The Big Show

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Venice in the pouring rain. Forget the Venice of Caneletto and Monet. Think Turner and Whistler. Sometimes it stops for a while. The birds chirp tentaively. Then the skies open again. Myself and the rest of the Migratory Art Herd all huddle under our umbrellas, trying to keep our catalogues dry.

The Biennale was founded in 1895 as an international exhibition. This year it’s more international than ever, with 76 participant nations, 34 at the Arsenale and the Giardini, the main locales of the Biennale, and the rest scattered around the city. There’s a heavy emphasis on non-Western nations. The idea that France, Germany, the U.K. or the U.S. are the centers of the art world is being put away. On Sunday, the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to Malick Sidibe, the photographer from Mali, whose wonderful studio portraits and pictures of people getting ready for a night on the town I first started to notice in the 90s. He’s one of those inspired portraitists of ordinary people, like James van der Zee or Mike Disfarmer, who combine a fine eye wth a very at ease sense of the people they look at (and live among.) He’s a good choice.

At a press conference this morning, Rob Storr, the first American to run the show, talked a bit about his ambitions for his own show, the big international exhibition at the Arsenale called Think With the Senses, Feel With the Mind. He’s been billing it as a show about the convergence of conceptual work and work that emphasizes material. That’s true as far as it goes, but I have a somewhat diffferent take on it. More on that later.