Venice Biennale 2019

Every couple of years Venice hosts the art festival that is the Biennale. It’s all very, well, arty. A chance for (1) someone to feel important curating the exhibition and (2) for lots of, perhaps, less well known artists to give their pieces a run out. David Hockney said that there are three types of art…

David Hockney once said that art comes in three kinds – landscapes, portraits and still-lifes. This mischievous pronouncement was directed with a wry smile at the high priests of the contemporary art world, where the smart money is on conceptual art, installation, performance, video, and digital art.

He always subscribed to that maxim, even when doing Polaroid collages, or faxing sketches around the world. The trouble is no one told the artists exhibiting at this year’s Biennale. We don’t recall many paintings, though lots of things could be described as still life – it’s just someone forgot to paint them and just left them lying around. Now video, there’s a lot of that and certainly takes some effort to watch. This year’s theme is

May you live in interesting times

Interesting but certainly not happy or fulfilled. We don’t think we’ve been more depressed than, well, we don’t know when. Never before has the emergence into the hot Italian sunshine and the chance of a spritz been more welcomed. There are two main locations – the Arsenale and the Giardini. On balance the best things about both sites are the buildings in which the works are housed. The Arsenale a stunning heritage site, the Giardini housing pavilions built by individual countries. The Finnish pavilion – when can we move in?

The ‘Grand Britain’ pavilion – safe, solid, unlikely to offend anyone. The installation however – oh dear, it leaves you thinking “what?” We’ve got some piles of A4 paper lying around that now surely constitutes “art” – doesn’t matter what’s written/drawn on them.

A mother of sorts is evoked in the stark white arms that rise out of a basin, as if petrified in the constant act of washing up, and in the headless figure in a green 30s dress that stands upon feet of clay. Behind her lies another foot, perhaps the ghost of a lost child. There are faint red stains on the floor and a nameless bundle of rags. Some sort of narrative is building.

Really? The Guardian wrote an apt review and certainly felt there were some bits worthy of praise – we should have read that before we went and then we could have avoided the bits we did see.

If there was a prize for the worst pavilion – and the competition is not small – it would surely go to Austria’s garden of scarlet vagina-blossoms with shiny steel stamens. This is just crass.

More comfortable is the exhibition at the former house of Peggy Guggenheim – lots of real paintings we’d be happy to hang on the wall. Hockney would be happy. Ultimately though it’s fun and, despite the depressing message, strangely uplifting that so much effort can go into art – not for pleasure but for the important messages it sends for society. Or, as “lost cause” said in the Guardian comments…

And if the art is truly shit, you can always hit the Bacaro tour, which will always make up for it.

Venice Biennale 2019

There’s a lot of plywood on display…

This may/may not* be an exhibit…

…and a lot of video

…just finishing the painting

The GB pavilion…

Cathy Wilkes is the artist this year…

No idea [1]

No idea [2]

Another pavilion where the installation may/may not* be finished…

…a Bacari beckons


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