La Biennale: 55th International Art Exhibition, Venice – Italy
The Encyclopedic Palace
The Exhibition Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace) is laid out in the pavilions of the Giardini and in the Arsenale forming a single itinerary, with works spanning over the past century alongside several new commissions, including over 150 artists from 38 countries. The Arsenale is usually my preferred venue, partially because of the re-use of the fascinating space, the largest pre-industrial production center of the world, begun in the early 13th century.
The Corderia, the long space where naval ropes were made, provides space for the beginning of the venue which continues around to numerous other curious spaces, with a special area curated by Cindy Sherman. This is where a collection by Linda Fregni Nagler of 997 daguerreotypes, tintypes, albumen prints, snapshots are on display, entitled The Hidden Mother.
Fascinating objects in an of themselves, these historic images are portraits of children from the 19th and early 20th centuries who are being propped up by a mother, father, or nanny, in order to help the child maintain their position for the long required photographic exposure time. What remains is a creepy ghost-like presence of a hidden person, sometimes draped with fabric or partially hidden behind a plant or other prop. With the intent of making the adult (usually the mother) disappear from the image, one gets a strange sense of a surreal staged reality and technical attempt of the era.
One might question, is an obsessive collection of this type “art”? This is exactly what the curator, Massimiliano Gioni, had in mind, to question what is the world of the artist, where inspiration comes from information and observation — so it works. He states his intentions:
“Blurring the line between professional artists and amateurs, outsiders and insiders, the exhibition takes an anthropological approach to the study of images, focusing in particular on the realms of the imaginary and the functions of the imagination. What room is left for internal images — for dreams, hallucinations and visions — in an era besieged by external ones? And what is the point of creating an image of the world when the world itself has become increasingly like an image?”
Take this small sampling of ex-votos, that come from an accumulation of over 5000 ex-votos from the antuario di Romituzzo, Poggibonsi (Siena), Italy, of the 16th-19th centuries. Here, the hopeful have commissioned artisans to represent their prayers for healing ailed body parts. Taken out of context, what can be more poetic than this collective outcry represented in these curious objects?
These ready-made velvet drapes are part of an installation of an imported a colonial-era Catholic church from Vietnam by Danh Vo, who had to flee his childhood homeland and adapt to new cultures and religion. They beautifully reveal the markings of time and the symbols of religion which have in a sense stained the cloth, creating beautiful patterns of, again, ghostly images.
New this year is the participation of the Holy See (yes, you read that correctly) with an exhibition at the Sale d’Armi which was a quite impressive collection of artists conceptually inspired by biblical narratives, curated by the director of the Vatican. These include in interactive video which engaged the viewed to participate, black and white photographs by Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, and the monumental “materialistic” works by Lawrence Carroll.
The new Italian Pavilion, with a theme of Vice Versa, had a lot of interesting work including this simple sheet of iron, by Francesca Grilli, developing and changing with a constant drip of water and sound element. Marco Tirelli uses drawings and small sculpture as a method of intellectually recording data, a sort of “theater of memory” existing both physically and mentally as an archeology of parts and elements, and thousands of coded bricks by Elisabetta Benasi.
And here are a few other favorites of mine: