Friday, 8 November 2013

Venice Day 2 - La Biennale and Venetian sights

Following a packed day one, the aim of this day was to wander the city picking out the disparate Biennale pavilions and exhibitions that aren't in either Arsenale or Giardini. This required some skilful map readings, a cached map of Venice on Google maps and liberal use of my GPS. Even then, some still eluded me.

I also visited some of the Renaissance art around Venice and I'll cover that off in a section in the end.

Biennale exhibitions

The Good

Palazzo Brembo had an excellent exhibition running concurrently to Biennale and it had a very impressive collection of artists all experimenting with the use of materials. Though it's an international line-up, the show had a very British feel to it, as this kind of art is receiving a lot of attention back home and is a favourite genre of mine.

Highlights include the surreal tall chairs by Michele Mazini alongside the stacks of paper by Qin Chong burnt in a manner you wouldn't think that paper could burn with such delineated edges.

Chul Hyun Ahn has created some great visual effects with infinity mirrors and Sam Jinks has created life like mannequins in the style of Ron Mueck. His pair of fox headed individuals is telling as the word fox has different connotations for men and women.

Chris Fraser has used metal balls and a reflective surface to create what I can only describe as 3D rainbows that reach out to you as you walk past.

And Alice Anderson covers everyday items like ladders and a bike with copper wire. It's a metal with commodity value but Anderson is showing it too can have aesthetic value like gold and silver.

There were many more excellent artists on display and this was great start to the day.

Iraq has a great pavilion decked out like a lesser palace of Saddam Hussein with regional music playing and the apartment is littered with books giving it a homely feel - yet there is a chair strapped to a generator which looks like it is set up for torture.

The exhibition also has some surreal humour as there are rooms filled with cardboard furniture and various Iraqi citizens covering their faces with Saddam masks.

Macedonia has let Elpida Hadzi create a macabre labyrinth made of sheet steel, silk cocoons and albino rat skins. It's very creepy with rats living at the centre. Truly bizarre but very engaging.

Azerbaijan had a great pavilion opening with Farid Rasulov who has coated an entire living room including individual books with carpet. Upstairs Rashid Alakbarov is the star of this pavilion with his arrangements of iron bars that either create an image on the wall a la Noble and Webster, pulsing geometric patterns or a hidden message only visible through a camera.

Chingiz has also created many symbols out of sand, they are all uniform but there's no denying the potency and message of symbols such as the cross or the swastika.

Montenegro's contribution is short but very punchy consisting of only three rooms. The first is dimly lit with golden wires creating ethereal barriers above and beside you, the second room is plunged into darkness with pinpricks of light shining through like being beneath the stars. The third room is the weakest with tiny stick figures all over the walls. Overall it's a hard hitting sensory experience.

Richard Morris has created a brilliant Irish contribution by applying a pink filter to all the vegetation in massive landscape photographs of the Congo. The main piece is video footage of deaths and daily life in this war torn country. It's a hard hitting film but the magical pink feel to it makes it easier to distance ourselves as if it wasn't happening on our planet - just like what's actually happening today as Congo is hardly ever mentioned in the media.

The Notable

Thailand has some interesting works including a pop art take on traditional Buddhist icons and Thailand's natural flora coupled with a delicate sculpture made from golden teardrops. The big downside is it is far away from other venues so it's unlikely most people will venture out to it.

Iceland makes for a grand entrance with a massive building down a back street that feels like it isn't in Venice at all but rather in the countryside, surrounded by disused buildings and the rusting frame of a football goal. 

The building is a bit of let down until I realised it's a fringe event and not the Iceland pavilion. The Iceland contribution is a maze of tiny doors and mosaic floors running through an abandoned building that's a fun experience akin to clambering through the giant Antony Gormley structure.

The Central Asian pavilion confused me as it was unclear which countries were represented by it and though the work didn't impress the bamboo tunnels connecting the rooms was a treat.

Bosnia was a strange one with a take on Hieronymus Bosch's Garden of Earthly Delights recreated using tombstone motifs - it was surprising to see what people put on tombstones these days but the exhibition itself was average.

Thomas Zippe has created a playful laboratory complete with a padded cell that visitors are invited to lie in and a dentists chair with electrodes all line up behind it. There are even stands with mask and white coats covered with either dirt or dried blood. It could be a threatening exhibition but it never feels that way, being a bit too gimmicky to be taken seriously.

The Bad

Plenty to mention here but unlike yesterday I shall not waste time on those that had very little impact. Suffice to say I plan to visit most of the exhibitions so if it's not mentioned on my blog, it's likely to fall into this category.

Renaissance Venice

Today I decided to explore more of Venice's great art and architecture - as you can't come here and just see Biennale without appreciating all that has come before it in this historical city. No photographs allowed in all the venues so I've pilfered from the internet where I can.

The Santa Maria Gloriosa dei Frari is a spectacular church full of decorative and momentous tombs including those of Titian and a former doge of Venice, using both black and white marble. This is before you even get to the altarpieces by Titian (below) and Donatello, an expressive Pieta in the corner and a marvellously intricate clock by Francesco Pianta.

Next came the Scuola Grande di San Rocco which is all about Tintoretto. 10 euros may seem steep for what is essentially three rooms but the upstairs grand hall is breathtaking. You'll need the mirrors they provide to stop the neck ache from marvelling at the fantastic ceiling.

Similar churches and schools exist to highlight the achievements of other Venetian painters with the Scuola Grande dei Carmini for Tiepolo and the Chiesa San Sebastiano for Veronese. Both of these are masterful in their own rights with amazing ceiling frescoes once again but they pale compared to Tintoretto's.

I made the mistake of seeing Tintoretto first but if you flip the order then I'm sure your expectations won't go straight to sky high.

More to come tomorrow as I check out the Accademia and the Peggy Guggenheim collection. Bring on day three.

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