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PREVIEW: The 53rd Venice Biennale

PREVIEW: The 53rd Venice Biennale

 

 
The 53rd Venice Biennale
 
By Travis Jeppesen
 
 
The major challenge faced by anyone asked to curate a biennial today – and this is especially true in the case of Venice, the biggest baby of them all – is that the task is simply an impossible one. No matter how all-encompassing one’s concept is, a slew of detractors will always be on hand to point out the gaps and inconsistencies. While there may be ways of getting around this in lesser biennials – focusing on the local, for instance, or splitting the main exhibition up into smaller curatorial projects – Venice, by its very girth, poses its own unique problems. The bottom line is that Venice is meant to be an index of all current trends in art – an impossible feat in itself; the trick is configuring a way to at least partly meet this task, while simultaneously designating some sort of conceptual approach to the problem that won’t falter beneath the mass of work to be displayed.
 
Daniel Birnbaum has chosen to forego the polemical route that has proven to be problematic in recent installments of the Venice Biennale in an effort to integrate various thematic “strands” into his main exhibition, Making Worlds, a title Birnbaum attends to have translated into every world language. In a recent interview, Birnbaum stated that he views this year’s exhibition as a “site for production and experimentation.” While this might elicit images of a giant artist studio for some, it seems that what Birnbaum has in mind is an embrace of ephemeral work that defies ready commodification. A biennale, in other words, for an art-going public that extends beyond the collectors. It’s not hard to read this restraint in terms of the doom forecasts broadcasted by the current global economic crisis. Whether such an approach gives insight into the future climate of art, as Birnbaum seems to imply, is anyone’s guess – though I personally feel that such messianic pronouncements are fruitless and uninteresting. Art will continue to be made, regardless of social conditions – leave speculation to the speculators.
 
What’s impressive about the Making Worlds artist list is that it spans artists of every generation and nationality. Established names like Wolfgang Tillmans and Marjetica Potrc rest comfortably side-by-side with up-and-coming hotshots such as Keren Cytter and Tian Tian Wang. Deceased artists Gordon Matta-Clark and Öyvind Fahlström will be “resurrected,” their work allowed to circulate among current notions of the “contemporary,” while a presentation of the activities of the Japanese Gutai group (1954-1972) seems like it will serve as an important art history lesson for many attendants.
 
This year will also see a re-launching of the Italian Pavilion, which will now remain open year-round. The new space features a cafeteria designed by Tobias Rehberger, a bookstore created by Rirkrit Tiravanija, and a teaching space by Massimo Bartolini. The Pavilion will host an homage to F.T. Marinetti, featuring an array of mostly mid-career Italian artists, curated by Beatrice Buscaroli and Luca Beatrice. Much has been made in Italy of this year’s centennial of the birth of Futurism; it will be interesting to see whether this exhibition skirts the issue of the movement’s flirtation with fascism, as so many of these celebrations have.

 

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Travis Jeppesen: Venice Preview 2009

Travis Jeppesen's novels include The Suiciders, Wolf at the Door, and Victims. He is the recipient of a 2013 Arts Writers grant from Creative Capital/the Warhol Foundation. In 2014, his object-oriented writing will be featured in the Whitney Biennial and in a solo exhibition at Wilkinson Gallery in London. A collection of novellas, All Fall, is forthcoming from Publication Studio.  

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