As well as taking in Bice Curiger’s ILLUMInations we spent the opening week exploring the various pavilions and projects that Venice has to offer, from site-specific works in abbeys and churches, to an oasis of Californian cool on the Grand Canal. Venturing away from the purpose-built national pavilions of the Giardini, visitors to the biennale can stumble across the most exciting contemporary art the world has to offer, often tucked away in shady courtyards, private palazzos and remote islands in the lagoon.
Inside Michael Parekowhai’s installation On First Looking into Chapman’s Homer at the New Zealand Pavilion. The carved Steinway grand piano is played throughout the Biennale. Parekowhai says performance is central to understanding the work, because music fills a space like no object can.
The central courtyard in Mike Nelson’s installation I, Impostor at the British Pavilion in the Giardini, curated by Richard Riley. The viewer is immersed in a maze of rooms, from workshops and basements, to attics and hideouts. Heavy doors are tantalizingly locked, and the smell of developing fluid and piles of damp earth fills the space as the viewer is drawn physically, and psychologically, further in. Emerging in to the central courtyard, one feels transported to a very different country than the one you leave behind at the entrance. Tate Curator Clarrie Wallis interviewed Mike Nelson for Tate Etc.
Christian Boltanski’s Chance curated by Jean-Hubert Martin for the French Pavilion, revisits his trademark motifs - portraits, memories, and populations. It incorporates alarms and a giant counter to emphasise time passing, and the mechanical process of filling a space with people, whether two-dimensional, or three. Alongside the installation, Boltanski has created an online game so that people who are unable to attend the pavilion this year can also interact with the work.
Installation view of Venice in Venice - an exhibition of Californian art from 1960 to the present day, curated by Tim Nye and Jacqueline Miro as precursor to Pacific Standard Time which will open across 60 Venues in Los Angeles in October 2011.
For the first time Zimbabwe was present at the Venice Biennale with work by Berry Bickle, Calvin Dondo, Tapfuma Gutsa and Misheck Masamvu, who was interviewed by Ben Lewis for his TateShots Venice Biennale video diary. Haiti, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia are also all making their debut at the 54th Venice Biennale.
Installation view of TRA Edge of Becoming at the Palazzo Fortuny. From left to right; Jannis Kounellis, Untitled (1969) reinstalled 2011, Antony Gormley, Feeling Material XII (2004), Jesus-Rafael Sotto, Contraste, (1989) and Marisa Merz, Untitled, (1980) - Courtesy Jannis Kounellis, Antony Gormley, Mimmo Scognamiglio Arte Contemporanea, Milan and Collezione Merz, Turin.
The Czech artist Jiří Lang (1927-1996) spent decades working as a sculptor, creating extraordinary figurative modernist style plaster pieces, but these remain virtually unknown outside his country. In the Czech Republic and Slovak Republic pavilion his son Dominik (b.1980) has changed all that by creating a moving tribute to both his father but also to the times in which he lived by re-presenting his father’s sculptures in an installation called The Sleeping City. Dominik has transformed, re-formed and, in some cases, cut up and re-constituted his father’s works to create a theatrical installation of figures, heads and body parts (set atop metal poles), placed amid architectural structures within the space. In this dialogue between past and present, Lang says he is trying to tackle or address how collective memory changes or develops. Jiří Lang died when Dominik was a teenager, and the son says his father’s work exists as silent witnesses standing or stored in the studio.
Lucio Fontana’s Spatial Concept, The End of God (1963) at the newly opened Fondazione Prada in Venice. The Foundation has taken over the Ca Corner della Regina which forms part of Venice’s Fondazione Musei Civici, and inaugurated the collaboration with an exhibition of works by artists such as Carsten Höller, Maurizio Cattelan, Louise Bourgeois, Pino Pascali and Donald Judd.
The Venice in Peril Fund works to raise money for vital restoration of Venetian landmarks, whilst funding research in to the preservation of the city, a Unesco World Heritage Site. To mark the 54th Biennale, as well as the 150th Anniversary of Italian Unity of the Italian Pavilion, several artists have been invited to photograph Venice as it appears to them personally, and the result is Real Venice at the Abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore on the island of San Giorgio. Lynne Cohen, Philip-Lorca diCorcia, Antonio Girbés, Nan Goldin, Pierre Gonnord, Dionisio Gonzalez, Candida Höfer, Tiina Itkonen, Mimmo Jodice, Tim Parchikov, Matthias Schaller, Jules Spinatsch, Robert Walker and Hiroshi Watanabe have all created works for the show. The exhibition will travel to London in November to go on display at Phillips de Pury, where the photographs will be auctioned in aid of Venice in Peril.
Joana Vasconcelos’s Contamination (2008-2010)installed at François Pinault’s Palazzo Grassi, as part of The World Belongs to You, curated by Caroline Bourgeois and on display until 31st December 2011.
A visitor looks at Taryn Simon’s Playboy, Braille Edition (2007) in Speech Matters in the Danish Pavilion curated by Katerina Gregos on the opening day of the Venice Biennale.