The first open hours have come and gone in the City of Bridges today, and the 56th edition of the Venice Biennale, All the World’s Futures is now open. Welcoming 89 different countries to exhibit in the city, with 29 in the Arsenale, 31 in the Central Pavilion, and an additional 29 spread across in the City itself, the exhibition is a monumental affair, with a number of auxiliary events, openings and parties.
Biennale head Paolo Baratta and curator Okwui Enwezor greeted the assembled press today, welcoming them to the exhibition and outlining the specific emphasis on disorder and debris that inspired Enwezor’s selections. “My interest was not to have an exhibition based on one monolithic theme, but on a larger ground,” Enwezor noted. “The articulation of this sense of disorder of the exhibition unfolds on many levels.” Interested in Walter Benjamin’s approach to the open door of history, the curator sought a selection of works that incorporated that sense of historical materialism, approaching events and moments both from an informed past and a “historical present,” as he describes it. “It is intentional to disturb the idea that art is a hermetically sealed vehicle,” he also noted.
At the Arsenale, the selection of work followed Enwezor’s curatorial vision closely, with works constantly balanced on the edge of disfunction and linguistic breakdown. In others, the surfaces and materials often leaned towards inexpensive and discarded objects, subverting their place as elevated art objects. A clustered, claustrophobic Bruce Nauman neon greeted viewers as they entered the space, while Monica Bonvicini was showing a series of sculptures made from accumulated chainsaws. Chris Ofili was showing a series of new works in the space, as was artist Gary Simmons, whose sparse, stage-like construction played on images of predation and violence. German master Georg Baselitz was also on hand, presenting a new series of inverted, slurred portraits that towered over twenty feet high.
In other corners, artists turned towards the surreal made manifest. Terry Adkins had installed a series of drum heads, stacked 11 high, while Mika Rottenberg had brought new video and sculpture work, including a sculpture depicting a pair of feet buried in a basket of pearls. All the while, artists Allora and Calzadilla’s In the Midst of Things dominated conversation in the exhibition rooms, as a group of performers slowly passed from work to work, singing the lines of The Creation, Joseph Haydn’s oratorio masterwork.
Fabric-based works were particularly prominent this year. Katharina Grosse is presenting an immense series of dyed fabrics draped across one corner of the room. The drapery continued with Lili Reynaud-Dewar, whose shower curtains adorned with cryptically aggressive texts filled another part of the room. But for sheer impact, few could top the young Ghanian artist Ibrahim Maham’s immense tunnel of coal sacks, tied end to end and creating an ominous pathway through the Arsenale. Also of note was an immense canopy of single frames video from Kutlug Ataman.
Other notable pieces included a large-scale copper dome, executed by Congolese artist Sammy Baloji, and From the Horde to the Bee, a social sculpture by Marco Fusinato in which visitors could claim one of the artist’s print documents placed along the perimeter of a wooden board, in exchange for leaving €10 in the center of the work. Another participatory, commodity-based sculpture was on presented by Rikrit Tiravanija, allowing visitors to purchase individually-made bricks, with the proceeds going to support workers’ rights in China.
Outside, at the Arsenale boathouse, Chinese artist Xu Bing was showing a massive work, The Phoenix, created from construction debris and leftover materials. Nearby, Vik Muniz’s Lampedusa, a tribute to deceased immigrants killed on a voyage between African and Italy, was taking its first voyage of the week.
Art Observed was on site for the exhibition opening, and will continue to post images over the course of the week.
Christian Boltanski, Animitas (2014), via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
Carsten Höller, via Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
Jason Moran, STAGED: Savoy Ballroom 1 (2015), via Art Observed
Sammy Baloji, The Other Memorial (2015), via Art Observed
Images courtesy of Sophie Kitching for Art Observed
— D. Creahan
Venice Biennale [Exhibition Site]