More Than Venice Can Handle: Off-site Events At The Biennale

Image courtesy the Antarctic Pavilion

With this year’s globalist focus at the Biennale in the Okwui Enwezor-curated main exhibition “All the World’s Futures”, the nationalistic infrastructure where each country is ‘represented’ spatially with a pavilion seems increasingly unsatisfactory. Often, the omni-institutionalism that is prevalent in the highly-sponsored pavilions means that artists can become caught up in pleasing financial backers and ‘representing’ his/her country ‘correctly’ (read: territorially) rather than pushing boundaries and seeking new forms of expression. 

This territoriality was addressed in the ambitious “Antarctic Pavilion”, curated by Nadim Samman at the Fondaco Marcello, with the science-research-cum-art-project led by the artist Alexander Ponomarev. Ponomarev has been praised and awarded worldwide for his radical reimagining of Antarctic spatiality – a vast and highly unrepresented part of the world which famously is supposed to remain neutral and free from nations claiming its possession (an absolute contrast to the microcosmic sovereignty-game that is the Venice Biennale). Yet, the remnants of imperial exploration persist on the continent, with several countries competing for scientific advancement and victory in the Antarctic region. At the pavilion, the unique political, ecological and environmental context of Antarctica was explored via sculpture and collage – inscribing itself into the Venice agenda in a previously unseen way. 

The Antarctic Pavilion
The Antarctic Pavilion

Unsurprisingly, some of the best art was seen in independent art-spaces around the city, as with M/L, not far from Campo Santa Maria Mater Domini. The show is organized by NYC-based artists Marie Karlberg and Lena Henke, and takes place in the home of curator Marta Fontolan’s deceased grandmother; the exhibition responds to this in a celebratory fashion by incorporating old interiors into the presentation of the work. The show features great new painting and sculptural work by names like Adriana Lara, Sam Pulitzer and Leigha Mason, as well as a Merlin Carpenter piece from the eighties – and is accompanied by a poetic press release by writer Andrew Durbin.

I embarked on my second preview day with brunch in the temporary live studio of General Booty of Work – a radio channel and podcast led by Danish artist Hannah Heilmann and the Copenhagen gallery Toves, in which contemporary art and ideas are dissected and discussed in a genuine and highly entertaining way. Live-streaming from their Airbnb balcony a stones-throw from the Arsenale, “General Booty” invited art personalities on air every day, to form a highly capable panel who assisted ‘listeners in despair’ with their art-related problems. For example, “What exactly do you do when you love your boyfriend but really hate his art?”; “Does there come a point in one’s career when one must oppose the precarity of the art world, and simply insist on getting paid?”; or “Is a steady coffee-flow a requirement in the office of an established institution?” The podcast reflects the prosecco which was generously flowing – nevertheless, “General Booty” remains a wildly successful voice in audio-arts media.

Danh Vo, Oma totem, 2009. copyright the artist, courtesy Fondation Pinault Venise

Returning to institutionalism, Danh Vo stole the show at Punta Della Dogana, over-shadowing his own solo contribution to the Danish Pavilion with a tightly curated but nonetheless immensely playful and life-affirming group show at the Francois Pinault Foundation; featuring work by Julie Ault, Marcel Broodthaers, Elmgreen & Dragset, Felix Gonzalez-Torres and Nancy Spero, to name a few. In contrast to the highly criticized main exhibition, Vo’s exhibition here, entitled “Slip of the Tongue”, explored the notions of circulation and movement within, outside and across nations posed by Okwui Enwezor. The synchronous dismissive reception of Enwezor and enthusiastic reception of Vo led to gossipy speculation among art insiders of allowing Vo to curate the entire biennale next time (an unlikely scenario however, as he would be the first artist to ever curate the festival). 

As the sun set, I joined the queue at the much-hyped “Pizza Pavilion” at Campo Santa Margherita, a collaborative project that responds to the contextual specificity of Venice by utilizing one of the city’s many pizzerias as a curatorial space. Completely working against traditional understanding of ‘artistic labour’, the work of the artists consists of pizza topping design – treating the pizza as a ‘cultural canvas’ while employing the local, available work-force in the touristy city. The amount of symbolism attached to the identity of a pizza is almost limitless – and as art enthusiasts from around the world gathered in the small and energetic pizzeria, difference in the perception of trans-national food was explored (indeed, pizza connotes simultaneously gourmet and ‘poor peoples’ food). I enjoyed an aspirational-veggie medley by artist Debora Delmar Corp. (courgettes, asparagus, rucola), accompanied by a canned beer and live opera-singing from Julia Mintzer, culminating in the perfect dining-experience to sum up the Biennale.

Text by Jeppe Ugelvig 


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