The end of the day is party hour at the Biennale. Last night there was a choice between another gathering at the Guggenheim Museum on the Grand Canal and a party for the Tate on the yacht of Ella Fontanals Cisneros, the founder of Miami Art Central, the contemporary art museum . I talked with her for a while about the challenges still ahead for the merger of her institution, which has been the most energetic institutional player in the local contemporary arts scene, with the Miami Art Museum, which hopes to finally make a name for itself in that area under the new leadership of Terry Riley. Everybody sipped Bellinis and watched the sun go down — after a rain soaked day it had come back out again in time for its farewell appearance. Everybody also wiggled their toes — all guests had been asked to remove their shoes to protect the wood floors.
All in all, a nice evening, but an odd juxtaposition to what I had been looking at all afternoon at Rob Storr’s big international show, “Think With the Senses, Feel With the Mind.” So what does what you might call the overture of that Luca Buvoli piece, which I discussed in an earlier post, lead to? Over a dozen galleries or areas devoted to artists — lots of them photographers — who are working with the political predicaments of the moment. That means for instance an area of work by the LA-based artist Charles Gaines that included a prophetic room-sized model of a jetliner crashing into a scale model city — a piece he created in 1997. Eight large scale color photos by the Italian artist Gabriele Basilico of war ravaged streets in Beirut — taken in 1991, though at first glance you assume they were from last year — haunting pictures that made a deadly statement about calamity as a permanent feature of life in the Middle East.
What else? Six enigmatic heroic-scale portrait heads of a woman in a head scarf by the Indian artist Riyas Komu. (The title of the series, “Designated March by a Petro-Angel” is an imperfect clue to its meanings.) A smashing series of six large C-prints by Tomoko Yonda, a Japanese photographer based in London, deadpan shots of no-man’s lands around the world, including a minefield on a soccer field in Sarajevo and even more unnerving, a “minefield located by a tourist attraction in the demilitarized zone” between North and South Korea. More photos, C-prints of life-size plastic dolls being treated for war injuries in an Israeli hospital. Staged by the photographer, the Tel Aviv-based Tomer Ganiher? Or part of a training exercise, as one shot suggests? Either way, unforgettable.
Another photographer, the Australian Rosemary Laing, makes deadpan frontal shots of fenced in detgention centers, the stable, frontal orientation that Walker Evans passed on to Lewis Baltz, who made it a sign for modern banality in the suburbs, repurposed again as a symbol of 21st century bureaucratic brutality. And a wonderfully funny, not so funny installation by a Bulgarian artist, Nedko Solakov, using, wall texts, video interviews and hilariously precise and sexy full scale graphite drawings of automatic weapons, about his attempt to unravel what you might call a patent dispute between Russia and Bulgaria over the very the lucrative right to sell Kalashnikovs, the famous AK-47.
You get the picture — the first half of this show is all about politics. Art is about more than the art market. There comes a transition point not long after, and I’ll talk about the second half of Storr’s exhibition in a future post. But meanwhile, the experience of going through it in this lovely city is not so different maybe from being in “a minefield located by a tourist attraction.”
On to the national pavillions.