54th Art Biennale di Venezia
Considerations that may become handy also as a guide

review by Jizaino, 19 September 2011

54. International Art Exhibition
ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations

04.06 - 27.11 2011
Venezia - Giardini, Arsenale and various venues

Entrance: 20 €



Venezia is a splendid town and at the same time decadent, and to this is due its charm of Mannian taste. Its most evocative atmospheres can be perceived away from the clamours of the Biennale and the tourist's high season. This September has been as usual a period of crowded tourism, although quite calm in front of that in the clou of the inaugurations; instead, visiting the Biennale before its closing, in the end of November as I had the chance in the past, one can feel that placid atmosphere, sometimes foggy, that induce to meditation, discovering in calli and fondamenta the traces and the relics of concomitant events and actions of disturb, which perpetuate the romanticism of the city with faded outdated posters, graffiti over other graffiti, ripped poster art, signalling stickers torn on the wet paving. But always and over everything, the inevitable garbage bags left outside the doors in that zones away from tourist's passage (that leave visitors surprised), and in every canal floating clusters of small plastic bottles (that leave the surprised visitors).

Art Biennale di Venezia

After having visited for years the Art Biennale di Venezia, I have skipped the last two editions. Maybe due to nausea for overeat and tedium for déjà vu, or on the contrary for the progressive decline of contemporary art that, finding no new inspirations, tends to repeat itself; although, more probably, for the selections proposed to the Biennale by curators and institutions, which obviously represent a partial and subjective vision of the real complexity of the international artistic expression.

The climate of fervour and irritation that has accompanied the presentation of this 54th edition, with "revolutionary" novelties disputed in an unprecedented harsh manner, convinced me to come back in that places; other than the fact that I adore Venezia.

One of the novelties introduced by this Biennale are the parapavilions: circumscribed structures sited inside the exhibition halls and meant to host otherwise excluded artists; they have been created by four selected artists: Song Dong, Franz West, Oscar Tuazon and Monika Sosnowska.
Another novelty is the regional pavilions dislocated in every Italian chief towns: an idea by Vittorio Sgarbi (who has curated, revolutionizing it, the Italian Pavilion) that extends enormously the range of artists and venues to visit, already very wide thanks also to the collateral events. The project is perhaps a bit megalomaniac, but it is coherent with the wish expressed by Sgarbi to give room to as much artists as possible.

When I read the firts press releases that was announcing the topic of this Biennale (read the article), i was impressed by the ambiguous title ILLUMInations / ILLUMInazioni: quite banal to refer, according the motivations expressed by the curatrix Bice Curiger, only to the theme of light dear to Venezia and to the wish of shedding a light on the very Biennale institution (thing that sincerely I did not catch where it has been done); nay, too much banal. In the Art world we are accustomed to more cryptic reasonings and concepts.
It's not my intention to do a semantic trial to the title (and if it's boring you jump to the next chapter), anyway it seems to be the result of the fusion between the word Illuminati (the historical secret society of scientific, masonic and anticlerical inspiration) and the word nations / nazioni (which, according to the curatrix, are not to be seen as culturally conservative structures, but cultures that through Art must negotiate their differences to form new models of community for the future). According to researchers, as some would know, nationalism opposes the ideal of that secret society, which aims to establish a world unique order, under a sole govern, a sole coin and a sole faith. Indeed, nationalism and the so called globalization are just two orders of magnitude of the same idea arose in the very same human dullness.
Also the procrastination to future  editions of the so long pre-announced Vatican pavilion seemed to me a curious coincidence correlated to the title ILLUMINATI(ons): the Vaticano is traditionally antagonist of the Illuminati.
Thus I visited the Biennale with this assumption, and indeed it seems that some artists, or the curatorships, have proposed artworks vaguely inspired or conformed to these arguments, as described next; although Art always prevailed over everything; stop.

The Arsenale

Let us start now saying that, as usual, along the routes of the exhibition generally there is not sufficient material for deepening in order to acquaint and understand the artists and their artworks. Often  this omission is due to a merely venal demand: induce to pay for audioguides, guided visits and catalogues.

Entering, first we are harboured by the first parapavilion, entitled "Intelligence From Poor People" and created by the Chinese Song Dong. The title and the contained artworks, by the British Ryan Gander and the French Yto Barrada, suggest a vision of human dignity in insufficiency, in lack, in memory, in procreation and in solidarity.
The parapavilion reproduces the traditional Chinese house of Dong's parents; inside there are two sculptures by Gander (of which I cite "In Hearts?" just for the presence of mysterious types that will be useful for the topic), while at the outside there are four artwork by Yto Barrada, among which: "The Telephone Book", that reproduces the notebooks of his own grandma, in which, being an illiterate, she wrote down the phone numbers of her ten sons using a personal method, and "Family Tree, sunprinted on the wall" that reproduces the halos left by the family portraits when they were removed.

The parapavilion by Song Dong "Intelligence From Poor People" (details), 2011
Site specific installation, steel and wooden house, 100 wardrobe doors

Ryan Gander, "In Hearts?", 2011

"Family Tree, sunprinted on the wall"
Yto Barrada, 2011

"The Telephone Book (or the Recipe Books), fig. 1 to 3, fig. 5 to 8"
1 C-print, 6 silver gelatin prints
Yto Barrada, 2011

In the adjacent hall, the total darkness is not even barely lit by the feeble glimmer emanated by the screen where a crowd walks in a sombre room, just as the actual visitors. It is the video "Stampede" by the Slovakian Roman Ondák. it seems a critique to the confused, unaware and obtuse population, that fumbles in the darkness of the reason not realizing what is happening around; if you wish, a critique circumscribed even just to the ambit of contemporary art.
The video is proposed together with the sculpture "Time Capsule", this way reproducing the configuration of an exhibition originally realized at the Modern Art Oxford Gallery.

Roman Ondák, "Stampede", 2011
Video colour projection without sound, 14’44” loop

Going back to the reasoning on the secret societies introduced before, and entered in the next hall, the three artworks by the Helvetian artist Mai-Thu Perret are eloquent: the drawing of a masonic style pyramid, realized either with neon tubes and as wall painting, together with the reproduction of "The Skeleton Dress" designed in 1938 by the stylist Elsa Schiaparelli with the help of Salvador Dalì: a female dress totally black with the shape of the skeleton realized in quilting and surmounted by a blown glass head. In its whole the installation seems to refer to the male chauvinism in the masonic androcracy.

Mai-Thu Perret, 2011
"Flow my Tears II", neon tubes

"Flow my Tears I", foam manikin and steel, blown glass head, and "Flow my Tears III", wall painting

In the same hall there is another Swiss Artist: Andro Wuekua, who presents a very interesting installation entitled "Pink Wave Hunter", composed by fifteen sculptures representing vacuous buildings and precarious facades as thin as theatre's wings, in which one can see a reference to the vane presumption of power that is hidden beyond esotericism, and in the title also another hint to misogyny.

Andro Wuekua, "Pink Wave Hunter", 2010-2011
Details of the installation composed by 15 sculptures over base

The esotericism exudes also from the sculptures of the US America Rashid Johnson: elements of design and decors as pier-mirrors, bookcases and carpets full of symbols similar or resembling the ones of alchemy, which can be annexed to the mysterious types by Ryan Gander cited before.

Rashid Johnson, 2011
"Branded Rugs", branded zebra skin, branded Persian rug, gold paint

"Fatherhood as Described by Paul Betty"
Branded red oak flooring, black soap, wax, books, branding irons, shea butter, oyster shells, space rock, gold paint

"File Room" by the Indian Dayanita Singh is the disconcerting photographic documentation of the demeaning obsession and of the Babel confusion that may be caused by the data archiving, this is to say the knowledge: bulky evidence of the human presumption of omniscience.

Dayanita Singh, "File Room", 2011, pigmented prints

Can these all be coincidences? The artworks described till here tell me that my intuition was not baseless.
Anyway, that does mean nothing, because the artworks may be read as a whispered denounce as mush as a whispered celebration.

Proceeding along the route, we find many "images for the images", this is to say mute or hieratic representations that induce to intellectual minimalism, or a slackening of the critical sense, for there is nothing to be stated; for example, the algid as much as garish photos of things and people by the German Annette Kelm; or the massive photographic documentation realized by the Chinese collective Birdhead, which has a lomographic imprint of socio-anthropological inspiration, but that artistically, in the case of the artworks in exhibition, add nothing to the everyday reality, in other words it documents the life of some of the billions of people in a place as many others in the world, making to fall also the possible documentary value into the most ephemeral entertainment, term that i detest when associated to the word Art (read this article regarding that).

The second parapavilion, entitled "Extroversion", is the one by the Austrian Franz West, that harbours the artworks of even around forty Artists (among them a mirror by Michelangelo Pistoletto), which names indeed can be complicatedly individuated on the reference schemes dislocated aside (it would have been sufficient to place the names at the side of each artwork). This little but very dense parapavilion has the appearance of a unique parallelepiped of the oddities: it does not let each artwork to breathe. Not even the idea succeed in valorizing the excluded artists, since it reproduces, extroverting them, the walls of West's kitchen: it seems like the hosted artworks are considered minor with egocentric disdain and suitable only for a somehow squalid place as a kitched; moreover, the fulcrum of the parapavilion is an antrum inside the structure in which there are two water red lit toilets (other than the projection of "Dream Villas Slideshow" by Singh).

The parapavilion "Extroversion" by Franz West and some hosted artworks, 2011

Beyond we find the large suspended sculpture "limpundulu Zonke Ziyandilandela" by the South African Nicholas Hlobo, which, although questionable in the expressive form respect other artworks of the Artist, has an important meaning: a ghostly vampire monster from the African mythology built with black inner tubes and an animal's skull, that evokes the horror of environmental destruction (particularly the African one) by now turned into a dump where the sole raw material is garbage and death.

Nicholas Hlobo, "limpundulu Zonke Ziyandilandela", 2011
Suspended sculpture, rubber, ribbon and mixed media

Another enormous installation is "The Summit of It" by the Swiss Fabian Marti, over which the artworks "Philosophers and Shrinks" and "Sun Oh!" have been placed. The artwork is gratifying: a labyrinthine structure surmounted by philosophers and shrinks (represented by the ceramic vases liquefied like the clocks of Salvador Dalì) that conceals the simple amazement of a clear and sunny nature.

Fabian Marti, "The Summit of It", 2011
MDF, installation with "Sun Oh!", 2011 and "Philosophers and Shrinks", 2011

Curious installation, "The National Apavilion of Then and Now" by the British Haroon Mirza, that gives an alienating sensory audiovisual experience, but nothing more, despite that from the complex title one may expect some further meaning, not just a short entertainment.

Haroon Mirza, "The National Apavilion of Then and Now", 2011
Anechoic chamber, LED's, amp, speaker, electronic circuit. Light on 24”, light off 18”

Same conclusions for the large installation "Ganzfeld APANI" by the US American James Turrell: one of those sideshows where one must wait half a hour in a line to finally enter in small groups of people who linger for so much long in order to find an ecstatic sight to tell to others still outside, and mainly to redeem the waiting. I do a lightly scornful description of it, because the artwork is too much similar to a circus booth, or dangerously near to the degenerate equation art = entertainment.

If you never dwell in front of Video Art, one of the artworks that I would recommend not to loose is "Factor Green" of the Helvetian Shahryar Nashat: six minutes, surreal but not absurd about the difficulty to correlate with the others' expectations; but... beware not to sit on the benches in the room: they are artworks.

Shahryar Nashat, view on the installation with "Factor Green", 2011
HD video, colour, sound, 5’37”

Differently from the previous reasoning on the scarceness of artistic expression in certain documentary photography, the entirety of artworks of the Irish Gerard Byrne like "Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems), Pink Wave Hunter", once the apparent documentary intent has outgone, one discovers instead a concept that draws a good laugh.

"Some gestalt forms surveyed, and organized intro primary structures, on dates between 2001-2011"
"Case Study: Loch Ness (Some Possibilities and Problems), Pink Wave Hunter"
Silver gelatine prints, wooden forms, linen lined vitrine, frames in wood, steel or acrylic
Gerard Byrne, 2001-2011

Already from a distance one can notice in the next hall the great untitled installation by Urs Fischer, another Swiss, and hardly one can hold from visiting it immediately.
It is a series of statues (of which one is monumental), apparently marmoreal but made of wax, which have been dissolved by progressively igniting the wicks they have inside, and causing the progressive destruction, turning then into artworks of dynamic sculpture, that change in time.
At the moment of my visit, these monumental candles were in the following state.

Gerard Byrne, untitled, 2011
Installation dimensions variable
Wax, pigments, wicks, steel. Ed. 2 + 1AP

Another artwork with a mesmeric charm is the video "The Clock" by the US America Christian Marclay: a cut-up made with film parts, similar to the founding keystone of this genre which is "La verifica incerta" that Alberto Grifi realized in 1964 arousing the admiration of pop artists as Andy Warhol.
Unfortunately this is an artwork unsuitable to an exhibition like the Biennale, simply for a a matter of length: one could even get inside the exhibition as soon as it opens and see the video until the closing time without the chance to see it all, since it lasts exactly 24 hours! The artwork is based on a laborious synchronization of the clocks that are in the scenes with the real actual time, creating an atmosphere almost comical that turns the characters in the films into prisoners of a bubble made of illusion.
There are artworks that would deserve an event dedicated to them, and on this topic we will come back later.

Christian Marclay, some still pictures from "The Clock", 2010
Single channel video, 24 hours. Ed. 6

Following we encounter some national pavilions that have no room at the Giardini.

The Pavilion of Argentina proposes the touching and monumental sculptural installation by Adrián Villar Rojas "Ahora Estarè Con Mi Hijo" (now i will be with my son): an attempt for an intergenerational dialogue, in which the primitive and paternal materiality of the earth try to communicate with the modernity of technology from science fiction of juvenile languages.

Adrián Villar Rojas, "Ahora Estarè Con Mi Hijo"

Of the Indian Pavilion it has intrigued me only the video installation by Gigi Scaria (who, notwithstanding the name, is born in India) entitled "Elevator from the Subcontinent": well done technically and meaningful in its concept.

Gigi Scaria, "Elevator from the Subcontinent" (details), 2011
Three screens video installation

Croatia has presented the interesting works of the recently deceased Tomislav Gotovac, and of the BADco. collective, although to know the conceptual ins and outs behind the long artistic activity of Gotovac, and what at first sight are just simple scenes of life or private and vintage pornography, it would surely require more time; anyway this pavilion deserve a praise for the free availability of a journal with as much as forty-eight pages with all the necessary in-depths. Bravo, good work.

Tomislav Gotovac, "Family Film I", 1971, 8 mm film transferred to DVD, 6’ and "Showing the Elle Magazine", 1962

Badco., "Responsibility for Things Seen: Tales in Negative Space", 2011
Installation of four chapters from the video series

The United Arab Emirates Pavilion is cunningly surprising, in particular for the photographs by Lateefa Bint Maktoum, that show atmospheres extremely lyrical immortalizing subjects typical of Arabia that western people often associate to biases and cliches anything but poetic.
Sweet, as the potatoes portrayed, and naively primitive are the graffiti on stones by Abdullah Al Saadi, which are a candid exercise of comparison between the shapes of sweet potatoes and the ones of the human body, starting from the elements offered by this land.

Lateefa Bint Maktoum, photographs from the series "Observers of Change", 2011

Abdullah Al Saadi, "Naked Sweet Potato", 2000-2010
Installation. Engravings on stones, drawings, objects

South America. While the Chilean Pavilion proposes the work of a sole artist, "Gran Sur" (great south) by Fernando Prats, the Pavilion of the Istituto Italo-Latino Americano is very rich, too much indeed: too much Video Art, even with audio widespread in the only room, that creates a hubbub of sounds and images. This pavilion, sited almost to the end of the already challenging route, may cause a rejection crises for fatigue; anyway, as it may be expectable for this country, it is dense of commitment with social and political intents, and each artwork considers a theme; sometimes in a disgusting way, as in "La Fisiologia del Gusto" (taste physiology) by Adán Vallecillo; other times with bucolic serenity as in the video "Home" by Gianfranco Foschino; or with the bitter sarcasm, taken from a reality that mix with fantasy, impressed in the video "Hecho en México" (made in Mexico) by Bjørn Melhus.

Adán Vallecillo, "La fisiologia del gusto", 2010
Carious teeth and stainless steel tray

Bjørn Melhus, "Hecho en México", 2009
HD video, colour, sound, 4’ loop

The Chinese Pavilion, as it may be expected, offers an almost expressively monolithic selection of artworks intensely spiritual, romantic if you want, all centred on the subjects that are peculiar of the Chinese culture: the tea sipped by the Buddhist monks in "Cloud-Tea" by Cai Zhisong, the incense in "Empty Incense" by Yuan Gong, the Chinese medicine in "All Things Are Visible" by Yang Maoyuan, the ideographic writing in "Snow Melting in Lotus" by Pan Gongkai, the Chinese wine and the acupuncture in "I Plead: Rain" by Liang Yuanwei. No hints about dissent: all is poetry, we are not even near to the yet subtle sarcasm of Yue Minjun.
The artwork by Gongkai aroused my attention for how the ideograms drawn on the walls were dominating some Latin alphabet letters fallen to the floor: symbolically it seems to remind the rising of Chinese power in detriment of the decrepit and corrupted western society that is melting like snow (the lotus is a symbol of purity dear to Buddhist culture).
It can not be blamed the will to transmit a positive picture of one's own culture, when the Occident is not better and is hardly addicted to defame whose make to falter its fleeing economic primacy.

Yang Maoyuan, "All Things Are Visible", 2011
Mixed technique

Liang Yuanwei, "I Plead: Rain", 2011
Mixed technique (lumbar acupuncture needles, Chinese wine, idraulic machinery)

Placed almost to the end of the Arsenale's route, we come across the Italian Pavilion.

The Italian Pavilion by the much criticized critic Vittorio Sgarbi

The curatorship of this Italian Pavilion's edition has been committed to the very well known critic icon Vittorio Sgarbi.
Who is not frequenting the contemporary art's agoras, perhaps does not know of how much the notorious critic has been blamed and derided for the decisions he made for "his" pavilion. As everybody may imagine, this is a dissent instrumental to the factious concurrent parties (I have not used the term antagonist), which has then turned into a choir nearly unanimous, an demotic ostracism. The Sgarbi's idea for the pavilion, perfectly expressed by the title "L'arte non è Cosa Nostra" (Art is not Cosa Nostra; e.g. thing belonging to us, or Mafia), is to bring into the Biennale as mush artists as possible, including unknown ones and emerging youth or not so known, breaking that curatorial cartel that gives space only to its elitist stud of "artistars". The main cause of this dissent is that the pavilion, full of artists, would have been a cauldron of small artists that do not represent the Italian excellences in front of the world.
The dissent over the internet has been so pervasive, that even entering the pavilion there could be met several people saying the same complaints, going around the halls with a disgusted expression and open wide eyes as to say "what a shame", perhaps forgetting that in the pavilion there were even artworks.

A view of the Italian Pavilion

As I often emphasize, i am not interested in these partisanships intestine to powers and governments; this said, i consider these critiques unmotivated and captious.Firstly because a critic is free to take its own choices; in fact, Sgarbi defended this right in every conference using as usual his ways: maltreating who was criticising him. Secondly, I consider incoherent the popular position that has been moved against the non representativeness of the Italian Pavilion for the presence of not important artists, when always over the discussion boards the first complaint has been always that of the impossibility to enter that small elitist sphere of artists chosen by baronies made of critics and curators, of the difficulty to exhibit and get visibility encountered by the artists not yet emerged. Sgarbi inverted this trend, thus it could have harassed some people by now resting on the laurels of an art system rock-perched on itself.
At the end of the Italian Pavilion, right after the "Mafia Museum" (for which I had no interests in, also for the lack of time), there is a video that, although without a counterpart, exposes the backstage to comprehend the reasons of the Sgarbi's choice.

To have committed the selection of the 276 exhibiting artists not to critics and curators, but to persons of culture, should give a real picture of the most loved Art, not the Art that should be loved.

Anyway, let us come to the facts.
Briefly, if by one side I admire and support the Sgarbi's intent, indeed I have not appreciated the realization in every point.

Paolo Consorti
"Rebellio Patroni", 2011
Mixed technique

Greta Frau
Series "L'ultima classe"
Oil on MDF

Dora Tass
Series "Oggetti Perturbanti"
 Assemblages with holograms

Gaetano Giuffrè
Series "Figure"
Polychrome terracotta

Undoubtedly the Italian Pavilion is a jubilation of creativity as much exuberant as the curator is; but, if for its beauty and aesthetic involvement I liked it in its entirety, I have still felt the lack of impulses or conceptual appeals that could stimulate my curiosity; and more, the obsessive presence of Risorgimento's patriotism, with tricoloured flags, heroes, hints and templates of the Italian history, disturbed me.
But the factor that in my opinion invalidates the noble intent of Sgarbi is the absence of informations about the artist exhibited: in this pavilion more than others one can feel the lack of informative material; placing at the side of the artworks some in-depth texts on the author should always be a praxis, and above all it is so in this case when there are presented many less notorious artists which expression and motivation are not automatically know to everybody.
The only way to be acquainted with the artists, perhaps, is the inevitable "opportunity" to rent the detestable audioguides, paid.
Happens that the first thing that I have noticed at the entrance is this sheet of paper, lamely stuck on a crate at the side of the reception's desk, which invites, with an ambiguous and Italian only title, to the rental of the audioguide: ugly indeed!

Per favore... compra la guida

The second thing that impressed me just entered, differently by the other pavilions, has been the very strong smell of oil colours and other painting media, even if the exhibition was inaugurated months before; sign of a massive presence of very recent artworks, or completed at the last minute (in fact over the telematic agoras there were announced uncertainties and delays caused by the hesitances of the organizers and the feared curator's resignation). Indeed, as it could have been expected, at first glance the pavilion is very intricate, with an impressive number of artworks and artists often arranged tightly close to each other; absolutely different from the half empty and austere spaces from the other editions.
Catching the curator's intents, it could have not been otherwise, and more I wish to say that if the Italic peninsula since the ancient times is recognized for its Art, the genius and the creativity of its inhabitants, I believe that this pavilion is coherently a jubilation of artistic expression, of the most diverse forms.
Also the preparation is different from usual, at the point that it seems that of a fair market: the illumination of the rooms is global (maybe coherently to the generic title ILLUMInations), no penumbra zones, no evocative atmosphere, nothing to discover bit by bit, everything is clear.
Moreover, the artworks are shown next to the same wooden crates with which they are carried. Having recreated the atmosphere of the boots in a fair market, in this economical recession period, perhaps have the purpose to remind to the public that the art is for sale, that it is not just a museum phenomenon or, worse, an entertainment.

As mentioned before, the pavilion has an evident patriotic inspiration (obviously for the 150th anniversary of the Unità d'Italia), and many are the artworks that use the symbols, the icons and the colours connected to Italy. I do not like if Art and economy mix, however, to propose the peculiarities of own country is what many other pavilions do (maybe not in a so nationalist way, but culturally peculiar), it should suffice to see the Croatian or the Arab one, while the Italian art has often sinned of xenophilia, of adaptation to cultures reputed as superior. That does not mean that I like patriotic or nationalist senses, since nations are just borderlines traced on paper, but the identities of populations and the diversity of their cultures surely are necessary to keep alive the opportunities for confrontation and improvement. Just the exasperated presence of the flag's colours bothers me: in my opinion, the flags are the most abject expression of a folk culture.

Italians do it better...

Hence, many stimuli for the eye, much bombastic aesthetics and much care for the look. Practically, that is a bit the foreigner's cliche of Italy.
Finally, it is a pavilion to discover in person, and overall, as the other presences at the Arsenale, it lacks informative material.

I Giardini e il Padiglione Centrale

Differing from the Arsenale, almost all the national pavilions displaced at the Giardini offer at least an information leaflet at the entrance.

In the Biennale this year there are many artists from Switzerland, probably for the origins of the Directrix, Bice Curiger; contrarily, the relative pavilion at the Giardini proposes just one: Thomas Hirschhorn, that literally invades the rooms with a large scale installation, intricate as a labyrinth and with a complex argumentation. "Crystal of Resistance" is realized wit an enormous mass of objects and recycled materials hold together with common packaging tape: listening to the opinions of some visitors, it is considered absolutely horrible. But the value of this artwork, other than the extremely complex realization, is in the contents, revealed by a ruthless review obout all the horrors and aberrations of the human beings; it is nearly an encyclopaedia of the idiocy and the evilness from which nothing can elude: war, prevarication, pollution, self-destruction, hypocrisy, greed, etcetera. Against all this folly there is the crystal, symbol of beauty (meant as purity and perfection) and of hardness (meant as invulnerability and resistance).
Attention: there are pictures extremely gruesome.

Thomas Hirschhorn, "Crystal of Resistance", 2011
Details of the ambient installation

In the Venezuelan Pavilion it is possible to lift the mood with the pleasant "Gran Interior" by Francisco Bassim: a set of historic and famous personages revisited in a caricature key; an easy artwork, but this does not means that it is ineffective.

Francisco Bassim, "Gran Interior", 2011
Acrylic on canvas glued on PVC, 40 figures of different sizes

The Danish Pavilion hosts many interesting artworks, although realized by artists from other nations. The fact that a national pavilion could admit foreign artists is a way with which they can take part to the Biennale even if not selected by their own countries.
Since that many are the transnational pavilions (above all the Costa Rican one, full of Italian artists), I wonder what is the sense in continuing to entitle them to nations.
So the Denmark presents the German Thomas Kilpper who gives a "tribute" to Italy with a walkable wooden structure with the faces of many Italian politic personages carved on the floor.

Thomas Kilpper, "Pavilion for Revolutionary Free Speech" (detail), 2011

Many are the photographs by the US American Taryn Simon, who is devoted to the representation of unacknowledged subjects, what is omitted for convenience or decency, yet succeeding to present them in a pleasant way, with that coated lustre typical of fashion magazines.

Taryn Simon
"An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar", 2007
U.S.A. customs, New York

Taryn Simon
"An American Index of the Hidden and Unfamiliar", 2007
Hymenoplasty, Florida

Very interesting is the work by Zhang Dali: a big research on the photographic manipulation used in Chinese propaganda.

Zhang Dali, "A Second History", 2003-2010
C-prints, 22 artworks from a series of 130

Not to lose the surprising Korean Pavilion, which is dedicated to a sole multidisciplinary artist who exhibits exciting videos, photos, sculptures and installations: Lee Yongbaek.
Three are the themes shown: the soldiers camouflaged into colourful flowers in "Angel Soldier", the dramatic fight between creator and creation in the sculptural series "Pieta" and the gorgeous video installations "Broken Mirror".

Lee Yongbaek
"Pieta: Self-death", 2008
Fibre-reinforced polymer

Lee Yongbaek
Series "Angel Soldier_Photo" (detail), 2011

Lee Yongbaek
Series "Broken Mirror", 2011
42” monitor, mirror, speaker

Also the Japanese Pavilion is to be seen, even if there is the need to wait in a line at the entrance; or if you prefer to wait until there will be less people, you can sit down in the porch below, where there are projections of some parts of the artwork: that is "teleco-soup", made by Tabaimo. In the inside the room is covered with curved mirrors on which is projected this animation with a style that is modern as the anime and yet keeps all the tradition of great Japanese artists of the past like Utamaro and Hokusai.
The effect is really involving and, as somebody say, also disconcerting.

Tabaimo, "teleco-soup"
Installation with video projections

Placidly poetical and at the same time bitterly nihilistic are the artworks of the Artist Steven Shearer, chosen by the Canadian Pavilion to propose a meditation on the social dissent that turns into human uneasiness and into alienation.

Steven Shearer
"Larry in Germany", 2004
Oil on canvas

Steven Shearer
Some drawings

The British Pavilion is one of the large-scale installations by Mike Nelson. "I, IMPOSTOR" is an entire building in which some labyrinthine locales are reconstructed in order to let the Artist to tell the artwork; nearly a puzzle of which the pieces are discovered step by step encroaching into the structure.

Mike Nelson, "I, IMPOSTOR" (re-edition of "Magazin: Büyük Valide Han"), 2011
Large-scale installation

The huge installation "Chance" by Christian Boltanski occupies all the four rooms of the French Pavilion. It is an artwork with a very strong emotional impact that can disturb many, brutally posing the beholder in front of the phenomenon that is the exponential breeding of the sole being that does not have predators and that has subverted the ecosystem of this planet: the man.
Faces of newborns printed on sheets that roll on a structure that recalls the rotary press or other industrial machineries.
Here I had the chance to meet the sight of some visitors satisfied and enthusiastic, and others who had a serious and emphatically sorry expression, ladies in particular, who probably may have thought to be guilty. I also listened to a mom who clumsy gave a Disneyan explanation of the artwork to her wondering children.
An artwork to be discovered, not forgetting to make a walk around the outside of the pavilion.

Christian Boltanski
"Chance: The Wheel of Fortune", 2011

Christian Boltanski
"Chance: Be New", 2011
Interactive video installation

The United States present some interactive sculptural installations by the duo Allora & Calzadilla (Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla) that turn characteristic elements of their country into moments of cogitation.
Looking and listening to "Algorithm" one is pervaded by a solemn and disquieting awe: this is a working ATM surmounted by a pipe organ that plays melodies generated according to the transactions made at this bank teller.
The biting wooden sculptures "Body in Flight" have to be seen during the gymnastic performance of the two athletes who are part of the artwork.
Both the installations "Armed Freedom Lying on a Sunbed" and "Track and Field" (this one placed outside), are an evident criticism to the US system; the second one in particular gives immediately the idea of how their wealth is preserved thanks to the wars that are called "democracy exportation".

Allora & Calzadilla
"Algorithm", 2011
ATM, pipe organ, computer

Allora & Calzadilla
"Body in Flight (Delta)", 2011
Sculpture and performance. Stained wood, gymnast

Allora & Calzadilla
"Track and Field", 2011
Tank, gymnast

In the Israeli Pavilion I suggest to see the short video "Laces" by Sigalit Landau. With her artworks the Artist talks to us about intermediation and water, two arguments that in Israel are so much important to become almost taboos.

Sigalit Landau, "Laces"
12 channels video, 3’11”

Belgium proposes the much interesting project by Angel Vergara entitled "Feuilletton", in which painting is combined to video, that seems to express disillusion, questioning the true effectiveness and capacity of Art to change the events of society with the commitment of the artists, to which eventually is given only the chance to put a pathetic decorative layer extraneous to the world and to what has by now already happened.

Some still pictures of the video

Angel Vergara, "Feuilletton", oil on glass

In the Central Pavilion of the Giardini, as usual, there are many artistars.
Moreover, this year one hall has been dedicated to Rinascimento (with three large paintings by Tintoretto) where I lingered just to change the battery to the photo camera, under the watching of the two guards who became suspicious when I crouched to open the camera bag.

Seen the big presence of Swiss artists, it could not lack the duo Peter Fischli & David Weiss, that present the installation "Space Number 13": for the number, the projection of the Moon on the wall and the tubes that recall the stage modules of a space rocket, it seems to be a dedication to the Apollo 13 mission.

Fischli & Weiss, "Space Number 13" (detail), 2011
Installation. Three tubes and two walls of unfired clay on bases, projection of the Moon

The Swiss Pipilotti Rist is present with the flamboyant and hypnotic projections on paintings "Laguna", "Prisma" and "Antimateria": truly instruments to let brain to rest.

Pipilotti Rist, "Laguna", 2011
Video projection on painting

Pipilotti Rist, "Antimateria", 2011
Video projection on painting

And... Maurizio Cattelan? Obviously he have not been missed, indeed, he is everywhere, over our heads. In many of the halls he is present with his installation "Others": on ledges and infrastructures he has ordered the placement of a conspicuous number of stuffed pigeons; sarcastically he posed over all and everybody these birds, that live uninterested in what is happening in our society, and if you wish in the art system. Obviously in this case the excrements that they would carelessly left over people can be only imagined; for this reason i believe that Cattelan, if he only had the chance, would have placed living pigeons.

Maurizio Cattelan, "Others" (detail), 2011
Installation. Taxidermy pigeons

Not for gossip superficiality, but, looking to the artworks by Cindy Sherman the thirst thing that came into my mind was: how aged she is! To me, until today, she has been that girl of the fascinating "Untitled Film Stills". The power of the images.

Cindy Sherman, untitled (details)
Photographic installation

In an adjacent hall there is the parapavilion designed by Monika Sosnowska, that hosts another installation by Haroon Mirza and two intense series of photographs by the South African David Goldblatt dedicated to the life conditions in his country. The series entitled "AREALS" portrays from above some discouraging urban or periurban scenarios, while the other series portrays persons who were convicted for crimes, with at their side the touching stories that conduced them to commit homicides and other delinquencies. The author undertook not to hold earnings from the sale of these artworks, and to devolve the amounts in favour of detainees rehabilitation.

David Goldblatt, "A family picnic in the north-west of Johannesburg", 2009
Photographic print

Around here we can enter into the "room of amusements": as in other editions there is an installation that let the public free to modify it, or better to create it; that is "#Jan25 (#Sidibouzid, #Feb12, #Feb14, #Feb17...)", by the US American Norma Jeane, initially made of a huge plaster cube in three colours that people can use at will to forge anything wished, or even take it away. Anyway, beyond the playful appearance there is more: the three colours are the ones of many Arab countries (black, white and red) and the title is composed by channels of a famous social network used as a reference during the recent revolutions in that area. The artwork seems to say that the social networks give the chance to people to change the world (and the Arab one in particular, this is to say, the tricoloured plaster), anyway the artist does not take under consideration (or does not know) that the western think tanks have created and drove those "revolutions" (that are indeed games of power) right through internet. In hindsight, she is in antithesis with the subtle dissent that her compatriots Allora & Calzadilla have expressed in the national pavilion.
To the artwork anyway remains the indirect merit to have let to emerge once again the folk expression, which demonstrated that in 999‰ of the times also the visitors of a Biennale (or more probably the children they brought) have not understood the meaning of the installation, and that they love to express themselves almost exclusively with names, tags, smilies, little hearts, worms, snots, trite ideological symbols, soccer teams' names, copious stalactites of mucus and also much dirt on the floor; in return they seem to be very educated: not one injury nor one licentious figure has been seen; perhaps even here they have been removed as it happens in the social networks?

Norma Jeane, "#Jan25 (#Sidibouzid, #Feb12, #Feb14, #Feb17...)", 2011
Coloured plaster

Staying on the topic of the criticism to the US spirit, we can admire four artworks by Llyn Foulkes, an aged gentleman who since fifty years creates inexplicably irresistible artworks, that have all the charm of Magrittian Surrealism and the verve of Dadaism.

Llyn Foulkes
"Lucky Adam", 1985
Mixed technique

Llyn Foulkes
"Mr. President", 2006
Oil and acrylic on wood mounted on canvas

The small-scale reproduction of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana that the Swedish Karl Holmqvist has put in his installation of wall writings (probably as a homage), with the time passing by it has been turned into a conceptual artwork, thanks to the visitors who have wished to throw coins into the inside. If I had not the chance to see previous pictures with less alms, I would have thought that it was a provocation of the Artist related to the economic situation of the Italian artists.

Karl Holmqvist, untitled (Memorial) , 2011
  Reproduction 1:36 scale of the Palazzo della Civiltà Italiana

Back to the open air, we are crossing the small canal that separates the last part of the Giardini where there are the remaining national pavilions.
Among them there is the notable Greek one, that Diohandi turned into a huge and pleasantly solemn audio-environmental installation entitled "Beyond Reform", a perfect place where to be raptured by profound thoughts.

Diohandi, "Beyond Reform", 2011
Ambient installation

At the outside of the Greek Pavilion can be seen the traces left by the piratical presence of the Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Pavilion, a disturb action that claims the right to give a pavilion also to whom who does not feel to be a citizen of a state.

Signs left by the Anonymous Stateless Immigrant Pavilion, 2011
Giardini at the Arsenale, Venezia

In the Romanian Pavilion, indeed very interesting, it has happened that the artist duo Anetta Mona Chişa and Lucia Tkáčová wanted to act a protest against the very curatorial world that have selected them, writing with a spray can subversive words over all the artworks hanged or projected on the walls, including the prints of the other artist in exhibition.
I can not say if that has been a concerted and shocker action, anyway it makes the visit to this pavilion even more interesting.
Lovely the artwork "Ieşirea în strada" (street protest) by Ion Grigorescu, bitterly sarcastic.
Beware: in this pavilion there is a disturbing video.

A view of the Romanian pavilion
after the action of protest

Ion Grigorescu
"Ieşirea în strada", 2011
Video projected on a sofa, 9’

Of the Venezia Pavilion it is advisable the impressive and dazing installation by Fabrizio Plessi entitled "Mari Verticali" (vertical seas).

Fabrizio Plessi, "Mari Verticali", 2011
Video installation
The Egyptian Pavilion proposes "30 Days of Running in the Space" by Ahmed Basiony: a celebration of this Artist killed during the so called Egyptian Revolution, otherwise the moment when Egyptian people, tired of a dictatorship, chose another one possibly worse, as taught by the prophet George Orwell (see the considerations about the installation by Norma Jeane).

Ahmed Basiony, "30 Days of Running in the Space", 2010

Exciting and not to be missed is the Austrian Pavilion entirely dedicated to the eclectic Markus Schinwald, who exhibits paintings, videos and sculptures with atmospheres inexplicably mesmeric, disquieting, mysterious and fascinating, that seem wanting to investigate the origins of the contemporary existential uneasiness inside the relics of our past.

Markus Schinwald, environmental installation with paintings, sculptures and videos

In this part of the Giardini there is the last parapavilion, the one designed by Oscar Tuazon (hosting a wall painting by Ida Ekblad and an audio installation by Asier Mendizabal), that I take the liberty to include between the national pavilions of the Giardini that I have willingly omitted: Australia, Brazil, Germany, Holland, Finland, Sweden, Poland, Czech and Slovak Republic, Russia, Serbia, Spain, Hungary and Uruguay.

I believe that the parapavilion idea, after having seen them all, has not been well developed: would not have been better to simply include the hosted artists in the official selection?

Other national participations and collateral events

Some of the national representing exhibitions that are most worthy of a visit are dislocated also throughout Venezia, of which most have free entrance. Together with the collateral events, they offer the chance to have  bellyful of Art even without the need to cross the thresholds of Arsenale and Giardini.

The first collateral event that i advice to visit is "Personal Structures" sited in Palazzo Bembo, very close to the Ponte di Rialto (Riva del Carbon, San Marco 4785). The entrance costs 10 €, anyway it is worthy, being in effect a miniature Biennale, with around thirty artists arranged in circa twenty rooms.
In the same palace it is possible to freely visit the equally valid solo exhibition "Eternal Love" by Wolfgang Joop.

In memory of Roman Opałka in Venezia

Hermann Nitsch, "130. Aktion", 2010

Tony Matelli, "Josh", 2010
Silicon, foam, steel, hair and urethane

Andrew Putter, "Secretly I Wil Love You", 2007
Video installation

Marina Abramović, "Confession", 2010
Performance on DVD

Tatsuo Miyajima
"Pile Up Life No. 6", 2008
LED, IC, stone, wire

Very interesting what has been proposed by Portugal (Ca' Garzoni, Calle del Traghetto, San Marco district). It is called "Scenario", a series of sculptural projections by Francisco Tropa: fascinating and unexpected.

Francisco Tropa, "Scenario", 2011
Site-specific installation with projection apparatuses

Into the spaces of Palazzo Malipiero (San Marco district, near the Ponte dell'Accademia) there is a concentration of as much as five national participations: Estonia, Montenegro, Cyprus, Central Asia (Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan and Uzbekistan) and Iran, other than an exhibition outside the Biennale's program.
The Estonian national participation exhibits Liina Siib, who presents the project "A Woman Takes Little Space" completely dedicated to women. The Artist exhibits photographs, installations and videos combined with drawings made by the interviewed women.
Very nice is the video "Unsocial Hours", that makes to meditate on the lifestyle of some female workers of a pastries factory in the diuturnal reiteration of a social life that seems to have not a meaning any more.

Liina Siib
Series "A Woman Takes Little Space", 2008-2011
Pigmented photographic prints

Some drawings of the
women interviewed in the video
"Averse Body", 2007

Liina Siib, "Unsocial Hours", 2011
  2 channels video, 10’

The Montenegrin Pavilion is dedicated to the presentation of the MACCO project by Marina Abramović, that is aimed to the creation of an international multimedia centre in Cetinje, the old monarchic capital city of Montenegro. There are also two videos by Ilija Šoškic and Natalija Vujoševic.

Ilija Šoškic, "The Zigote", 2011
Video, 11’19”

Natalija Vujoševic, "See you at the line of horizon", 2011
Video installation. Video, sound, wind

In the Cypriot Pavilion the meticulous research on historical pictures, with which Marianna Christofides rewrites an apparent reality, is combined to the extravagant machines by Elizabeth Hoak-Doering and the graphisms made by them, which give us doubts on what could represent and what is intelligence.

Elizabeth Hoak-Doering
"Things, witnesses!", 2009
Installations with drawing objects

Elizabeth Hoak-Doering
"things, witnesses!", 2009
A drawing made by an object

Marianna Christofides

Iran stands out from any other exhibition of this Biennale for the presence of a background music in the rooms; this is an exhibit formula by now seldom used, but in this case it has proved how much can be pleasant if well designed, in fact the show moved me particularly, but obviously not just for the music. The photographs by Mohsen Rastani portray touching scenes of heartfelt poetry, that reveal, nay, that recall to mind, a forgotten Persian culture founded on the poetry of the humble and real things of life and on the  e sulla intenseness of the philosophic  thought.
Instead the crude artwork by Morteza Darehbaghi is a sacrarium in which there are represented the faces of 2.000 of the 240.000 persons who lost their life during the war against Iraq; in the words of the Artist, the faces are imprinted on many little mirrors so that the beholders could overlap their own to them and think what if they were one of them.

Mohsen Rastani
Photographic print

Morteza Darehbaghi

At the contrary, the Iraqi Pavilion (sited near the Arsenale, Fondamenta Sant'Anna) proved to be by now extremely westernised, both in the aesthetic representation and in the expression of the culture and of the traditions, that have been totally suppressed. Ciao ciao, Baghdad.

Let us come back to Palazzo Malipiero. Although much large, nothing to notice in the Central Asia Pavilion, but the installation "Mutation" by the Kazakh Yerbossyn Meldibekov and the project "ABC Representations" which has been conceived by the three curators instead of an artist; it is a board with twenty-five pictures that some interviewed persons have associated with that Asiatic region.

Central Asian Pavilion, "ABC Representations"

Very pleasant indeed the installation not in the Biennale entitled "HOMELESS" by Daniel Glaser and Magdalena Kunz, where some cinematographic sculptures represent some homeless people engaged in profound dialogues of inspired  poetry and philosophy.

Glazer/Kunz, "HOMELESS", 2011
Video installation

Glazer/Kunz, "HOMELESS", 2011
Video installation

If contrarily, as any tourist that can be called so, you have chosen to wander around calli and fondamenta and after much walking you would need a moment of relax, you could consider to visit the Taiwanese collateral event "The Heard & The Unheard - Soundscape Taiwan" (Palazzo delle Prigioni, Castello district, few steps from Piazza San Marco): there it waits you a sound library available in a listening hall with headphones furnished with comfortable armchairs and furnitures recycled from typical Karaoke bars and hotels in Taiwan, designed by the Architect Kuo-Chang Liu.
Also the audiovisual artworks by Hong-Kai Wang and Yu-Hsien Su are centred on the relation between music and society.

Also at the Museo Diocesano, few steps from there, there is an Asiatic audiovisual installation that seems to count on the tired legs of the visitors: it is the smoky "The Cloud of Unknowing" by Ho Tzu Nyen for the Singapore Pavilion: very comfortable and enormous poufs where to get a rest are waiting you. Somehow entertaining.

Hong-Kai Wang, "Music While We Work" (two still pictures), 2011
Audiovisual multichannel installation

If music caught you, it is to be noticed also the New Zealand Pavilion, that presents some sculptures by Michael Parekowhai. In the intents of the Artist, the true meaning of the exhibition is the program of music concerts that are played live with the piano carved by him, because as he says: "music fills a space like no other object can", referring also to his powerful artworks.

Michael Parekowhai, "He Kōrero Purakau mo Te Awanui o Te Motu: story of a New Zealand river", 2011
Carved piano and live music

Michael Parekowhai, "A Peak in Darien", 2011
Two bronze and stainless steel sculptures

Very beautiful is the Luxembourg Pavilion (Ca’ del Duca, San Marco district), where the two artists Martine Feipel and Jean Bechameil have turned the rooms into a visionary perceptive alteration dominated by the suspended atmosphere of an architectural nightmare.

Martin Feipel e Jean Bechameil, "Le Cercle Fermé" (the closed circle), 2011
Site-specific installation

To enter the Armenian Pavilion (Ca' Zenobio, Dorsoduro district) they asked me to pay 3 € to finance the restoration of the hall, even if in the Biennale program the entry fee was not mentioned!
I found the exhibit scarcely interesting and much below my expectations, having visited in the past a big exhibition of Armenian artists in Napoli much more representative of their culture and of the Armenian artistic talent: peccato!

Around the Arsenale take a step to the Bangladesh Pavilion to see the "biological weapons" by Imran Hossain Piplu, weird archaeological findings, evoking Cronembergian pictures, that fantastically reveal an immanent evil, and also an evolutionary hope.

Imran Hossain Piplu, "Warrasic Period", 2011
Installation with pictures and sculptures

Interesting is the video by Melanie Smith "Bulto: Fragments" at the Mexican Pavilion (Palazzo Rota Ivancich, Castello district, not far from Piazza San Marco).

The Toilets Pavilion

It is not a joke: here it is the review of the 1st Toilets Pavilion of the Art Biennale di Venezia, that, in order to avoid the contamination of this article, has been published in this page.


The Biennale di Venezia is surely one of the most complex and engaging events, and this already long review is nothing more that a limited subjective selection that can not prevent to discover other interesting artworks to whom who will decide to visit the exhibition in this late autumnal period.
To have a confrontation with many different thoughts and cultures puts under stress our mind opening and elasticity: it is noticeable the fact that after a prolonged abstention it can be rediscovered the vantage to face Art and the need to remove that dust slowly deposited over the mind.

The novelties proposed by this Biennale (for the Italian Pavilion in particular), that raised much clamour, dissent and discussions, eventually have not changed much. It is just the biennale exhibitions formula that stays what it has always been: a kermess where to get lost inside, between the many artworks, where it emerges who is emerging depending the appreciation of the beholders (although sometimes they let the stronger bawls to attract them).
More realistically, it is a chance to wander in search of something that can please or intrigue us: that is, lastly, the aim of any exhibition, and this year more than ever it has been offered a vast opportunity to choice.

Apart the small remarks done in the review, i lament the pretence that the visit to the main show is subdivided in only two entrance, this is to say to have virtually the time of 16 hours (or in two days from 10am to 6pm, waiting in lines, lunch and relax excluded) to visit Arsenale and Giardini: this makes an unhurried in-depth visit impossible, and above all penalize Video Art, because people prefer to ignore it for the time each artwork needs.
To the occasional visitor the permanent pass costing 70 € is inadequate, while subdividing the entry ticket in three sections instead of two would be perfect.

National participations and collateral events not to be lose throughout Venezia:
- Portugal (Ca' Garzoni)
- Estonia, Cyprus and Iran (Palazzo Malipiero)
- Luxembourg (Fondaco Marcello)
- Personal Structures (Palazzo Bembo, entrance 10 €)

Jizaino -