Venice Biennale, Part Two

Chief Curator Janice Driesbach recently travelled to Italy where she experienced the Venice Biennale 55th International Art Exhibition. This is the second post in a series of three. Read the first post here.

After taking in the Arsenale and Giardini, we devoted the following days to visiting national pavilions and collateral events staged throughout the city. This entailed walking through several sectors of Venice, navigating dozens of bridges and multiple staircases. One of the delights of these exhibitions is that they offered access to palazzi that would not otherwise be available to us. Many of these ornate buildings are both extraordinarily elaborate and in need of significant repair.

Of the countless exhibitions and art events happening simultaneously to the Biennale, there were some definite must-sees as well as a few pleasant surprises.

Marc Quinn’s gigantic inflatable sculpture of Alison Lapper Pregnant is situated prominently in front of San Giorgio Maggiore as part of an exhibition at the Cini Foundation (and has caused some controversy). This inflatable was a prominent centerpiece of the 2012 Special Olympics, and is a replica of the life-size marble original Quinn modeled after the real Alison Lapper, who was born without arms. (As a side note: when a larger-than-life marble version of this sculpture was installed in front of the National Gallery in Trafalgar Square, London, in 2005, there was also significant controversy)

The inflatable sculpture “Breath” (2012), by the artist Marc Quinn, sits next to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore for the 55th Venice Biennale
The inflatable sculpture “Breath” (2012), by the artist Marc Quinn, sits next to the island church of San Giorgio Maggiore for the 55th Venice Biennale. Image and caption courtesy NYTimes:

700 Snowballs by Not Vital (this is the artist’s given name, pronounced “No Vee-tal”) is installed nearby on Isola di San Giorgio (pictured below):

Not Vital's 700 Snowballs
Not Vital’s 700 Snowballs

A visit to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, revealed outstanding works by Cubist artists, Max Ernst and Yves Tanguy (featured in the Real/Surreal exhibition), as well as Jackson Pollock, Mark Rothko, Clyfford Still and Arshille Gorky paintings that Peggy exhibited at her Art of This Century gallery in NYC before she returned to Europe (Peggy Guggenheim was an important American promoter of European Surrealist and Abstract Expressionist painters).

One of the reasons I wanted to be in Venice by early September was to see Ai Wei Wei’s sculptures detailing his confinement in China, shown in the church of Sant’Antonin. Six large containers, each with two openings (on the sides or above) with incredibly detailed sculptures illustrating how his every action was surveilled during his captivity.

Ai Wei Wei
Ai Wei Wei

A central aspect of the Biennale is the array of national pavilions, each sponsored and curated by individual nations (in some rare cases, multiple countries collaborate). National pavilions such as Italy’s boasted some of the most interesting displays. Some highlights follow.

Azerbaijan: with its decorative theme (yes, sitting was allowed):

Azerbaijan Pavilion
Azerbaijan Pavilion

Korea: Wonderful Where Is Alice exhibition. The arms/hands forming wings were so much more visceral in person than in reproduction, but the photo gives an idea:

Korea Pavilion
Korea Pavilion

Check back on Friday, September 27 for the third and final blog post from Janice Driesbach’s trip to the Venice Biennale.