by Karen Moller
(Swans - July 1, 2013) The old cliché what is art is more relevant than ever at the Venice Biennale that opened the 1st of June 2013. At the heart of this year's Biennale is the central exhibition, The Encyclopedic Palace, and the continuation at the Arsenale, put together by curator Massimiliano Gioni. The idea of this exhibition is based on the work of self taught Italian-American artist Marino Auriti, who worked away in a garage in Pennsylvania, and in 1955 filed a design with the US Patent office depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico. His aim was to incorporate a museum of universal world knowledge, by bringing together all the greatest discoveries, in a 136-story building that would stand 700 meters tall and take up 16 blocks in Washington, D.C. As we all know, it never happened.
Inspired by Marino Auriti, Massimiliano Gioni's Exhibition of Art reflects on ways images have been used to organize knowledge and shape our experience by combining contemporary art with historical artifacts and found objects. Instead of offering samples of the best and most original work being created today, the biennale refers back into past when making art went beyond merely being good or decorative. That said, in the end its emphasis on art that pretends to have access to truthfulness and by presenting itself as an alternative to reason, this year's biennale leaves one feeling rather uncomfortable.
The guiding idea recognizes no boundaries and most of the National Pavilions appear to have tied themselves in knots trying to be original and yet remain part of the greater whole. A good example is the crazy idea of nationality swapping as healthy internationalism. It's too easy and too weak. Not to criticize Ai Weiwei, but his rehashed pile of stools in the German pavilion is a good example of this failure. (What after all has he got to do with German art?) In contrast the English pavilion called English Magic emphasized its Englishness and is partly a trip through nostalgia with the lost hen harrier owl and the 1960s lost world of rebellion, hope, freedom, and the protests that went beyond just protests about anti-globalization, which can never be reversed. I assume the William Morris prints and woodblocks that adorn the wall were also there because of the loss of a once flourishing industry. Jeremy Deller's contemporized image of William Morris throwing Abramovich's yacht, into the Venice lagoon (it blocked the view at the last biennale) is wish fulfilled. I just wish we could do the same to all the nasty publicity covering the palaces being repaired. If you comment on it to Venetians you get the reply, "We need the money." Sure, but they would still get the money if they insisted on just a line of credit at the bottom of blank coverings.
At first glance one wonders how this biennale will affect the art market as there seems so little that can be shown in art galleries as opposed to museums. Taking another look, I realized that the inclusion of the outsider in the mainstream of art is, in fact, an expansion of art territory in the same vein as African art was an inclusion. Many of the artists in the exhibition have never been shown before and were discovered by Massimiliano Gioni in obscure corners of art's basement. Curators and art buyers are sure to see this as an opportunity to exploit a new market and will begin visiting every lone scribbler and unknown artist working in obscurity on his own mad and unique art, especially as interest in Chinese art begins to wane. Out with the old, in with the new -- the motto of the fashion industry has been adopted by the art world.
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About the Author
Karen Moller is the author of Technicolor Dreamin': The 1960s Rainbow and Beyond (Trafford Publishing, 2006, ISBN: 1-412-08018-5) and a fashion designer who lives half time in Paris, France, and the other half in Venice, Italy. (back)