July 8, 2007

Report from the Venice Biennial, Documenta, and Other Fronts:

I.e., the Venice Biennial, Kassel's documenta, the Münster Sculpture Project, and the ZKM museum of tech-based art in Karlsruhe.

Your virtual "Grand Tour" starts here. Sincere apologies for the deficiencies in my photography (conditions were less than ideal) and for the lack of title and artist info in some instances (I didn't quite realize I was doing this 'til the trip was over).

Venice was sunny and suffocatingly hot; Kassel, rainy and cold, with exhibitions too darkly lit not to credit its curator with having intended the eyestrain. Appropriately, since many artists seem more or less urgently involved in dealing with what certainly seem to me to be our dark days (though I'm disappointed to realize I can't read too much into U.S. pavilion artist Félix González-Torres' selection of black candy, since he's dead).

Additional trends:

Tech-based art is getting the love, and much of the more interesting painting is clearly influenced by tech.

Charting, mapping, and architecturally-influenced drawing continue to offer possibilities, if not quite the import of Mark Lombardi's.

Conceptual art, which I like, was well-represented, but it can make for a dry exhibition experience, except when interactive.

Feminism is back, thank goddess. Perhaps because of that, or the aging of the Boomers, so are images of older women's bodies. I've seen enough of Tony Soprano to consider this overdue.

An awareness of multiply-layered referentiality remains supremely useful.

Minimalism lingers but drew little attention. And there's still some not-really-so-interesting video out there. Sorry; I'm just frustrated at what strikes me as more-or-less benighted under-utilization of a medium having the potential for maximal meaning and impact.

Of the work I saw (and I did miss some), a few pieces I especially loved (although there were many other wonderful works):

In Venice, Yves Netzhammer's video installation in the Swiss Pavilion – for me, a total knock-out (starting here); the three-channel video installation by the collective, AES+F, in the Russian Pavilion (starting here); Hyung Koo Lee's video and installation, The Homo Species, in a pavilion near the Russian pavilion (starting here); Joshua Mosley's video, Dread, in the Italian pavilion (starting here), in which the gray, digital claymation philosophers Pascal and Rousseau encounter an oversized dog; Philippe Parreno's video, I think in the Arsenale, The Writer (here); and a video in the Arsenale involving deliciously snarky, naked older women on a VW bus (sorry, thought I shot some video but I either hit the wrong button or somehow lost it).

Also, do not miss the Matthew Barney/Joseph Beuys exhibit at Peggy Guggenheim; it included lots of important videos and sculpture I'd never seen before and strikingly illuminates the relationship between the work of the two.

In Kassel, the replacement of the grass in the square in front of the Museum Fridericianum with weeds, here; a body of work called Virus that grips me more viscerally than intellectually, but I like it, starting here; a piece that looks like neon lettering but which is actually some kind of wrought element glowing merely with extreme heat, which says, "Wir suchen uberall das unbedingte und finden immer nur dinge," which I think means something like, "We seek above all the unconditional and ever find only what's for hire" (here; corrections welcome); Zofia Kulik's re-photographed photo collages in Kassel, starting here; Andrei Monastyrski's Goethe (I don't want to spoil the surprise, but do interact, and look for the other part).

In Münster I think my favorite was a field of miniatures starting here – my photos don't do it justice; it contained miniatures of sculptures by over a dozen artists from Paik to Serra and beyond. Unfortunately, we missed several sculptures, including Mike Kelly's Petting Zoo featuring Lot's rock-salt wife.

Martha Rosler had important work in both Kassel and Münster (unfortunately also not done justice in my pics).

Practical tips:

Re- Venice: Bring a fan (seriously). And note, the Arsenale offers all five parts of Yang Fudong's Seven Intellectuals in a Bamboo Forest, but they run between a half-hour and an hour apiece; I discovered them too late to watch them all.

Re- Kassel: Bring a flashlight (semi-seriously). And check out the documenta evening film series; they're showing great stuff, and a lot of it's in English.

Re- Münster: Go first to an office for the Sculpture Project for their map; the one our hotel gave us wasn’t as good. You might also want to flip through the official short guide before setting out, because some of the sculptures are not so easy to identify; we found ourselves wondering if every odd object we encountered was supposed to be a sculpture (a great way to go through life, of course) — there are old sculptures from previous exhibitions as well as the new ones. And some benefit from a bit of explanation — e.g., we found Martha Rosler's piece before we read the description, and had no idea that some of the objects were not just large bird cages but mimicked medieval cages in which corpses were displayed.

Finally, if you call ahead, you can get a custom tour of the sculpture show, walking or on bikes. It was €90 or so, so we skipped it, but it might be great if you can split the cost with a group.

I also took the opportunity to visit the ZKM Center for Art and Media in Karlsruhe. It proved to be very large and apparently very well-funded, better adapted for technology-based work than most institutions; and on a per-square-foot basis, it may have provided the most exciting art. Two major shows, one entitled Between Two Deaths, "on the political, social, and cultural trend toward melancholic retrospection" (read more here), and the other, Thermocline of Art, an exhibition of work by more than 100 artists from ca. twenty Asian countries. Unfortunately, I'd allotted just one day here, so to my serious chagrin, I barely scraped the surface of the Asian show. Works I especially loved here included Sue de Beers' video installation, Black Sun (starting here) and Elín Hansdóttir's sound and sculpture installation, Drift, here; I also liked Aida Ruilova's Lulu, here, and I'm a fan of Ryan Trecartin's A Family Finds Entertainment, which they also had.

Karlsruhe is close to the border of France – not esp. convenient to anything I know of, other than the Moselle River valley, which was beautiful. We also stopped by the well-preserved, 850-year-old Burg Eltz while in the neighborhood (the castle pics included in my photos are not of Burg Eltz, however, but of Burg Metternich in Beilstein).

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