Biennale – May 2015

This exhibit is difficult to describe in a short post.  The Giardini and the Arsenale contain Okwui Enwezor’s curated show “All the World’s Futures”. The exhibition is sprawling, packed and stacked, retro feeling, institutional, Postmodern and Mannered, but when it’s good, it can be highly enjoyable. Disclaimer straight off: I go to these things to see painting and sculpture. I really don’t give the installations, vitrines, dark rooms or shitty tv screens a fair shake. I’ve never had the patience to stand against a wall or sit on a bench to get through a movie – except in certain instances when I’ve been arrested by very strong imagery or by extremely lush photography. The problem for me is that art is made for these kinds of Costco exhibits these days, and product, preferably room-filling and cheaply insurable, is what curators want to show. And this show is no different. There’s not a lot of painting or sculpture to see, but there are a lot of “rooms” filled with stuff – piled up, hanging, scattered and/or artfully placed. When I did find a painting, a sculpture, an object or even a “room” that intrigued me it was a very welcome thing. Some of the images that I responded to and spent a bit of time with were by Kerry James Marshall, Chris Ofili, Melvin Edwards, Lorna Simpson, and Glenn Ligon. These were purely visual things – things to look at, images to see in a certain way, pictures that would unveil meaning by looking and engaging. And some of them were extremely beautiful – which was not the point of the exhibition – that I understand. But nevertheless, I enjoyed them!

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The state pavilions in the Giardini were basically a wash. And once again, the torrents of accumulated stuff in some of these lovely little buildings is amazing to behold. Look, I’ll say it again to those that care… I’ve never had the urge, the psychic distress, to pile stuff in a room much like those people on reality shows like Hoarding: Buried Alive. As art, as an aesthetic experience this kind of work’s meaning is totally lost on me. But there was one thing that did stay with me, and I thought it was a bit of an anomaly among these installations. I really enjoyed the Korea exhibition entitled “The Ways of Folding Space & Flying” by Moon Kyungwon & Jeon Joonho. The entire pavilion was turned into a video installation. The cinematography was stunning, and we were surrounded and encompassed by beautiful images on giant HighDef screens. The color and light were astonishing! It was one of those rare instances where I have been totally awed by a video image. All the tropes of popular cinema were on display, breaks in time, close ups, camera movement, slow motion, etc., in service of the story, but in the actual spaces of the building you had to keep readjusting your vision, moving along with the lens, unfolding the story through the syncopated images. The narrative was split into three distinct visions of the same incident. And it all comes together after watching through the windows out front along with the two rooms inside.  The clever part was that the video is set in the Giardini and the Biennale, past, present and future, and it was one of the few installations where the artists actually addressed the issues of time, place and this particular exhibition itself.

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The vaporetto ride back to Dorsoduro from the garden was a wonderful thing. It was raining, the boat was pitching, unsteady aesthetic tourists were grabbing whatever they could to right themselves. Most were wrapped up in inexpensive disposable  weather gear purchased for a few euros from the ever-present tchotchke kiosks – red, yellow, or  blue plastic ponchos and flimsy umbrellas – and complaining about how chilly and wet the weather was. The locals just kind of ignored us and purposely moved to the steady parts of the boat. Ahead, the Dogona was getting closer. Past, present and future came together. And I thought how lucky I am to be alive. To be here now. To see all that I have seen, all that I will see, for whatever time I have. These kinds of ephemeral moments happen in the most unexpected places, at the most unexpected times.

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