The official gloss on Maurizio Cattelan’s contribution is worth quoting almost in full: “[He] has surprised Biennale organisers by re-creating ‘Turisti’, the work he produced for the 1997 show featuring 200 stuffed pigeons and fake pigeon shit on the floor.”
Either that or he’s twigged that the curator is a dimwit with no sense of quality control whatsoever, and Maurizio thought he could get away with just handing over some old thing that was only clogging up his studio anyway. So, thanks to him there are stuffed pigeons everywhere. These ‘turisti’ are certainly an apt dig at the actual turisti who perch in pestilential flocks all over the Giardini and whose presence seems hard to fathom given that they don’t seem the slightest bit interested in art. Most of them sound as if they couldn’t think about one thing at a time, let alone operate on any kind of complex intellectual level. Or maybe these people know exactly what they’re doing and they’ve found in the Biennale the perfect place in which they’ll go entirely unchallenged by art or ideas.
Omer Fast delivers the most interesting, deep and well-crafted film to be found in the whole ‘Illuminations’ exhibition complex: for this he must be punished by having ‘Five Thousand Feet is the Best’ shown in an oddly-shaped room with no bloody seats. To watch this relatively long, narrative film that is actually worth investing your time in, you’re forced to stand there for fifteen minutes and obstruct somebody else’s view or sit on the floor which seems to have been expressly covered with scratchy 1970s office carpet tiles so as to make sitting there an exercise in monastic masochism. Why do galleries persist in making it so perversely difficult and uncomfortable to watch long form video works?
David Goldblatt’s jarringly beautiful aerial views of his native South Africa reveal that even shanty towns are laid out like a new housing estate: there is less difference between gated yuppie property development and rock bottom slum than one might think. Unfortunately he then does a Haroon Mirza and blots his copybook (i.e. one good body of work followed by lazy, average work by the same artist) with a return of the SERIOUS MONOCHROME syndrome in the shape of some uninspiring, reportage-y misery portraits of downtrodden South Africans. The aforementioned Mirza is next door with his crappy variation on the good piece of work he had in the Arsenale.
Pipilotti Rist creates a lovely little room that takes the piss out of Venice and the Biennale with three gold-framed traditional paintings of the city (including the cruise ship apocalypse of San Marco) that she subjects to cheeky psychedelic video interference. Visually pleasing and with a functional sense of humour: how on Earth did she get this stuff smuggled in?
The pure randomness of ‘Illuminations’ is demonstrated perfectly by the adolescent idiocy of Rist’s immediate neighbour, the pseudonymous “Norma Jeane”. Providing Plasticine for the public’s use with no guidance whatsoever has resulted in a truly ugly, pointless and meaningless room that doesn’t even approach the realm of harmless fun let alone approaching the realm of art, thanks to the evident cluelessness of the general public and the artist’s (or artists’) encouragement of them in the name of “inclusivity”. That’s “inclusivity” aimed exclusively at people who’ve paid at least €20 to get in here. ‘Norma Jeane’ probably can’t even spell cognitive dissonance.
The Plasticine is supposedly in colours that have something to do with the Arab Spring, but this is patent nonsense. I defy anyone to present me with a genuinely convincing and cogent connection between Plasticine and social change in the Arab world. If I give a five year old red, yellow and green Play-doh and give them permission to squish it into the rug does that mean they’re engaging with issues surrounding colonialism and the black diaspora? (Answer: No, it doesn’t.)
Not only is this appropriating an entirely unearned and opportunistically targeted gravitas for work that doesn’t deserve any kind of dignity at all; since they’ve deliberately cultivated this context they should also have to face the fact that it’s a grave insult to the real world bravery of thousands and the cruel deaths of hundreds in Tunisia, Egypt, Syria and other countries to say that fucking around with bits of Plasticine in an art gallery in Venice has anything to do with what those people are going through and fighting for. Disgraceful. Norma Jeane should have his, her or their head wrapped in huge slabs of Plasticine until they’re sorry.
One room on from this insult to an imbecile’s intelligence, Cindy Sherman is still flogging a dead horse. Wearing a wig for your dead horse flogging doesn’t prevent us from noticing the dead horse, Cindy. Haven’t you got enough money? Her past work was compelling and influential, but who in their right mind thinks Cindy Sherman is one of the world’s most relevant, exciting and innovative early 21st century artists?
Now, if they amalgamated these two lazy, half-arsed efforts into one decent (full-arsed, if you like) one where we were allowed to put Plasticine on Cindy Sherman, take photographs of her, dress her up and generally treat her like the human Mr Potato Head that she basically is nowadays… that would be some proper art type shit.
I didn’t previously know anything about his work but in Luigi Ghirri I seem to have discovered my photography twin: normally sized, discrete images of public detritus, strangers caught unawares, quirks of décor or odd street furniture. Obviously I have an immediate and narcissistic liking for his work because he’s more or less me. He died in 1992 though, so I’m not sure why he’s in a contemporary survey-type exhibition any more than Tintoretto or Cindy Sherman have a valid reason to be in it.
Sloppy seconds from the British Art Show again, in the form of Nathaniel Mellors’ glossy but dreadful, condescending and incoherent “soap opera” videos. Pretentious crap or incompetent crap? Nate chooses both! His animatronic banality-spouting heads are considerably more interesting and worthwhile. At least they’re working in Venice; they weren’t working at the Hayward gallery. The films are still insufferable shit and the Nathan Barley/Shoreditch Twat tone of ironic preciousness that permeates them makes me want to punch a hole in the wall. I hate these videos with the deadly heat of a thousand burning Queen Vics.