‘Think with the senses; feel with the mind’, the catch phrase for the 52nd Venice Biennale international art exhibition, continues the 110-year tradition of bearing witness to the latest movements in the visual arts.
This year’s ambitious event is curated by the first American in over 100 years, art critic Robert Storr, who does not disappoint. He set an impressive goal to heighten the promotional opportunities of the exhibition and to incorporate more than just diverse artistic languages. Storr presents personalities, countries and emerging trends from all five continents, including lesser-known areas of the globe whose artistic contributions have remained largely undiscovered in today’s consolidated art world.
National participation has always been an essential and distinctive component for la Biennale di Venezia. It presents an opportunity to share the best of each country’s artistic production, representing a sort of global ‘snapshot’ of the contemporary art world.
For those unfamiliar with the event: the Venice Biennale was the first and, to date only, biennale to institute permanent national pavilions, some of which are celebrating their centennial participation. Toward his goal of showcasing emerging or lesser-known art, Storr has chosen to host the national pavilion of Turkey, along with a special exhibition on Africa, Check list Luanda Pop, which is a tribute to an entire continent that remains relatively unknown in artistic terms.
The number of foreign countries choosing to participate reached a record 76 this year: 34 in the exhibition venues, with their own pavilions, and another 42 countries’ exhibits scattered throughout the historic center of Venice. First timers exhibiting this year are Azerbaijan, Lebanon, Mexico, the Republic of Moldova, and Tadzhikstan.
The Biennale, which is primarily and historically located in the Giardini and the Arsenale area of Venice, has expanded to include numerous collateral events. Special exhibitions throughout the city, incorporating palaces on the Grand Canal, churches and random installations in squares and on building fronts, create a ‘biennale archipelago’. Among the exhibitions of note, the selection from the private collection of the Pinault family at the Palazzo Grassi, offers an intriguing juxtaposition of modern and contemporary iconic works. The exhibition at Palazzo Benzon of Belgium’s celebrated Jan Fabre, Anthropology of a Planet,and the Guggenheim’s special exhibit partnering the works of Beuys with Barney also stand out.
As usual, there is controversy, politics, humor and beauty. Pavilions receiving a lot of attention and discussion were France, with Sophie Calles’ intellectually, poignant visual interpretations of a ‘Dear John’ letter; Russia, with the aes=”FGroup’s” dramatic animation film, The Last Riot; and Poland, with Monica Sosnowska’s trapped metal ‘building’.
Great Britain, which has one of the largest permanent pavilion structures in the Giardini, is presenting an extensive collection entitled Borrowed Light, featuring the diverse expressions of artist Tracey Emin. The United States’ pavilion, an intentionally kitsch replica of the White House, presents the sculptural and photographic work of artist Felix Gonzalez-Torres. Visitors are invited to dip into a seemingly limitless supply of poster photos and black licorice candies.
After years of absence, a specific venue has been dedicated to Italian art, and this year’s edition of the Biennale marks the debut of the new Italian pavilion, in the attractive space of the Tese delle Vergini at the Arsenale. Presented are two one-man exhibitions curated by Ida Geianelli featuring the video Democrazy (yes it is a ‘z’ and not a typo), by Francesco Vezzoli, and the visually stunning installation of massive leather ‘barks’ by artist Giuseppe Penone.
Venice is unique and worthy of a visit regardless of an interest in contemporary art. However the Biennale is a wonderful juxtaposition of values, ideas and aesthetics against the backdrop of la serenissima. You may shudder at some of the art presented, question values, laugh at the absurd or cry at the poignant, but you will not leave unaffected. The Venice Biennale is more than an exhibition of art today. It is a reflection of our contemporary world and societies. It demands critical response. You will either like it or disparage it, but you will undoubtedly take part in the dialogue.
BIENNALE DI VENEZIA
Until November 21, 2007
Giardini Biennale – Arsenale
10 am – 6 pm
(Giardini closed on Mondays; Arsenale closed on Tuesdays)
Entrance: 15 euro
Students: 8 euro
Family (2 adults + 2 children under 14): 35 euro
Permanent pass: 50 euro
Educational tours are available in English but you must book ahead. They are usually done in groups of 10–25; costs vary with venue choice, from 85 50 170 euro per person.
For more information:
Ph: + 39 041 5218.825