The exhibition immediately became an important opportunity for comparing different countries and a prestigious showcase for the artists invited to take part in it, an indispensable springboard that launched some of the big names that made a contribution to the history of art.
The number of participating nations is always very high, this year they are 90 and among these there are also some new presences: Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia, Pakistan and the Dominican Republic that participates for the first time with its own Pavilion.
The Venice Biennale is the Exhibition that very well allows to study the artistic currents of the whole world and to put them into dialogue in a single place, able to welcome artists and art lovers from all over the planet, even during a difficult historical period like the one we are experiencing.
It is no coincidence that the title of this 58th edition curated by Ralph Rugoff, “May You Live in Interesting Times”, takes up precisely the climate of uncertainties and great upheavals that are marking the global history.
Rugoff, curator of numerous exhibitions of international artists such as Carsten Holler, Ed Ruschka and George Condo, is the current director of the Hayward Gallery in London, one of the most important public galleries in Great Britain and has also supervised the artistic direction of the XIII Biennial of Lyon (2015).
The interesting theme proposed by Ralph Rugoff allowed the artists to develop different reflections which resulted in not only socio-political interpretations but also wider considerations and new readings of the times we are living, implementing an analysis that is the mirror of an ever-increasing world rapidly evolving, information overload and characterized by a ubiquitous, often alienating technology.
There have been painful and sadly very topical issues, such as the delicate issue of migrants, military conflicts in the Middle East – and beyond – of racism and everything that reflects our times and the precarious aspects of our existence. Some proposed works are an interesting combination of critical thinking and aesthetic pleasure.
An edition with many valid proposals, which sees a strong presence of very young artists (most of them were born after 1980) among which many women appear, for a fresh, effervescent and directly addressing Biennale.
The choice of Rugoff to invite only two Italian artists out of 79 has triggered many controversies, since Italy is the host country, although there are many important names in the international contemporary art scene, they have been excluded from this edition as many renown artists are not present.
Among the many interesting pavilions with high-level artistic proposals, the Golden Lion for the best National Participation was assigned to the Lithuanian Pavilion with the project “Sun & Sea (Marina)”, which was characterized by an experimental performance featuring a sort of tableau vivant, a tribute to the city of Venice and at the same time a reflection on the fragility of man and criticism of leisure and contemporary habits. The work is signed by an all-female artistic trio: Lina Lapelyte, Vaiva Grainyte and Rugile Barzdziukaite.
The Golden Lion for the best participant in the International Exhibition was awarded to Arthur Jafa (USA 1960), an African-American artist who presented the film “The White Album” (2019), a profound reflection on the racial theme that intertwines violence to the detriment of black citizens to an intimate diary in which the artist’s friends and family appear. Jafa is also present in the spaces of the Arsenale with “Big wheel and I” (2018), large sculptures in the shape of a catenate wheel that aim to present the world from the perspective of those who are black.
The artist has exhibited all over the world and in several personal exhibitions including, to name only the most recent, at the ICA in Boston (2018), at the Serpentine Gallery in London (2017), at the MOCA in Los Angeles in 2017 (the city in which Jafa lives), at the Hammer Museum (2016) and in many important collective exhibitions: MCA Chicago (2019), Moma of San Francisco (2018), Dallas Museum of Art (2017).
His final consecration in the Olympus of art took place in 2017 with the film “Love is The Message, The Message Is Death”, a video that talks about African American identity.
The Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement went to Jimmie Durham (Arkansas, USA 1940), American performer, essayist and poet. Durham’s art ranges from design to performance, from collage to sculptures often made with everyday materials, and is characterized by a denunciation of the futility of violence and oppression against ethnic minorities. His works are characterized by a critical but at the same time funny approach, often accompanied by amusing and light texts but functional to a sharp criticism of society.
For Durham it is the sixth participation in the Biennale (the last in 2013) and he has had personal exhibitions in museums around the world including the Hammer Museum Los Angeles (2017-2018), MAXXI Rome (2016), the Serpentine Gallery London (2015).
International exhibitions include, in addition to the Venice Biennale (Editions 1999, 2001, 2003, 2005, 2013), Documenta (1992, 2012), Whitney Biennial of New York (1993, 2003, 2014), Istanbul Biennial (1997, 2013). He has been given important retrospectives at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Antwerp (2012), at the Musee d’Art moderne de la Ville de Paris (2009), at the MAC in Marseille and at the Gemeentemuseum in The Hague (2003). In 2017 a new retrospective of his work from the 1970s to the present has been exhibited at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, the Walker Art Centre in Minneapolis, the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York and the Remai Modern in Saskatoon.
The Silver Lion for a promising young participant in the Exhibition went to Haris Epaminonda (Cyprus 1980), a Cypriot multimedia artist who deals with photography, video and collage. In her installations the artist creates mental routes through the use of images, objects and texts in a delicate intertwining of historical and personal dimensions. Epaminonda has exhibited all over the world, lately she has participated in a group show at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles (2018).
A special mention to the Belgian Pavilion for the project “Mondo Cane” by Jos de Gruyter & Harald Thys, which with its mechanical puppets engaged in traditional works now disappeared offers an alternative and merciless vision of social relations in Europe.
Special mention to the artist and photographer Teresa Margolles (Mexico 1963) who in the work “Muro Ciudad Juárez, 2010” has reconstructed a crumbling wall from Ciudad Juárez, the most violent and bloody city in Mexico, to turn the spotlight on the theme of drama of women involved in Mexican drug trafficking.
In addition to being the protagonist of a solo show at the PAC in Milan in 2018, Margolles has exhibited in monographs at the Museum of Contemporary Art of Montreal (2017) and at the Witte de With Center for Contemporary Art in Rotterdam (2018).
Special mention also for Otobong Nkanga (Nigeria 1974), a Nigerian artist who focuses on the great importance of media in the politics of the earth, within a broader reflection that embraces the precarious aspects of today’s existence. The work “Veins Aligned” (2018) that crosses the spaces of the Arsenale for more than 25 meters, builds a parallel between the concept of territory and that of body, both bearers of similar characteristics.
The Venice Biennale was able to count on a total budget of around 13 million euros and was carried out thanks to the support of some sponsors, including Swatch (partner of the event), illycaffè (main sponsor), JTI (Japan Tobacco International) , Artemide, Vela-Venezia Unica and Seguso Vetri d’Arte, in addition to the contribution of the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, local institutions, the City of Venice, the Veneto Region, the Archeology Superintendency, fine arts and landscape for the Municipality of Venice and Laguna, the Navy.
Coinciding with the Biennale, there are many parallel proposals promoted by the various Institutions and Foundations of the territory that present surprising exhibitions, not just a frame of the International Exhibition.
Among the excellent exhibitions we cite: “La Natura di Arp” at the Guggenheim, Luc Tuymans at Palazzo Grassi, “Place and Signs”, a collective of 36 contemporary artists at the Francois Pinault Foundation in Punta della Dogana, the spaces of the Academy Galleries are dedicated in Baselitz, a retrospective on Jannis Kounellis can be visited at the Prada Foundation, while the most extensive retrospective of Alberto Burri in recent years is at Palazzo Cini.
Le sfumature dell’arcobaleno dell’arte sono infinite: scegliete la vostra preferita!