Much has been said about the Biennale. It is daring indeed from Christine Macel, the French curator from Pompidou appointed the curator of the Venice Biennale 2017, to extract herself from the actual political and social turmoil the world is facing.
This year in Venice, Macel offers us another angle: an oasis… of art
In 2015, Okwui Enwezor Biennale was a total political manifesto and obviously Documenta 14 both in Athens and Kassel is heavily politically loaded.
This year in Venice, Macel offers us another angle: an oasis… of art. A place to reflect, to discover and to dream, far from the populism and nationalism noises surrounding us. She put together “a Biennale designed by artists, by artists, and for artists. At a time of global disorder, art embraces life…” It is truly this celebration of life by artists that she invites the visitors to experience.
I have to confess that at first I was not convinced: either by the title nor the concept.
How can you ignore today’s intense political tensions the world is facing? How can you talk about art for art sake when contemporary artists are expecting to question, translate in a visual language the historical, political and sociological issues the world is facing?
In times of Brexit and frantic Tweeting Trump, many had expected a far more political Biennale.
I first visited the Arsenale during the opening week early May. It was a hive of collectors and art world professionals looking more at each other than the art. Too crowded to see properly, engage and appreciate.
I went back when the frenzy was over. I had the Arsenale for myself. Such a privilege. The way the artists and their works are presented, through the various pavilion is very impactful.
Wandering through the nine pavilions (Pavilion of Artists and books, Pavilion of Joy and Fears, Pavilion of the Common, Pavilion of the Earth, Pavilion of Tradition, Pavilion of Shamans, the Dyonisian Pavilion, the Pavilion of Colors, Pavilion of Time and Infinity) I truly enjoyed the Biennale. There is a flow, a wit, in the curator’s presentation. It encompasses the challenging space of the Arsenale.
I discovered many artists. Out of the 120 artists from 51 countries presented 103 have never been exhibited at the Venice Biennale before. More than 20 artists are over 75, of whom 15 are still alive and showing alongside emerging artists as Hong Kong-based figurative painter Firenze Lai, born in 1984.
The Pavilion of Artists and Books is centered around the idea of “otium” a “ privileged moment …a space of productive idleness and mind work”. Mladen Stilinovic “Artist at Work, 1978” 8 black and white photographs illustrates with a glimpse of humour this theme.
The Pavilion of Joys and Fears deals with emotions and feelings. The Syrian artist Marwan has striking expressionist paintings. I discovered his work at TEFAF last March.
The Pavilion of the Common addresses issues of the community. Juan Downey, The Circles of Fires related to the Yanomani’s territory in Amazonia and Maria Lai who investigates connectivity within her community in Sardinia are important historical and anthropological artists. I really enjoyed the ephemeral and colourful mixed media installation of the Taiwanese artist Lee Mingwei: the visitors are invited to bring their damage clothes that the artist or his assistant will repair using colourful threads.
In the Pavilion of the Earth, I was mesmerized by Inuit artist Kananginak Pootoogook exquisite drawings which reveal the evolution of the indigenous world contaminated by intruders.
Sopheap Pich the Cambodian artist in the Pavilion of Traditions has developed a body of work based on existing handcraft skills: wickerwork techniques using bamboo and natural pigments.
The Pavilion of Shamans presents the artist as a healer. Ernesto Neto has built a massive is installation Um Sagrado Lugar (A Sacred Place) (2017) where art is transformed into a healing aesthetic action.
I loved the works of Lebanese artist Huguette Caland, both simple and beautiful, in the Dionysian Pavilion. A feminist artist from the seventies she dared to celebrate both the female body and the sexuality.
The sensuality of Cuban artist Zilia Sanchez minimalist works are seducing.
The Pavilion of Colors is fireworks of emotions. The visitor is greeted by Abdoulaye Lonate from Mali, large work (7 meters long) Brasil. Colors become symbolic of historical, political and anthropological issues.
My journey within the Arsenale ended with the Pavilion of Time and Infinity. The artists are investigating the notion of time, its metaphysical approach to art. Edith Dekyndt’s works are mesmerizing: a performer sweeps dust following the movement of a luminous rectangle.
Reflecting on the Biennale, I really engaged with the works and the artists presented. Colors, textiles, the materiality of the works, make it a very enticing and a truly visual experience for the visitor. However, to be fully appreciated, it deserves to be discovered, to take the time to engage with the works. Overall it is a very “crafted exhibition”: the use of the space, the number of works, the sizes as there are few monumental works, the flow between the pavilions which address philosophical issues in a very aesthetic and poetic way.
Ironically for a “nonpolitical exhibition”, Christine Macel’s Biennale power lies in the subtle undertone of politics.