Close Look

Five Standout Displays from "The Encyclopedic Palace" at the Venice Biennale

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Five Standout Displays from "The Encyclopedic Palace" at the Venice Biennale
Matt Mullican at "The Encyclopedic Palace"

DANH VO

After filling his Hugo Boss Prize show at the Guggenheim with the possessions of the late artist Martin Wong, Vietnamese conceptualist Danh Vo has once again presented a large-scale readymade at the Venice Biennale, importing the skeleton of an entire 200-year-old Catholic church from Vietnam into the Arsenale. Evidencing the influence of Western architectural models (the basic structure is similar to smaller churches you'd find in Venice, for instance), the wood-and-stone building is a commentary on the impact colonialism has had on the very bedrock identity of countries like Vietnam, where both religion and even the construction of their places of worship have been imposed from abroad.

MATT MULLICAN
Filling half of one of the Arsenale's cavernous rooms, Matt Mullican's scrims of drawings on paper stitched to canvas form a labyrinth of signs, symbols, and words—forms of notation that would seem simple but in the artist's hands become uncanny experiments in the possibility and impossibility of communication itself. Walking into the display, the viewer becomes a subject Mullican's lab, being confronted with a variety of numbers (which immediately communicate the same thing to everyone) and scrawled out notions like "beauty," which means something different to everyone. A mind-opening experience, the installation is further proof that it's high time a major museum gave this artist a survey. 

CINDY SHERMAN

Unlike the last Biennale, where Cindy Sherman debuted a series of giant photographic wallpaper murals (which were later shown in her MoMA retrospective), "The Encyclopedic Palace" has tapped the protean artist to participate as a curator, organizing a show-within-a-show that focuses on the body. While Sherman did not include any of her own work, she contributed something that sheds fascinating light on her photographs: a number of 1970s portraits of transvestites from her own personal collection that show men wearing wigs and women's evening wear and posing in domestic settings. The exploration of gender and masquerade evidenced in these images are very much in key with the psychological urgency of Sherman's work.
GEORGE CONDO
In this portrait of German art dealer Monika Sprüth, the painter George Condo renders his gallerist—who once asked him to "paint subjects that would ensure people remembered his name," according to the wall text—as a grotesque, bird-like creature with a tiny pinched head and bulbous body. (She certainly remembers his name, at least.) The background is a blue wash of paint that many visitors during the Biennale's opening might compare with the storm-churned Venetian lagoon.
MARK LECKEY
The British artist Mark Leckey may be contemporary art's perfect inverse of Malcolm Gladwell—he's brilliant at spinning out long, TED Talk-like monologues that sound fantastically compelling, even inspiring, on the surface, but upon closer inspection are combinations of mysticism, messianic futurology, and shamanic gobbledygook. One such talk is played on a video screen as part of Leckey's humorous display in the show, showing him deliver what seems to be the pitch for an exhibition called "The Universal Addressability of Dumb Things," which would take a variety of objects from across history—everything from a silver reliquary to an inflatable Felix the Cat, Leckey's mascot—and use them to address the future, in which the artist believes all things will be e-uplinked to the "Great Connection." The twist is that the show actually was accepted and is currently on view as part of a Hayward Touring exhibition at Nottingham Contemporary up through June 30

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