"VIVA ARTE VIVA" & Collateral Events. The Venice Biennale

PORTER_Liliana_Photo: Francesco Galli. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia
Liliana Porter. Photo: Francesco Galli

This article was crowdfunded by our readers

Part II – Venice Art Biennale

In the previous chapter, we visited the Venice Biennale national pavilions, in this review we enter the central exhibition VIVA ARTE VIVA, curated by Christine Macel, it expands across the Arsenale and Central Pavilion of the Giardini. The biennial offers a walk or journey — as curator calls it — through a show designed with artists, by artists, and for artists. People can visit La Biennale any time from May to November 26.

In this second part of the Venice Biennale, we will feature some collateral events scattered in different corners of the city of canals and we will follow VIVA ARTE VIVA sections one after another like chapters of a book, offering the spectator, as previously mentioned, a “journey”, theme that Macel has adopted and that has been shared by the great humanist authors. The exhibition organically evolves in a sequence of nine trans-pavilions — as the exhibition is trans-national by nature — each corresponding to a different chapter.

The show’s rationale embraces every aspect of art, life and society. Paolo Baratta, the President of La Biennale di Venezia, presenting this edition, said: “This year’s Biennale is dedicated to celebrating, and almost giving thanks for, the very existence of art and artists, whose worlds expand our perspective and the space of our existence”. On her side, Christine Macel has called it an “Exhibition inspired by humanism (…) In this type of humanism, the artistic act is contemporaneously an act of resistance, of liberation and of generosity”


VIVA ARTE VIVA has invited 120 artists from 51 countries; 103 of these are participating for the first time… Some are discoveries; some other are rediscoveries. Around three out of every 10 artists in the exhibition are making a return to the Biennale. Some have had their work showcased in the national pavilions— like Anri Sala and Francis Upritchard, seen in France and New Zealand’s pavilions respectively in previous editions. For roughly 70% of the roster, it is their debut in Venice and that goes for John Waters, one of the most unexpected names on the list: film director, visual artist, and all-around acidic wise persona.

Related to age, there are some septuagenarian, like the Golden Lion awarded Franz Erhard Walther, but the vast majority of the artists are in the range of 35 to 45 years old. The youngest ones are the Filipino duo Katherine Núñez (1992) & Issay Rodriguez (1991) and also the acclaimed Swiss artist Julian Charrière (1987).

Without further delay, let’s start the journey at the Giardini Central Pavilion (former Padiglione Italia) where there are two introductory trans-pavillions or episodes.

Pavilion of Artists and Books – Giardini

This section explores the material and spiritual worlds of artists, in particular through their relationship with books, texts, and knowledge in its broadest sense, which is a recurrent theme in several artists’ works. We can see resting intimate spaces to rest like the sofa of Franz West, Frances Stark, Vorobyeva & Vorobyev or Mladen Stilinovic; studios that accumulate like the Supermarket of Hassan Sharif or Dawn Kasper who always transfer her studio to the exhibition space.

In the rotunda, one of the biggest spaces, a practical workshop is taking place, voguish Iceland-Danish artist Olafur Eliasson geodesic lights normally green being made by refugees or “migrants” under the snob look of the art scene people. The lamps are for sale at 250 euros, in aid of migrant-supporting NGOs.

In this section also are great names like John Waters or Philip Parreno, who pass without notice, not their fault but because of the works that were chosen.

Pavilion of Joys and Fears – Giardini

This pavilion explores the relationship between the individual and his own existence, his emotions and feelings or the ones he tries to generate. Perfect spot for Syrian painter Marwan and his tortured self-portraits virtually rooted in emotional self-expression. We also found works of Tibor Hajas, the last Hungarian avant-gardist or the feminist lecture of Kiki Smith drawings.

Two video works to mention, the young Dagestanian Taus Makhacheva video piece, where artworks are transported between peeks of two close mountains using a tightrope and Patagonian artist Sebastian Diaz Morales‘s Suspension, the marvelous video installation in which a suspended male body emerges from a dense cloud all cover in claustrophobic red light.

The second part of the exhibition VIVA ARTE VIVA is in the ancient shipbuilding factories of the Arsenale, that was the largest pre-industrial production center in the world. Its 25,000 m2 of indoor exhibition space houses the remaining seven trans-pavilions. The focus here is on artists evolving new ways of living and working. 

Pavilion of the Common – Arsenale

It is conceived around the work of artists exploring the notion of the common and the way to build a community, as a way to counter individualism and self-interests, which represent a terrible threat in today’s troubling climate. The works of Maria Lai come very much to subject as she always involves her Sardinian village: woman activities like stitching, cooking or making bread. The Taiwanese Lee Mingwei arranges clothes to be amended and which visitors leave in the installation, every piece of cloth is linked to the installation with colour sewing thread.

The Catalans Miralda, Rabascal and Xifra together with the French Selz, participate with their ceremonials around the food. Pakistany Rasheed Araeen exposes his non-hierarchical, non-symmetric sculptures; Franz Erhard Walther —winner of the Golden Lion to best artist— exhibit his sculptures Wallformation and Walkingpedestals that need the participation of the public to be activated, finally as a hinge towards the new pavilion, young Colombian artist Marcos Ávila Forero shows a video based on Congolese traditions where music is made with water.

Marcos Ávila Forero_Photo: Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

Pavilion of the Earth – Arsenale

Centered on environmental, animal and planetary utopias, observations and dreams. Among the participating are Kananginak Pootoogook, the last American Eskimo artist with his precious drawings and collages; Petrit Halilaj and his monumental performative sculptures of moths made in traditional Kosovan fabrics; Charles Atlas, with his video installation in which he mixes sunsets with drag queens.

Michel Blazy, features plants growing out of sneakers; Nicolás García Uriburu, shows the photos resulting from his intervention in 1968 when he dye in colours the water of the Venetian canals. Young Julien Charrière presents a set of majestic hexagonal columns of different height carved out of Bolivian salt rich with lithium —a material necessary to the manufacturing of batteries and also known as “white oil”— as a reflection on the exploitation of natural resources by global companies.

Pavilion of Traditions – Arsenale

More and more artists explore not only contemporary or recent history but also a more distant past as if fired by the fever of archaeology, excavation, reinterpretation, and reinvention.

Yee Shookyung exhibits a gigantic 4m sculpture made from pieces of traditional Chinese porcelain. Continuing the works of sewing and knitting already started in the Pavilion of the Commonthe embroidery works of Spanish artist Teresa Lanceta hang from the walls. The New Zealander Francis Upritchard combines hieratic sculptures adorned with traditional costumes with “naked” characters in strange colors and postures. The gigantic hanging golden structures arranged in series like hanging curtains of Portuguese artist Leonor Antunes give way to the next pavilion.

Pavilion of the Shamans – Arsenale

It seems a trending topic in the art world now, but already started early in the 1970s with Joseph Beuys and many artists subscribe to the definition of the artist as a “shaman”; there are also those who become “missionaries”, as per Duchamp’s definition.

The most important work, as per the size, seems to be Ernesto Neto gigantic tent inspired by the shamanic rituals of the Amazonian Huni Kuin, some of  Huni Kuin are also in the Biennale participating in performative rituals. French-Algerian artist Kader Attia — winner of Marcel Duchamp Prize last year — turns to Arab golden age singers from his childhood for his piece Narrative Vibrations. It comprises a multichannel installation showing vintage concert recordings of female superstars. The rise and fall of their voices cause couscous placed on connecting circular trays to jump and vibrate (the electromagnetic waves in the songs make the grains move). The work is a remark on postcolonial —Attia most frequent an important subject— popular culture.

Kader Attia. Photo: Italo Rondinella. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia

Dionysian Pavilion – Arsenale

This pavilion celebrates the female body and its sexuality, life, and pleasure, all with joy and a sense of humour, and features numerous works created by female artists like Huguette Caland, a Lebanese artist known for her body sculptures and line drawings, Eileen Quinlan‘s pregnancy photographs or the installation with giant hand-shaped “door to the hell” of Pauline Curnier Jardin. However, in my opinion, the best piece is made by a man, Anri Sala piece shows his reflections on the sculptural properties of sound. Another man to mention is Canadian Jeremy Shaw, who presents a short video and photographs examining characters in trance, both religious and psychotropic.

Pavilion of Colours – Arsenale

From sensuality and pleasure to colours, as there is a pavilion dedicated to the colour per se… that it is described by the curator as the “fireworks” at the end of the journey where all the questions presented in the preceding pavilions come together. The starting point is the very colorful and probably most photographed installation of the Biennale by Sheila Hicks made of gigantic balls of fabric. In this section, there are also the abstract spiritual paintings of Giorgo Griffa or Aboulaye Konaté with colorful framed compositions made of pieces of fabric.


Pavilion of Time and Infinity – Arsenale

This is the final chapter of this super long journey, that started with artists lying in bed and ends in the infinite. The notion of time re-emerges with a new metaphysical quality, present-past-future, any of them… “It is dealing with repetition, variation, permanence and impermanence—it’s an open conclusion to the whole show,” Macel promises. Works such as Edith Dekyndt’s One Thousand and One Nights, a performance in which a guy untiringly sweeps dust into an ever moving square of light on the gallery floor. Liliana Porter and Liu Jianhua are also featured in this section.

The exhibition ends in the neighbor garden Giardino Delle Vergini, in the way to it, lies audio and highly tactile sculpture by the Polish artist Alicja Kwade made of monumental spheres of polished stones of several sizes and colours; a project specially commissioned by Macel. Arriving at the garden, Bas Jan Ader’s historic video Broken Fall is on display and to finish, the sound piece Composition for a Public Park by the winner of the Silver Lion Hassan Kahn.

As closing and farewell, again in words of the curatorial team, “The role, the voice and the responsibility of the artist are more crucial than ever before within the framework of contemporary debates.”

From now on, we embark on a real journey, not a metaphorical one, by the tangle of streets in the city of Venice, where take place more than twenty different collateral events and many other parallel events — not organized by La Biennale institution but taking the advantage of the six months ahead of art lover visitors.

Collateral Events

A penguin classic by Pierre Huyghe, Espace Louis Vuitton Venezia

San Marco, 1353

The Fondation Louis Vuitton, founded by the French luxury goods tycoon Bernard Arnault, is rich in works by Pierre Huyghe, the creator of enigmatic shared social experiences. Mr. Huyghe’s power lies in his knack of approaching coming concerns side-on, among them the philosophical issues that arise from the instinct to attribute human thoughts and feelings to both animals and blank avatars.

A penguin classic by Pierre Huyghe. Courtesy Espace Louis Vuitton Venezia

Three Huyghe works are being shown at the Espace Louis Vuitton Venice, including A Journey That Wasn’t (2005), a film splicing Antarctic footage with shots of a concert on an ice rink in Central Park, New York. Penguins pop up in both — an albino in the Antarctic and an animatronic animal in Manhattan.

The Home of My Eyes by Shirin Neshat, Museo Correr

Museo Correr, San Marco

At the Museo Correr, the Iranian-US artist Shirin Neshat is showing two of her most recent works — a selection of photographs from the series The Home of My Eyes (2015) and the video Roja (2016). The photographic series depicts 55 portraits of the people of Azerbaijan, and Neshat describes it as “a tapestry of human faces”. The subjects are all captured close-up with clasped hands, referencing Christian religious paintings such as those by El Greco. The accompanying video is based on the artist’s personal dreams and memories and explores an Iranian woman’s feelings of displacement and the blurred lines between fiction and reality.

The Golden Tower by James Lee Byars

Campo San Vio, Dorsoduro

It is impossible to miss this erectile golden installation, rising 20 metre-tall. It was conceived by American artist James Lee Byars (†1997) best known for his performance pieces. Byars always wanted to exhibit the work – first realised for a 1990 Berlin show in a public space and finally this wish has come true with a spot on Campo San Vio, right next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection.

“The Golden Tower” by James Lee Byars. Photo: Denny No

Parallel events

Fondazione Giorgio Cini

Island of San Giorgio Maggiore

To coincide with the Venice Biennale, Faurschou Foundation presents three important and art historically relevant exhibitions at the Fondazione Giorgio Cini; Us Silkscreeners… with Robert Rauschenberg & Andy Warhol, this one and Late Series provide visitors with valuable insights into some of Rauschenberg’s most powerful works of art, as well as some of the most influential moments in his career.

Also very interesting: Ettore Sottsass: The Glass, and beloved Alighiero Boetti: Minimum/Maximum.

The Boat is Leaking. The Captain Lied at Fondazione Prada Venezia 

Ca’ Corner della Regina

The large, intricate, maze-like exhibition brings together the works of three figures: filmmaker/philosopher/talk-show host Alexander Kluge, artist Thomas Demand, and stage designer Anne Viebrock organised by Udo Kittelmann, the director of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin, in order to examine notions of illusion, staging, secrecy and private space, 20th century history, human labour and automation, financialization and terrorism.

The exhibition will include photographs, installations, and films on display across the three floors of the 18th-century palazzo. Highlights are the stage design presentations of Viebrock and the numerous films and interviews Kluge has done with other artists.

Objection – the Pavilion of Humanity

Campiello San Vidal

Michal Cole and Ekin Onat have created a project that sensationally exposes police brutality and political revolt in Turkey. Over the course of six months, Onat has secretly gathered a 330-page internal police log detailing more than 2,000 cases of state-sanctioned violence against Turkish citizens over the last 11 months. This is exposed in every detail in a performance piece at Pavillion of Humanity in Venice.

Ekin Onat performing. Courtesy veniceartfactory.org

Ciutat de Vacances at Museo di Palazzo Grimani

Ramo Grimani, 4858

The Museum Es Baluard presents in Venice an aperitif of Ciutat de Vacances, the exhibition on the problems of tourism. The set up is a false point of tourism information that exposes part of the works created for the show by 12 artists, one of them is Domènec with his edition of a postcards of Barcelona that offer some alternative “souvenirs” (memories) to the stereotype, optimistic and amiable imagery offered by both private and institutional tourist publicity.


Other events not to miss: Damien Hirst: Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable — already featured in the magazine, check the article in Spanish here — at Palazzo Grassi;  American painter Phillip Guston is the protagonist at Galleria della Accademia, at Giardini Della Marinaressa Park outside of the Giardini there are a bunch of hyperrealistic sculptures of swimmers by Carole A. Feuerman.

The Biennale, Viva Arte Viva – Long Live Art, and all Venice motto is to celebrate art.

+ INFO: www.labiennale.org
The 57th International Art Exhibition – The Venice Art Biennale 2017
May 13th  – November 26, 2017

Text: María Muñoz. Photos: Paco Neumann
Images: Courtesy of theVenice Art Biennale.

Front featured photograph: Liliana Porter, El hombre con el hacha y otras situaciones breves, Venecia 2017 (Man With Axe – Venice 2017), mixed media installation, 170 x 950 x 650 cm.   Photo: Francesco Galli. Courtesy: La Biennale di Venezia, Viva Arte Viva

Independent art journalism needs your support

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *