The other half of the Biennale/’Illuminations’ main presentation takes place in the idyllic-sounding but totally not idyllic Giardini. It’s where the first international (i.e. non Italian) pavilions were built to reflect the ongoing pissing contests for prestige between the great powers of the Industrial age. In reality they’re less a garden paradise of art and more like an indifferently maintained municipal cemetery, complete with hulking mausoleums dedicated to the colonial age. They should spend some of their prodigious income on having the gardeners in, because for a place that’s called a garden it looks extremely tired and in need of somebody’s green thumb. It’s like a Chinese park in there, where they plant expensive greenery and then for some reason they just leave it all to fall apart and die. Anyway, I expect there’s a metaphor (not very) hidden in the fact that the whole place looks like a neglected graveyard.
Seeing too much art in one go is exhausting, so in a way it’s a relief that most of it doesn’t warrant very much attention or head space. I’ve done work on Stendhal Syndrome, but luckily Stendhal Syndrome only seems to happen with an overload of figurative paintings and there’s not much of that in evidence. Figurative painting, if the Biennale is anything to judge by, is nowadays roughly equal in popularity to other 19th century phenomena like carriage accidents, rickets or ladies shooting heroin at the opera.
Not that I’m personally too bothered by its absence. I don’t mind what painters get up to in private provided they don’t try to recruit me or touch me or flaunt it or anything like that. I simply note that it doesn’t appear to be considered a valid contemporary art form that’s fit for a living artist anywhere in the world any more. As noted previously, a perverse absence when the head curator has an ostentatious fetish for Tintoretto. Perhaps you have to be dead to be considered a proper painter by these kinds of people.
THE SEVEN DEADLY PAVILIONS
Belgium’s pavilion externally resembles a crematorium, too: inside someone has proudly displayed their toddler’s finger paintings. Oh, my mistake, it’s Angel Vergara’s project supposedly related to the seven deadly sins. How smearing paint randomly on perspex sheets relates to the seven deadly sins, we just don’t know unless the sins are laziness, stupidity, incompetence, bullshit, pretentiousness, lack of talent and taking the piss.
The Russian pavilion is very Russian: somehow grim, shallow and overwrought simultaneously… and sponsored by Tatler. The Swiss is rammed full of junk, broken TVs, packing tape, plastic chairs, Mylar and polythene sheets: all the tiresome nonsense, in short, that I’m completely sick of seeing everywhere. No story, no emotional connection, no connections of any sort to any world whether real or imagined, just an orthodoxy and a mannerism as stilted and stultifying as the worst and most generic historical painting.
To these pavilions, and to several others, I can only say: You had the opportunity to show work in a national pavilion at one of the world’s most prestigious art events and you brought this? Really? What can you possibly be thinking of? You’ve made a serious error.
The Dutch pavilion is a typically Dutch attempt to do a leftist dodge of the Giardini nationalism issue by appealing instead to “community”. The group calling itself Loose Work do this by building a theatre set, or a set representing a theatre: I’m not sure which. Unfortunately in their solipsistic, monodisciplinary Fine [sic] Artists’ way they’ve totally missed the point that a theatre only has value when it has performers acting in it, and that theatre is an ongoing improvisational and shifting collaboration rather than a static showcase for any one person. This particular theatre is for the most part empty both literally and intellectually, and despite their protestations to the contrary it’s less political than a panto.
In the French pavilion, the generally overrated Christian Boltanski has put in an imposing but still sort of cheap-looking industrial baby head picture installation with counters running up scarily fast to show the number of people being born every second of the day. Like a baby factory, get it? Or something like that, probably, I don’t really care. Everyone gets the message in a maximum of thirty seconds and comes out again. This is not really an art work. This is an idea for an art work that should have stayed an idea rather than wasting the hundred Euros that Boltanski seems to have blown on scaffolding and photocopies of baby pictures. Maybe he spent the rest of France’s money on buying actual babies as a private high concept art experiment, or to give away for Anita Zabludowicz to suck the blood out of their tiny helpless bodies during the Vernissage.
The only thing I can remember about the Serbian pavilion is that I had a beer next to it… and my amnesia is not because I had beer next to it, if you understand my meaning. Over at Brazil’s effort, it’s more old crap and messages scrawled on the wall. Apparently this work “escapes easy cataloguing.” No, file under “old crap”, “lazy” and “empty slogans.” There now, that wasn’t so difficult.
… AND EUROPE WILL BE BORED
Yael Bartana’s well publicised ‘…and Europe will be stunned’ video trilogy for Poland deals with the important, emotive issue of the Holocaust but it’s all so arid, precious and didactic that it’s hard to connect with any of it. For what it’s worth, I was talking about this exhibition to an Israeli Rabbi who was sitting next to me; he said exactly the same thing and also came away underwhelmed and disappointed. Art should provoke or unsettle or stimulate the viewer, not lecture you simplistically like you’re an errant schoolboy.
The obligatory but now entirely irrelevant Venetian pavilion has gondolas stuck prow-downwards into the floor alongside videos of rushing water. I did a LOL (really loud) and got a dirty look from the invigilator. Think harder next time, dumbarses.