Venice is like a supermodel. All it really has to do is exist, exactly as it is and people will gasp in awe of its stunning beauty. No need for modern architecture, nightlife, particularly good shopping or any attention to be paid to the slightly bad smell or overcrowding. For me, Venice is and will probably always be, the most spectacular city in the world. It does seem kind of unfair however, that Venice just walks it, when other cities try so dam hard. But as with any beautiful model, its nonchalance serves only to heighten its attraction.
It is even more unfair then, that on top of being the most beautiful, Venice is also home to one of the most prestigious cultural extravaganzas in the world – The Biennale : a bi-annual cultural institution/series of events, which includes an international art exhibition that has been running since 1895. Now we have the equivalent of a Supermodel with a double first in Art history and Contemporary Arts from Cambridge. Selfish – but such are the ways of life.
As an avid follower of the sun, I was happy to take up my parents offer of a holiday in Venice a last month because I was aware that our hotel would have a sweet pool and that Italy is boiling in August. I have been to the city a few times before which I figured could excuse me from participating in any form of cultural activity and enable a lot of time for extensive chilling. At this point, the Biennale had not even entered into my thoughts. However once in the city, which has red Biennale signs in virtually every street, I realized that its presence was unavoidable. Thanks to my arty disposition and my degree in art history, I was unable to relax and so I ditched my plans in favour of some artistic action.
Going on the recommedation of a friend, my primary destination of choice was the Palazzo Fortuny which was described to me as being the “coolest exhibition ever.” I do not doubt for one second the validity of this statement however, I was only able to get as far as the doorstep of this glorious gothic museum. I should probably make one thing clear before delving any deeper into my adoration of Venice and its Biennale. They have it all; big names, innovative display and diversity in content, but the Venetians make it exceedingly difficult for you to actually see anything. Different exhibits and museums are shut on different days and at different times according to no logical schedule. And so….. although I arrived at the Fortuny on a Monday at 5pm (the timetable stating it should be open until 6pm on Mondays,) I was unable to to get in. To make matters worse I tried everything to utterly no avail: member of the press..give a shit. Art student, nope. Crododile tears…door slammed in face. This really bummed me out because the main parts of the Biennale; Giardini and Arsenale, were closed on alternate Sundays and Mondays, as well as the occasional Tuesday…. or something ridiculous like that ( and I was leaving on Wednesday.)
Anyway to cut a long story short I eventually managed to get into Giardini….whacked Radiohead’s Amnesiac on, on my ipod, (theraputic and atmospheric, perfect for the observation of art) and made my way around the 53rd International Art Exhibition, this year entitled: Fare Mondi, or making worlds. The Giardini or Gardens were laid out in the Napoleonic era and have been the traditional venue for the exhibition since its start. They include the Palazzo della Espozisione as well as indiviual pavillions each built and designed by a participating nation. In the main Palazzo Argentine Tomas Saraceno and his astronomic installation blew me away…
As did the twisted eden of Swedish artist Nathalie Djurberg, in which mesmerizing claymation video installations ran amongst her giant surrealistic sculptures.
Pavillion wise, with 77 different participating nations and 29 seperate pavillions there was something to suit everyones taste. I was particularly frightened/ intrigued by Japan’s black membrane-like tented pavillion which contained Miwa Yanagi’s massive wrinkly breasted “Windswept Women”
I found Bruce Neuman’s critically acclaimed American entry to be rather uninspiring and I didn’t even get to see the Steve McQueen’s video installation in the British one because they were being all British about it and were the only pavillion to make visitors arrive at certain times and queue to get in. Andrei Molodkin’ sculptural installation for the Russian pavillion, using real human blood was cool, as was the Nordic entry which inventively addressed issues of public and private life, hedonism and excess. Their pavillion which was entitled “The Collectors,” was made to look like the home of a flashy art collector; its retro armchairs filled with naked men and a dead clothed body floating in the pool out back.
For me Giardini is modern experiential art at its finest. Venice with its decadent historical architecture and authoritative position within the history of art, provides the perfect juxtapositional backdrop for the display of international contemporary creativity. The art on display in “Making Worlds,” enables visitors to comprehend the spectrum across which modern art spans as well as the variety of talent in existence at present. Meanwhile the amibiance that Venice exudes invokes a constant awareness of art’s beautiful past and the course of its journey through history to reach its modern state.
The Biennale closes this year on November 22nd and will be hitting the galleries of Venice again Summer 2011.