In ART

Selections takes a look at this year’s highlights at the matchless Venice Biennale (links to each pavilion at the bottom of the page)

Over more than a century, the Venice Biennale has firmly established itself as one of the most prestigious cultural events in the world. The Biennale dates back to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organised, and subsequent new festivals for music, cinema, theatre, architecture and dance have followed.

Looking through the staggering history of the art exhibition that marks a pivotal point in the careers of both artists and curators, the format has evolved from a pure exhibition platform to something that is more of a hybrid exhibition and exchange platform, linked inextricably to commerce. Whilst biennials such as Venice continue to function as part of the marketing, capitalist specialisation for both art and state, they also represent a form of curtailing the already limited impact of creativity in resisting the dominant systems of power. The relationship between biennial and commerce means that market plays a central role, but biennials still continue to serve as a bridge between market and institutional structures as they focus on disseminating what is often viewed as the latest artistic trends and are also a site for aesthetic experimentation.

This year’s international art exhibition continues in the quest to showcase the most contemporary artists and art from 51 countries. Of the 123 artists invited, 103 are first timers to Venice. Curated by the Pompidou Centre’s chief curator Christine Macel (the fourth woman to direct the show) and entitled VIVA ARTE VIVA, the 57th edition features an artist-centred exhibition that features more female and non-Western artists than previous editions. The exhibition is an exclamation, a passionate cry in favour of art and the state of the artist. It is a biennial Macel describes as “designed with artists, by artists and for artists, about the forms they propose, the questions they ask, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose.” The journey unfolds over the course of nine chapters, beginning with two introductory realms in the Central Pavilion, followed by another seven across the Arsenale through the Giardino delle Vergini.

Macel has made a striking attempt to integrate the central exhibition with national pavilions and collateral events through two parallel projects open to all artists in the Biennale. The artists representing the national pavilions are welcome to host their own Open Table (Tavola Aperta) event on Wednesdays and Thursdays. They are also invited to join the Artist’s Practices Project with their videos, as part of the attempt to reinforce and build on the unity of the biennial around the artists themselves.

Curator and art history educator Miwon Kwon reminds us how “site specificity” used to imply something grounded and bound to the laws of physics. Site-specific works also used to be about “presence,” even if they were materially ephemeral, and adamant about immobility, even in the face of disappearance or destruction. As we observe with the biennial, the site is temporal, sweeping in and taking over this historic city every two years at a time when there are continual debates and inaccurate reportage stating that Venice will eventually sink. One thing is certain — tourism, particularly this form of “cultural tourism” — continues to increase short-term rentals and push the cost of living in Venice higher with every passing year, thus locals continue to be driven out, meaning that Venice is gradually becoming a ghost city and high-culture holiday destination that gives little back to those preserving this most wondrous of sites. The biennale offers an opportunity to reflect on these kinds of complexities.

Pavilions:

Amenian Pavilion/Jean Boghossian
British Pavilion/Phyllida Barlow
German Pavilion/Anna Imhof
Chinese Pavilion
Italian Pavilion
Russian Pavilion
American pavilion/Mark Bradford
French Pavilion
Japanese Pavilion/Takahiro Iwasaki
UAE Pavilion
Lebanese Pavilion/Zad Moultaka
Cyprus Pavilion/Polys Peslikas
Iraq Pavilion
Iranian Pavilion/Bizhan Bassiri

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