At the press conference for the Biennale media previews, Rob Storr observed that “we are living in pretty terrible times.” He also said that his big international show, which takes up the enormous main building of the Arsenale, has in it “reflections of that history.” To put it mildly. In fact, the first half or more of his group exhibition is given over to artists who are almost all pre- occupied with politics. It’s very much about a world in crisis.
“Think With the Senses— Feel With the Mind”, as his show is called, opens with an installation by the New York-based Italian artist Luca Buvoli, whose work — which runs across the floor, up walls and hangs from the ceiling, and also includes several video screens, is about the promises of 20th century Modernism, failed and otherwise, and also its ugly undercurrents. Buvoli’s chief text is Marinetti’s Italian Futurist manifesto of 1904, Modernism’s most problematic Ur-text, its poisoned gospel, with its wildly inflamed language about burning museums and war as”the world’s only hygeine.”
But in its passionate understanding of the beauty of the modern world, it’s also infinitely seductive. (“A roaring car that seems to run on machine gun fire is more beautiful than the Victory of Samothrace.”) In one very shrewd gesture, Buvoli has the Marinetti texts misread on camera by a series of readers trying, imperfectly, to interpret the Italian originals. Modernism, in its promise and its peril, has come down to us in broken English.
This is a very canny overture to the show Storr is bringing us into, one in which art responds to a modern world in a state of emergency — in the Middle East, Africa, the Balkans and every borderland — an emergency that is in some ways a consequence of its modernity — and in other ways a consequence of the world’s failure to become modern. More later.