Biennale di Venezia 2011 – Some thoughts

spanish pavilionneuseeland pavilion2neuseeland pavilion1arabes everywhere

Anselm Kiefers show wasn’t even on the official map. But his work rocked the Biennale.
Anish Kapoor is not as overrated as I thought.
Urs Fischer is much much MUCH more overrated than i thought.
Hirschhorn is a brilliant man that makes me proud to be Swiss.
Someone told us that we were probably too heterosexual to understand a video.
The food in Venice still sucks.
I finally seem to understand how sleep deprivation torture works.

Say what?

Sorry. Yeah let me take that again from the top.
Last week we went to Venice for a few days to visit the 54th Biennale.
It was as awesome and as annoying as usual. My love-hate relationship to this art festival in particular and to this city in general has yet again peaked. Like every visit. It is kind of pointless to write a review at this point, the Biennale has been going on for some months already. These then are just some pretty random thoughts to add to the noise…

american pavilionhirschhornrat on ratchicken on egg

One of the totally interesting things when visiting the Biennale in Venice is to try and discover trends between the various national contributions. Every nation sends the art they think currently represents them, this happens independently between nations. But if then there are strong parallels between the contributions this seems to point to something like zeitgeist.

Many Pavilions this year went for a strong construction site look. The amount of construction materials reused as art was staggering. Some of them went for the messy look (England, UAE, Swiss), others for a cleaner approach (France, Turkey, Israel). But all of the artists used construction materials as the basis for their installations.

For us this culminated when we stumbled into what must have been a janitors room and were unsure if this was art or in fact just, well, a janitors room. To this day we don’t know… We has a good laugh. I kept wondering while puzzeling over these piles of pipes, styrofoam, concrete, bricks, mortar, some of it was great art (Hirschhorn, Nelson), what would an actual construction worker say to this if you brought him here?

“Is this just a mess or is this art?”, became our running gag.

Anonymous Stateless Immigrants Pavillionsold outKatharina Fritschswiss offsite performance piece

Another thing that struck me was the aggressiveness and violence of most of the ex-yugoslavian contributions. Why is that? Year to year they seem to go to more extremes. I have no explanation for this.

One of the weak spots again, as is often the case at the Biennale, was the Arsenale show, where one big shot curator gets to fill the huge rooms. This does not work for me. If you don’t like the curators choice, you get nothing, and you just walk and walk. And you usually notice this during the first few rooms of the show. As an international festival this makes no sense. On one hand you have all the national contributions from around the world, which represents a very democratic model, and on the other hand you have this huge Ego-trip curator in the center, a dictatorial model.

The curation by Bice Curigere was the weakest I have seen in all my visits to Venice Biennale so far, the art on show was much too decorative and purely textural. Anti-narrative. Anti-political. Just shapes and effects. To me this is empty and blah. The Urs Fischer piece at the center of the Arsenale show summed this up perfectly. Total fail.

Discuss Please

A very interesting counter-model of this One-Curator Ego-trip was actually presented in the Padiglione Italia. Art Historian Vittorio Sgarbi had asked 250 Italian Intellectuals to each pick their favorite piece of art. The result was a very busy, if not overcharged exhibit, chaotic and raw, a sort of Wunderkammer, that first overwhelmed you, but later started to inspire more and more. I must have spent more time in these rooms than anywhere else. This also is a pretty great way to crowd source curate an art show. Very Democratic. The title of the show says it all, “L’Arte non è cosa nostra”, Art is not a mafia thing. It keeps growing on me.

Padiglione Academia was another highlight, that showed something like 200 young italian artists, that all finished their art school degrees in this century. Again, the work shown was quite varied, but also very exiting, fresh, innovative. What especially pleased me were the many painted works, much less video, installation than you’d expect from young artists.

Anish Kapoors Ascension is as amazing as somehow brutal. The pipes that lead into the San Giorgio Maggiore church from the outside make it such an offensive statement, yet inside the church, the clash is minimal and the effect huge. Three Anselm Kiefer Pieces were shown in a small museum that wasn’t even on the official map. Loved them. I might be a Kiefer groupie.

Anselm Kiefer: Salt of the Earth Show


– Padiglione Italia (read above)
– Padiglione Academia (read above)
– Hirschhorn, Swiss pavilion, the playful mess pulls you in and makes you wonder why you didn’t come up with this aesthetic…
– Mike Nelson, UK pavilion, the dusty workshop uncovers more and more levels
– Christoph Schlingensief, German pavilion, must read more about this dude, nice hommage, R.I.P.
– Markus Schinwald, Austrian pavilion, great work in reshaping the architecture and surprising art everywhere.
– Chewing the scenery, brilliant looped performance
– Michael Parekowhai, New Zealand pavilion, grumpy sculptures
– Hans Op De Beek, One of a Thousand Ways to Defeat Entropy, dark and moody as wel love it
– Anish Kapoor, Ascension
– Anselm Kiefer, Salt of the Earth [image above]


– Arsenale ILLUMinations, weak, flat, empty
– Urs Fischer, dude, the show last six months, how can you show something that burns down and melts?
– Turkish pavilion, oh really, pipes?
– Egypt pavilion, closed

Misses: (things we wished we didn’t miss)

– South africa pavilion, with all the controversy. And we were right there… and missed it
– Karla Black, Scotland pavilion, again, we missed this by maybe one block.
– Norway pavilion, we couldn’t find one, then didn’t bother with the others.

hate love veniceDecomposing Wall Grafitilush cornerwhats in the bag angelos

No city in Italy gets away with a. having such shite food and b. such aggressive mosquitos from hell (during third night we had to kill 9 mosquitos in sequence = Sleep deprivation torture). Yet we keep coming back… Every two years…
See you in 2013. If the world hasn’t gone down by then.

About Jan Zuppinger

Jan Zuppinger has been writing this blog since 2002. He likes to grow vegetables. He likes to eat them too. He has opinions on everything, but sadly no one cares. Jan Zuppinger is not joking, just joking, he is joking, just joking, he's not joking. *click.