“Blues Blood Bruise” are the words Glenn Ligon has written over the entrance to the Padiglione Centrale in the Giardini and above the banner stating “La Biennale”. And Oscar Murillo has hung black canvases in-between the columns beneath, but in the absence of wind they resemble so many sad flags. And right behind them, Okwui Enwezor, curator of the 56th Biennale di Venezia and of the central “All the World’s Futures” exhibition, states unequivocally: Instead of subjecting art forms and practices to “one united field of vision”, he has gone for a show “informed by a layer of three intersecting Filters” consisting of a “Garden of Disorder”, the “Liveness: On Epic Duration” and “Reading Capital”. These “filters” are intended to give viewers a constellation of parameters with which to find their way within the multiplicity of “practices” on display.
In the halls in the central pavilion and those in what was once the Venetian navy’s arsenal you really don’t notice much of this. But you do get the idea you are moving through a garden of disorder in that the exhibition is dominated by a surfeit of images made from a viewpoint that mostly wants to see art construed as postcolonial critique of conditions today. We all know Enwezor’s methods from documenta 11 in 2002, but unlike Venice 2015, back then he was smart enough to get six co-curators on board, each with a unique perspective.
This time it is the countless country pavilions in the Giardini, the Arsenale and the city that provide the necessary counter-balances, and present art not first and foremost as proof of something or as a well-meant statement of opinion. Where, or so one could ask, is a self-inflated art business heading if it claims to be critical and political, and yet above all simply reflects and serves the art market? Aspects of a first tour
A daily dose of 30 minutes of Karl Marx is evidently inevitable if art and artists are to take up position against capitalism: Architect David Adjaye has developed a red arena in the central pavilion for “The Capital Oratorio” and other performative practices.
En route from the Giardini to the Arsenale, you can already see criticism of Enwezor on the walls: “What does an elitist event like the Venice Biennale have to do with Karl Marx?” we read, and we’d certainly like to hear an answer.
What does his installation “Blue Sail” (of 1964-5) have to say in Enwezor’s “filtered” terrain? Everything kept in the balance? Works by Hans Haacke, that Grand Old Master of critical Concept Art and an extremely assiduous registrar of capitalist practices, in the Padiglione Centrale.
Insights into workers’ lives during the Industrial Revolution and workers’ songs from the jukebox: Jeremy Deller knows how to chart social relations and doesn’t completely forget art in the process.
Biopolitical promises with the fresh scent of a baby’s skin: Pamela Rosenkranz has painted the vestibule of the Swiss Pavilion very green, insulated the interior with plastic, and filled it with a liquid whose color corresponds to a standardized Central European skin tone.
The higher you climb and the faster you fly, the thinner the air, the tougher it gets, and the more effort needed to find your bearings: Irina Nahkowa has placed the outsized helmet-head of a jet pilot in the Russian Pavilion.
The right key to each thread of memory: Chiharu Shiota’s installation “The Key in the Hand” in the Japanese Pavilion.
Visitors banished into media space: Hito Steyerl’s video installation “The Factory of the Sun” transforms the lower section of the German Pavilion into a motion capture studio.
And suddenly trees can move: In her “Rêvolution”, Céleste Boursier-Mougenot has several velvet balls of roots slowly and majestically parade in the French Pavilion and on the plaza out front.
Any number of new work groups and any number of well-known themes that are intended to be like dessert: Sarah Lucas lives up to her name, but her work in the British Pavilion in the Giardini is only mildly provocative.
Apotheosis in the Czech Pavilion (on the l.): Jirí David has penned a quote from Marx in white letters on a white wall: “The problem is not to free ourselves of our illusions. The problem is to free ourselves from the situations that require illusions.” He sets out to explore the famous “Slavic Epic” cycle by Alfons Mucha. A bit too large and somewhat out of place in front of the Austrian Pavilion: orchids by Isa Genzken.
The subtle art of improvement with a theatrical effect: In the Austrian Pavilion Heimo Zobernig has turned the garden into an image of nature, raised the ground, lowered the ceiling, and offers viewers a stage on which they can perform.
States, memories and gestural paintings that have disappeared: Ivan Grubanov’s installation “United Dead Nations” in the Serb Pavilion.
How to transport the opera into the Tropics in Fitzcarraldo’s tracks: “Halka/Haiti 18°48’05’’N 72°23’01’’ W” by C.T. Jasper and Joanna Malinowska in the Polish Pavilion.
Memory with stuffed animals: Maria Papadimitriou’s “Agrimik. Why Look at Animals?” in the Greek Pavilion is an emblematic readymade and a found object that she has transposed from the Greek town of Volos to Venice.
View of the Corderie dell’Arsenale with pieces by Terry Adkins and Melvin Edwards (on the l.) as well as assemblages of chain saws cast in concrete and coated with black rubber by Monica Bonvicini.
Image and sound: paper works by South African Kay Hassan in the Arsenale.
In the Arsenale: institutional critique addressing the Guggenheim, Louvre and Abu Dhabi.
Also working on the edges of painting: “Doesn’t fall off the wall” is the ironic title of one of Georg Baselitz’s large-format paintings.
Water levels in Venice are rising, just as they are in Tuvalu: Taiwanese artist Vincent J.F. Huang has created an environment on climate change for the island kingdom of Tuvalu in the Pacific that is as simple as it is impressive.
Everyone whose passport photo appears here knew him: Kutlug Ataman’s “The Portrait of Sakip Sabanci” in the Arsenale.
Chinese dragons instead of Venetian ships: Xu Bings has a female and a male “Phoenix” take off in the former wharves; they’re named Huang and Feng.
In the Canadian Pavilion, directed by the BGL collective, it’s “Canadissimo” (on the l.) and in the Danish Pavilion Danh Vo nurtures a native tongue of his own.
It’s pleasant to sit on a lipped sofa: In the Spanish Pavilion, Helena Cabello and Ana Carceller cast a glance at Salvador Dalì.
An odd-ball newspaper stand and the language of comics: In Francesc Ruiz’ installation first the color disappears, and then you have to be an adult, as the machos are heading for you.
Colonial history on the computer-controlled warehouse shelves: In the form of “Personne et les autres” in the Belgian Pavilion Vincent Meesen explodes the format of a solo show and reflects on the relationship between Europe and Africa.
Likewise a history about the Earth: Herman de Vries focuses on natural processes and in the Dutch Pavilion presents sculptures, objects, works on paper, and photographs.
When the ghosts pop back out of the box, does time then turn back on itself?
Fiona Halls fills the newly built Australian Pavilion with “All the Kings Men” (above), figures knitted from the yarn of camouflage uniforms, and celebrates “Wrong Way Time”.