The Venice Biennale started off as it should: with a little hot gossip. While gliding through the Venetian waters via boat-taxi, a major art world player remarked that a certain Russian Billionaire-turned-art-collector could not get his mega yacht into main viewing position near the Giardini due to its size, and it had to be docked in some back port. He was not happy not having his boat on display and we agreed that it was akin to being all dressed up with nowhere to go. Alas, real world problems seem to disappear in the waters of Venice.
By far the most interesting thing to have been shown at the Biennale was the magical performance by Miguel Barcelo and famed choreographer and dancer Josef Nadj. It was a private performance at the Teatro Fondamenta Nuovo, right on the water. The artists systematically tore into a floor made of clay and a huge canvas made of clay -– both of which were probably three feet thick.
They used tools and their hands and bodies as they violently and aggressively dug out and built up various parts of both pieces. It was delcious and dark and violent and uncomfortable. Miguel and Josef ended the performance by being devoured by the work. They then took their bows in their clay-caked tuxedos with beers in their hands. Magical.
Danish and Nordic Pavilions
This joint exhibit of the Nordic and Danish pavilions, called “The Collectors,” was where curators Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset created a mock-up of the adjacent homes of wealthy art collectors, now up for sale. Herds of glamorous collectors, dealers, artists, fashionistas and professional party people waited in line to take a tour led by a “real estate broker” who said that the owners want to sell – and fast. Messages written in lipstick on mirrors; a dead maid cast in bronze; tables sawed in half; naked boys lounging on modernist furniture and a man floating face down in a swimming pool made for seriously entertaining fodder. The crash of the art market has taken its toll. The show also managed to do something nearly impossible with this crowd — make them wait in line for their turn. Miracles do happen.
This huge, warehouse-style complex housed some very interesting and beautiful works. The first room was dark except for carefully lit gold threads seeming to float in the air -– an installation by the artist Lydia Pape. Like rays of light beaming down on the viewer, the beginning of the carefully curated spaces is quiet and ethereal. Other highlights included a beautiful black and white film by Ulla von Brandenberg that was shot in Le Corbusier’s villa in Savoy, Paul Chan’s homage to Marquis de Sade using lighting techniques similar to his Seven Lights at the New Museum, and Chan Yun’s solar system made from electrical appliances lighting up in a darkened room. The Arsenale transitioned from spiritual reflection to self reflection to societal reflection through a succession of intensely varied work from all over the globe. It is a journey worth taking and I was impressed with the show.
While all the hazy ‘kind-of-interestings’ waited to get in to Palazzo Grassi for Italian Vogue and Pinault’s party, everybody who was anybody had already arrived at Momo’s rockin dancethon in tents near the Giardini. Momo’s was where everybody let loose and Sam Keller, former head of Art Basel, Jay Jopling and Tim Nye were all boogying down with electric cool-aid acid moves into the wee hours of the morning. Even though the Italian Vogue party never fully took off at Pinault’s, the candy coloured psychedelic dance floor was pretty rockin’. Especially when Marc Jacobs, Naomi Campbell, Larry Gagosian, moguls, artists, dealers and fashionistas all stomped across in attention-getting outfits.
Only In Venice
The art world frenzy was interrupted by a fellini-esque moment when a ‘who’s who’ descended on Saint Mark’s Basilica during the Biennale to watch three children’s first holy communion. This surreal religious encounter, followed by drinks in a private palazzo, was a highly sought-after invitation, though it had nothing to do with art. Perhaps it only occurred because the participants were a Getty, a Lanvin and a princess, respectively. Communion taken red carpet style.