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13 June 2007

Venice Biennial, Part I

Evan writes on Monday, June 11th. The Biennial held a preview for professionals and press from June 7th through the 9th, and is now open until November 21st. You can visit the official site at http://www.labiennale.org/en/biennale.

This is my third day at the Venice Biennial. I've waited a few days to file. I was worried that my first impressions would not be accurate, since logistically the days have been a challenge. The challenges made me cranky and certainly influenced how I saw what I saw. As the weekend progressed, the situation improved, though I still believe this is a very difficult place to have this kind of an event.

The biggest challenge is just getting from one place to another. If you want to see something which is outside of the two principal biennial venues (Giardini and Arsenale), you can spend an hour or more in transit back and forth. It can really eat up the day. Long lines, prices bordering on extortion, challenging public transport—a lot of factors contribute to making this a difficult experience.

I could really start ranting on that topic, but I would rather stay positive and talk about the art. Where shall we start?

There is a lot of photography on view, as one would imagine. Of special note is a site specific installation by Thomas Demand. In his signature style he has created a photo of a fantasy grotto complete with stalagmites, stalactites, and rocky caverns made entirely with cardboard. The exhibit estimates that over 900,000 pieces of board were used. What is not typical for Mr. Demand is that the "model" (life-sized) and all of the process involved in producing the photo are on display as well. It isn't my favorite work but it was a fascinating glimpse into this artist's process.

Plenty of younger artists are on view as well. Yto Barrada is a photographer from Tangier. Her work, which I like very much, was highlighted in one of the first galleries in the Arsenale.

Also in the Arsenale was the work of Spanish artist Ignasi Aballi. On view was a collection of lists. Mr. Aballi cuts out various pieces of information from the newspapers. Numbers of dead, amounts of money, quantities of each nationality—the different categories create their own list. For such a minimalist subject, the photographs were quite appealing visually. From a political and taxonomic point of view, they are unforgettable.

Rafael Lozano-Hemmer was the artist chosen for the Mexican pavilion. Check this guy out. Really. Space prohibits an exposition of his work but to me it was one of the best. It combined gee-whiz cool with genuine artistic, intellectual and emotional content. Great.

But my most satisfying overall experience came at an exhibit outside the official biennial sites. Palazzo Fortuny had a show called "Artempo". The theme was the intersection between works of antiquity and contemporary art. Alex Vervoordt put this show together and he didn't miss a note. One after another, there were remarkable and eye-opening juxtapositions. Francis Bacon, Hans Bellmer, Paolo Giacometti, Anish Kapoor, and an especially rich and varied selection of Lucio Fontana’s work were all on offer. Mr. Vervoordt placed his well-known artists in contrast and context to other art. Everything from anonymous eighteenth-century art to Buddhist scrolls to lesser-known artists was fair game. The resulting conversation among the artworks in the space was one of the most scintillating I've experienced in years.

Next: more Venice pavilions. Art Basel and the satellite fairs begin today. I will file my impressions as I get a handle on the scene.

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