Venice Biennale

I just finished the Venice Biennale today after a few days of extensive walking, queuing, standing in dark mini-cinemas, and maneouvering through tight Venetian corridors or onto packed vaparettos in search of palazzos filled with art projects. The German pavilion picked up the grand prize with the late Christoph Schlingensief’s affective full installation, effectively a black, secular mass in the shape of an inner cathedral. One enters from bright Italian sunlight into a darkened interior, and rows of pews before a makeshift altar, with large projections above, come into visibility. The entire space is a dark salon of projections, images and objects from the artist’s absurdist, performative practice, with an emphasis on more recent work (including x-rays of his tumerous body) and although it was altogether not loved by everyone, this was a powerful project that represented the legacy of this artist with what can here only be summed up as an atheistic, but humanistic mysticism. Personally I remained in the space for longer than I would have expect. It does draw one in, and the subject being universal and, literally, mortifying, does interrupt the spectacle and hype of the entire biennale.

The Polish pavilion was apparently also a love it or hate it project. The Israeli artist Yael Bartana, who now lives in Poland, produced a perhaps somewhat semi-self referential work that featured three short films depicting a proto-socialist call for three million Jews to immigrate to Poland as a means of presumably recovering the jewish culture eradicated there during the holocaust. However as with Bartana’s previous work there is a clear criticism here within this call for Jews, not only on the loss of previous generations of Jews, but also to the problematics of highlighting cultural differences when nation building. Whatever one makes of this project, there are multiple political narratives present and no answers are provided easily.

With hundreds of artists’ work to view in many different settings, it is practically impossible to view everything. A few other highlights among the cocktail parties and press conferences were Gelitin’s daily performances in the sculpture garden (pure hedonistic punk rock beauty), Christian Marclay’s seductive (and deserving Golden Lion prize winner) The Clock, Gerard Byrne’s Lochness project, the decadent, problematic and gorgeously sumptuous Museo Fortuny, and the real American tank placed upside down at the US pavilion. Special mentions for the Macedonian and Lithuanian pavilions and the Future Generation Art Prize, and of course, the highly celebrated 5000 Feet is the Best by Omer Fast, which The Model co-commissioned and will exhibit in a different permutation in September.

Seamus Kealy