Friday, 30 October 2009

Venice Biennale VI

The Biennale seems endless and with so many exhibitions and objects, there's neither time nor space to give any really careful discussion of any object or installation. That's something I hope to do later. But for this post I'll talk about five of the 44 "collateral events," most running at the same time as the exhibition but not part of the curated exhibition or official national pavilions. Amazingly and sadly, we were only able to get to these few in our time in Venice. Many of them were on outer islands or outside Venice altogether. As one reviewer said, it's helpful to have a motorboat at your disposal. We stick with the vaporetto pass.

We were most interested in "Glass Stress," the exhibition of contemporary artists working with glass that was in two sites. The majority of the show was at the Istituto Veneto di Scienze, Lettere ed Arti, Palazzo Cavalli Frachetti, which is close to the Accademia Bridge and where we've seen interesting Latin American exhibitions during other Biennales. It's a lovely palace with great views and Murano chandeliers.
Here's a piece I found amusing set against the view out the window of the palace across the Grand Canal. It's by Silvano Rubino, titled Addizione Sottrattiva (Subtractive addition), 2009. The water glasses are on the table, but the plates and silverware are cut out through the table top. I think it's a little like the fur-lined teacup, depicting something familiar but also impossible to use in the way you would expect.
What was notable about this exhibition is that it was not a show of glass artists, but of artists who had used glass in some way in their work. The exhibition was conceived by Adriano Berengo, whose Berengo Studios on Murano has invited artists who do not primarily use glass as a medium to work there with glass. In that sense it is similar to Pilchuck, north of Seattle. Many of the works in the exhibition resulted from Berengo's initiative, but others predate Berengo's activity. For example, it begins with Robert Rauschenberg's Untitled Glass Tires of 1971, two full size glass tires on a metal stand. Impossible objects, rather lovely, absurd. Here Rauschenberg incorporates everyday objects in a Pop tradition, but makes them out of a material that cannot function.

I needn't add a photograph of the Joseph Kosuth minimal/conceptual work of 1965, titled "Any Two Meter Square Sheet of Glass to Lean Against Any Wall," since that is exactly what it was, against a neutral wall. Guiseppe Penone, whose Arte Povera work we had seen in an exhibition at the Ikon Gallery in Birmingham and in various other sites, was included, as well as an Arman glass box holding multiple light bulbs.

Beautifully blue bars of glass on the wall made up Rene Rietmeyer's Venezia, 2007. They worked well in a room with a white chandelier.

Mona Hatoum made a tableful of colorful glass grenades, forcing one to change thoughts from the beauty of colorful glass and the otherworldliness of Venice itself to the reality of war and world politics. Just for a moment.

Fred Wilson, who seems to have discovered the possibilities in glass when he occupied the United States Pavilion four years ago, contributed a striking Murano work, Iago's Mirror, 2009.

There was a video by the Korean Hye Rim Lee, which apparently includes characters the artist has developed and uses frequently. We didn't make any sense of it in terms of it having a story, but enjoyed watching the illusionistic glass pieces change color and morph into different shapes and characters. And it was blessedly short.

In a second site, the Scuola Grande Confraternita di San Teodoro, there was a single installation by Koen Vanmechelen, consisting of huge glass and feather dinosaurs and oversize glass eggs in various settings. These seem only to be representative of his overriding project and the best way to transmit that is to show the label, which you can enlarge by clicking on the photograph. Here are four pictures. I love this project, although the objects did not really suggest what he seems to be doing.

The other collateral exhibition we visited was "Danger! Museum," an installation by the Russian artists Vladimir Dubossarsky and Alexander Vinogradov. The installation consists of several rooms of very large, heroic-style paintings imitating Old Masters. The painters appeared to take their subjects seriously, but we found them very amusing.

At the center of each painting I discovered a small hole and realized that there were cameras behind the holes. So we returned downstairs in the palace and found a small room in which surveillance images of us in the galleries were projected. It seemed a very Russian idea.

We went to one other collateral exhibition, called Foreign Affairs: Artists from Taiwan, in the fascinating location of the Palazzo delle Prigioni (Palace of the Prisons) in San Marco. While I did not photograph there, the work of the four artists: Hsieh Ying-chun, Chen Chieh-jen, Chang Chien-Chi, and Yu Cheng-Ta - addressed issues of immigration, isolation and displacement through video and other documentation. This Taiwan exhibition is often quite challenging and engaging.

Upon leaving the Giardini on our first day and taking a slightly different route to the hotel, we came upon two small and fascinating exhibitions, each in an old apartment building. The first, "Distortion," organized by the Arts Council England, curator James Putnam, included Janet Cardiff & George Bures Miller, Oliver Clegg, Mat Collishaw, John Isaacs, Alastair Mackie, Tim Noble & Sue Webster, Jamie Shovlin, and Gavin Turk. The first object I saw was a little pile of metal trash, sort of an abstract sculpture, until I saw the image it projected on the wall. This was the work of Tim Noble and Sue Webster. I love this thing, however much a gimmick it is.

The mirrored bell jars by Alastair Mackie made distorted images of the viewer, which you can see.

Gavin Turk had apparently been modelling distorted heads in one of the spaces. There were about 10 of them.

And Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller had an audio installation, identified by its label as Feedback, 2004,  Guitar amp, wah wah pedal, interactive control circuit playing Star Spangled Banner Tribute to Jimi Hendrix Woodstock 1968. We pushed the button and listened for a moment, then got away from it.

Next door to this was another apartment with the installation titled "Library" by Korean artist Woojung Chun, filled with fascinating objects that we could just make out in the dark.

We never planned to go to these last three exhibitions. We just happened upon them. Part of what's fascinating about the Biennale is that you have to search through parts of Venice you've never seen in order to find small exhibitions that interest you for whatever reason. Another part is that you happen upon displays by artists you've never thought about that are wonderful. And the discoveries are more exciting because they are in unoccupied apartments or available spaces in palaces that give you a glimpse of the everyday world of Venice.

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