|St Marks Square, 19 November 2013|
I went late to the Venice Biennale: some flooding but no sweltering or mosquitoes; few queues - though a steady 20,000 visitors per week - but no parties. The conclusions had been drawn by then: Angola, followed by Japan, Lithuania and Cyprus, were the official top pavilions. The press were keen on Britain, Iraq (both providing free tea!), France and Chile. Fair enough, and I also liked Bill Culbert for New Zealand - see my column at www.fadwebsite.com.
|View out of the New Zealand Pavilion|
Tino Sehgal and Camille Henrot (as young artist) were lionised. Maria Lassnig and Marisa Merz given lifetime achievement awards. Special mentions for Roberto Cuoghi and Sharon Hayes. The recreation of Harold Szeemann's 1969 When Attitudes Become Form was widely seen as the top collateral event. The main exhibition, Massimio Gioni's The Encyclopedic Palace, was positively received even though its tactic of mixing insider and outsider artists was hardly new. Indeed, Szeemann himself did that, and there was also quite a lot of artist crossover with the concurrent Hayward shows Alternative Guide to the Universe (London) and Curiosity (touring). Anyway, I've chosen a couple of artists from the Palace, and broadened out to concentrate on the rest of the Biennale. I've also picked up on some of the permanent art in Venice, which I always like to mix in when I visit. So: here’s a broadly chronological sequence of things I thought were interesting, but which got little or no mention in the various round-ups I've read…
One room in the Punta della Dogana combined Italian arte povera with the Japanese Mono-Ha ('school of things'). The shared sensibilities were no surprise, but none the less enjoyable for that. One of the Japanese founders, Nobuo Sekine, was showing two steel containers painted with black lacquer, and filled with water. The effect was shimmeringly reflective, and the equivalence – they both contained the same amount – was somehow surprising. Indeed, the more obvious equivalence was with Roni Horn’s Well and Truly installation of cylinders on the floor above, in which glass looks like water.
You can rely on the Palazzo Fortuny for a fascinating mash-up of cultures and times, and this year it integrated an impressive retrospective of Antoni Tàpies, along with some of the eclectic collection found in Tapies' house when he died last year: Aztec featherwork, a Cycladic sculpture, a John Cage score etc joined plenty of painting and sculpture. Tàpies himself is a grandmaster of brown, and it turns out he owned a superb 1969 Rothko work on paper which – though its called Untitled (Orange and Yellow) - uses just the sandy range which features in Tàpies' literally tellurian works, such as the beached nude shown here.
David Koloane: The Journey, 1998
South Africa’s Pavilion focused on apartheid and its aftermath. David Koloane (born 1938), among the longest-established black artists, showed a sequence of 19 drawings tracking the capture, interrogation, torture, death and autopsy of Steve Biko in 1977. They were made in response to a police application – which was refused – for amnesty from the Truth and Reconciliation Commission 21 years later. Though rightly disturbing, Koloane’s virtuoso smearing of oil pastel on acrylic and telling use of near-repetition to indicate timescales avoided sensationalism and hinted at how long the facts remained murky.
Rudolf Stingel’s takeover of all three levels of the Palazzo Grassi was quietly but immensely spectacular. Every floor and wall was covered in carpet with a blurry oriental rug design on it, which came into focus when seen – as it often could be – from a distance. The ground floor had the carpet plain; the first floor insinuated silver abstract paintings with hints of pattern into most rooms; the second floor substituted Stingel’s black and white ‘portraits of statues’, which look photorealist until you get close enough to see the paint’s rather carpet-like patterning. All this spoke of Freudian containment counterpointed by the more expansive history of Venice, but what was most striking was how two decades of Stingel's paintings seemed now to have been produced in order to allow this display to make sense of them.
Only one of the 55 Pavilions I saw contained Ab Ex scale (310 x 245 x 15 cm) abstraction. That was from the least-expected debutant state, Vatican City. The Australian-born, US raised, Rome-dwelling Irish painter Lawrence Carroll brings aspects of Rothko, Morandi and Cornell to muted 3D-tending paintings which often incorporate objects resonant with prior uses, and which Carroll has compared with votive hanging of objects as ‘a way of believing in painting’. Here, as part of a project revisiting Genesis, his five canvasses included one literally frozen (attended to by Carroll above) opposite one festooned with lighting cords and a solitary lit bulb. Meanwhile, all 207 pages of Robert Crumb’s cartoon but word-for word retelling of The Book of Genesis were framed and hung in The Encyclopedic Palace. My End is in the Beginning...
|R. Crumb's take on the creation|