I said a few days ago that I would return one last time to a description of the big international show at the Biennale organized by Rob Storr, “Think With the Senses/Feel With the Mind”. And walk with the feet. It’s a big, big show that begins at the Arsenale and concludes, 100 artists and a mile or so later, at the Giardini. As mentioned, in its first half its heavy on political art, especially photography.
But there comes a transition about halfway through in which a more purely sensuous art begins to make its claims. You know you’re getting there when you arrive at the vast gallery with 38 round paintings by Guillermo Kuitca on facing walls, each filled with scrawled meditations from a particular few weeks or months in his life.
At each end of that same room is a piece of spectacular craft, a vast luxurious curtain of multicolored, braided debris (for instance, those thin metallic caps on wine bottles) by El Anatsui, born 1944, an artist from Ghana. (If I were a billionaire Russian plutocrat I’d snap it up in a minute. But alas, things haven’t worked out that way for me.) And in a nearby gallery, three wall-sized embroidered and crystal-brocaded silk canvases by the Italian artist Angelo Filomeno, born 1963, who now lives in New York. Black skeletons on midnight purple prevail. In the best, two ride a broom stick — you may recognize them from Goya, or maybe from the cover of an Iron Maiden album — over a night time cityscape that you know very well is LA from the air.
It’s the final episodes of his show, which are in the Giardini, where Storr devotes himself to painting. (For the record, there are videos and sculptural installations there, too.) Whole rooms are devoted to new work by Sigmar Polke — a suite of canvases snapped up already by the LVMH mogul Bernard Arnault for his new museum at the Gritti Palace — Gerhard Richter — more of his squeegeed abstractions with their surfaces like reflective water — he’s the Monet of meaninglessness — Robert Ryman — as you would expect, clouds of white, nice as ever, but only new at the level of nuance — and — talk about the Old Masters — Ellsworth Kelly, born in 1923. Elizabeth Murray shows more of the hectic and thinly-sliced shaped canvases that were in the last galleries of her MoMA retrospective two years ago.
The complaint against this part of the show is that not enough that’s truly new comes your way. There were two discoveries for me. I’m still thinking about the Pakastani artist Nalini Malani, born 1946, who makes paintings that put television and the Internet to shame. And then there was the well known (to everyone but me) Congolese artist Cheri Samba, born 1956, whose completely original synthesis of various comic and Pop styles — in the manner called Popular Art in Africa — was one of the great pleasures of the week for me. Look them up.