The 56th Venice Art Biennale, set to be the longest-running ever, begins a month earlier than usual, on 9 May, to bring it more closely into sync with this year’s big international Expo in Milan. It will be preceded by the usual three-day preview for art professionals and media — an intense, Spritz-fuelled round of openings, performances and parties. The main venues are the leafy Giardini park in the eastern reaches, and the nearby Arsenale — the sprawling former boatyards of the Venetian Republic — with collateral events across the rest of the lagoon city. True to the ‘Art Olympics’ spirit of the Biennale’s early years (it has been going since 1895), the Giardini hosts 29 national pavilions, including, this year, one from Australia.
But these national contributions, which spill out beyond the Giardini and Arsenale to palazzos, warehouses and other venues in the city, rarely decree the perceived success or failure of what is still the world’s leading contemporary art event. That burden falls on the shoulders of the main Biennale exhibition, curated this year by Nigerian poet and art critic Okwui Enwezor. Designed with the help of British architect David Adjaye, Enwezor’s curatorial project, entitled All the World’s Futures, will pan out between the Giardini’s Central Pavilion, the Corderie and Giardino delle Vergini in the Arsenale, and a handful of other Venetian locations. Enwezor, the director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, is a thinker and writer as much as a curator, and has promised that his selection will put forward some punchy arguments about what he terms ‘the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things’.
Shilpa Gupta, I live under your sky too, 2013
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. I hope that in its tiny way this exhibition becomes part of an effort for all conflict nations to engage with one another.’ 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. It was during a fortuitous first meeting between Rana and Gujral — when both were sheltering from the rain during the 2011 Biennale — that the idea for the show was born. 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. The setting, a historic Grand Canal palazzo where Byron was a frequent guest, is also important, Gujral says, in imposing ‘a certain gravitas. I wanted a space that befits our ancient cultures.’
Left: Statuette of Venus, 1st century BC. Rock crystal. Courtesy The Paul Getty Museum, Villa Collection, Malibu, California. Right: Statue of the satyr Marsyas, 50 AD. Bronze. Courtesy The British Museum, London
Running in parallel with Serial Classic, a sister show at the Fondazione Prada’s brand-new Milan HQ, this exhibition, designed by Rem Koolhaas’s OMA studio, is contemporary in approach but not in content. Curated by Italian art historian Salvatore Settis, it focuses on miniature copies of Greek and Roman statues and the way in which they fostered a culture of collectability. The Farnese Hercules is emblematic: both in antiquity and again after its rediscovery in 1546, it was a favourite subject for small-scale copies destined for a market of connoisseurs. Several have been assembled in the current exhibition, alongside copies of the Belvedere Torso, the Laocoön, and other celebrated classical works, and portraits of those who collected them (by Lorenzo Lotto, Tintoretto and Bernardino Licinio, among others).
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, a giant head filling 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.
Robert Rauschenberg headlines this group exhibition sponsored by the Tagore Foundation International. He is one of 44 international artists who have been invited to explore the idea of constantly shifting cultural frontiers in today’s chaotic world. Established names — including Sebastião Salgado, Hiroshi Senju and Susan Weil — are joined in the second-floor exhibition space of this stately 16th-century palazzo by up-and-coming artists, in a show curated by Sundaram Tagore and Marius Kwint.
This first ever major Italian show on the art of Germany’s inter-war Weimar Republic brings works by Otto Dix, George Grosz, Max Beckmann, Christian Schad and dozens more to the lagoon, in a venture jointly curated with the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, where the exhibition moves in October. Paintings and drawings are juxtaposed with photographs — including images by August Sander — to underscore the move from Expressionism to realism and objectivity during this turbulent phase of German history, which was an incubator of cultural experimentation, social and sexual freedom, technological progress and political extremism.
Left: Martial Raysse, America, America, 1964. Right: Martial Raysse, La Belle Mauve. Both artworks © Martial Raysse by SIAE 2015. © ADAGP, Paris and DACS, London 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.
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. Travelling from its home at the University of Iowa Museum of Art, after a stopover for cleaning and conservation at the Getty Conservation Institute, it will be displayed for the first time in the palazzo that Guggenheim turned into her Venetian fiefdom. Click to read our interview with curator David Anfam. 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 (23 April–14 September).
Danh Vo, Oma Totem, 2009. Sculpture. Photo: Jacopo Menzani
Joseph Beuys’s air crash in the Crimea and subsequent rescue by Tatar tribesmen is not the only resurrection legend to inform the practice of a contemporary artist. Danh Vo was only four when his family was rescued at sea as they fled Vietnam in a boat built by the artist’s father. The ship that saved them was Danish — so Vo grew up in Copenhagen, and would go on to base his work on themes of flotsam, on found, copied and manipulated objects that are arranged to establish fragmented narratives of loss and transferal, of colonial appropriation and erasure. In Punta della Dogana’s major 2015 show, Vo has been invited to curate an exhibition that juxtaposes his own works with selected pieces from the Pinault Collection and outside — including installations by the US artist Nancy Spero and Iranian-born, Berlin-based Nairy Baghramian.
Associated mostly with large textual messages written in light, American conceptual artist Jenny Holzer turns to silk-screened and hand-painted oil-on-linen works in this show hosted by the main Venetian civic museum in Piazza San Marco. Organised by the Written Art Foundation, based in Frankfurt, the exhibition includes recent works, including the 2006 series Archive and the 2014 series Dust Paintings, based on redacted and declassified US government and intelligence reports relating to the ‘war on terror’, including official memos, interrogation records, autopsies and letters or diaries written by detainees. Holzer has said that she chose a delicate, small-scale, painterly medium to convey words that betray cruelty and violence because ‘I wanted it to be an indicator of sincerity and affection — I wanted it to be human.’
Previewed at London’s Tate Modern in March, Catalan filmmaker Albert Serra’s latest video project riffs on the concept of ‘singularity’, a buzzword that has gone beyond its academic meaning of ‘a point at which a given mathematical object ceases to be well-behaved’ to refer to a sudden quantum leap of information technologies that will allow mankind to transcend biological limitations. Curated by Chus Martínez and commissioned by the Institut Ramon Llull, this is in effect the Catalan pavilion at the Biennale, though it’s being presented as a collateral event. Using six screens but a single soundtrack, Serra aims to tell a multi-faceted story about ‘a turning point in the way we relate to information, to “matter”, to images produced by machines, to representation, to the interplay between culture and nature’.
Main image at top: Rashid Rana, War within I, 2013. My East Is Your West, Palazzo Benzon, 5 May — 31 October
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