Oct 11, 2015

La Biennale di Venezia (56th)

This year marks the third time I’ve taken myself to the extraordinary international contemporary art show:  La Biennale di Venezia, in Venice, Italy…in case you didn’t catch that.  I’ve had my fill of Venice itself, as it’s so over-populated with tourists and, at this point, less favorable tourist geared food than one would get in the countryside…but anytime I’m overseas I would not forgive myself if I didn’t swing by to see this show!

The show itself is grander than any one museum could every provide.  If the contemporary art museums from around the world got together and had an orgy, La Biennale would be the result…and the juxtaposition of all of the contemporary art colliding with the ancient and unique water-city, creates a unique surrealistic pleasure.

The main exhibitions take place in the Giardini and the Arsenale.  The Giardini is a vast garden area that spills over onto the other side of a canal.  Amongst the gardens are permanent structures, each dedicated to a particular country, that feature usually one or two artists to represent the country.  This setup encourages many large scale installations, and in the case of this years show, a great deal of kinetic work.  The exhibitions at the Giardini, and the experience of wandering the grounds and walking into each pavilion is why I’ve always considered La Biennale to be “the disneyland of contemporary art,” only with cheaper food and better cappuccino.  

The Arsenale is a massive old fortress, turned art space, and walking into it from the Castello district felt distinctly somber, compared to the campus like galavanting and hang-out vibe in the Giardini.  

Besides the two main exhibition areas that alone take two days to explore, the rest of the city contains galleries, pop-up galleries, and installations to either seek out by way of map, or to stumble-upon.  The overall creation of the biennale is a massive interactive artwork in itself, besides the contributions of each country and their respective artists.  

As someone with a generally short attention span for absorbing art, I still found the experience to be enriching.  

Here are just a few of the many memorable exhibitions that I encountered:  

In the Arsenale, Rirkrit Tiravanija “Demonstration Drawings, 2007” and “Demonstration Drawings, 2015”.  

Two walls covered with pencil drawings that seemed to be drawn from editorial photos of demonstrations around the world.  

A performance with photographers reading from a book that numbers and describes rolls of film, without any images.  If you close your eyes you could imagine the image…or at least your version of it.

In the Giardini, there was just something about these drippy ceramic boxes that held my attention for a while.  

And of course, there were large scale, visually impressive pieces that shape the environment, like Chiharu Shiota’s “The Key in the Hand”.

In an education and future-forward exhibit, Aldo Cibic’s “Shared Vocabulary” printed on the wall.

Umberto Eco’s video installation “The Rooms of Memory.” 

Back in the streets of venice, I was pleased to encounter another juxtaposition...an electric violinist playing Michael Jackson with the old city as a backdrop (just to clarify, the violin was electric...not the violinist).  While deciding between a few cafe’s I noticed some window “art.”  These “visual public services” seemed to be in the spirit of the exhibition. The shop window  with preserves, and other deli treats…”Mixed media: fruit, milk, horse, cow, pig, wheat, sea salt and sea food….”

As someone with a generally short attention span for museums, wandering around this environment and soaking everything in was worth the trip.  There was plenty to choose from, and it’s a world away from the touristy chaos in the not-so-distant Piazza San Marco.  My only regret is not getting there a week later, when the world’s new contemporary music would be performing.  Next time…there is always a next time.