26th October 2019

 

I was in Venice to visit the Biennale at the weekend.  It was hot beautiful weather, but it was also a Saturday and it seemed the whole of Venice was enjoying the show before it closes in a few weeks. I took the vaporetto from Ca d’Oro to Giardini instead of walking across the city, in order to save time and energy.  As usual it is a great pleasure to join with the visitors and the Venetians as they travel through the city and across the water – especially on a sparkling day as this was.

The theme of this year’s Biennale is “May you live in interesting times“.  I knew of the Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes (British Pavilion), though I did not visit this pavilion because there was restricted entry and a long queue.  Instead there were many artists from China, Africa and India and other previously under- or non-represented countries. India is represented this year for the time, for example.  This was very exciting and  I wish I had had the time and the energy to explore this show thoroughly. It would have taken two days at least, instead of the measly five hours I was able to devote to it this year.  So all I got was a flavour.  For much more, read the excellent review by Laura Cummings in the Observer.

Here are a few notes:

Dutch Pavilion

Stand out items I did see included the Dutch Pavilion, carefully explained to me by the invigilator.  This really helped.  The exhibition is a comment by artists Iris Kensmil and Remy Jungerman on Surinam and the Netherlands and their mutual influence,  including references to Mondrian and Rietveld, the actual designer of the Dutch pavilion.  Jungerman is interested in the way patterns are transmitted and how they shape culture.  I would like to explore the ideas of this exhibition further, as it was absolutely rich with meaning and interest.

“The Measurement of Presence. The Biennale Arte is an arena for continuously redefining notions of nationhood and the locality of art. Remy Jungerman and Iris Kensmil’s The Measurement of Presence calls for an alternative, transnational approach towards what binds us, acknowledging that we are in a constant state of flux. Jungerman and Kensmil explore the possibilities that emerge from not just allowing but embracing this ongoing shift. They explore how a truer measurement of presence, spirit, and history are needed for our interconnected existence.  (Biennale Arte 2019)”

 

Martin Puryear in US Pavilion

Martin Puryear’s confident and beautifully made sculptures in the US pavilion.  I enjoyed this work that was so resolved, so well displayed and which did not require much more from me than admiration and awe at the skill involved.

 

Michael Armitage in International Pavilion and in Arsenale

In the International Pavilion I saw work by Michael Armitage.  He paints quite thinly in oil on huge canvases and his subject is the social and political turmoil in Kenya.  There was more of his work in Arsenale.  I admire his message and also his delicate technique, which is different from the heavy expressive use of oil that I have recently been encouraged to do.

 

Ulrike Muller in Arsenale

             

In the Arsenale I appreciated Ulrike Muller‘s large abstract weaving and her highly focused small enamel pieces (like paintings but not?)   She is interested in critiquing the usual hierarchies of fine art, in which textile art comes a long way down the list.  Good for her. I would like to find out more about her work.

 

Julie Mehretu in Arsenale

            

Julie Mehretu (b. 1970 Addis Addaba) ” is a contemporary visual artist, well known for her multi-layered paintings of abstracted landscapes on a large scale. Her paintings, drawings, and prints depict the cumulative effects of urban sociopolitical changes through the landscape’s alteration of architecture, topography, and iconography.”

“I think of my abstract mark-making as a type of sign lexicon, signifier, or language for characters that hold identity and have social agency. The characters in my maps plotted, journeyed, evolved, and built civilizations. I charted, analyzed, and mapped their experience and development: their cities, their suburbs, their conflicts, and their wars. The paintings occurred in an intangible no-place: a blank terrain, an abstracted map space. As I continued to work I needed a context for the marks, the characters. By combining many types of architectural plans and drawings I tried to create a metaphoric, tectonic view of structural history. I wanted to bring my drawing into time and place.[7]

I enjoyed these paintings, so allusive and delicate, and will find out more about Mehretu’s ideas and work.

 

Otobung Nkanga 

Otobung Nkanga  – I liked her small paintings, so carefully done, and with the colour strip she includes to show her palette.

Some artists were using tech to spectacular effect   Antoine Catala. for example

Liu Wei in Arsenale

Liu Wei – large scale propellor-style installation I found satisfying.  For me it just worked as an art piece and a sculpture.

Arsenale was heavily boarded up in many areas to create the separate exhibitor’s spaces. I usually enjoy this massive echoing space for its scale and I did find the partitioning claustrophobic.

These are a few impressions from the time I spent in Giardini and Arsenale. As usual, there was so much to learn and to see.  I was focused on what was closest to my own interests and that meant painting.  It was fascinating to see what artists are making and saying from all over the world.