that it could potentially be misconstrued in environments where the British army is currently deployed and perceived to be disrespectful of those who had lost their lives,” said a British Council spokesman.
Results of Incident: Jeremy Deller agreed to remove the piece from the exhibition, and the exhibition was shown without it.

We were told that Prince Harry had shot two protected harrier hen hawks at the Sandringham estate but did not admit it to the police.  So I guess we have to know a lot of gossip to understand the art.

On the facing wall there is a prognostication, St Helier on Fire (following a riot against Jersey’s status as a tax haven) which Heller says is to happen in 2017.

venice 638yachtIn the next room another mural, We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold, with a giant William Morris (English textile designer, artist, writer, and libertarian Marxist associated with the English Arts and Crafts Movement) about to toss the billion-dollar yacht of Roman Abramovich (a Russian business tycoon and owner of Chelsea Football Club, an English Premier League football team) – parked outside of the Giardini for the last biennale – into the Venetian lagoon.

venice 643venice 645In another room you can sit on a crushed car, It is what it is: Conversations about Iraq, and watch a video.  The film is fantastic, a hawks and owls flying in slow motion, a crushing yard (doing in two Range Rovers), and, instead of a bouncing castle, a bouncing Stonehenge (since you can no longer touch the stones in Stonehenge), with both adults and children jumping all over it, but I really loved the parade, not only with a few bands, but the army going by in tanks, a Finance float, and people marching with signs, showing the stratification of society, and everyone polite: Chartered Secretaries, Actuaries, Launderers, Lightmongers, Educators, Furniture Makers, and so on, lots of interesting costumes, many from Olde England.

Scrapyards, street parades, an inflatable Stonehenge and a giant Sunday roast – all set to a steel drum soundtrack of David Bowie, A Guy Called Gerald and Vaughan Williams, recorded at Abbey Road. In this exclusive video work from his Venice Biennale British pavilion show, Jeremy Deller gives us an off-the-wall vision of England.

The quote is from The Guardian.  Here’s the whole video: english-magic

And there’s a video interview with Deller if you’re interested.15

The French national exhibition in Germany’s pavilion Ravel Ravel Unravel by Albanian video artist Anri Sala, a multi-screen, symphonic film installation of Maurice Ravel’s concerto to be played exclusively by the left hand.

Two films focus separately upon the left hands of two renowned pianists – Louis Lortie and Jean-Efflam Bavouzet – who were invited by Sala to perform the piece. The films, played simultaneously, reveal the differences and discrepancies between the two interpretations of the music, as the temporal lapse becomes more marked. In adjacent rooms, two further films show a DJ mixing the two Ravel performances, becoming a further, unique interpretation of the piece. This, then, becomes the ‘unravel’ to the other films’ ‘ravel’.16

We didn’t get to see the mixing –that room closed due to burned out projector.

venice 649Lunch at the restaurant at the giardini, outside on the patio overlooking the Grand Canal, too much food again.  I ate the primo plus half a glass of wine, no lasagna for €30.  Oh well.  A few clever ones in our group surreptitiously slipped into the sandwich shop instead.

Outside the restaurant a sculpture you might recognize.  Golden Mean, another of Carole Feuerman’s life-sized swimmers.   (We had seen the other on Saturday.17)

china st marksThe afternoon will be in the next blog.

But this just in: China has made replicas of St Mark’s Campanile and the Doge’s Palace tower above an expansive square in Venice Water Town, Hangzhou.  The square is being used for basketball.18  It’s in Original Copies: Architectural Mimicry in Contemporary China, by Bianca Bosker.

4  (This site has lots of great photos.)

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