Venice can easily proclaim herself the international capital of the arts, sheerly on the merit of the city’s commitment to the faculty. The first- ever annual Biennale, held back in 1895, morphed into a non- stop showcase of the finest international presentations of artistic efforts — all held in the most memorable settings. (And there’s no shortage of those in Venice.) Initially, the fair’s main goal was to establish a profitable market for contemporary art, with a sales office assisting participating artists in finding clients. A sales ban went into effect in 1968, turning the Biennale into a non-commercial fair, positioned to launch careers of artists, celebrate curating skills, and set trends in the commercial landscape. As a trend setter, Biennale is credited with importing Pop Art into the canon of art history by awarding the top prize to Robert Rauschenberg in 1964, setting a momentum for the movement that dominated the subsequent decade.
Not profitable as an entity, Biennale also exerts a considerable political clout in its message. The 1974 edition was entirely dedicated to Chile as a major cultural protest against the dictatorship of Augusto Pinochet, and the liberty to showcase freely within an individual national pavilion is largely a result of the 1930s and Cold War politics.
In addition to the art fair held during odd years that takes over the entire city and lasts several months, today Venice Biennale includes the prestigious Venice Film Festival, as well as the Venice Biennale of Architecture held during even years — giving the art component a much deserved rest.
Venice gears up for its biggest Biennale yet with 88 national participants exhibited — including ten new partakers — and 48 collateral events to be promoted by various organizations and exhibited in different venues around the city. Of the many national pavilions setting up shop throughout the city, the Russian, American, and Chinese Pavilions aim to make huge statements about their nations’ “state of the arts” and the artists creating them.
There are many challenges about putting together a group show made up of artists with a varied artistic DNA — who then must be glued into one cohesive presentation.
In the Chinese Pavilion, Wang Chunchen, the curator who also happens to be the first China-based curator hired by an American art museum — The Eli and Edy Broad Art Museum at Michigan State University — is ready for the test.
“I have to balance the effects of visual experiences,” explains Chunchen about the Chinese installation titled Transfiguration – The Presence of Chinese Artistic Methods in Venice. “For the Chinese Pavilion, I have to think of the artists’ specific works that need to be coordinated logically and inwardly to demonstrate a kind of art ecology in China.” And perhaps the stakes have never been higher, as all eyes are on the country that’s enjoying a surge of global financial influence as it experiences an artistic renaissance. But Chunchen argues that this advent of Chinese artistic identity comes from a place that is altogether personal. “China is not a superficial art market dominated by auction records and media publicity,” he suggests. “It is in its grassroots that Chinese artists utilize their own strong determinations to show off their existence.”
Sarah sze, the new york-based, yale-educated artist with a signature aesthetic that involves ephemeral installations, is the american representative for the Venice Biennale 2013. She was co-commissioned for the fair by carey lovelace, an art journalist and curator, whose appreciation for sze’s work has culminated in an awe-inspiring presentation.
Trillionaire Magazine: How is an American artist selected for the Venice Biennale?
Carey Lovelace: It’s an open submission process; so artists submit proposals, in conjunction with commissioning organizations, to the State Department. There is a panel of peers reviewing the proposals, and that’s how one gets selected. As a co-commissioner, I select and work with the artist to develop proposals for the State Department. I’m also involved in extensive public programming around the Biennale, which includes a collaboration with Bloomberg and a whole slew of things to make this a success.
TRI: What has attracted you to Sarah’s work?
CL: For one thing, she has a career of steady achievement and has been embracing projects — one more ambitious than the next. I think we were also attracted to the way Sarah deals with space. The American Pavilion represents a very classical type of architecture, and so we were intrigued by somebody who might be able to transform that architecture without actually physically changing it. Sarah did this amazing exhibition at a gallery in 2010 where she really filled in the entire space — made up of several rooms — with a very imaginative and unusual environment that had the rooms in a dialogue with one another. This approach was very intriguing to us.
TRI: Speaking of the American Pavilion, is there something quintessentially American you were looking for in the artist when going through the selection process?
CL: The thing I like about Sarah’s work is that it is very adaptable. She pulls from a lot of international references — not just western art, but also Asian art — with a multiplicity of references. But looking for an American identity in art… that’s a very dangerous road to go down. You end up labeling something, or seeing it through a certain lens, than I think the artist herself would not want to have it be labeled. The thing that is wonderful about the Biennale is that it is a way to see the range of talent that is available from all over the world. But
it is not like you can go to the Austrian Pavilion and say, “Ooh, that’s so Austria.” You are there to see new, fresh ideas from artists from a variety of places.
TRI: Any particular Pavilion you are excited to see for any specific reason?
CL: The thing that makes this so wonderful is that it is always a surprise with a sense of discovery. I kind of like to go with fresh eyes and no preconceptions.
TRI: What do you hope the audience is going to take away from your Pavilion?
CL: I think Sarah’s work is very transformative, and it deals with perception and one’s sense of orientation and disorientation. I believe that one of the things that is special about her work is that you are brought into the environment of the piece, and it’s very complex. So I suspect that people will enter a world that is totally hers, and they will reemerge affected and somehow changed.
adim Zakharov, the acclaimed Russian artist and a recipient of the 2009 prestigious Kandinsky Prize, finds himself at an unusual professional crossroad. As a previous exhibitor at the 49th Biennale in 2001, this leading Moscow figure of Conceptualism — a movement subverting socialist ideology using the strategies of conceptual and appropriation art — is once again showing off his wares at the Russian Pavilion. A curious choice for a country spilling over with talent, Zakharov was the top pick for Stella Kasaeva, the pavilion’s commissioner, and Boris Groys, a renowned curator of Russian contemporary art. “I believe that Vadim Zakharov’s talent and his experience of work in the international arena make him eminently suited to present our Russian Pavilion in a highly topical manner,” Kasaeva explains.
But if Zakharov is to boldly embody the Russian artistic identity at the Biennale, the “Establishment” may be in for a disappointment. “I think it’s impossible to talk about this kind of representation,” Zakharov explains. “It’s in the past. I represent a new Russian art — especially Moscow Conceptualism — a movement to which I’ve belonged for over 35 years.”
Misconstrued identities aside, what the Biennale audience can expect is a result of his hard work. “I am aware of how difficult this project is going to be,” Zakharov admits. “Venetian Biennale is a complicated format for an artist to draw on, and it requires awareness of many factors — all at the same time. We will see what will happen.”
What won’t transpire, the artist assures us, is any political interference — allegedly still omnipresent in artistic circles — into his creative process. “I was exposed to censorship in the late 70s when I started my career as an artist. Back in 1984, I presented my work in the art studio. The KGB agents came and completely destroyed the place. Believe me, I am aware of this, and am following closely what’s going on with censorship in Russia,” adds Zakharov. “But so far, I didn’t receive any restrictions about my project.”
His last Biennale submission centered on sumo wrestling. No word yet on which aspect of socialist ideology will be subject to Zakharov’s treatment this time around.
Itinerary Venice Biennale
WHEN: June 1 through November 24, 2013 (10 a.m. – 6 p.m. and closed on Mondays) with the vernissage week before the official opening.
WHERE: The historic base of the Biennale is at Giardini, the public gardens in the Castello district, where the longest- standing national pavilions are located. Likewise, Arsenale, the former shipyard – another location for the activities – houses the art in a long building with an impressive historical heritage.
EVENTS: Here are some of the not-to-be missed collateral exhibits: Disposition — Ai Weiwei will present “Straight,” the first project developed using the long steel reinforcing bars recuperated from the schools which collapsed during the Sichuan earthquake in 2008 (Zuecca Project Space/Complesso delle Zitelle, Giudecca 32.) // In Grimani — The first contemporary art exhibition created for the former residence of a powerful sixteenth-century Venetian family. The glass works are the brainchild of Ritsue Mishima, the artist, who has been living in Venice since 1989 and expresses himself using the ancient craft culture (Palazzo Grimani di Santa Maria Formosa, Castello 4858.) // Otherwise Occupied — This show describes other ways of imagining the nation outside and beyond its war conflict, seen as a means of artistic and critical thinking through the de-territorialization of Palestine by two internationally renowned Palestinian artists, Bashir Makhoul and Aissa Deebi (Liceo Artistico Statale di Venezia, Palazzo Ca’ Giustinian Recanati, Dorsoduro 1012.) // Comparative investigation about the disposition of the width of a circle — Zipp researches the unconscious, exploring the effects of drugs, heavy metal music, philosophy, religion, and hidden aspects of psychiatry and psychoanalysis (Palazzo Rossini-Revedin, San Marco 4013.)
CONCIERGE: Should the onslaught of artsy information feel overwhelming, consider these specialists in bespoke Italian sojourns. // Emily FitzRoy has set up visits at the home of noble Venetians, who shared their gardens for parties and palazzi for rental. Fitzroy is known for specialized tours with curators of the most renowned institutions – not to mention her magical powers to find that last room available in an overbooked hotel. www.bellinitravel.com. // Donata Grimani, an unequivocal queen of the Italian dolce vita, hails from one of the city’s oldest and most-connected families with quite the rolodex to boot. From dinners at fishermen’s huts to visits to artists’ studios to hidden short cuts to your next Biennale destination, Grimani guarantees an authentic Venetian experience. www.veniceetc.com.
WHERE TO STAY: Bauers Properties — Possati’s family-owned company specializes in turning historic structures into urban retreats with distinct Venetian charms. Currently, the group operates four hotels in Venice, with its latest acquisition – Villa F – located inside a 16th century residence on Giudecca Island, located across the Grand Canal from San Marco. // Palazzina Grassi — The Phillippe Starck-conceived hotel is the unsentimental antithesis to conventional Venetian interiors, but it is no less imperial. With contemporary opulence surrounding the mirror-rich wood and brick-centric interiors, guests are treated to first class services such as a pick-up service in a 1960s Celli boat, or a private, members- only club – plus, access to the rooftop lounge, the preferred place for an aperitivo of the locals in-the-know. // Hotel Danieli — The old-world iconic landmark represents the quintessence of Venetian hospitality, reworked not too long ago by the French architect and interior designer, Jacques Garcia. A super sophisticated refuge from the tourist-packed Riva degli Schiavoni, Hotel Danieli is as well known as the Piazza San Marco, located just down the street.
WHERE TO EAT: Al Pesador — If hanging with tourists is not your idea of exploring, consider this local gem whose location, facing the Giudecca Canal, is one of the most romantic the city offers (Sestiere San Polo 125.) // Il Ridotto — With only five tables and an open kitchen, this may be as close as you will ever come to partaking in an intimate dinner party in Venice. The seafood with contemporary touches is exquisitely simple, yet utterly decadent (Castello 4509.) // Do Forni — For the ultimate, tuxedo-clad culinary service, Do Forni delivers like no other. With a nod to the Venice of yesteryear, expect to taste most memorable epicurean standouts like the classic risotto nero and poached scampi (Calle dei Specchieri 468.)
WHERE TO SHOP: Sete-Cento — for all your couture needs (San Marco 1459.) // Attilio Codognato — for original snake wrap-around bracelets (San Marco 1295.) // Bevilacqua — for handmade tablecloths, bedspreads, and tapestries (Campo S. Maria del Giglio 2520.) // Mondo Novo — for best masks featured in Stanley Kubrick’s “Eyes Wide Shut” (Dorsoduro 3063.)
GETTING AROUND: Vaporetto — the waterbus line, runs at 10 to 15 minute intervals. // For private car/helicopter/ waterboat and security needs, contact Venice One Limousine — www.veniceonelimousine.com
Galleria dell’accademia — for a collection that spans five centuries of venetian painting.
Fondazione prada and francois pinault foundation — for a fashionable take on art and culture.
Peggy guggenheim collection — for major works by Picasso, Pollock, and Kandinsky – plus the burial site of its namesake benefactor.
Palazzo Mocenigo — for collections of textiles and costumes.
Scuola grande di san rocco — for tintoretto’s exquisite ceiling.
La Fenice — for opera, music performances and breath-taking interiors.