Every two years, Venice hosts a biennale. It takes place in the Giardini, a beautiful park on the southern tip of the island. Thirty countries have permanent pavilions (dictated by international politics during the 1930’s and Cold War) in the park, and within each pavilion is a curated exhibition to present contemporary art from that country. More countries are added each year, with galleries sprinkled throughout the city.
This year, the US Pavilion is curated by the Indianapolis Musem of Art. My wife started working for the IMA last January, and is part of the team that the IMA has sent to Venice. I didn’t want to miss an opportunity to tag along for the week and see what the Biennial is all about.
I’ve been to many, many museums and exhibition openings. However, I’ve never been to an opening quite like the Venice Biennale. It’s a great experience to see the best that the art world has to offer right now. There’s so much one can see. In particular, I loved the political photographs at the Danish Pavilion, as well as Mike Nelson’s work in the British Pavilion. I will admit, however, that my favorite was the U.S. Pavilion, the three performance pieces and one interactive piece in particular. I’m not usually a fan of performance art. In fact, I usually despise it. So it takes a lot for me to really love it. The artists behind these pieces are Allora and Calzadilla.
The main performance piece, called Track and Field, is outside the entry of the Pavilion. It features an upside-down tank with a treadmill mounted over one of the treads. Throughout the day a runner gets on the treadmill and runs for 20 minutes. The tank and the treadmill have been synced to go the same speed.
Just inside the pavilion are the other two performance pieces, Body in Flight (Delta) and Body in Flight (American). They feature old American Delta plane seats. During the day, a gymnast from USA Gymnastics performs an 18-minute routine on the chairs. With the background of the stark white room, it is amazing to watch these gymnasts flip themselves around these chairs with such grace and beauty.
Another piece was called Algorithm. It featured a custom-made pipe organ that had a Diebold ATM built into it. Anyone can insert their bank card and withdraw money (no fees, even!). The pipe organ then produces a custom score based on the keys the user has pressed on the ATM. It’s an extremely clever, interactive work. The artists collaborated with composer Jonathan Bailey.
I’ve been to Venice once before, a couple years ago, and it was for only 48 hours. I’m quite glad I was able to be here for a full week. It really allowed me to explore and absorb the city, from Tintoretto’s at Scuola Grande di San Rocco to the seafood on Burano (another island in the lagoon).
The Biennale opens to the public on Saturday, June 4 through November 27. If you are planning any trips abroad, I highly recommend stopping in Venice during these dates!
Please note!: I am a programmer, I am not an artist or a designer… let alone an art critic. If you’d like a thorough review, please check out the The Daily Beast review.