Viva Art and Artists! The 2017 Venice Biennale Calls for Celebration, but is this a Time to Party?
David Ebony — (Abridged)
The biannual pilgrimage to Venice for the venerable, and ever more enormous international art show known as La Biennale di Venezia, is a worthwhile endeavor for anyone interested in the evolution of contemporary art. Unfailingly, the show offers a rewarding experience whether the core exhibition is a success, a failure, or something in between, as is the case with this year’s installment, the 57th.
This year, the European Cultural Centre hosts “Personal Structures: Open Borders,” a large-scale international group exhibition held in three venues: the Palazzo Moro, Palazzo Bembo, and in one outdoor area of the Giardini. Under the auspices of the Dutch non-profit Global Art Affairs Foundation, and organized by a team of young Italian curators, the show features works by artists from 50 countries. High-profile veterans, such as Joseph Kosuth and Lawrence Weiner are represented, but the project also showcases the work of younger artists, such as Taiwan’s Li-Jen Shih, whose giant, stainless steel King Kong Rhino drew a great deal of attention near the Giardini entrance; and New York’s Richard Humann, whose high-tech contribution to the exhibition, Ascension, includes an “augmented reality app” that allows one to view imaginary constellations visible above Venice each night of the Biennale.
The courtyard entrance to the Palazzo Moro is lined with a series of eight elegant, quasi-abstract bronzes by Andrew Rogers. The Australian artist is best-known for his vast land-art projects, Rhythms of Life, which he has created in many, mostly remote places around the globe. For the past three decades or more, Rogers has also produced free-standing sculptures. Here, in the urban—and urbane—environment of Venice, he presents intimate, human-scale pieces in bronze, collectively titled We Are. The totemic forms appear as abstracted figures, like sentinels guarding the palazzo treasures, perhaps. The works resemble unfurling flags, or billowing sails, which, metaphorically at least, refer to the human figure. As in the comportment of an individual, each piece bears the physicality of a rough exterior contrasted with highly polished interior surfaces. These attributes allude to the outward, self-protective stance one must possess in order to survive, and the literally reflective interior world of thoughts and emotions.
On a formal level, We Are corresponds to the billowing fabric and dramatic theatricality of Baroque art and architecture that is visible everywhere in Venice. Rogers speaks for many artists participating in the Biennale and collateral shows as he comments in a press statement, “To be surrounded in Venice by Tintorettos, Titians, and Bellinis, some of the greatest art in the world, and by a cultural history that reaches back more than a thousand years, is a truly transformative experience. To have a major exhibition of sculpture in Venice at the time of the Biennale is a great honor and privilege.”
Corresponding to Rogers’s work in the way it echoes the fluid lines in Venetian Baroque paintings, a resplendent, textile-like wall relief made of bits of found metal, The Beginning and the End (2015) by Ghanaian artist El Anatsui, graces one long wall in Intuition. This collateral show, the last in a series of special exhibitions hosted by Belgian dealer Axel Vervoordt at the Palazzo Fortuny in Venice, and co-curated by Daniela Ferretti, features historical works ranging from Neolithic stone menhirs, circa 3000 B.C., to large, recent photos of fish eyes by Italian artist Bruna Esposito. Throughout the moodily lit rooms of the palazzo are top-notch works by artists like Lucio Fontana, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Anish Kapoor, and Marina Abramovic. An interactive, meditative work on the palazzo’s top floor, created especially for this exhibition by Kimsooja, Archive of Mind, invites visitors to sit at a table and mould spheres from lumps of clay. There could not possibly be a better way of spending a quiet hour or two of a summer afternoon in Venice—rolling balls of clay while looking out the windows over the rooftops of ancient buildings along the Grand Canal.