We Heart Art: Venice Biennale Photo Diary

Posted by Mia Nielsen, May 29, 2017
Post Venice Erwin

Erwin Wurm's living sculptures

We've got quite the art collection and to give you an inside look on how head curator Mia Nielsen gets inspired, check out her photo diary of her trip to this year's Venice Biennale!

Every 2 years the art world descends on the city of Venice for a whirlwind of exhibitions, installations and performances from every corner of the world, seen in gardens, palazzos, squares and museums, in just about every corner of the city. The Biennale has been coined the art olympics because it features national pavilions where, this year 85 countries presented a selected artist in a solo show. The other main component is a massive curated exhibition, in spaces that would cover a few city blocks. So it's an incredible (and at times overwhelming) opportunity to get a snapshot of contemporary culture in the moment. The art world is never straightforward, so the winners and losers of this 'competition' change depending on who you ask. So rather than a hierarchy, I prefer to walk away from the Biennale with a list of the unforgettable, because each edition brings a steady stream of remarkable.

The Biennale had a lot of highlights this year. I loved Erwin Wurm's living sculptures in the Austrian Pavilion, in part because it set up an interesting audience dynamic where people would enter, admire the hybrid people/sculptures and then engage with the works for the next wave of audience.

Post Venice Farmer

Geoffrey Farmer

The French Pavilion with Xavier Veilhan’s Merzbau Musical was excellent, a cacophonous installation of performance, sound and architecture. Anne Imhof piece at the German Pavilion, too was an incredible mix of performance and architecture. In fact I left the Guardini that day considering how my favourite installations were affected by or created architecture, that in this moment, artists are creating entire environments for contemplation and exploration.

This was true in Geoffrey Farmer’s installation at the Canada Pavilion. Teetering on the edge of creation and destruction, the artist dismantled most of the structure of the Pavilion and replaced it with a sculpture that at times erupted with geyser-force and at others trickled politely. Dodging the spray to explore the space, rewarded the viewer with a series of sculptures that were born of some kind of wreckage, including elements from the ruins of a fire in Cape Dorset.

Post Venice Hirst

Damian Hirst

Aside from the Biennale itself, Venice is treasure trove of exhibitions and museums, these shows were so powerful, I would be amiss to not include them, but it’s a bit of a different story...

The Opening Credits
Ok, so here's the deal. I landed in Venice went out for lunch and while my companions wanted to rest, I thought, forget it, this is Venice, what can I go see right now? The answer was 2 massive solo shows by Damian Hirst at the Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi. These shows were so over the top that the only way I could really explain it was to describe it was in terms of film. These shows set the stage for other shows I would see over the next few days and in my mind, I continued thinking about them as an auteur, so without further adieu...

Inspiration/Offsite || Damien Hirst #damienhirst

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The Blockbuster
Damian Hirst's show was of an almost impossible scale. Massive, room-size sculptures, made in digital precision (as if they were 3D printed) in marble and bronze filled rooms, sometimes in duplicate. Other rooms had dozens of sculptures made in gold, ranging from size of marbles, others filling walls. The show imagined the discovery of an ancient shipwreck and the monuments that were on board (not sure how the many Disney references fit in). To seal the narrative, some sculptures were made to look like they were covered in barnacles and subsequently sunk in the ocean for the accompanying films and photos that created a kind of National Geographic context for the show. It was super impressive in the same way that I have a soft spot for Hollywood blockbusters with a lot of great CGI. It's hard to not be impressed by something so finely crafted and so big that you can't see the whole thing from one position. But like a lot of blockbusters, after the epic explosions and dust has settled, I don't always feel enriched by the experience.

Ask Your Body, Venice 2017 || Evan Penny #evanpenny

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The Scene Stealer
Right next door to the Rocco Palazzo Grassi is the Chiesa San Samuele, a jewel-like church, it boasts an altarpiece by the extraordinary 13th century painter Veronese. Here, Evan Penny had a markable solo exhibition that explored time, aging and human form in the most profound ways. His masterfully crafted sculptures are so lifelike they almost seem to breath, but are often exaggerated in scale or perspective to the point that the viewer questions what they're seeing. The works (incredible on their own) were greatly enhanced by the space itself, where shafts of light interrupted the darkness of the church, highlighting the sculptures and some of the church's original artworks in dramatic chiaroscuro.

Prada Foundation

Prada Foundation

German Expressionism
The Prada Foundation has one of the most beautiful Palazzos in Venice and each show I've seen there seems to revel in those ornate surroundings. So I was curious how they'd present The Boat is Leaking, the Captain Lied, described as “a transmedia exhibition project, the result of an ongoing, in-depth exchange between writer and filmmaker Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, stage and costume designer Anna Viebrock and curator Udo Kittelmann.” The results had the viewer wandering through maze like structures, sometimes reminiscent of office buildings with films projected on the walls and dropped ceilings above, that partially obscured the Palazzo’s ornate frescos. Another had rows of wood benches with viewing stations built into the backs, one entered the space and was greeted with an audience with heads bowed, like in a church. One had the audience standing on a stage, complete with red velvet curtain, watching a small TV sitting on the floor. Each film is a mesmerizing meditation, ranging from narrative to abstract, it’s a world to get lost in.

The Art House Masterpiece
Daniela Ferretti and Axel Vervoordt have curated a stunning exhibition at Museo Fortuny, a Palazzo dedicated to a 19th Century poet and painter who lived in the centre of Venice. This show marks the 6th and last Vervoordt will curate in this location and frankly I'm heartbroken. The Fortuny exhibitions have consistently been some of the most profound museum experiences I've ever had. The show is dedicated to intuition with works dating back thousands of years to the present, often presented side by side. To scratch the surface, you'll see video projection, frescos, photographs, ancient statuary, sketches and an installation that is vapor. Together they make poetic connections on enduring themes people have wrestled with for millennia. Incredible.

Follow @thedrakeart on Instagram to see the Venice Biennale through Mia’s eyes!

Posted in: Art

Tags: art  drake art  mia nielsen  venice biennale