Archive for Venice Biennale

One feels the imminence of the opening of the annual contemporary art exhibition in the way one feels the approach of a heavily-laden barge on a body of still water.  (Hint: A barely perceptible surge of energy which produces only the faintest wave, but you know it’s caused by something very big.)

One of the earliest indications of the oncoming event was this.

For the past 10-14 days the impact zone delimited by via Garibaldi/Giardini/Arsenale has experienced similar increasing energy manifested by more people outside drinking at bars, more people dragging suitcases to hotels and apartments, MANY more people clogging the supermarket aisles, almost all of whom don’t look much like the locals.  They are more uptown, more trendy (hair, clothes, makeup, accessories — the full catastrophe, as Zorba said about something else).  They walk around looking at each other and at themselves — I don’t know, I can just tell that they’re looking at themselves.  The Venetians seem to be invisible to them as they occupy a stage on which the curtain is about to rise.  It’s an interesting sensation to be in the same place as someone else and yet not be in the same place at all.

None of these musings is intended to be pejorative.  I’m just attempting to convey the altered atmosphere, the shifting of the rpm’s in the old zeitgeist.  And why would there not be such alterations?  The Biennale (founded in 1895) now runs for seven months of the year, and is worth 30 million euros.  The article I read cited that number but didn’t clarify how it breaks down, but as I look around, I’m guessing that at least 28 million euros are spent on vaporetto tickets and taxis.  And drinks and ice cream cones.  The joint is definitely jumping.

120 artists from 51 countries are featured, including plucky little Kiribati, out in the Pacific Ocean, where each new day officially begins.  There are 85 “national participations,” according to the press release, strewn about the city from the national pavilions at the Giardini to 260 other spaces wherever they might be claimed, from non-practicing churches to literal holes in the wall.  There are 23 “collateral events,” 5,000 journalists, and a healthy number of luxury yachts ranging from big to astonishingly ginormous.  So far, so normal.

What follows are some glimpses from the past few days, bits that show what the arrival of the Biennale looks like.  This is not an encyclopedia because life is short and my interest in the subject likewise.  I was impelled to put this together merely to give a resident’s-eye view of the proceedings.  There will certainly be more jinks of various heights in the next few days (Opening Day is officially Saturday, May 13), but I won’t be trying to keep up with them. I’m covering this entirely by whim.  It’s my new operating system.

A bishop and a polar bear in a gondola captioned “I’ve got a sinking feeling.” That makes a sort of sense, I suppose, if you really insist on sense. But where does Bambi come into it?

Then housekeeping began to spiff up some areas which had been crying for spiffage for quite some while. This was an abandoned sea-pine glade till they wanted to make it prettier for the monster metal rhino. Did I not mention him?

Here he is, being assembled, installed, fed, whatever they had to do to get him ready.

This may well be art, but my hat is permanently off to the person(s) who hammered the metal to form this creature. They have to be amazing.

The tail alone is like something out of “Game of Thrones.”

Not far away is this creation. This is not the first large hand rising from the earth (or pavement) that I’ve seen here, though this is more modest. Years ago there was a huge concrete hand about ten feet high that remained reaching upward from the Riva degli Schiavoni for years. I know that our dreams are supposed to exceed our grasp, but this version is more friendly. It’s almost like a wave.

These hands, however, will be crawling out of the water and up the walls of the Hotel Ca’ Sagredo till November. I wonder if the people inside can sense them?

Meanwhile, in the park next door to the rhino, these creations have appeared. As in all of these discoveries, I don’t know who did them, where they come from, what the inner significance is, or what they cost if I want one for my porch or lawn. I’m just showing them as one sees them in a casual stroll on the way to the gelateria. Anyway, I’m fairly sure the explanations would only baffle me.

Not that women in swimwear require any explanation.

Other premonitory signs include these helpful stickers on the ground near the Giardini vaporetto stops.  Directional signs are always needed, especially really sophomoric ones.

As expected, the big yachts are parking along the Riva dei Sette Martiri. I have never seen anyone except the crew, but probably the big parties will be this weekend.

I want this one. I want it to take me to Ultima Thule.

The next yacht over has mysteriously (if indeed only crew is aboard) accumulated big sacks of garbage. This is the last of about ten that was dropped into the special barge they engaged to take it away.

Traveling aboard the more mundane vaporetto reveals more art works that continue to rise. At the Accademia Bridge, in the garden by Palazzo Franchetti, a festive reception is underway to celebrate the raising of the bronze dead tree.

I’d like to be able to talk to Titian for a minute. I’d like to hear him say “I always wanted to make something like that, but nobody would let me.”

Here’s what’s intriguing about a man standing alone dripping water from melting ice onto a dead mackerel: There is absolutely nothing — no sign, no acolytes, no flyers — to elucidate what he’s doing. There’s something refreshing about that. I mean, does everything have to have an explanation? Ice. Mackerel. Figure it out for yourself.

Or, an hour or so later, just ice. Is this a statement about glaciers, climate change, the end of the world?  Or just the usual metaphor for the brevity/meaning/fragility of life?  Perhaps, to paraphrase whoever it was, sometimes a pile of melting ice is just a pile of melting ice.  I hope he ate the mackerel.

And speaking of performance art, Tuesday evening we were coming home after 10 PM and came upon a rehearsal for something which was well underway in viale Garibaldi.

It is a group from Korea; the woman in the center is a dancer, the two men holding the illuminated umbrellas are very muscular, and the effigy in the center is a framework supporting priestly or godly garb, but with no one inside. The photographer was shooting the stately advance of the dancer to wafty mystic music coming from somewhere.

A closer look at the effigy and the beef. And the umbrellas, which were screamingly bright.  The two men had to remain in this pose even as the dancer moved slowly away; there was a small but persistent chilly breeze blowing, and I began to feel sorry for them. As soon as there was a break, they were bundled up in full-length quilts.

She moved slowly and deliberately to the singing by the woman at the end of the strip of runway, who was producing a sort of eerie throat music.

A story line or narrative did not suggest itself, though her movements were lovely.

I tried to devise a coherent theory of what was transpiring, but what I saw was what you’re seeing. The white veil kind of complicated the situation in my imagination.  When she finally reached the hieratic singer, she turned and moved slowly back toward the men and the effigy. This all took about an hour.

Nevertheless, the area has been pullulating with visitors, to the special joy of the local bars and restaurants.

The white marble strip is the normal (and legally certified) limit of the outdoor tables at this bar/noshery.  But these days, as long as there’s space, tables are filling it all the way down via Garibaldi.

When it’s closing time at the exhibitions and everyone has drunk and eaten their fill, it’s time to take the vaporetto uptown. As you see by the line, either they or the ACTV were not prepared for this moment. Yes, they are waiting to board the next vaporetto. And the next, and the next…. It’s as crowded as Carnival, only people aren’t laughing.

Dress code: Anything, as long as it’s black. Someone who didn’t know that this is the indisputable color of art-gazers and -discussers might suppose the city was in mourning.

Surveys reveal that black is the color most commonly associated with mourning, the end, secrets, magic, force, violence, evil, and elegance.  Mainly, it’s the color that everything goes with.

Red! Somebody just made a wild and dramatic bid to be different!

So on the one hand we have these clusters of  trendiness (everyone on their cell phones, as always — I couldn’t wait long enough to see if anybody ever talked to anybody who was sitting right there with them) …

…. and on the other hand, the antidote to the glossiness of it all was standing in front of the pastry shop, evidently dressed for Act III of Swan Lake on Mars. I say it every year: the Biennale is more entertaining than Carnival. During Carnival, people dress up and pretend, but at the Giardini in May, people dress up and they aren’t pretending at all.

 

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Jun
11

The end of art

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This was when it was art.

That was then.

Does everyone remember the gondola loaded with cut-up gondolas that was parked in our canal in the opening fervor of the Biennale?

The opening of the Biennale is, as I’m sure I’ve mentioned, more like starling-swarming or the wildebeest migration than anything else.  Dramatic for a short sharp moment, then it’s over and people forget about it.

By now the process is complete.  The swarms began to depart the evening of June 2, and although fluttering shreds of tourists remain, the sort who seem to have come actually to look at the art and not each other (shocking, I know), life on the whole is back to its incomprehensible normality.

As everyone knows, the gondola assemblage was art.  A week has passed, and this creation has been demoted to Private First Class, downgraded to Economy, put back a grade, however you want to put it.

Having fulfilled its purpose — whatever it was — the object has been removed from its watery pedestal, and taken far away. Not so far in geographic terms, but extremely far in terms of appreciation. You may have heard of “value added”?  This is an example of “value subtracted.”

It is now resting quietly in the devastated territory of our rowing club.  Evidently the squero here nearby that confected it didn’t want it back soon (or ever); anyway, I was told that in exchange for painting one of our boats, we agreed to let them stash it here.

Sic transit.  

 

This is now.

This is now.

 

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Jun
04

Boating Biennale

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No, this reference isn’t to me or to my (or anybody else’s) oarage, or steerage, or careenage.  I am referring to a modest work of Biennale art that I happen to LOVE — just in case anyone thought that I was against everything that had the slightest connection with this event. This little creation makes me smile.

Yes, it's a little boat, 15 feet/5 meters long and made of plastic by Marco Tracanelli, a 577-year-old artist from San Vito al Tagliamento.

Yes, it’s a little boat, 15 feet/5 meters long and made of plastic by Marco Tracanelli, a 57-year-old artist from San Vito al Tagliamento.  It bobs around in the waves and is just as jaunty and blithesome as it can be.

Hardly the battleship "Potemkin," even if it does bear the famous name on its hull.

Hardly the battleship “Potemkin,” even if it does bear the famous name on its hull. I don’t know if this reference is intended to carry metric tons of deep significance, but I have to say that somebody who can think up something like this (and make it) can’t be up all night brooding on the unfairness of life, not to mention its deeper profundities. But what do I know.

 

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May
31

Talking Biennale

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IMG_1374 blog biennale

I had intended my recent discourse on art and life as represented by the Biennale to be my only comment.  There are so many other outlandish things which deserve to be brought forward for class discussion.

But a wander down via Garibaldi showed that there is an innocent, unoffending part of the neighborhood which has been artified by means of the incantatory power of the by-now impenetrable language of art. A newcomer identified as “Scatiggio” has chosen to chance his arm by decorating some store windows with brief descriptions of their merchants as artists and/or the merchandise as art.

This doesn’t mean that the thing described is art, but that it is intended to be regarded as art due to its (hopefully) convincing description.  There is a case to be made that naming something gives it reality, but this isn’t the time or place to make it.

As a lover of language, and a huge fan of intelligent and original thought, all this seriously slowed me down on my way home from the post office.

I present for your consideration a few examples of this, um, art.  And by the way, do not suppose that my disparagement of these shenanigans is due to ignorance. It seems to be a human tendency to ascribe power to inanimate objects — a case could be made for comparing tree-worship to calling pet-store wares “art.”  Smart people for centuries believed that the drug-induced ravings of probably vitamin-deficient women, or the incoherent monologues of the mentally ill, were the utterances of gods.  Otherwise well-balanced people have always been easy to seduce by the extraordinary assertions of snake-oil or diet-pill salesmen, and to believe all sorts of hoaxes ranging from the Fiji mermaid to dihydrogen monoxide.

People are susceptible in part because they believe that words mean something.  Peasants!  In the case of Scatiggio we have someone for whom English is not his first language using language to convince us that everyday commodities are art. This is by now a given in the world of art — nothing new here. But if, as the window of the tobacco-shop states, there might not be any boundaries dividing art and reality, it’s even clearer that the boundaries that keep language and thought in their proper relationship have become unreliable. Wow. Just when you thought things couldn’t get worse.

The window of the pet-food-and-accessories store. Its contents are the "media" -- and while I can believe that guts and blood are somewhere to be found inside, probably in cans of can or dog food, it's a little startling to see them on the list.  It sounds like a description of a neolithic kitchen midden.

The window of the pet-food-and-accessories store. Its contents are the “media” — and while I can believe that guts and blood are somewhere to be found inside, probably in cans of can or dog food, it’s a little startling to see them on the list. It sounds like a description of a neolithic kitchen midden. Your mind will have to be in at least state-championship form to grasp that the products on sale (squeak toys, poop bags) symbolize love. I haven’t been able to find “Scatiggio”” on the official list of participating artists, though there is a family doctor in Venice named Marco Scatiggio.  Maybe this is his big break.

This man sells pasta and cheese and other comestibles.  If he starts believing he's selling art, none of us will be able to afford a handful of olives or a bag of sugar.

Mr. Bianchi sells pasta and cheese and other comestibles. If he starts believing he’s selling art, none of us will be able to afford a handful of olives or a bag of sugar or any other emotive symbol he feels like sculpting.

Emanuela, who recently expanded her shop, sells gewgaws of a better-than-average quality.  Seashells rimmed with silver, ceramic geese, and so on.  These may or may not be deep water, Watson, but the artist is sure that her wares takes us into unchartered (sic) territory.

Emanuela, who recently expanded her shop, sells gewgaws of a better-than-average quality. Seashells rimmed with silver, ceramic geese, and so on. These may or may not be deep waters, Watson, but the artist is sure that her wares take us into unchartered (sic) territory. I know her in a casual way, and am not convinced that she has ever detected deeper profundity either in herself or her monthly gross income.  But what do I know.

Interesting question. This shop sells toys, cigarettes, candy, and lottery tickets. Which leads me to conclude that there is no border between art and this shop, just like there's no border between Italy and Slovenia now that they're all part of the EU.

Interesting question. This shop sells toys, cigarettes, candy, and lottery tickets. Which leads me to conclude that there is no border between art and this shop, just like there’s no border between Italy and Slovenia now that they’re all part of the EU.

This is the shoe store.  I don't know if Agnese (presumably a woman) minds being called "him," but connecting human thought to a selection of flipflops was so hard it blew a letter out of the word.

This is the shoe store. I don’t know if Agnese (presumably a woman) minds being called “his,” but linking understanding of the human psyche to a selection of flipflops is the first statement that makes sense.

I wrote for an excellent editor who was implacable in his determination that "this" should be clearly tied to something specific.  Here, I'd have to ignore "concept" (which is easy enough to understand) but can't see what "this" is.  The window? The candy? The discounts? The writing itself? It's true that a good question raises other questions, but they're supposed to be good ones too.

I wrote for an excellent editor who was implacable in his determination that “this” should clearly refer to something specific. Here, I’d have to ignore “concept” (which is easy enough to understand) but can’t see what “this” is. The window? The candy? The discounts? The writing itself? It’s true that a good question raises other questions, but they’re supposed to be good ones.

This isn’t such a hard game to play.  Here are some of my own efforts, and I donate them to the stores that Scatiggio missed, or ignored.  There are loads more, but while art may be long, life is short.

ALBERTO BATTISTEL, butcher. Mixed media: mammal muscle, blood, gristle, grease, waxed paper, steel

At the nexus of life and death, the implacability of knives and money slaughters the fate of generations.

MANUELA PITTERI, cafe owner.  Mixed media: coffee, wheat, sugar, chocolate, milk

Essence of mountain soil, murdered beans of darkling aroma are resurrected in the elemental violence of water and fire, transformed from silent plant to music in humanity’s venous meanders.

 E FIE, wine store.  Mixed media: Grapes, water, plastic, glass

The vine submits to the fervor of fermentation, sacrificing sugar, soaking in its own lymph. How can joy and tears spring from the same tumultuous root, secret subjugation of sense and cogitation, and time relent only to destroy memory?

THE NEWSSTAND. Mixed media: cellulose, ink, vinyl, pigments, surfactants

Screaming paper, the multiple dimensions of life reduced to thin sheets of tree fiber, smeared with cruel dyes, and eager, jaws agape, for miniscule curiosity to enter its monstrous maw, consumed in the ephemeral tragedies of unceasing night and day.

Hey, this is fun. It’s even better than haiku — I don’t have to worry about grammar or meaning.  It’s like playing Scrabble inventing words with whatever tiles you’ve got left. Maybe I’ll try it in Turkish next.

I’m going to stop now.  I realize that I have left untilled great greenswards of fertile fields of potential: The post office, the barber, the dry cleaner, the jewelry store, the pharmacy, the cell-phone-and-computer shop, the doctor’s office….

But art has to go home now, because I’ve got to clean the bathroom and finish the ironing.

 

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