The Venice Biennale 2013 – The Encyclopaedic Palace

11 November 2013 § 2 Comments

Most reviews of the Venice Biennale are posted soon after its opening in June/July. This is all very well for those writers who enjoy being in a sweaty summertime Venice thronged with tourists and queueing with the crowds to gain access to the most interesting pavilions. True, there are some exhibitions that only ‘pop-up’ for the first month or so of the biennale and naturally all the sleb-studded parties also only happen around opening time but on the whole it is a time I avoid like the plague.

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller

I prefer to let the hubbub settle down and visit later in the year. With the end of the 2013 Biennale on the 24 November there is a big window of opportunity for take a trip during a quieter period when not only is the weather less hot and humid but there are fewer tourists, hotel prices are lower and tables are available at the best Osterias.

Last but not least of course you can take advantage of the prior reviews to plan visits to the best pavilions whilst avoiding the (too-frequent) time-wasting exhibitions in multitudinous back-alleys that you have just walked in circles for 30 minutes trying to find.

Jeremy Deller

Jeremy Deller

In the official Biennale there are, as usual, a plethora of dud pavilions. Surprisingly these include giants like Germany with an OK installation with a maze of interlocking stools by Ai Weiwei and little else, France with Anri Sala pointlessly punning on Ravel/Unravel – geddit? – and the USA where Sarah Sze has filled the pavilion with a student-like mess of bits and pieces.

Bill Culbert

Bill Culbert

Japan had chosen a very neat display of conceptual work from Koki Tanaka featuring collective tasks and collaborative acts in order to examine a new post-tsunami Japanese reality. For example groups of five musicians, writers or potters were asked to create a work together, the process being filmed whils other projects, reminiscent of sixties Ono & Fluxus were perhaps ‘Precarious Tasks #3 Walk from city to its suburbs’.

Koki Tanaka - A piano played by five pianists at once

Koki Tanaka – A piano played by five pianists at once

Vadim Zakharov’s brilliant Russian pavilion has a besuited businessman perched on a high rafter throwing peanut husks upon the public below whilst in the adjacent room gold coins are showered upon the ladies (only!) below who prolong the golden shower by collecting the coins in to a bucket which is raised – by another suited gent – and emptied on to a conveyor belt. A perpetual cycle of greed and exploitation is completed by the willing participants.Russian Pavilion

Jeremy Deller however has stolen the Giardini ‘show’ with ‘English Magic’. He cleverly weaves together truly diverse aspects of British society to create a witty and topical vision of one version of a national mythology. Amongst a number of threads Prince Harry’s appalling shooting of two rare hen harriers is revisited with a giant bird carrying off a passing Land Rover whilst Abramovich’s obscene yacht is cast in to the Venetian lagoon by Willaim Morris. There is of course a Deller trademark tea room – the ‘TEA’ spelt out in palaeolithic arrowheads – seeming much more relevant in an international location where it’s Britishness is self-evident.

Walter de a Maria

Walter de a Maria

The central Giardini pavilion and the Arsenale meanwhile I found to be rather a mess. The attempt to illustrate the thematic Encyclopaedic Palace  coming a cropper with a confusion of self-taught and outsider artists alongside more conventional names – big and small.

Iraqi Pavilion

Iraqi Pavilion

Elsewhere around town the exhibits from Iraq, Ireland & Cyprus, Wales, Lithuania and Angola stand out from the multitude. Rudolph Stingel is worth seeing at the Palazzo Grassi where he has carpeted almost every inch of the walls and floor with oriental rugs. Buy a twin ticket for the other Pinault exhibition at the Punta della Dogana. The wonderland of the Palazzo Fortuny is always worth a visit – this time with an Anton Tapies exhibition.

Rudolf Stingel

Rudolf Stingel

There is much more of course whilst watching over the whole event from its waterfront perch on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore is the giant pink inflatable sculpture Alison Lapper Pregnant by Marc Quinn. Eye-catching and impressive.

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

Marc Quinn Alison Lapper Pregnant

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