The entire city of Venice comes alive with art during the Biennale. Far past the Arsenale’s stone walls and the iron gates of the Giardini are 30 additional country exhibitions as well as 44 collateral events sanctioned by the fair. Many of these events could be found in aging palazzos, historic churches and other inspiring locales. Artists and curators made interesting use of these spaces and the contemporary ethos of the art was even more visually dazzling when juxtaposed against the centuries-old architecture and decor. While I wasn’t able to make it to all 77 events in my short stay, I did manage to tick an entire section of the island off my list. Here are some of the most noteworthy of the sites located on or along Venice’s famed Grand Canal.
The prolific country of Azerbaijan hosted two exhibitions as well as one collateral event. Beyond the Line in the Palazzo Lezze featured a fascinating mix of mid-twentieth century artists whose political leanings kept them from state-sanctioned display. The work of Rasim Babayev stood out for both its wild use of color and deft mix of ethnic folklore with political satire.
Housed in one of the few modern, “white-cube” spaces, Guatemala’s tantalizingly-named group show Sweet Death called upon Western Artists to create works that built upon the cultural norms of the country’s indigenous peoples. Death is no longer somber, but a riot of color; no longer sinister, but a moment to celebrate the spirits of the departed. Sabrina Bertolelli’s Charley, slowly spinning on a carousel poked fun at death, turning the specter into comic relief.
Angola’s group show livened up the faded rococo of the Palazzo Pisani’s grand salon. Of note was the installation by Antonio Ole, whose colorful found objects provided a striking contrast to the room’s classical murals. In the hands of an artist based on the “periphery”, these household objects took on new contexts, encouraging all of us to reconsider what we connote as high art.
For its first exhibition at the Biennale, Grenada presented a group show featuring both Grenadian and Haitian artists examining the island nation’s place within the world. Giuseppe Linardi’s installation Toys investigated the consumer culture underlying our sense of play, calling on us to re-imagine that force in a more ecologically and emotionally harmonious way.
Ursula von Rydingsvard
New York-based Ursula von Rydingsvard held sway in a giardini of her own – the Giardino della Marinaressa just southeast of Saint Mark’s square. Her sculptures in wood, stone and glass set a contemplative stage for pondering the passage of time, an effect heightened by the historical neighborhood surrounding the park.
The Sound of Creation
The Palazzo Pisani also played host to The Sound of Creation, a collateral event featuring a unique tie-up between painter Beezy Bailey and composer Brian Eno. Along six stories of the grand staircase of the Conservatorio Benedetto Marcello (housed in the Palazzo), Bailey laid out an ethereal set of abstract paintings created in response to Eno’s compositions. Propped up on benches, resting in niches and hung salon-style, the paintings breathed new life into the decayed grandeur of the stairwell. Many paintings had headphones alongside, giving viewers a chance to hear the music that inspired the paintings. The view from the top landing of the entire island’s rooftops was bellisimo!
The Union of Fire and Water
The Union of Fire and Water weaves connections past, present and (an imagined) future between Baku, Azerbaijan and the city of Venice. A series of elaborate fantasies roll out through room after room of the gothically-styled Palazzo Barbero. Rashad Alakbarov stages a variety of multimedia installations while Almagul Menlibayera’s new video installation Fire Talks to Me cements these two cities.
The curators of Glasstress Gotika invited a variety of artists to work with local Venetian glass makers to create works that respond to the concept of gothic, often with surprising results as they breath contemporary life into a centuries-old architectural style.
Of note was the inclusion of the Belgian artist Koen Vanmechelen represented by DC gallery CONNERSMITH.
This brings to close our highlights of the 56th annual Venice Biennale. It was an amazing three days of connecting with art across the world and we’re proud to share these highlights with you!