Just as I was thinking what a terrible (if not impossible) city Venice is for anyone who is wheelchair bound, I spotted not one but two biennale patrons in wheelchairs. I have no idea how they get around the rest of the city, but at least the galleries at the Arsenale (where a large part of the biennale is held) are accessible. We spent a fair amount of our last day in Venice viewing more art and walking still more. I have immensely enjoyed this trip with Olaf and the gang, seeing Venice in a mostly beautiful light both literally and figuratively. Of course, there were a few moments (mostly passing through the otherwise lovely Piazza San Marco) where the crush of tourists was just too much in evidence, but overall if you should come to Venice, I would highly recommend October. The weather can still be warm (with some risk of rain), but way fewer tourists than in the late spring and summer. Arrivederci, Venezia.
Yesterday we took a walk to the main area of the biennale and walk around a lot of the art. I had never been before and it was rather fascinating to see how the exhibits are set up. There was way, way too much art to take in the show in its entirely, so we viewed the main exhibit in the main hall and several of the other pieces in some of the individual countries’ pavilions. I have to admit, I find the very idea of separate country pavilions a little strange, as if to say that an artist always represents something essential about the country they come from, rather than a universal set of ideas. I guess this is mostly an artifact of the history of the biennale itself, and it’s evolution over time. For me, some of the most interesting work was in the German pavilion (in a show put together by France since they swapped pavilions this year). I also very much likes the Ai Weiwei piece in the French pavilion for its wonderful spacial quality (even if the over wrought explanation for its existence left me cold). The main exhibit “The Encyclopedic Palace” was to me a bit of a meandering mess (with a theme made a bit quaint and passé by the introduction of the internet), but there were a few artists within it who really struck me on their own merits. One of the biggest risks with shows like this is art/info overload. There is really just too much to take in and it diminishes some of the work that deserves more thoughtful viewing. (On the other hand, it probably elevates some work that deserves less viewing, so there you are.) At the end of the day I was rather beat as we had walked and walked and walked, both across Venice and back, and at the show. I hope today will be a bit more relaxing, but my friend Olaf is tending to treat this trip more as a project to accomplish rather than an easygoing set of possible experiences that may or may not happen. This is the German way, and I am along for the ride as the only American in the group. And I have been having a very good time with everyone, so I am not really complaining.
Today was a mishmash of walking through some lovely parts of Venice, eating an expensive lunch at a hoity-toity place, taking several boat rides long and short, and visiting the island of Torcello, a little-populated place with an amazing basilica on it. In addition, we ate a famous local cake (fugassa veneziana) as it was Norbert’s birthday, and had several caffè (don’t call them espressos apparently). Pics below…
Today was all about the art in Venice, we are here for the biennale, after all. Well, that and the beautiful architecture of the city itself. We first went to the contemporary art show Prima Materia at the Punta della Dogana. The show itself held several very interesting pieces, but my absolute favorite was something not properly understood to be part of the show itself, and that was the spectacular renovation of the museum by Tadao Ando. The museum is a gorgeous zen masterpiece. Several of the works in the show were really thought provoking, like those by Roman Opalka, or Loris Gréaud, which were two of my favorites.
We next attended an exhibit called When Attitudes Become Form, which was an odd recreation of a 1969 exhibit from the Bern Kunsthalle inside an 18th century structure in Venice (Ca’ Corner della Regina). They went so far as to recreate the walls and floor of the Kunsthalle inside this building and mount the exhibit in this recreated space within a space. It made for an odd pastiche and I initially hated the concept (and I am still a little dubious about the pretension of the show), but came to find it pretty fascinating on several levels. For one, much of the art was stuff we had learned about in Architecture school many years ago, and here were recreations of these things in their “original” setting (at least in juxtaposition to each other). For another, much of the work was made in materials (such as fat) that would purposely decay and wash away with time, and these pieces were recreated for the exhibit. Thirdly, all of this “outsider” art is now insider art, and in the intervening years one can see both the influence of the work spread out through the culture, and the power (cultural and economic) of these outsiders, who are now almost without fail part of the establishment they were trying to overthrow. That very power is represented and made solid in the (partial) vanity of this recreation.
We next visited the Palazzo Grassi for the Rudolf Stingel exhibit, which I found almost wholly without merit and either a huge creative failing or just plain aimless and annoying masterbation by the artist. We also stopped at a couple of pavilions for the countries of Bosnia and Montenegro, the second of which I found to be really lovely spacial constructions.
By the end of the day I was pretty beat and came back to the apartment for a rest. We head to dinner at a thankfully close-by restaurant at 9…
With only about 4 hours sleep to go on, I made my way to the airport at around 5am to catch my flight to Venice to meet Olaf and his friends. We will stay in Venice until Monday and visit a few expos of the biennale and generally take in the beauty that is the city of Venice herself. The last time I was in Venice was about 10 years ago. The city seems physically much the same, but one of the biggest differences is that it is much easier to find one’s way around then it was back then, for the simple reason of google maps on a phone. I remember at that time getting lost and a little panicked one night, sure I was going in circles. Now you can always route your way from one place to another, it is quite amazing how technology has so drastically changed that.
The apartment we are staying in is really lovely, in a part of Venice I had not seen before, and this gives us many opportunities to crisscross the city and see new buildings and piazzas. Venice is really one of the most beautiful and atmospheric cities in the world, I love how dense the urban fabric is, and how one minute you could be in a crevice of a street where you could literally touch both sides at the same time and then come out into a dramatic plaza with a gorgeous church as its centerpiece a moment later.