The 58th Venice Biennale
"May You Live in Interesting Times"
Running: May 11 - November 24, 2019
By Lee Klein
...Gold Lion (leone d'Oro) winning artist Arthur Jafa's giant medallions fashioned of tires wearing chains and clusters of rocks seemed both made for and in parody of those effecting style to make huge impact. In fact many of the pieces in the Giardini section of the curated international exhibition appear to have been selected to strike with deep impact; from Yin Xiuzhen's "Nowhere to Land", made from an upside down set of gigantic tires into sort of an axle like turned over skyjack-in-the-box from an airport runway in a sci-fi movie, to Lie Wei's sculptural cubist-tubulist blown up medley "Micrworld" . So as has been indicated in other reviews works run the gamut of exploring ideas about world issues and social trends but at times it was a bit too much to take in so many large scale works at once.
During his press conference talk Biennale curator Rugoff highlighted specific works and this viewer was sort of checking them off at the exhibition. The most apparent minefield of cognition for this writer was when coming into the room in the Giardini where some of the choice painters the director of the Hayward (who sent me away wayward) decided to embrace were grouped. Henry Taylor who has earned renown for his painting of Emmett Till in the 2017 Whitney Biennial here shows a canvas "Another Wrong" of a white Wall Street type fictitiously getting arrested by two white cops for financial crimes as well as a painting of the iconic David Hammons on a voyage to Africa next to his famous snowball work, the adobe Mosque in Djenné, Mali and a hyena, titled, "Hammons Meets a Hyena on Holiday". Adjacent in this volley are works by Julie Mehretu which differ somewhat from her earlier work with less color-coded shapes but which are busier on the avenue of pencil work. Meanwhile here is George Condo (in one of the exhibition's few 1980's flashbacks -along with Rosemarie Trockel). Here Picasso who outlived Picasso is exhibiting among other works a large canvas called "Facebook', which is of course of countenances on top of one and other and Condo's great eventuality down the Yellow Brick Road of his ouevre. "Facebook", plays well with others, including, a work in the arsenale also dealing with the role of community in social networking. Therein, Eva Rothchild's instillation in the Irish pavilion sort of illustrates how sculpture or instillation or a sculptural instillation might gather people together in certain areas like a social media platform; so a social platform platform might actually literally be a social platform,
Having always thought that along with the curated and official pavilions the whole city of Venice and its environs and everything being shown in all the collateral exhibitions is still part of the Biennale. This Biennale goer believes it is the total experience which is the experience. Thus it is cool to point other highlights, one of which for I this time was Jake Szymanski and Alexandra Kohl in the "Venice Design 2019" exhibition at the Palazzo Michiel del Brusà. Here this design duo offers a hanging creation of two long stick lucite like rectangles for a large part of their length clothed in black attached but movable up against a cast iron ball, also black. This construction grew and grew on me (-thinking chopsticks have always been navigated when placed together as instructed by human digits but here they are attached and still moving so as if one had long ago thought about the limbs but not the joint-), Seduced and stupefied by the simplicity this Bellini sipper actually started daydreaming of a David Rockwell type of theme park Las Vegas restaurant where a Hollywood worthy version might one day hang.
Some of the national pavilions caught my attention. At Iceland where we wound up at the party for the opening where Shoplifter / Hrafnhildur Arnardottir in her immersive work "Chromosapiens", festooned the space with giant psychedelically colored fabric hair in covering an entire long entry chamber in an upside up upside down run to render a totally imagineered textural world, Three huge dandy artists who were everywhere (including on a vaporetto where there was a fight and a belligerent passenger had to be removed by the carabinieri who appeared dockside [violence in in Italy always reminds me of the public battle and death scene in the Merchant-Ivory film version of E.M Forrester's "A Room with a View"] were going on and on about it. The artiest one was saying he lived in Iceland as well as China (but also said the lead singer of the death metal band on stage was otherwise the Icelandic Minister of Health and he turned out to be incorrect)... The party went all night and as far as I was concerned is the party of the century so far..
Mark Justiniani's work in the Philippines pavilion also in the arsenale was quizzically pleasurable. With an architectural layout shaped to be evocative of the Philippine archipelago. The viewing vantage for the work is reached by climbing up onto the islands. Once atop the islands they offer an illusionistic infinity as one might find in a Turkish cistern through ages old trompe l'oeil... The Argentina pavilion is exhibiting the work of sculptor Mariana Telleria. They have her giant creature like hybrids of materials with anatomies which include fabric and automobile parts hanging out and it was indeed fun to navigate around them at the opening while hunting down flutes of prosecco on the fly.
The pavilion of Japan makes light of the natural unnatural phenomenons which have washed ashore after the great tidal waves and have been aptly christened "Tsunami Boulders". For this work called "Cosmo-eggs" an entire ensemble team made up of artist Motoyuki Shitamichi (visual artist), Taro Yasuno (composer) , Toshiaki Tshikura (anthropologist), and Fuminori Nousaku (architect), along with curator Hiroyuki Hattori have collaborated to imagine a successful co-existance between the planet and our species all the while taking a extraterrestrial yarn as a thread to explain the appearance of these ominous rocks.
Then on the flip side there was the torture of the Israeli pavilion. Artist Aya Ben Ron here turned this duplex pavilion into what she what she termed a "field hospital". Here one takes a number as if waiting for an emergency room visit. Then when one's number is called one is invited up to a chamber like a storage pod behind a warehouse to scream where "no one will hear you" after listening to a series of instructions. Later you move to a station where you learn about her coming out about being of victim of family abuse (of which variety you never find out). One then watches a seemingly endless video trying to program you for victim status . Oy!..seemingly a big waste of time which makes fun of medical attention and you only learn of being a victim but never what preceded to get you there. Soon you join a long list of those who went before you in becoming a victim of this pavilion.
While there some magic was missed by this writer but it is all part of the atmosphere. Looking along on instagram it did not go unnoticed that the Socialite Peter Brant Jr. and the vogue editor at large Hamish Bowles were out and about for what turned out to be for them and other fabulists like Tilda Swidon and Sienna Miller to attend a semi-recreation of the Bal Oriental (often referred to as the the ball of the century [20th] where Dali designed for Dior and vice versa). It was held at the very same Palazzo Labia in Ca' Rezzonico, but, this time as the Grand Tiepolo Costume Ball for the Venice Heritage Foundation chaired by architect Peter Marino... So who knew Marino would leave his bike leathers for the garb of Giacomo di Casanova.. I was out in Posagno trying find the Gipsoteca Canova and then hit Ristorante Da Bepi in.Mestre for the supreme seafood antipasto starring Bon Jovi's father's sister Anchovy. Then later after returning to the hotel it started storming and as my vaporetto card had run out I returned a pumpkin. But to top it all off Banksy was there going to work in the stall of a Venetian touristic painter but laying down a sectioned but giant seascape of an oversize cruise ship... And then don't you know just a couple of weeks later a out of control one crashed into the the cruise terminal.
Diving as the chosen sacrifice in mesh metal neptunic the aqueous beast comes thrashing into the cage rattling the armored sushi inside driving along the highway on an interstate such as I-95 and Trans-American trucking company's monster comes along out of its passing lane and into yours' on the passenger side obliterating the side-view mirror like a skeet target shot upon having mostly missed the automobile the tail end swiping appearing as if a steel bridge span then moving off into the distance with the arch in its form with the gradient in the road.
In Venice a huge luxury boat pleasure mall afloat directionless after its crew having lost control having come in off the Giudecca Canal form the sea wedging itself in lopsided between the shore or the filled in shore who can be sure as tourists as if cast for a mega- tweet scamper and evacuate.. and nowthis was it just a minute ago Banksy was here in La Serenissima making light of it all.