Art Trip: Venice Biennale | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios

July 26, 2019 posted by

Venice is crowded and also not crowded depending on where you find yourself in this city and when you may be adrift in a torrent of fellow tourists or alone at least for a moment in what feels like a ghost city during its glory days from the Middle Ages to the Renaissance when its magnificent towers and palazzos and basilica's were constructed across numerous small islands it was a major financial and maritime power an incomparable center for global trade then it was crowded with people from around the world as well as merchants and shipbuilders and doges and artists and regular people who live there and it's been a tourist destination since tourism began a pilgrimage site for artists and writers and admirers of its many charms but it's never been as crowded with tourists as it is today and we were among them not just appreciate its riches from previous eras but to see what's happening now to take in the exhibition of new art that it hosts every two years and has since 1895 we began our trip at the Giardini de la Biennale the public gardens that Napoleon drained a marsh to create in the early nineteenth century the first pavilion was made to house and celebrate Italian art but soon after other countries were invited to create their own pavilions starting with other European countries in spreading demonstrating with each a distinct geopolitical and architectural moment in time with the most recent edition of Australia in 2015 every two years countries put forward a commissioner and an artist or group of artists to make work for each space and a jury announces winners it can be helpful to think of it as a kind of art world Olympics only much much more subjective and doping is allowed art has changed tremendously since most of the pavilions were built and many of the most successful installations interact directly and strategically with the given architecture of the site one of these is phillyd Apollo's contribution to the British Pavilion announcing itself from afar with colourful baubles surrounding the entrance and playing off of the buildings grand neoclassical design Barlow's roughly hewn structures and assemblages contrasts with the smooth neat finish of the space they're playful and surprising and funny and confusing obtrusive and at times foreboding this labyrinth of textures and colors and hulking forms made me smile and also appreciate how the seemingly unfinished or even foolish can be more appropriate to the times than the rational we continue on to the German pavilion where visitors line up to experience an impulse Faust inside we stand atop a glass floor and look around the space identifying performers positioned atop wall-mounted pedestals they move about in unpredictable ways seemingly aware of each other but not so much us we move about to make space for the performers and for each other they interact they occupy the space beneath the floor and we take pictures of them sound fills the space along with the mute howls that according to the press materials bear witness to the ever increasing pain of vanishing living beings and to the zombification of capitalist bodies the description rings true onward to the US pavilion where we notice rubble outside the Palladian style building and poems on the facade written in the voice of Hephaestus Greek god of fire and metalworking there by mark Bradford the artist representing the United States although representing is an uneasy term here as soon as we encounter the first work a bulging mass made of layered and shellacked paper trash roofing tiles and grommets we realized that like many artists at the Biennale his aim within this clearly nationalistic context is to challenge the very idea of nationalism he has made the pavilion into a kind of a ruin occupying it with ominous sculptures and installations alongside the large-scale paintings for what she's known made up of posters and signs and discarded materials from the South LA neighborhood where he grew up and still bases his operations and because we are in need of something more lighthearted we then stopped into the Alvar Aalto pavilion of finland to see an installation by nathaniel melora's and air kinesin an animatronic puppets engage in a dialogue about finished society present videos of finished creation mythology and discuss the country's future it's hilarious cuttingly irreverent gross and a delightfully absurd approach to the challenge of representing a country and we never refuse an opportunity to interact the work of air VIN vorm who represents Austria along with artist Rika TECA wants we navigated the truck turned on its head that sits outside which you can enter and climb to its top it's a work by verm titled stand quiet and look out over the Mediterranean Sea which is exactly what we did or tried to do in the artists words it's a memorial to thinking about what's going on and to focus on this dramatic situation of the Mediterranean Sea which is of course currently the locus of mass migration it's one of the artists one-minute sculptures which also populate the interior of the pavilion inviting visitors via instructions to pose with given objects in this way you become the sculpture and also realize how epically long one minute can be next we make a quick stop by the unmissable Korean pavilion adorned with a rooftop installation by Cody Chu whose works often explore the interplay of cultural influences between the u.s. and South Korea inside our other works by chair as well as Lee Wan the most impressive of which is his presentation of the personal archive of deceased journalist mr. K which the artist found and purchased at an antique market for the equivalent of 50 US dollars then came the Swiss Pavilion designed by architect bruno Giacometti brother of artist Alberto Giacometti Karol Bove created works for the Biennale in reference to the work of artists Giacometti who during his life declined all requests for his work to be shown at the Biennale artist duo Teresa Hubbard and Alexander birch ler contribute their masterful film flora which tells the story of flora Mayo an artist who studied in Paris in the 1920s and was involved with Alberto Giacometti on one side of a screen we see and hear an interview with Flora's son who knew little of his mother's life as an artist and on the reverse a reenactment of young Flora's life it's a moving consideration of what it means to be an artist to be influenced to be included and excluded and I encourage you to seek out this film we then approach the entrance of the central pavilion and admired the Sam Gilliam drapes work suspended from the ceiling of the colonnade it marks the beginning of the main art exhibition of the Biennale which this year is curated by Christine Michele and titled Viva arte Viva cell creating the role and voice of the artist at a time when the assert it's needed most the first is the pavilion of artists and books and we quickly came across an actual physical artist Don Kasper as she was hanging out in her studio space like she's done each day since the show opened in May it's the latest installment of her nomadic studio practice where she sets up a studio space as a work in itself performing the role of the artist within it next came another studio this one conceived but not occupied by oleifera liason it's the current location of a workshop that invites refugees asylum seekers and members of the public to come together to construct green light lamps and also participate in language courses seminars and screenings it shares the same space with wallpaper by eddy rama an artist and the current prime minister of Albania composed of the doodles he creates overtop his daily agendas in an adjacent gallery we catch the interaction of a visitor with Leeming ways project when Beauty visits a host invites a visitor to follow her to the carlo scarpa designed garden nearby there a chair is waiting and the guest is asked to sit and enjoy the beauty of the garden while the host leaves to retrieve a gift she returns presents an envelope and requests that it be opened only after the visitors next encounter with beauty when it is eventually opened they will find the story of another person's encounter with beauty there are many wonderful moments in these galleries we made a close inspection of the works of MacArthur Binion who creates abstract compositions atop copies of his birth certificate the address book he kept from the 70s to the 90s and photos of his childhood home in Mississippi there's a superb progression of galleries displaying Kiki Smith's rogue stars surrounded by her works addressing themes of femininity from life to death it leads to a gallery of works by Sangan and Judy who began making abstract sculpture in the 1970s using nylon stockings which she stretches knots and weights with sand here we see a collection of such works my favorite of which you can see vibrating and responding to humming fans and air vents there is a lot more good work in these galleries too much to cover here we took our time getting to know work by artists we'd never previously encountered and looked forward to exploring next chapters of the show we'd seek out tomorrow the next morning we walk to the arson alley the complex of former shipyards and armories that houses the next seven chapters of the Biennale exhibition here we came across structures by Rashid RA in a series of 100 trellis cubes that the public is invited to arrange and rearrange in whatever way you please around the corner we come across another work by leaming way the mending project either the artist or a volunteer in this case a volunteer sits at a table and visitors are invited to bring a damaged item of clothing and wait and watch while the article is repaired with colorful threads it's then placed on the table with the threads still attached join to a wall of colorful spools similarly linked to mended items like Lee's work in the Scarpa garden this project is about interaction and exchange art not as an object coolly observed from afar but art as a gift that only emerges through participation this exhibition contains the work of 120 artists from 51 different countries and 103 of the artists are participating in the Biennale for the first time there are many works that just don't show up well on video that require your close physical presence and careful attention and there are also large-scale installations like this one by Leonor Antunes taking advantage of the dramatic scale of the are sonali space and softening it with an immersive environment of metal mesh leather wood and glass lamps created in the famed workshops of nearby murano we passed into what seemed like another universe the pavilion of shamans through the fantastical wall-mounted works of Rena Banerjee and on to Ernesto Nadeau's a sacred place a structure whose form he adopted for the indigenous hooni Kuen people of the West Amazon in Brazil further on in the pavilion of colors we resisted the urge to dive headfirst into Sheila Hicks monumental installation of stacked bales of pigmented fiber alas it is not allowed in the final chapter we came to luge n woz installation square sheets of steel on top of which rest gold glazed porcelain pools beyond it we became entranced by ilithyia Cuates arrangement of sculptural objects and steel frames and mirrors walking around and around the piece you're unsure of what is real and what is reflection what is doubled or tripled what belongs to the space and what to the artwork I was astounded and confused in the best possible way also at the Arsenal a are a number of other national pavilions including Tunisia's titled the absence of paths you're invited to step forward to a kiosk shed your own nationality and citizenship and be issued a universal travel document granting freedom of movement across any border I apply my thumbprint to the document origin unknown destination unknown and Status migrant its stamp declares me only human I will treasure it oh when the Biennale is much more than an art show and is composed of a huge number of events Venice has be analyzed for architecture cinema dance music and theatre the last of which was also going on at the time of our visit we peaked into a Theatre Workshop taking place at the Arsenal a for Biennale College offering younger artists the chance to work alongside more established artists and develop new work by the afternoon we had reached art exhaustion so we boarded the vaporetto Venice's water bus to see what we could in the breezy shade had offered there are many collateral Biennale events that take place throughout the city and special exhibitions at most of the city's museums you can see art all day every day for a whole week here and if you had that time you'd visit the punta del ado ghana owned by uber collector Francois Pino currently hosting an exhibition of massive works by Damien Hirst from our watery perch we admired the basilica de santa maria della salute a and further along the Grand Canal we passed the Peggy Guggenheim collection which you'd also want to be sure to visit followed by James Lee Byers temporary golden tower whose illusions are too obvious for me to mention outside of the Palazzo Grassi also owned by Francoise Pino and home to his collection we saw more of the Hearst exhibition and felt ok about not going in we passed under the Rialto Bridge and motored by the Prada foundation and by Coppa sorrow currently hosting an exhibition of portraits by David Hockney this is a really hard-hitting art trip I know we disembarked at sans die as it was high time for gelato which we found and enjoyed at fun hey go della dolce say if you must know I had the peach that evening it was back to the arsenal' a since we had snagged tickets to a play that was part of the theatre Biennale we passed another work by Alesia quoi de a constellation of polished stone spheres distributed across the gravel walk like an array of unknown planets and took in the stunning environs of the Arsenal a at the end of the day that evening we sat in a cool dark space and watched the tour de force that is undone written by Wilfred ho and directed by Claudia Bower we knew nothing of what we are seeing in advance and surrendered ourselves to the experience in a coming together of acting puppetry dance and live video projection we watched play out a nightmarish and masterful childhood memory we were speechless somewhat traumatized and wholly impressed on our third day we set out for some of the Biennale venues scattered around the city including the pavilions of countries participating for the first time one of these is Nigeria whose exhibition titled how about now is installed in the former home of a guild of artists and makers of gold thread and gold leaf within we Traverse an installation called a biography of the Forgotten by Victoria commoner for which he gathered hundreds of benign bronze heads from Magoon Street in Benin City and strung them along with mirrors two large sheets of painted canvas we also see pay you a lot eases installation based on the story of a little girl who works as a housemaid in Lagos and longs for a realm where she is free and can fly we wind our way back to Dorset Road to the antigua and barbuda pavilion tucked away in the recesses of a 15th century former monastery there we delve into the world of Frank Walter who was born in Antigua in 1926 became the first person of color to manage a sugar plantation spent time in Europe later returned to Antigua and lost a bid for prime minister to his cousin and eventually retreated from society to live in isolation all the while he generated a tremendous volume of artwork paintings sculptures writings and recordings which he hoped to someday share by opening his studio as an art centre it's this thorough thoughtful and captivating showing at the Venice beyond that he got instead and which we felt lucky to spend some time with afterward we stopped for a quick bite to eat at Osteria L Square o where we selected a number of cicchetti or snacks and shared them alongside in Aperol spritz a super refreshing Italian aperitif and because you can't go to Venice and not it's gondola time the oppressive Sun was finally hidden behind clouds and we ventured out onto the Grand Canal before turning to explore some of the smaller canals of d'Or Sodor oh we are seeing the city as it was meant to be seen and spent our brief ride trying to conjure this place as it was in eras past wondering which buildings are occupied or empty used as they were intended or rented out as air B&B z' we disembarked by our next stop the gallery Delica damia to see their temporary exhibition Philip Guston and the poets academia has a terrific permanent collection of course master works by Varanasi Titian Giorgio nee but we were there to see works by American painter Philip Guston who spent time in Italy and was heavily influenced by the work of Italian Renaissance masters the gallery's feature works that span a 50-year period of his career and thematic groupings consider the writings of 20th century poets like D H Lawrence and TS Eliot as the quote catalysts for his enigmatic pictures and visions I like Dustin's work and I especially like seeing it in the rare context of this historic institution and through the lens of the ideas and poetry that inspired him from there we walked a short distance to the future generation ArtPrize which had taken up residence for the Biennale in a mid 15th century Palazzo the artist whose work are on display our recipients of the prize awarded to 21 artists from around the world and made possible by the kiev based Pinchuk Art Center and Victor Pinchuk foundation we explored the pungent installation made by South African artist de neige osechi bo-peep made from locally extracted soil along with hay crystals ash herbs and clay objects it is of course striking to see giant slabs of dirt within a grand Palazzo but more than anything I felt privileged to see this work here where I can appreciate the collision of times and geographies and textures and materials I felt similarly taking in the work of dim born fear la Baez whose paintings of Creole women in red headscarves replaced the Rococo mirrors that usually adorn the space beyond it is ghen an artist Ibrahim Muhammad's enormous construction of material collected from abandoned industrial sites along with old shoe shiners boxes described as quote objects of labour and exploitation that belonged to the mundane urban landscape of Accra and other places in Ghana it was getting darker and darker outside as we explored the many good works here and just as we are about to leave torrential rain that ended the day's art viewing as we sat for quite a while huddled at the doorway of the palazzo until the rain eased enough to make a mad dash back to the hotel on the day of our departure we made a last stop by the Icelandic Pavilion on jeu Decca to see its installation by this artist who I'm going to spare from my mispronunciation apologies to everyone who came before inside were led to believe that two trolls ugh and boog are have followed the artist from his studio in Berlin and taken over the creation of the pavilion we hear about their venetian adventures drinking espressos and plucking tourists from st. Mark's Square and eating them the whole thing is wildly happy making okay so it's fair to say that we did not experience Venice like the locals but while the city's residents are far outnumbered by the masses that arrive daily you can still catch glimpses of what real life might look like here and you can still wind your way through its narrow streets and alleys bask in the breathtaking glory of its architecture it's light and it's centuries long commitment to the Arts what we missed an authentic experience we made up for in our exposure to new art and artists from disparate corners of the world together for a handful of months in this historic city this year's Biennale aims to reveal the universes artists create for themselves and also the way those universes open up and involve others astounding things happen when artists spend long hours sketching making and creating forms in closed rooms but they also happen when those artists admit and embrace that they like us all are part of a wide web of people and communities and influences and political and environmental forces I mean look at it Venice is gorgeous as I impatiently pushed my way through my fellow visitors I swore I'd never come back but I will I have to in two years the city will be filled with entirely new artwork and voices and ideas and I want to be there to see it the art assignment is funded in part by viewers like you through patreon com a subscription-based platform that allows you to support creators you like in the form of a monthly donation special thanks to our Grand Master of the Arts Indianapolis homes Realty if you'd like to support the show check out our page at slash art assignment you you


30 Replies to “Art Trip: Venice Biennale | The Art Assignment | PBS Digital Studios”

  1. LOVE AND PEACE says:

    One day I hope that I'll find a way to show my art there! To fill the world with love and peace!

  2. Trey Ruland says:

    You should do an art trip to Lubbock, Texas. Although "Keep Lubbock Boring" is an unofficial slogan of the town, we actually have an interesting art scene. Texas Tech has a great deal of public art available on campus. We also have the LHUCA museum, which sponsors the First Friday Art Trail, a monthly art event that spans much of downtown.

  3. Isaac Camargo says:

    Very, Very GOOD!

  4. GLR says:


  5. Francesca Pessarelli says:

    I just got back from this year's Biennale and am overwhelmed with how many amazing things I saw! And Venice is always beautiful. Would love to hear your thoughts on Biennale 2019.

  6. Arcturusgold says:

    Aware that the narrator is giving her "spin" on her experience but all of this in the context of REAL life lived and experienced by countless millions/billions at the 'coal face' of life, the "hands-on" life that is demanded of individual 24/7 AND to SUSTAIN life, all this is pretentious, narcissistic, self-indulgent twaddle and worthy of a scene from a psychiatric hospital. Pretending to "demonstrate/express" to the world…….Blah, Blah, Blag, Blah…….get in a fishing boat off the Alaskan Coast in winter, or a Canadian coal mine, perhaps build a bridge or a dam or a skyscraper in howling winds, join the army and the front line in Afghanistan etc., etc., etc. As a House Builder having been "tutored" in 'Conceptual art' in the early seventies by internationally recognised artists at a UK College, and pursued a successful career in 'Art' before entering a Building Firm as a qualified Tradesman (then highly qualified Builder) these comments come from DIRECT and long-standing experience of "ART" and LIFE. There is Merit in some of the art produced but in the context of what has been said about real life….Pah! Nonsense!

  7. BarbART says:

    Hi all! I made a vlog about the Biennale 2019 pre.opening, you can find it on my page!!

  8. fiamma valli says:

    but the pronunciation of the Italian artists? I don’t make such mistakes in my work. There are translators in our society , so unprofessional the Americans in general !

  9. Maria Aragonez says:

    (& doping is allowed)

  10. R M says:

    What is the problem with Hirst? Sorry but my english is limited.

  11. Ezzam Rahman says:

    I hope you’ll cover south East Asian and Asian artists more please

  12. joseph Traff says:

    Globalism is dieing as is it's colonialist agenda …

  13. diptipandey72 says:

    what about India section?

  14. Adriann Pollmann says:

    Wow, that was absolutely beautiful! What a dream!

  15. lennox says:

    i wish you had talked about the diaspora pavilion, i studied it in uni and it was specific to the 2017 Biennale.

  16. scorpioninpink says:

    What I love about Venice? Locals.
    What I hate about Venice? Other Tourists.

  17. jacek pokrak says:

    Understanding compmaturism. Regards POKRAK

  18. m I o . o I m says:

    "we saw the Hirst exhibition and felt ok about not going in"
    why do i totally understand this? Hirst has been monumental, yes, but lately he's been: random + random = art. almost lazy.

  19. Elliot Reed says:

    This writing is excellent. Easy to understand but never condescending or overly didactic. Bravo!

  20. Coty Schwabe says:

    I love that I got to experience this without even leaving my desk.

  21. Lemonade says:


  22. Zac Frost says:

    I love this channel! St. Louis soon..?

  23. Ed Leonardi says:

    Amazing tour, thanks Sara!

  24. fleuria says:

    I visited the biennale for the first time at the end of August last year and completely missed the country pavilion installations!! will have to definitely visit them again some time in the future

  25. Lisa Gorska says:

    I had no time to get the universal passport and every time I think about it I almost cry

  26. Daniel White says:

    Really want to know about the planning for the trips !

  27. Andrènico says:

    Ma perché sta gente non impara almeno a pronunciare un po la nostra lingua??

  28. USA Arts says:

    Amazing video. Very informative on Biennale. Thanks. ❤️nyc

  29. Nick Kateris says:

    These videos deserve so many more views. Please never stop.

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