— THE BIG STORY —
This year's Venice Biennale has emerged as a quiet, contemplative affair marked by several sleeper hits rather than breakout stars, and the Golden and Silver Lions that the jury awarded this weekend pointedly reflect that. But while the winners share a notable lack of razzle-dazzle, they all indicate powerful new directions for art.
The surprise winner of the Golden Lion for best national pavilion went to Angola—a tiny show several vaporetto stops away from the Giardini that many had overlooked before the prize was awarded. (That this is true was evidenced after the ceremony by multiple-hour waits in the line outside the pavilion, with all but the press eventualy being turned away.) One of ten countries participating in the Biennale for the first time this year, Angola chose to locate its presentation at the historic Palazzo Cini, a jewel box of masterpieces by Giotto and other Renaissance artists amassed by Count Vittorio Cini that has been closed to the public for 20 years.
Inside this slender, delicate building, the prize-winning display "Luanda, Encyclopedic City" features a suite of interconnected rooms in which Cini's artworks hang resplendently on the walls—the curators were forbidden to move them—and 23 stacks of hundreds of exhibition-sized photographs sit on the floor. They are the work of Edson Chagas, a 34-year-old Luanda-based photographer who created the spare compositions by walking around his city in search of derelict objects (a broken chair, a shoe) and artfully framing ones that caught his eye against the wanly colored walls of the street. Visitors to the pavilion are told to walk through the rooms and take home their favorite photographs, and as they do so—bending down and picking up these photos of discarded things—they mirror Chagas's own passage through Luanda, transmitting an echo of that city to Venice. The humbly elegant photographs, meanwhile, contrast with the ornate Italian paintings on the walls.
The prize for the ephemeral show (once the photos are all taken, the pavilion will close) not only recognizes a brilliantly subtle interplay of art and curation, it also calls the international art world's attention to Africa, which in the past has gone all but unacknowledged at the Biennale. (A rare exception was Robert Storr's awarding of the lifetime achievement Golden Lion to Malick Sidibé in 2007.) As a result, it's a historic win, and one that will hopefully lead to a greater and sustained interest on the part of institutions to explore facets of the regions contemporary art landscape.
The highest-profile victory, however, went to performance artist and "dancing economist" Tino Sehgal for his piece in Massimiliano Gioni's "The Encyclopedic Palace" exhibition featuring a man and a woman sitting on the floor, one of them rhythmically uttering incantatory sounds of a vaguely Eastern, quasi-spiritual tenor while the other strikes poses that could possibly be derived from historical artworks. (It's hard to tell, exactly—as is the artist's wont, there is no explanatory wall text or title provided for the piece.) Coming in a year in which Sehgal is also the bookie-favorite to take home the Turner Prize, the award is testament to the muscularity of the artist's cerebral approach, in which he uses actors, dancers, and other participants to create situations for viewers that exist in uncharted terrain between performance, image-creation, and dialogue.
It's an approach that's catching, too: visitors to Maria Alexandra Pirici and Manuel Pelmus's excellent Romanian pavilion might notice a similarity between their tableaux vivants (using performers to recreate socialist sculptures and pose as "Cindy Sherman dressed in a full-length red sequin dress") and Sehgal's.
Finally, the Silver Lion for best promising young artist went to Camille Henrot for her 2013 video Grosse Fatigue, a piece nestled toward the beginning of the Artsenale stretch of Gioni's show that arose from the artist's fellowship at the Smithsonian Institution, which allowed her to conduct extensive research on archives from museums around the globe to examine the ways different cultures use objects to tell stories about the origin of the world. In her video, the 34-year-old Parisian artist presents footage of these artifacts—and of herself rummaging through the archives—in windows that pop up on the screen (as on a computer desktop) while a voiceover raps out a crazy quilt of creation myths over a drumbeat.
The result is a sensational mixture of spoken-word poetry and anthropology, using the visual language of the Internet age to tell ancient guesses at the big questions that we still strain to answer today: Who are we, and why are we here? Considering that Henrot has previously been best known for her sculptural installations, the video expands her body of work in a tremendously compelling way and ensures that we'll be seeing much more of the artist in museum and gallery shows in coming years. – Andrew M. Goldstein
— QUOTE OF THE WEEK —
“Larry respects scholarship, pays nicely, makes it possible for you as an art historian to borrow any work you want. I don’t like half of what he shows but he’s heaven to work for.” — 89-year-old art historian and Picasso expert Sir John Richardson on what it's like to be an employed curator under gallery mogul Larry Gagosian.
— MUST READ —
James Franco at Pace — James Franco is getting a solo show at London's Pace Gallery on June 6, at which he will debut his interpretation of the Alfred Hitchcock classic Psycho in an exhibition titled "Psycho Nacirema," apparently "hosted" by artist Douglas Gordon. (TAN)
Sex Lives of Renaissance Artists Revealed — To accompany writer Jonathan Jones's new book The Loves of Artists: Art and Passion in the Renaissance, the Guardian has released an interactive feature that details the sordid backstories behind many a Renaissance painting, including the artists' relationships to the models they depicted. (Guardian)
On the Art World Old and New — The esteemed British art historian Sir John Richardson discusses his lengthy career in the arts with the Financial Times's Jackie Wullschlager, including his early years as an aspiring artist in France when he befriended Pablo Picasso's wife, and later, the painter himself. (FT)
Of Algorithms and Architecture — Esteemed artist Julie Mehrehtu, whose work is currently in solo shows at Marian Goodman Gallery in New York and White Cube in London (not to mention highly coveted by collectors worldwide) shares 500 words with Artforum about her artistic practice and mark-making process. (Artforum)
The Internet in Paper Form — Conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith, the founding editor of the fantastic online art archive UbuWeb and the Museum of Modern Art's first poet laureate, is accepting public contributions of printed out web pages for his new art project, which is inspired by and dedicated to the late programmer and activist Aaron Schwartz. (Yahoo)
There's Always Money in the Banana Cover — After a contentious legal tussle over the property rights to Andy Warhol's iconic banana painting, which he created to adorn the cover of the the Velevet Underground's classic first album, representatives for both the band and the Warhol Foundation have reached a settlement agreement. (Reuters)
Worker Strikes Affect UK Museums — A three-month campaign disputing fair wages by public employees in the United Kingdon has resulted in a number of state museums across the country, including the National Portrait Gallery and the Tate Liverpool, which has been forced to closed its galleries entirely. (BBC)
— ART MARKET —
Too Big to Burst — While it seems that everyone's favorite topic on which to speculate involves predicting when the exponentially expanding art market will finally start curbing its free spending ways, statistics show that the sheer volume of the world's billionaires' shared wealth means that even the most minor art expenditures on their part would lead to new, record setting highs for artworks. (Seeking Alpha)
— IN & OUT —
Darren Bader has won the 2013 Calder Foundation Prize for his enormously entertaining and perplexing conceptual installations, and has been rewarded with a show in Venice that includes such works as a chopped-off ponytail floating in a canal and a piece of chicken cut into smaller pieces and placed on a windowsill. (Press Release)