The 411 on the 51st Bienniale de Venezia held this summer is that it signaled something other than the 911 for art, setting it apart from other extravaganzi of a similar stripe. As has been the case for well over a decade, the national pavilions (now numbering over seventy) were relegated to sideshow status in relation to the large curated exhibitions ensconced under the big-tops of the Arsenele and the spacious Italian pavilion that now no longer shows the work of Italian artists. Yes, that’s right, I said two curated exhibitions, and this une-due punch proved to be the innovative master-stroke of presentation that brought the whole biennial enterprise into a provocative focus: no proliferation of tutti-mixta “diversity” here, just two examples of solid curation that didn’t overreach themselves while doing an exceedingly good job of playing off of each other’s seemingly opposed premises.
The spacious Italian pavilion contained an exhibition curated by Spanish curator Maria de Coral, The Experience of Art. This was a stately and stylish grouping of the work of well-known artists who could be thought of as institutional favorites. At the heart of this sprawling group exhibition was a set of large photographs by Thomas Ruff, all landscape images that had been pixellated, and then pixellated again
Curator Rosa Martinez with Guerrilla Girl.
Photo copyright Haupt and Binder
to once again drive home the point that big photographs have become the new painting—apparently, no one has informed Ruff that we have come to a pass where big drawings on paper have become the new big photographs claiming to be the new painting. Paintings by Antonio Tapies, Francis Bacon and Phillip Guston were also on view, the latter two installed in such a way to suggest that a contest was being staged between them.
The Arsanale played host to an exhibition curated by Rosa Martinez (also from Spain) titled Always a Little Further, which cast itself as a post-avant-gardist walk on the wild sides of mock perversity and social criticism. Here, a clutch of new brightly colored posters by the Guerrilla Girls reminded everybody that fairness has again eluded the organization of the Bienniale, while fat boy performance artist Leigh Bowrey was videotaped wearing the garb of Mexican wrestlers. At the other end of the seemingly endless building, Rem Koolhaus gave us more posters, these being smart interrogations of what the idea of a museum could be taken to represent in the not-too-distant-Future(ism?).