T’was recently the Venice Biennale, the true Godfather of the every-other-year art exhibition: this is the one that everybody knows how to pronounce and 70% have worked out how to spell. Artvehicle went along to see what’s what, where and how long.
Here it is, bulletpointed for extra down-dumbingness;
Everyone and their uncle’s pavilion had a cloth bags this year. The flashy WAG-IT bag was the gold lurex number from the Australian pavilion, but the timeless classis we predict to be the limited edition, hand smudged blue and white one by Karla Black in the Scottish pavilion (nothing on ebay yet from this year but an Emin bag is up from last time at £150, seller: usa-numpty, check out my on-line shop!). Great exhibition too, a ethereal show of pastel powder, mud and slabs of translucent soap (sponsored by Lush, although it didn’t do them any favours).
A pink trouser.
Very much the look of the event for men. Classic Europreppy, to be worn with a tucked in, crisp white shirt and a shiny, camel-coloured face.
Illy - lack of
It was a sign of the times that Illy had stripped back it’s free expresso stalls to just a couple of points and one doing a cold, tinned version. This had a dramatic domino effect throughout the opening: people, normally caffeine fuelled, were sluggish and dawdled about. A fast walking pace is required for the Venice Bienalle and this is the responsibility of Illy, who let us down badly. A slight slowing and queues form, views are blocked, seats are hogged and a peeved annoyance spreads.
Two things were rumoured to be getting on the goat of the exhibitors. Out front of the USA pavilion was a turned-turtle tank with a running machine bolted on. Once an hour this would be fired up and an athlete would hop up and jog along for a bit. Quite fun, although they did like to make a bit of a meal of it. The best bit by far was the noise, all the clattering, graunching, screeching of a proper beast of war; and said to winding up the neighbours something chronic. Cattelan’s stuffed pigeons worked great (again) on the front of the Italian pavilion, where their uncanny stillness was most peculiar. Inside rather overdid it and it is easy to see why some artists insisted that their work was displayed in a pigeon-free room.
Queues - UK, USA, Israel
Possibly as a result of the Big Biennale Coffee Drought of 2011, or because some pavilions had a ‘one in, one out’ policy but proper, big queues were sticking out of many pavilions this year. A strange beast the queue; given the freedom of a wide-open space it can form in any direction. With true brilliance the American queue set of towards the Danish pavilion and queued backwards into its exit door. Brilliant, but a bit aggressive, and a bit pervy. The queue for Mike Nelson’s work in the UK pavilion was the vastest and a Ryanair price mindset developed. His recreation of an Istanbul Bazaar had 45-minute queues on the Wednesday prompting a hurrump and an off-stomp. Thursday they were 90 minutes prompting a ‘oh, we should have waited yesterday’, and an off-stomp. Friday - 2 and a half hours, and that was half an hour after the gate opened. The real bazaar was only 3 hours flight away.
Booze - lack of
A pavilion opening is obviously not about the work, which you won’t be able to see, or the speeches, which you won’t be able to hear. It’s about meeting your mates and having a glass of Prosecco. Consider, if you will the opening of the Venice Biennale as a kind of international art Glastonbury, the pavilion openings are like the bands you came to see. You trudge down there to see them at 11.30 am on Friday morning, meet some people you haven’t seen for two years and chat all the way through the thing. The French understood this - well done the French.
Enough of this fascinating, and often maligned, group, in all sections of its career arc were in evidence to make a few suppositions: they wear enormous heels, all the time, all day, in Venice, on little bridges, when a bit drunk, standing up on boats. The only terrain that stopped them was a cattlegrid-style floor grill in one of the pieces in the Arsenale.
They are very thin; not necessarily very beautiful, but very thin.
They have no facial expression. This may be due to plastic surgery or painkillers for the shoes, but maybe this is a requirement of the job and to demonstrate liking or disliking someone or something is bad form.
Israel - security issues
Dunno what was inside Israel’s pavilion but we chanced upon a marvellous collaborative performance piece between the Italian and Israeli security forces when Israeli President Shimon Peres came a-vistin’. Both teams got the same brief and were asked to interpret it as per their national stereotypes. The Italians sent in some six and a half feet stallions, covered in gold braid, each carrying a powerful-looking weapon. The Israelis wore matt grey suits, transparent ear-pieces and moved like ghosts. And they were the ones you could see. Shimon arrived in a little boat and left on a golf cart.
There were some big boats and Abramovich’s LUNA, was the biggest. To give some idea of scale it was about 2 hours of UK pavilion queue long. He had a golf cart too, but it was a converted Hummer.
Most exciting accident waiting to happen
Back to the French pavilion - Christian Boltanski has filled the whole space with a conveyer-belt-type contraption that sends an endless loop of a repeated picture of a baby’s face thrashing round a 30 mph. all about population and yadda yadda: a beautiful boy’s toy of a thing and when that strip tears, and tear it will, 200 meters of paper will spew forth… it’s gonna be a beautiful thing.
It may just have been a neon sign in a random bar, but it stood for something. It was the default destination of an undecided mass. Without it we were lost, or at least confused and required to decide something.
Highlights - lack of
A little disappointing this time around but the highlights were: Gelitin, with their molten glass/drumming/pile of wood/sodomy performance. Nicolae Mircea’s autobiographical film about the politics of the Rumanian flower stall business in the Future Generation Art Prize. Consumption of War, a film of two young executives fighting with fluorescent tubes Star Wars stylee by Adel Adibin in the Iraq pavilion (I know it’s a little bit ‘Spaced’ but that kinda why I liked it - it’s the Iraqi contemporary art/cult UK sitcom crossover). The brilliant archive of Taryn Simon in the Danish pavilion, photos of inbred white tigers and Braille Playboy magazines.
Omer Fast's video Five Thousand Feet Is the Best, displayed deep in the Italian pavilion has a voiceover by an American Predator drone pilot coupled with Mom’s Apple Pie clapboard church imagery.
A fake Golden Lion of Venice, awarded to Regina Jose Galindo in 2005, who sold it to Santiago Sierra, who resold it - a copy is on display. Sadly it didn’t win again.
Argentina’s Adrián Villar massive, blobby pillars of unfired clay, though I can’t really explain why. And the Korean pavilion, which constantly produces interesting, odd exhibitions that you don’t have to queue for. This time Lee Yongbaek dressed soldiers in bright flower prints, then filmed them creeping through a floral landscape.