Jun 01, 2007 - Nov 21, 2007
52th Venice Biennale (2007)
by Cecilia Canziani
A partial report on the 52 Venice Biennale
I. On the International Exhibition
The last sentence of Robert Storr’s essay on the International Exhibition for the catalogue of the 52nd edition of the Venice Biennale is a quote from the Cantos by Ezra Pound and it seems to me that for form and content, it best gives account of the director’s intention: "Nothing matters but the quality/of the affection/ in the end - that has carved the trace in the mind/dove sta memoria."
’Art declined in the present tense’ is the subtitle of an exhibition that is deeply rooted in modernism, and that reads contemporary art through such a lens, including old masters works by a younger generation that for form and content aspire to the status of classics.
What is a classic and what currency does it have in the actual scenario? In an article from 1981, Italo Calvino suggested an answer to such questions, which in my opinion illuminates reasons behind some of Storr’s choices. For the Italian writer, a classic has currency beyond its own time, it is always contemporary, it "shapes future experiences, it gives a model, structure, constitutes a term of comparison, assures classification criteria, value, assures a paradigm of beauty". It resonates beyond the time of apprehension and continues to influence one’s choices.
In such a frame, the magnificent rooms dedicated to Giovanni Anselmo, Robert Ryman, Gerhard Richter, and Sigmar Polke in the Padiglione Italia acted as statements: they are the backbone of Storr’s predicament. Monuments, indeed, and nevertheless shying away from the spectacle, demure and grand, severe and sensuous at the same time. Here, as in front of Sol LeWitt’s last work, completed for the biennial before his death, one would stop, and think, and feel. Abdel Abdessemed, Tatiana Trouve, Ignasi Aballi, Iran do Espirito Santo, Manon de Boer, Steve Mc Queen and Mario García Torres trace a continuity of language and form with artists of the previous generation, they aspire to be new classics.
A sense of mourning - which is inherent to late modernism, once the faith in a yet to be written future got lost- permeates the exhibition, constituting the fil rouge between the Padiglione Italia and the Arsenale. "Futurism without optimism" is the object of Luca Buvoli’s large installation, avant garde seen from a post-utopian perspective. What do those silent monuments that punctuate the exhibition stand for, then?
The ultimate monument is after all the memorial, and many of the works on show, from Sophie Calle’s recording of her mother’s last hours, to Oscar Muñoz evaporating portraits depicted with water, to Gabriele Basilico’s documentation of Beirut’s buildings, remind us of it.
Death, says Robert Storr in his essay, is universal and ineffable. It unifies the different cultures and languages that this exhibition, featuring artists from all over the world, brings together. Inter-laced with the formalist register, our current political scenario constituted a foundational bass for the exhibition.
In a crucial passage of his text Robert Storr singles out another classic, the Cuban-born American artist Felix González-Torres, and what he sees presiding over the exhibition; "lyricism, formal rightness, contextual aptness, economy of means, intellectual courage, toughness wrapped in gentleness, a hard-won equilibrium between private reality and public participation" that informs his art, and equally inspires Think with your senses, feel with the mind. The political, Storr indicates, is inherent to art, when form and content coincide; it does not need to be shouted. He seems to indicate that art should separate itself from activism, when praising the balance between private and public interventions. Surely such a composed interpretation of the political - so immensely distant from Enzwor’s Documenta, from Ute Meta