Known for his large-scale public works, Spanish artist Jaume Plensa has created a series of new sculptural installations for the Basilica of San Giorgio Maggiore — Palladio’s 400 year-old Renaissance masterpiece. Curated by Yorkshire Sculpture Park director Clare Lilley, the resulting exhibition is described as a ‘conversation between two sculptures’, continuing the artist’s exploration of the body’s relationship to space, scale, material and place. In front of the altar, Plensa has suspended a stainless steel hand while a giant head fills the building’s nave. In the nearby Manica Lunga building, drawings and luminous alabaster portraits consider themes including travel and displacement — a fitting focus for the multilingual Plensa.
Jaume Plensa Together. San Giorgio Maggiore, Island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Commissioner: Abbazia di San Giorgio Maggiore Benedici Claustrs Onlus. Until 22 November 2015 jaumeplensa.com/venice2015
My East is Your West
Perhaps the most newsworthy collateral event at this year’s Biennale, My East Is Your West could be described as ‘the India and Pakistan pavilion’ — although neither country has given it their official backing. But private patrons, including Feroze Gujral who runs the Gujral Foundation with her architect husband Mohit, can go where diplomacy fears to tread. Gujral has invited Indian artist Shilpa Gupta and Pakistani artist Rashid Rana to work on a joint show that aims, she says, to ‘use soft power, to represent both countries in a deeper way, outside of politics.’
Using a variety of media, conceptual artist Gupta addresses questions of globalisation and identity, focusing on borders — national, religious and interpersonal. Rana is best known for his photomontages, which enact culture clashes, probe stereotypes, or, in the case of his ‘cut-up’ rearrangements of Old Master paintings, challenge artistic conventions and complacent assumptions about the way things should be. The name derives from one of Gupta’s existing works — A beautiful light installation — which will be present in Venice ‘in a different avatar’. The rest of the show will consist ‘primarily of new work which stems from a dialogue between the two artists’.
Over the course of the Biennale, My East Is Your West will also host various cultural bridge-building talks and presentations, featuring pairs of artists from other countries that share troubled borders, including Palestine and Israel, and Russia and the Ukraine. In the video above, Curatorial Advisor Natasha Ginwala discusses the historic project.
Gujral Foundation: My East is Your West. Palazzo Benzon, Calle Benzon, San Marco 3927. Until 31 October 2015 gujralfoundation.org
Sean Scully may, in the words of the late philosopher and art critic Arthur Danto, be ‘an artist whose name belongs to the shortest of the short lists of major painters of our time,’ but he has never exhibited at the Venice Biennale. ‘Not so much as a postage stamp,’ he says. But his friend Danilo Eccher, director of the Galleria Civica d’Arte Moderna e Contemporanea in Turin, wanted to do something with him in Venice this year and helped the artist to find a suitable venue. The space in question is the 15th-century Palazzo Falier, close to the Accademia, and in it hangs Scully’s recent Landline paintings, composed of broad horizontal bands of muted colour painted on metal (aluminium, stainless steel or copper).
For more, read our extended interview with Sean Scully, in which the artist discusses fame, painting and national identity.
Palazzo Falier, San Marco 2906. Commissioner: Fondazione Volume! Curator: Danilo Eccher. Until 22 November 2015 fondazionevolume.com.
The Infinite Nothing — Hong Kong in Venice
A fixture on the Asian contemporary art scene, Chinese-born, Hong Kong and London-educated, and Hong Kong-based Tsang Kin-Wah offered a viscerally lush presentation as the sole representative of the Hong Kong Pavilion. Located in a prime spot outside the Arsenale entrance on the Campo della Tana, it is supported by the to-be-opened M+ museum and the Hong Kong Arts Development Council.
Filling four ancient store rooms, The Infinite Nothing is composed of four distinct video installations, which, taken together, create a cyclical journey of an ongoing philosophical exploration of the self in the context of an ever shifting natural world. The artist’s well known streams of text are featured along with powerful images of stormy skies.
Although the artist — who was raised Christian and later embraced the existentialism of Friedrich Nietzsche and his concept of the death of God — has stated this work seeks to explore material fragility and the uncertainty of permanence, he also acknowledges influences of Hindu and Buddhist concepts of karma and reincarnation, keeping the thread of hope alive.
Tsang Kin-Wah The Infinite Nothing — Hong Kong in Venice. Campo della Tana, Castello 2126. Until 22 November 2015 hkadc.org.hkwestkowloon.hk
Jenny Holzer continues to show her penchant for painting with War Paintings, an exhibition of selections from compositions meditating on U.S. military aggression created over the last 10 years. Fans of the artist’s text-driven LED works will find a connection to these pieces, however, as they are drawn from redacted documents, including government memoranda, maps, and interrogation records, along with statements from War on Terror detainees.
Taking a cue from Andy Warhol, Holzer rendered her selected text as silk-screens on canvas, the compositions of which evince marks of the artist’s hand. The paintings are the latest in her grand career in Venice, which is crowned by the Gold Lion earned for her 1990 presentation as U.S. pavilion representative for the 44th edition, followed by collateral exhibition projections in 1999 and 2003.
Jenny Holzer War Paintings. Museo Correr, Piazza San Marco, San Marco 52. Commissioner: Museo Correr, Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, The Written Art Foundation. Until 22 November 2015 writtenartfoundation.com, correr.visitmuve.it
The Union of Fire and Water
One of the most thrilling aspects of the Venice Biennale’s collateral events is viewing contemporary art in the context of 16th century interiors. The intellectual minds behind Union of Fire and Water, the presentation of the Azerbaijan-based Yarat Contemporary Art Space, struck gold when they hit upon the curatorial concept of the historical connection between Venice and Baku. The capital of Azerbaijan, with its geographic location on the Caspian Sea, was a stronghold of the Roman empire and a centre of wealth during Venice’s own commercial height in the 1500s.
Artists Almagul Menibayeva and Rashad Alakbarov hold court in the former residence of a Venetian ambassador, whose domain included Baku, with transparent media installations that comment on the gross national products of the Middle East as feeding and fostering affluence in the West.
Palazzo Barbaro, San Marco 2840. Commissioner: YARAT Contemporary Art Foundation. Until 22 November 2015 yarat.az, www.bakuvenice2015.com
Slip of the Tongue
Described as ‘the best artist-curated exhibition in years’ by Artforum’s Jason Farago, Vietnamese-born, Danish-raised emerging art star Danh Vo distinguishes himself by not only representing his native Denmark with a solo exhibition at that country’s Giardinni pavilion, but also with this group show of selections chosen from the Foundation Pinault’s collection at one of its two venues.
Along with the holdings of his patron, Vo includes outside works to showcase his own influences. But these go beyond contemporary practitioners, such as Julia Ault, Roni Horn, Lee Lozano, Sigmar Polke, Nancy Spero, Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and Martin Wong. Vo also borrows objects and Old Master paintings from local venues to draw the line through art history. The result is a love letter to art’s unique capacity to reflect its contemporary moment and tell the often brutal story of its political context in a visceral, gripping way, all the while wielding beauty as its sword.
Adding another layer, the show’s title is a nod to the art’s ongoing dialogues — both personal and historical — that all too easily shift through the changing prism of perception.
Danh Vo Slip of the Tongue. Punta della Dogana, Dorsoduro 2. Until 31 December 2015 palazzograssi.it
Another Biennale powerhouse returns to Venice with a posthumous show that takes viewers on a journey through the artist’s career curated around the grand themes of love, beauty, death, and art itself. Twombly unique gestures are represented by a 1951 composition on wood, the drawings of raw marks that distinguished his practice, and the passionate paintings that once took his more scholarly fans by surprise. Ultimately, however, this strength of feeling was the impetus for all the artist‘
’s explorations, a point the show makes lovingly clear with its astute selections.
Cy Twombly, Paradise. Galleria Internazionale d'Arte Moderna, Ca’ Pesaro, Santa Croce 2076, Until 13 September 2015 capesaro.visitmuve.it
Since 2007, the exhibitions organised for the Venice Biennale by Axel Vervoordt and his foundation, in collaboration with the Fondazione Musei Civici di Venezia, have been groundbreaking in their revelations from deep in the history of art. This year’s show, again at the Palazzo Fortuny, is on the hidden proportions that underpin the worlds of art and science.
Proportio is articulated around a series of themes: Sacred Numbers, the Fibonacci Sequence, the Hypotenuse, Squaring the Circle and Le Corbusier's Modulor. ‘It’s an invitation to reflect on the dynamic relationship between order and chaos,’ says Vervoordt. Contemporary artists such as Marina Abramović,Anish Kapoor, Rei Naito and the Belgian Michaël Borremans are featured, as are Francesco Candeloro and Arthur Duff, two Venice-based conceptual artists who use light in their work, and have collaborated on installations in the past. Then there are existing works illustrating the thesis, by Ellsworth Kelly, Sol LeWitt, Alberto Giacomettiand Mario Merz, among many others.
For more, read our extended interview with Axel Vervoordt, in which the collector discusses the exhibition and the relationship between art and science.
Proportio. Palazzo Fortuny, San Marco 3780. Arsenale Docks Waterfront. Until 22 November 2015 fortuny.visitmuve.it
Energy Made Visible
Without the financial independence that Peggy Guggenheim ensured when she began to provide him with a regular stipend in 1943, who knows whether Jackson Pollock would have made his great leap forward into action painting. A premonition of his mature Abstract Expressionist style, the vibrant, six-metre-long Mural was painted on canvas for Guggenheim’s New York apartment, with most of the work reportedly being done in a burst of creativity on New Year’s Day 1944, after months spent staring at a blank canvas.
Having travelled from its home at the University of Iowa Museum of Art, after a stopover for cleaning and conservation at the Getty Conservation Institute, it is displayed for the first time in the palazzo that Guggenheim turned into her Venetian fiefdom. Elsewhere in the collection’s temporary galleries, the other artistic Pollock, Jackson’s elder brother Charles, is the focus of a major retrospective curated by Philip Rylands (Until 14 September).
For more, read our extended interview with curator David Anfam,, who discusses the context of the Guggenheim show, and Pollock’s ‘audacious’ technique.
Jackson Pollock’s Mural: Energy Made Visible. Peggy Guggenheim Collection, Dorsoduro 701-704. Until 16 November 2015 guggenheim-venice.it/
Oratoria di San Ludvico
‘I understand if what I do provokes people,’ says Angolan artist Nástio Mosquito, who has three video and performance works on show at Oratorio di San Ludovico, a tiny, beautiful oratory, hidden at the end of a residential side-street in Dorsoduro, Venice. Based in Belgium, Mosquito attracted genuine buzz when his solo exhibition opened at Birmingham’s Ikon gallery at the beginning of 2015.
Combining performance, film, music, installation, philosophy and digital art, his practice is challenging and profane, playing with African stereotypes and Western identity. In this video, Mosquito — who even has his own app — explains how his high-octane video installation provides different perspectives on the ‘validation of our individual dreams’, questions ‘how we can live better’, and explores the ‘matter of identity’.
Nástio Mosquito. Oratoria di San Ludvico, Calle dei Vecchi, Dorsoduro 2552. Until 26 July 2015 ikon-gallery.org
Zuecca Project Space
Exhibited outside Belgium for the first time, works from The Vanhaerents Art Collection come together to produce Heartbreak Hotel, an exhibition that draws its title the eponymous 1956 song by Elvis Presley. Some 15 works represent a selection of contemporary art’s best-known figures, including Bruce Nauman, Cindy Sherman, Yink Shonibare, Bill Viola, and Andy Warhol.
Engaging with themes including melancholy, physical suffering and martyrdom, the exhibition fills Venice’s Zuecca Project space, a non-profit area dedicated to cultural research and dialogue, which has previously featured exhibitions including Ai Weiwei’s Straight. For more, read our extended interview with Walter Vanhaerents, the founder of The Vanhaerents Art Collection and curator of the exhibition.
Zuecca Project SpaceHeartbreak Hotel. Giudecca 33. Until 15 September 2015 vanhaerentsartcollection.com
Fondazione Bevilacqua, La Masa
Peter Doig’s first solo exhibition in Italy sees his subject — the colonial fallout in island nations — remain firmly intact. Amongst the slew of Venice’s new media installations, the show is a celebration of the painting, featuring 14 new works, including six monumental canvases.
The Scottish-born, Trinidad-raised artist has continued a number of the Trinidadian motifs that featured in his 2013 show, continuing to work in a rich palette of saturated sea blues and vibrant, tropical orange. His subjects are various, including shadowy nudes, spearfishing Trinidadians and prowling lions — the latter a knowing nod to the lions of Venice’s own San Marco. For more, read our report from the opening of Doig’s show.
Peter Doig. Fondazione Bevilacqua, La Masa, Palazzetto Tito, Dorsoduro 2826. Until 4 October 2015 bevilacqualamasa.it
Futurologia, 2015-1958 / 1958-2015
The critical stock of 79-year-old French nouveau réaliste Martial Raysse is enjoying something of a late-career surge. First came a major retrospective at the Centre Pompidou, Paris, in 2014, and now Venice’s leading exhibition space for contemporary art, Palazzo Grassi, is staging a show spanning more than five decades of work.
Curated by Caroline Bourgeois in close collaboration with Raysse himself, this is, remarkably, the first monographic exhibition of the artist’s work outside France since 1965. Those were years in which Raysse’s appropriation of advertising logos and reworking of photos and iconic artworks of the past had marked him out as France’s only true Pop artist, inviting comparisons with Warhol and Lichtenstein.
Raysse refused to be typecast, however, and a foray into experimental filmmaking in the late 1960s and early 1970s caused him to drop off the international art-scene radar. But he continued to evolve, returning to painting from the 1980s onwards with a series of large-canvas tableaux that draw on Greek and Roman myth, blending it with pungent social satire in the vein of Hogarth or George Grosz. Of the more than 300 works on display at Palazzo Grassi, around half have never before been shown in public.
Martial Raysse Futurologia, 2015-1958 / 1958-2015. Campo San Samuele. San Marco 3231. Until 30 November 2015 palazzograssi.it
London-based artist Doug Fishbone has conceived a fully-playable mini-golf course, inviting eight artists — John Akomfrah, Yara El-Sherbini, Ellie Harrison, Candice Jacobs, Hetain Patel, Lindsay Seers, Yinka Shonibare and Eyal Weizman — to design a hole. Among the Biennale’s quirkier installations, the golf course responds to ‘The Leisure Principle’, where consumer satisfaction is prioritised at all costs.
Though each hole functions as an autonomous work, visitors who complete a full round are promised a ‘coherent and at time disturbing sense of a world (mis)shapen by our consumer habits and desires’. Ordinarily the preserve of seaside holiday resorts, Fishbone’s game seems strangely comfortable in contemporary Venice — unforgivingly described by the artist as a ‘waterside tourist trap’.
Doug Fishbone, Leisureland Gold. Arsenale Docks Waterfront, Castello 40. Until 26 July 2015. Commissioner: EM15 em15venice.co.uk
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