Venice and its 57 Biennale: Some impressions

Gilbert Brownstone

The Venice Biennale is an essential meeting for art lovers and professionals of the art world, although in recent years the art market and its merchants have become ever more ubiquitous.

In fact it is possible to establish a parallel between Venice itself and its Biennale, a stronghold where we can return despite the changes in the world and so much accumulated information on art. A visit to Venice or to one of its Biennales will never generate a déjà vu.

This year our stay lasted three days, a short time for an extensive artistic journey, so we chose to visit the official sites at The Arsenal and The Gardens.

All countries are represented in The Gardens, each with its building and flag, its artist, and its curator. It is normally the place that attracts most people, but in general has lost part of its charm. One could mention the great curiosity for German pavilion, which included the impressive performance of artist Anne Imhof and won the prize for the best pavilion.

The other official space is The Arsenal where, like a large snake, 600 meters of wall space was filled with art. One hundred artists, chosen this year by curator Christine Macel, were summoned as if for a great parade. There is a combination of established artists like Sheila Hicks, Ernesto Neto and F.E. Walther, next to emerging creators from all over the world.

It was the opportunity to discover and rediscover artists, young or old. Therefore, we appreciated for the first time the exceptional pieces of Cuban Zilia Sánchez, as well as those by Louise Nevelson and the US American minimalists. Also included were the surprising paintings by Kananginak Pootoogook (Canada), the human figures sculpted by Francis Upritchard (New Zealand), and the paintings of Teresa Lanceta (Spain).

When walking in the city, how can one not be glad to see B. Rauschenberg and Andy Warhol in a remarkable dual exhibition, the magnificent glass sculptures by Ettore Stottssas or the monumental golden sculpture by James Lee Byars? . . . So many extremely well known artists who still surprise us.

I was not so curious to visit the old customhouse transformed into a museum where Damien Hirst’s Collision was on exhibit, informing us without any doubt of his (unquestionable) integration to today’s art market. It is impossible to name all the pieces exhibited there, but one can easily imagine the billions they will produce.

How can we not persist in the search for the Ca’ Corner della Regina, which houses the Prada Foundation? There is a beautiful narrative journey entitled The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied, the result of an exchange between the writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge and artist Thomas Demand.

For the grand finale we visited the Cuban pavilion, which cannot have a better location – between The Academy and Saint Mark’s Square, in the Campo Santo Stefano. The confrontation with the wing of Esterio Segura’s Chrysler at the palace’s entrance is provocative. The configuration of the space has allowed the full display of grand works such as Ave Maria by Meira & Toirac, or Tumba abierta (Open Grave) by José Yaque installed in the palace library next to other more concentrated ones such as the piece by Wilfredo Prieto. I was impressed by the photographs by René Peña, Leyva Novo’s installation, the sculpture by Fabelo, and the performance of Carlos Martiel. In short, the Cuban pavilion is in tune with what has most called our attention during our promenades of the Biennial: the dialog among artists from several generations.

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