You always walk a lot in Venice… The vaporetti are jam-packed and taxis hard to get, apart from being forbiddingly expensive. So as usual you will cross 1001 bridges—which is nice and, into the bargain, shapes your legs and makes for the special appeal of this unique city.
More or less exhausted from the walk and innumerable forced encounters with thousands of people who were not the reason for coming here, you finally reach the Giardini with the national pavilions. A quick caffè at the Bar Paradiso just outside the entrance and then it’s into the gardens, as always full of anticipation and zest for exploration.
Glistening in the bright light, the faience-tiled cupola of the Hungarian pavilion never fails to impress.
Similarly, the Russian pavilion perpetually radiates its imperial Potemkin splendor—only this time, it remains closed for good reason.
The Serbian artist Vladimir Nikolić surprises and intrigues with an enormous, portrait-format video projection of a lonely swimmer in a vast pool and, immediately next to it, the deep blue sea, gently swashing, calm and captivating, in Super Cinemascope widescreen format—Serbian longing for the sea?
My favorite remained the Belgian pavilion with Francis Alys’s videos of children from all over the world immersed in carefree, cheerful play: little Belgians absorbed in a snail race or an African boy rolling a big car tire up a mine dump and then dashing down the dump squeezed into the tire…
A blast of colors and sentimental kitsch awaits you at the Arsenale. Much of it seems very familiar, as if seen in this or a similar manner before: flowery excesses and a surplus of meaningless cosmic flatulence and drifts. Ovid would have been delighted with all the morphing going on. Astrology-minded visitors certainly get their money’s worth here.
What is also interesting is that (macho) surrealism is now embraced as evidence for feminist empowerment. Magical thinking as an emancipatory project?! So-called «spirituality», at any rate, is abundantly celebrated here and called in for want of further explanations. One could think that we have arrived in a neo-romanticist age of mindfulness and sensitivity.
The enormous and eloquently oppressive installation by the Italian artist Gian Maria Tosatti, by comparison, comes across as downright classically conservative. The set-up of an entire sewing factory leaves a lasting impression of the inhumane working conditions that prevail(ed) in such facilities.
Then there are the occasional standouts, such as the now 85-year-old US-American Robert Grosvenor—delightfully uncompromising, fresh, and cheeky.
And those who couldn’t care less about art can simply enjoy the eternal beauty of Venice
or go shopping
or eat scrumptious delicious seafood
or go to confession in one of the many churches.
These are, after all, among the reasons why the Venice Biennale has held up so well for over a century!
I shall end with a great exhibition, by far the best I saw in Venice this year:
The Marlene Dumas retrospective at the Palazzo Grassi.
This gifted painter approaches our diverse world with a view that is sharp, ironic, affectionate, analytical to the point of verism, and yet always deeply understanding.
Ciao and see you at the next Biennale!