Photo Essays

Photos from the 54th Venice Biennale, Part 1

One of the many long lines at the Venice Biennale. (all photo by the author for Hyperallergic) (click to enlarge)

Editor’s note: This is the first in three photo essays by Peter Dobey from this year’s Venice Biennale.

The voluminousness of the Venice Biennale can be overwhelming, much like the city of Venice itself. Talking with Venetian friends, I heard the city described as a “creature,” a labyrinthine monster that will suffocate you if you don’t know how to find the campos, or other open-air spaces where you can stretch out and breathe.

Inhabited by more tourists than actual residents, the city is shaped by the pre-conceived notions of its visitors; in short, Venice is a place that does not fully exist. The same feeling follows you into the exhibitions of the Biennale.

The Biennale fulfills dual roles: first as art exhibition, second as spectacle, or as artist Christian Boltanski said to me: “a carnival.” A giant, messy carnival, where the side shows play as important a role as the main event. One particular kept coming up in conversation — that the lines were longer, and the hotels more crammed than ever before, but you get the sense that this same conversation plays out every year. Even so, the lines to see the pavilions were long. Very long. The longest were for the British and American Pavilions, where the number of visitors were limited, or where performances were scheduled at certain times. Almost everyone I met complained of not being able to get into some of the shows they wanted to see.

Given the oppressiveness of the lines and the crowds, the most refreshing pieces seemed to be those that offered the most space to move around — airy installations, or objects that revitalized your senses by allowing you to get lost in their beauty, a reprieve from the structure and bureaucracy inherent to any such large public exhibition or event.

Here I have provided a small example of pieces that allowed a taste of meditative pleasure — similar to that found by Venetians and visitors alike when savoring the local drink of choice, the Spritz — that bittersweet drink that can be enjoyed (preferably) in cheap plastic cups at a friend’s house, or more decadently at a cafe under the garish Rialto Bridge.

Here also are some images of the exhibitions from countries that were relevant in the broader scope of this year’s news events, and some of the parties as well.

The long line outside the British Pavilion at the Venice Biennale.

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The ring leader of this year’s event was the Swiss curator Bice Curiger, with her central pavilion that started out strong, but became increasingly disjointed as the exhibition wore on.

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In Amalia Pica’s “Strangers,” performers who had never met before are an integral part of the work. Even though they have to perform together in the Central Pavilion for hours and days, they never get to meet.

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Bruno Jakob’s “Breath” installation of suspended paintings.

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Fabian Marti’s “The Summit of It”

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Navid Nuur’s “Hivewise”

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A view of Haroon Mirza’s “the national Apavilion of then and now.” Mirzawon was awarded the Venice Biennale’s Silver Lion for promising young artist.

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Urs Fischer’s “Untitled”

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Klara Lidén’s work “Untitled (Trashcan)” was award a special mention by the Venice Biennale Jury.

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A ridiculously ugly work — I did not bother finding out who made it.

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The disgrace that is the Italian Pavilion (Lo Stato dell’Arte net 150˚ dell’Unitá d’Italia), by the traditionalist art historian Vittorio Sgarbi, who worked under
Berlusconi’s ministry of culture and was derided by Francesco Bonami as the curator “Italy deserves.” Many people, including myself, saw it as a perfect collection of pieces that exemplified Italy’s current political state.

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An Italy made of meat-like material by Gaetano Pesce in the Italian pavilion.

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One of the artists at the United Arab Emirates Pavilion, Reem al Ghaith.

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Second Time Around paintings by Lateefa bint Maktoum at the UAE Pavilion.

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People watching in front of the Arsenale.

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The art hoardes of the Venice Biennale.

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A global meeting spot for the art world.

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The 54th Venice Biennale runs until November 27, 2011.

 

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