Monday, 22 June 2015


I’d like to claim these words came from the second merchant called Biennale in Shakespeare’s lesser known “Merchant of Venice 2” but I can’t and it doesn’t.

But neither it would seem, does art play much of a leading role in La Biennale di Venezia – the 56th International Art Exhibition. The critics have been cruel about it. Respectively the Guardian, Telegraph and Times:

More of a glum trudge than an exhilarating adventure

Hectoring and joyless

Why Venice should be allowed to drift slowly towards a dignified death

Not ringing praise then and to be fair the Biennale’s title “All the World’s Futures” deadens one’s expectations with its sententious pomposity.  Why is it artists speak in a language (which I call Sewellese) that is excluding, abstract and just weird?
The Czech and Slovak Republic Pavilion slogan…inspiring thought!

Either that or they distress themselves by the foulness of capitalism (and they do this in Venice the very origin of a rapacious love of money), of inequality, cruelty, war and so on. Life seems bad to the artists of today. Ironically all this sits alongside some of the most joyously uplifting works of previous centuries in the galleries in the heart of Venice like the Academia, Ca Pesaro, Ca D’Oro and the Correr.

The Swiss Salon on the Zattere proclaims:  “The World’s in a Hell of a Mess” (is it? Well look harder), New Zealand examines “Psychological Blocks of Perception” and throughout the city there are fragments of letters of complaint by victims of torture in Iraq. Any second I expect to see Ed Miliband walk round the corners and say “see what I mean?” Phrases like “Present Nearness” from Grenada (no me neither) leap out of posters. It’s like being trapped in Pseuds Corner.

The actual Giardini event is vast. Things to like – yes in a messy world let’s look on the brighter side at last.

The giant live, helmeted, masked fighter pilot’s head with breathing kit at the entrance to the Russian stand is dramatic.

The intricate vast spiders’ webs of keys hanging from the ceiling and their videos of tiny children from around the world talking about where babies come from (“I came out very fast….. vroom…”)  in the Japanese stand was memorable.

The US stand of which I’d heard good things was just dull.

If you like Spam, cigarettes and female orifices you’d love the UK stand….some said it was “funny”.

But Fiona Hal’s work and ideas on the Australian stand was three star Michelin art. In six or seven sections it was witty, beautiful and thought provoking. She’d engaged some Aborigine women to work as a team creating soft toy endangered animals out of military battle fatigues and military waste….it was extraordinary. One wall was covered in a display of driftwood from a river in New Zealand – strange and beautiful.

The Australian girls on the stand were serious and very articulate.

Australia and Fiona thank you. I believe in art and the Biennale again.

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