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Reviewed by:
  • La Biennale di Venezia
  • Yvonne Spielmann
"The Experience of Art," curated by Maria de Corral, and "Always a Little Further," curated by Rosa Martinez. 51st International Art Exhibition, Venice, Italy, 12 June-6 November, 2005.

For the first time the Venice Biennale exhibitions were directed by two curators, Maria de Corral and Rosa Martinez—both from Spain—who complement each other in their emphasis on site-specific and media-based works (a large number of videos and installations) that for the most part reflect issues of space. Undoubtedly, space is a timely metaphor for thinking about geopolitical distances and cultural diversity in the global art world as well as a means of expressing the state of art in our age of mediation, interactivity and immersion. However, there is not much innovation and novelty to be seen on the horizon, but rather a reflection, rethinking and reworking of existing aesthetic concepts such as performance, conceptual art works, projection pieces and political statements. Strikingly, a large number of the national participations at Giardini showed well-established and internationally respected artists with works that were rather timeless, if not boring.

Annette Messager in the French pavilion assembled associations around the topic of "casino" and invited the audience into one of her dream worlds made up of uncommon puppets, sudden pneumatic movements of toys, cushions and a red curtain that in waveforms covered an entire room from ceiling to floor. The audience was overwhelmed by the aesthetics of the machinery that steered this mechanical theater of illusion and animated toys and thus produced a visual spectacle to be gazed at in amazement. Messager won the Golden Lion for the best national participation, but it seemed more like an award given not so much for her "casino" as for lifetime achievement. The Golden Lion for lifetime achievement, however, was awarded to Barbara Kruger from the U.S. In sharp contrast to Kruger's overtly political work, the U.S. pavilion at Giardini went clearly apolitical and pretentiously presented a small selection of paintings by Ed Ruscha as if art were the nation's sanctuary, meant to be worshipped in a sterile temple. The critique of this representation that was so astonishingly not at all affected by the time and space we live in was best summarized by audience comments that the U.S. would have done better to present Iraq and Afghanistan, as it has adopted these countries anyway. The German pavilion appeared as a late comment to the tendencies of aestheticization that underlie the conceptual art approaches of the late 1950s and 1960s. While Thomas Scheiblitz positioned a spatial sculpture to be walked around in the middle of the main room that looked like a tribute to Frank Stella after having looked at Moholy-Nagy's mobile sculptures of the 1920s, the same room served also as a "platform" for an anti-performance piece by Tino Seghal, who had hired exhibition guards to dance around in the room (reminiscent of the dance around the Golden Calf) and shout in intervals remarkable sentences such as "We are so contemporary." It is/was a symptomatic piece demonstrating a shift of concern from the art to the artist, from the artist to the curator, and finally from the curator to the gesture of curating that is now effected by the artist who hires employees. In this sense the piece is radical, but unfortunately the radical impetus of criticizing the art market is not successfully mediated.

In the Dutch pavilion Jeroen de Rijke and Willem de Rooij presented a video film in which actors examined media representation as it affects one's own perception of the self and the other. In a number of supposedly casual, private conversations, partners, friends and mother and daughter talk to each other as if each person were not real but merely a conduit for a set of stereotyped, pre-cast sentences that are responded to with other stereotypes. The work is self-reflexive, and although the artists claim the work communicates with the formal qualities of the white cube pavilion built by Gerrit Rietveld in the 1950s, it would benefit from presentation in a cinema/movie theater format. Even more...


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