The 56th Venice Biennale opened its doors to the public on May 9th, and until the 22nd of November megawatt collectors, cultural impresarios, and casual visitors alike will swarm to the ancient archipelago to take in what just might be the world’s most impressive gathering of artistic talent.
As the olympics of the art world, the Biennale plays host to exceptional artistic talent from more than 40 countries around the world in National Pavilions casually grouped together in the Giardini Biennale. The ancient Venetian Arsenale plays host to a themed exhibition of epic proportions curated by Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor, and scattered throughout the rest of the city hundreds of satellite shows beckon with open arms.
For a weekend getaway shot through with aesthetic ecstasy, you cannot do better than a trip to the Biennale, and with a little guidance it is more than possible to take in the best the Biennale has to offer in only a weekend. So break out the boat shoes, brush up on your Italian, and book your pension on the Grand Canal — there’s no place like Venice during Biennale season.
Giardini Biennale: An oasis of calm
Settle in to the near-constant stream of culture with a trip to the Giardini Biennale, an oasis of calm in a chaotic city housing the most established National Pavilions in the cloistered environs of a seaside park — imagine Epcot in Central Park, without the crowds.
This year’s British pavilion, easily the most infamous of the international offerings, hosts the YBA darling Sarah Lucas in an egg-yolk yellow den of sculptural perversions. Older work from the shock and awe days mingles deftly with monumental new sculptures that haunt the space with an alien grace.
The Finnish pavilion offers the most intimate viewing experience at the Biennale, a deft, hand-drawn, animation conjuring up a mythic forest and the workings of deep time. The rich, dark, warm environs of the tiny, wood-hewn pavilion invite the sort of relationship between art and man that most large museum spaces hunger after, and the echoing soundscape lulls viewers into a state of ecstatic contemplation.
When you finally conjure up the strength to pull yourself away from the Finnish pavilion, cleanse your palette with a visit to the minimal, conceptual Hungarian pavilion. Clear plastic tubes crisscross the ceiling overhead as carefully timed fans gently guide large white balls through the clear plastic pathways. At the center of the space an amorphous clear plastic shape seems to breathe in and out, constricting and expanding with the desperate, distressing regularity of an object come to life.
The Swiss likes it organic
The Swiss pavilion offers an equally minimal, if superlatively material, meditation on the organic, the biological, and the environmental with an exquisite installation courtesy of Pamela Rosenkranz. The structure of the pavilion is transformed, bathed in a soft, new, leaf-green light, implicating visitors in the conceptual construction of the environment itself. And, at the heart of the pavilion a futuristic pool of pinkish ooze, gurgles at waist-height, conjuring up the biological, the interior, the undeniably organic.
Beyond the cloistered environs of the Giardini, a scrupulously manicured garden only steps from the Biennale grounds offers a perfect transition from the garden to the city at large. Along winding pathways in a petite, square park, Ursula von Rydingsvard’s towering totems loom over curious pedestrians, impassive and impressive in graphite-rubbed cedar and burnished bronze.
After you’ve enjoyed your tour of von Rydingsvard’s monumental sculptures, the Arsenale is only a short walk away, and the dense, dark, demented dream of a world on fire awaits with all the sturm and drang of hell itself. Enwezor’s curatorial theme, “All the World’s Futures” manifests as a macabre parade of environmental, spiritual, and physical degradation. Cynical, temperamental, dense, and daunting, the Arsenale show is an adventure both disturbing and deliberate, a worthy challenge for a cultural traveller.
When you’ve made your way through hell and you’re ready to have a little fun, turn to Doug Fishbone’s Leisure Land Golf for a few rounds of mini golf and an engaging consideration of the liminal space between industry and indulgence. With nine artist-designed holes and an immersive, canal-side environment, there is absolutely nothing not to love about Fishbone’s quixotic take on the artistic installation.
Don’t miss CYLAND
Before you leave Venice, don’t miss out on the many satellite exhibitions peppering the city. From the institutional sophistication of the works on view at Peggy Guggenheim’s private collection to the sultry, intellectually seductive video art of Albert Serra, there are more than enough shows to keep you occupied for your final day in the city of dreams, but why not make your last trip forward-looking with a stopover at the CYLAND new media show “On My Way.”
Pushing boundaries and embracing new technologies, this avant-garde exhibition from Russia’s largest New Media non-profit makes manifest the promise of the Biennale’s curatorial theme and offers up an aesthetic vision for the future both technologically enriched and conceptually profound.
With the future dancing just around the bend and the present moment firmly in hand, even after you’ve made your way home the 56th Venice Biennale, the art will always be with you.
All pictures by © Hannah Nelson-Teutsch