Dialogue nil! Why the art at the Venice Biennale remains strangely alien

by time news

2024-04-17 18:21:39

Claire Fontaine is a fictional artist, a conceptual art character. It was invented twenty years ago by the Italian-British duo Fulvia Carnevale and James Thornhill. She is known for clever criticism of the art world, for striking caricatures (such as a gaping hole in the US flag with the outline of Donald Trump) and aphorisms in neon light. One of her most famous neon sculptures is called “Foreigners Everywhere.” It gives the central exhibition of the 60th Venice International Art Exhibition – the Biennale – its current title.

In the Gaggiandre of the Arsenale, the former shipyards of the Venetian naval power from the 16th century, the motto shines in different colors and umpteen languages. This multilingualism reveals a shift in meaning. The original English version can be translated as “foreigners everywhere” or as “strangers in every place”. In Italian, the second official language of the Biennale, the aphorism is “Stranieri ovunque”. The strangers here take on a broader meaning; they also include those who do not belong, the strange, those on the sidelines or, in sociological terms, those who deviate from the mainstream.

A look at the exhibition “Foreigners Everywhere”

Those: Matteo Chinellato/ipa/picture alliance

This is where Adriano Pedrosa, this year’s curator of the Biennale, comes in. He brings this language game of separation and belonging onto the global political stage and dedicates his show to the so-called “Global South”. The Brazilian Pedrosa, who runs the important art museum MASP in São Paulo, is the first exhibition organizer from Latin America to be invited to this prestigious position. And he is extremely proud of that, after all, the Biennale, with its almost 130-year European history, was rarely led by curators who did not come from the West or the “Global North”.

And it is of course also true that the Venice Biennale is thoroughly European and Western, and also colonial in character. At the same time, it has often been described as the “Olympics of the art world” where being a part of it means everything. So focusing on art from a world that couldn’t be seen or that you didn’t want to exhibit was overdue. And it follows a trend from the Biennale. At a previous exhibition, so-called outsider art was presented, and two years ago women artists of Surrealism were celebrated in particular. So Pedrosa raised great expectations for discoveries.

However, you won’t get very far with a Western concept of art, with Euro-American demands for artistic quality, with ideas of an aesthetics of form finding and some other criteria that the “Global North” has developed through its supremacy. But there are points of overlap: In a “Nucleo storico,” Pedrosa shows in a museum presentation how modernity was formed in the countries of the “Global South.”

There were variants of geometric abstraction and hard-edge painting in Iraq with Mahmoud Sabri, Mohamed Melehi in Morocco and Judith Lauand in Brazil. Many artists are big names in their respective countries. The Lebanese artist Etel Adnan, on the other hand, has become internationally known for her abstract colored surfaces. The colorfully painted bamboo sculptures by Ione Saldanha from Brazil could certainly compete with the steles by Isa Genzken.

One would have liked to have seen these works in exchange with European and American works, and also – with thoughts of the “Olympics of Art” – in competition. But as it is, the abstract paintings remain strangely alien to themselves and the viewer because they are taken out of context. The portraits in another extensive gallery of the “Nucleo storico” with historical positions also remain strangers. One can look for formal-aesthetic references to Cubist painting, to fashionable Art Deco portraits, to Barlach, Arp and Schlemmer, but they lead nowhere and hardly bring us any closer to the artists.

A lot of naive painting

This already shows that the “Global South” may be useful as a socio-political cartography, but the term is hardly suitable as a bracket for a large art exhibition. Pedrosa organizes the contemporary art department according to a personal logic. Its premise of foreignness is fulfilled by migrant artists, “queer” artists, outsider artists and the tradition of the “artista popular”. Large parts of the exhibition also have a folk artistic and craftsmanlike effect. There are large-format hidden object pictures, such as those by Aydée Rodríguez López, that tell of the lives of black communities in Mexico.

There is a lot of naive painting: for example, about a Peruvian wedding (Violeta Quispe), about the life of a Haitian artist family (Philomé and Sénèque Obin), about indigenous village scenes from Australia (Marlene Gibson). Madge Gill, marked as an outsider artist, has drawn a ten-meter-long “Crucifixion of the Soul” that is barely visually decipherable. You hardly see new media and innovative artistic practices. A lot of space is given to traditional material techniques.

We see Libyan patchwork rugs (Nour Jaouda), psychedelic-figurative batiks from Nigeria (Sangódáre Gbádégesin Àjàlá), photorealistic mosaics by the Lebanese artist Omar Mismar, who, for example, uses stonework to create a blanket from a refugee camp. But why should you look at this at the most important exhibition for contemporary art?

also read

So you walk through the Biennale and look for common threads that could capture the art of the “Global South”. Adriano Pedrosa may also have faced this challenge. His classification of the artists according to identity politics weakens the exhibition. Sorting artistic positions into categories such as “foreign”, “migrant” or “queer” tends to label people. With such a curatorially narrow perspective, works are placed in a context that overshadows or even negates other contexts.

Queer or postcolonial: In the exhibition, labels often replace discussion

Those: Matteo Chinellato/ipa/picture alliance

At the same time, there is a lack of sensitivity for current global political issues that tend to polarize the “Global South” and the “Global North” more strongly. In the Arsenale you are stopped in your tracks by a monumental mural in the second exhibition room. It was painted by the Mexican artist Frieda Toranzo Jaeger, who trained at the Hamburg Art University. It is a complex, three-dimensional folded image of a powerful machine.

You seem to be looking through the cockpit of a car or airplane at an idyllic world; people are sitting in a garden. But the picture also makes blatantly one-sided propaganda. On a poster we see watermelons, whose emojis have made a career in the digital space as a symbol of Palestine’s freedom. But what is probably not meant is the freedom of the Palestinians from Hamas, because in a rising blood-red mist there is the inscription “Viva Palestine, Viva Viva”. The artist left “Hearts Against Genocide” as graffiti on the back of the canvas.

The longer the walk through the exhibition lasts, the more disillusioned you become. Strangers are everywhere, the exhibition made that clear. However, that has always been the attitude to life in Venice for centuries and in the inner cosmos of the Biennale as well. But this year she can’t find an answer to the question of whether they want to remain strangers to each other.

Venice Biennale. From April 20th to November 24th in the Giardini, Arsenale and other locations in Venice

#Dialogue #nil #art #Venice #Biennale #remains #strangely #alien

You may also like

Leave a Comment