In this era of biennials, The Venice Biennale, the vast international art festival begun in 1895, is the grandmother of them all. While Venice is revered for it’s great Renaissance and earlier art, the Biennale has always managed to feature avant-garde and contemporary art, and somehow the contrast enlivens both worlds.
I attended the first week of the Venice Biennale with an East Boston-based arts organization, “The Biennial Project” which began about 10 years ago as a send-up of the many pretensions of the art world and has since grown into a world-wide network of people who care a lot about art and not at all about the pretensions. The BP stages its own counter-biennials, including one in Marfa, Texas and four Boston Biennials that have been held here locally, last in 2016. These people are the most serious fun around!
This year, in addition to attending the official Biennale, the Boston-based organization held its own parallel Venice event that featured several hundred artists from across the globe. Participating artists included German-born painter-sculptor Artemis Herber, Florida-based photographer Barbara Revelle, videographer Tom Corby from London, and Zsolt Asztalos, who represented Hungary in the official 2013 Biennale but who chose this year to appear in the Boston organization’s parallel event instead. Poetry, in English and Italian, was recited, locals and visitors confabbed, words and prosecco flowed liberally. One couldn’t really say it was a bit of Boston in Venice; it was more like a bit of the world, that had come together under prompting from Boston on a dark night in a Venice neighborhood to talk, and drink, and talk some more about art, because they admired the weird and interesting spirit of the Biennale and the art works that were on display.
And there were some stunning pieces, not least, the small old wooden country house with holes in its roof that was imported in its entirety from the Republic of Georgia, down through which the artist, Chachkhiani, caused artificial rain to pour unceasingly, covering everything inside with dripping water; it captured everyone’s worst fear about waking up in the middle of the night to hear water dripping, and finding that somehow a hole has opened up in the roof — in this case many holes! — and the rain is starting to come in. And in the Italian pavilion, Il Mondo Magico, an exhibit which showed an assembly line in which simulated dried and mummified life-sized corpses of Christ were manufactured from plastic materials and then were heated in ovens and allowed to molder, and then, once finished, were broken into large pieces and displayed, in more or less random order, on a dark wall. It was about imitation versus reality, yes, and the almost unbelievable power of technology, but also about magic, and how and why people hope, and the power of belief. Of course, there were more conventional pieces too, in their hundreds; but this gives you an idea.
About timing, for anyone who might be thinking of attending — and it’s well worth going to see! — it makes a Venice trip even more dramatic than it would otherwise be. Either go early, as I did this year, in May, for the excitement of the crowds and the fun of getting there first, or otherwise consider waiting till late in the year — say, October month — which can be exquisite too, since the fact that there are no crowds then means you can actually see and enjoy and understand things in your own good time.
And full marks to “The Biennial Project”: they’re projecting Boston onto the global arts scene in a singular way, and they do it basically because, being artists themselves, they can’t help it. These people are living to make, and view, and talk about art. Interesting way to live.
Venice Biennale 2017 — http://www.labiennale.org/en/art/exhibition/
The Biennial Project blog — http://the-biennial-project.com/blogengine.NET/
Facebook — https://www.facebook.com/The-Biennial-Project-208168052547147/