The 56th Venice Biennale Opens Today

Biennale of International Contemporary Art Venice Italy

You know what they say: “A thing of beauty is a joy forever.” With that in mind, the art of the Biennale will be on display starting today, through November 22, 2015. The city of Venice, Italy will be here long after.

The 56th international Art Exhibition, known as The Venice Biennale, is perhaps the greatest date in the international art world calendar. Starting today, this city—this labyrinth of crumbling alleys, of potential Tintorettos and Veroneses, of Gothic elegance and Byzantine splendor, of Baroque equilibrium, becomes the destination for 500,000 art-loving visitors seeking out the latest trends and outrageous attempts in visual art. The national pavilions are situated throughout the city; mostly in the Arsenale or the Giardini Pubblici, but with several spread amongst the city’s elegant palazzi and disused churches.

This Biennale is led by a central exhibition curated by Okwui Enwezor, from Nigeria. He is, of course, the director of Munich’s Haus der Kunst, which itself is underpinned by daily readings from Marx’s Das Kapital. You remember Das Kapital from your college days, don’t you? It was that book that nobody read and everyone quotes incorrectly from. What is remarkable about the somewhat nostalgically-imposed theme, is just how irrelevant and unstimulating it is. In spite of this, there were many works of art embodying ideas worth contemplating.

The Biennale is anchored by 89 national exhibitions providing snapshots of the art being made across the world, as well as insight into the international political tensions of concern to those artists. For example, this year’s Armenian pavilion is a thoughtful reflection on the centenary of the 1915 genocide in Turkey; while Iraq’s presentation includes a lovely room of delicate drawings of severed heads by young artist Haider Jabbar, who trained at the Baghdad Academy and who now lives in exile in Turkey. His Pavilion works focus on those who have been killed by ISIS in Iraq and are a personal way of registering the ongoing human catastrophe there. He draws the scenes while he waits for hope.

Haider Jabbar’s ‘Case 1303′

Haider Jabbar’s ‘Case 1303′

Having “been there” (all this week during the critic’s preview period), I can save Parcbench readers hours of standing online in order to see that which one hopes will be worth the wait.

Among the highlights of the 2015 Biennale Venezia are:

Cate Blanchett at the opening of the Australian Pavilion.

Cate Blanchett at the opening of the Australian Pavilion.

– The brand new Australian Pavilion building (the first 21st century building in the Biennale gardens), designed by Denton Corker Marshall, and the Australian Pavilion art, Wrong Way Time, curated by Linda Michael. This art/architectural fusion of perfection deserves a larger look and will be the subject of an upcoming article.

The Australian Pavilion.

The Australian Pavilion.

– Italian-Albanian artist Helidon Xhixha’s Iceberg installation…
Helidon Xhixha’s new Iceberg installation is a 3m high steel ‘iceberg’ in the middle of the lagoon to highlight environmental issues (of interest to Venice and far beyond) and the general exploitation of natural resources. More importantly, it does so while pleasing the eye in an extraordinary way.

– The notable number of black artists (especially those of African origin)…
Artists such as Glenn Ligon, Charles Gaines, Kara Walker, Chris Ofili, Isaac Julien, Steve McQueen, John Akomfrah and Wangechi Mutu allow this exhibition to make a clear and corrective statement about the often reflexive quality of the art world.

– Joan Jonas and the U.S. Pavilion…
Joan Jonas is this year’s American representative. Seizing the moment when the entire art world will gaze in her direction, she has mounted an ambitious multimedia installation, titled ‘They Come to Us Without a Word.’ In it, she fills the pavilion with videos, paintings, and objects that evoke a world in ecological peril. One of the brave elements involved—videos featuring recitations of ghost stories performed by children is incredibly engaging. The kids, and the stories they tell are our past and just may be our future. It’s a playful and successful tug-of-war approach to the problems at hand.


Germany’s pavilion…
Hito Steyerl’s witty video ‘Factory of the Sun,’ is a big hit here. Taking the inviting form of a ‘Tron’ computer game, it explore notions of reality, including the virtual, the ideal and the material in relation to a digital world. (And, let’s be honest, after miles of Pavilion promenading, it’s a very welcome chance to it down for a few minutes.)

Hito Steyerl’s ‘Factory of the Sun.

Hito Steyerl’s ‘Factory of the Sun.

And did I mention the sublime iceberg? Come catch it while you can. Icebergs (and things of beauty) don’t always last forever, you know.

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