Pictures of an exhibition
Francesco Bonami’s Venice Biennale “Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer” delegated responsibility to nearly a dozen curators and, ultimately, to the viewers themselves. The exhibition’s 50th edition brought an end to the monolithic “Grand Show” of yesteryear, for better or (as the consensus seemingly would have it) for worse. And the unseasonable weather didn’t help. At June’s heat wave plagued vernissage, many openly wondered whether it was the lack of inspiration or rather the perspiration that was dampening their enthusiasm. We invited three regular contributors scholar critic Scott Rothkopf, art historian Linda Nochlin, and Artforum editor elect Tim Griffin to assess the exhibition, after the heat of the moment.In the BagOf the nearly four hundred artists in this year’s Venice Biennale, one handily seized the spotlight at the vernissage with little help from the curators and almost no effort of his own. While his official entries hung discreetly in the Museo Correr, his work swept across the canals by vaporetto and water taxi, alighted on the breakfast tables of the Gritti Palace, and dangled from 1:1 replica handbags the arms of art aficionados making their way through the chaos of the Arsenale. Takashi Murakami was everywhere. For two hundred fifty euros or “your best offer,” an African street vendor would sell you a fake Louis Vuitton bag emblazoned with the artist’s splashy take on the venerable LV monogram; for several hundred euros more, you could score the real thing at the local Vuitton boutique; or for the price of admission to the exhibition, you could ogle his paintings all within a few hundred square feet. Just as Murakami’s bags and their knockoffs cropped up everywhere from Canal Street to Oprah last spring, they spread through Venice like a virus, but against the pious backdrop of the 50th Biennale, his logomania suddenly looked seditious as never before.If Murakami’s satchels seemed at all subversive in Venice, it was certainly not because they demonstrated the obviously critical or, at the very least, ironic relationship to the global culture industry that was de rigueur at the Biennale. The staggering ubiquity of his bags in the Giardini had almost nothing to do with the calculated “disturbances” of Conceptual artists who since the 1960s have bought advertising space in mass media outlets, or with the legions of photographers who have more recently churned out glossy fashion pages and glossier Cibachromes. Yet within the context of Francesco Bonami’s sprawling Biennale, the bags seemed like an outright provocation not against the stranglehold of international market forces but against Bonami’s self proclaimed curatorial premise, targeted as it was against the very “breaking wave of globalization” that Murakami’s bags seemed so effortlessly to ride.In his introductory catalogue essay, Bonami frames this year’s Biennale as nothing less than an attempt to “conceive of a new exhibition structure” for the “Grand Show.” He defines his approach in direct opposition to that of the Biennale’s previous director, Harald Szeemann, and a lineage of “monolithic” mega exhibitions that since the 1960s have dominated the international art scene and, increasingly, its audience. In the name of a liberating and “more intimate” viewing experience, Bonami delegated curatorial responsibility to eleven colleagues, who along with him have organized a total of eleven official shows, as well as a series of “Links” and “Interludes,” all of which vie for attention with the national pavilions. While Bonami was wise to question how the “Grand Show” has come to posit an elusive viewer with endless amounts of time to say nothing of patience his fake designer bags solution only exacerbates the problem.Making one’s way through the seemingly endless Arsenale, it was hard to see how a welter of exhibitions was any more sensitive to art and its audience than a single focused show might have been. There one encountered a series of intentionally dissonant presentations, several of which were organized in classic World’s Fair style by continent or region. One trekked from Africa and its diaspora, on to Asia, and finally to the Arab world, each stop brimming with enough information laden art to fuel a high school social high quality designer replica handbags wholesale studies curriculum. The best of the bunch, Carlos Basualdo’s “The Structure of Survival,” focuses primarily on Latin America, but within a broader geographic and generational framework, which accommodates contributions by senior figures, including Gego and Helio Oiticica, alongside fresh efforts, such as an impressive installation by Rachel Harrison. Still, if Bonami truly hoped to eschew traditional power structures, it seems puzzling that he has parceled out so much of the Biennale according to such conventional borders a particularly troubling arrangement in that it individually quarantines the art of non Western cultures in the name of a broader global perspective. Bonami’s disavowal of a synthetic presentation seems to rest on the mistaken assumption that a focused replica louis vuitton bags curatorial argument is, as he has written, necessarily “hegemonic” or leveling of art’s true diversity. Nowhere is this abdication of curatorial responsibility more painfully clear than in his own obscure show “Clandestine,” the concept of which is as bidden as its title suggests. Here Okwui Enwezor’s recent Documenta serves as an instructive counterexample, insofar as that exhibition suggested a cogent, if somewhat overstated, curatorial viewpoint, which rather than stilling the artworks generated meaningful connections among them.For Bonami, the Biennale’s fractured structure is not simply an answer to the problem of the “Grand Show,” but more important, it serves as a response to the shadowy threat of globalization, the “waning of individuality and uniqueness.” In his catalogue essay, he proposes a “new reality somewhere between Globality and Romanticism, where economics and information finally intersect within the complexity of an individual’s identity and emotions. a world where the conflicts of globalization are met by the romantic dreams of aThe problem of the “Grand Show”; it serves as a response to the shadowy new modernity.” He has christened this spirit “Glomanticism” (a term that’s in and of itself an affront to the culture industry, because it surely would never have survived a marketing focus group). In three of Bonami’s own shows one found the “glomantic” spirit represented in a wide assortment of works by Matthew Barncy, David Hammons, Franz Ackermann, Peter Doig, and Magnus von Plessen, among many others. But the problem with Bonami’s “Glomantic” model is not its defense of a spiritual interiority per se so much as the curator’s somewhat disingenuous characterization of this approach as a viable form of political resistance. Such questionable claims are familiar from the early days of Abstract Expressionism but become especially hard to swallow in the context of exhibition literature liberally peppered with corporate sponsorship logos. Still, there’s a kind of poignant desperation to Bonami’s stance, and it’s indicative of an art world haunted by its impotent relationship to recent geopolitics yet understandably anxious to frame art as a socially redemptive practice.This desire was most palpable at “Utopia Station,” where cocurators Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and RirkrIit Tiravanija served up a rabbit warren of spaces crammed with work by an impressive army of artists. Visitors could take in numerous videos, catch a performance organized by Martha Rosler and a cohort of art students, or sample enough panel conversations to raise the spirit of Joseph Beuys’s “social sculpture” from the dead. In their accompanying catalogue essay, the cheap louis vuitton bags from china curators explain this confusing cornucopia as an attempt to reconsider utopia and to incorporate “aesthetic material, aesthetic matters, too, into another economy which does not regard art as fatally separate.” But what could have been more “fatally separate” than a cloistered space at the end of a kilometer long Venetian Arsenale, accessible only to the most devoted pilgrims? There art’s incorporation into “another economy” was apparently evidenced by Atelier van Lieshout’s rough hewn (and soon inoperable) outhouse, or by the visitor’s choice between an artist imported, eco friendly cola and an acqua frizzante from the snack bar. Perhaps it was fitting that a kind of playacting reverie enveloped the Station; or that it appeared somehow more meaningful to its actors than its audience; or even that its stated goal was simply to promote discussion, as had already been done at far flung preliminary symposia from Frankfurt to Poughkeepsie. Yet despite several admirable contributions and an appealing air of optimism, the overall presentation suggested a sort of troubling solipsism couched as activism, an insider’s conversation in the guise of global outreach and engagement. This feeling was hardly mitigated by an installation of such dizzying opacity that most visitors seemed less interested in the art and ideas than in the chic souvenir totes branded with the Station’s logo and that of fashion designer Agnes B.In Venice, the legacy of the ’60s was high quality designer replica handbags of course present in more than just utopian visions, as curators and artists alike found fresh impetus to wrestle with that decade’s weighty inheritance. While many attempts to negotiate the past appeared embarrassingly revivalist, Felix Gmelin offered a subtle meditation on the correspondences and ruptures between activist strategies then and now. In the Italian pavilion he presented Farbtest, Die Rote Fahne II (Color test, the red flag II), 2002, a pair of videos projected side by side on a wall. The left projection shows footage of a demonstration in the form of a relay race, with a series of men passing off a large red flag as they run down a Berlin street directly toward a perpetually retreating camera. The action, involving Gmelin’s father, took place in 1968 and ended with the raising of the flag on the balcony of city hall, the site of President Kennedy’s famous 1962 address. The right projection shows the same action restaged a generation later in Stockholm in 2002, several months after the anti globalization rallies in Genoa and Goteborg, Sweden. Gmelin timed the second race to match the first so that we see Perfect Quality Louis Vuitton Replica the flags handed off on each monitor almost exactly in sync. Tinged with nostalgia, but not naively so, Farbtest questions the efficacy of appropriated political strategies. Can activism be meaningfully transposed from one place and time to another? In what ways is the “color test” alluded to in the work’s title a formal statement as much as a political one? Gmelin leaves these questions unanswered, but it is their concise and elegant formulation that made one want to ponder them more than many of the overblown statements elsewhere on display.Though arguably more market friendly, Chris Ofili’s paintings offered an alternative model for addressing broad social concerns within a compelling personal idiom. At the British pavilion, the painter presented a suite of densely layered canvases and delicate gouaches, starring a pair of Afro capped lovers in a hothouse effulgence of glitter and palm fronds Designer Louis Vuitton Replica Handbags , halfway between the Copacabana and Paradise. The smartly dressed duo call to mind Ike and Tina as readily as Adam and Eve, and it is precisely this exuberant mix of allusions that lands Ofili’s paintings their evocative romanticism and hot wired cultural charge. Apart from a dash of gold, each of the works in the show, as well as the pavilion itself, has been meticulously executed in only red, black, and green, a primary palette descended from Marcus Garvey’s 1920 Universal African flag by way of rap posters and pot paraphernalia. Unlike much of the finger wagging art in Venice, Ofili’s paintings betray a keen sensitivity to the power and allure of pop cultural myths from the dance hall to the barricades. While such an attitude may not be revolutionary enough for some, it represents a generous and lively take on a complex landscape of symbols both mundane and sublime.A more bravado political gesture could be found nearby in Santiago Sierra’s installation at the Spanish pavilion. There Sierra covered the sign ordinarily announcing “Spagna” with a black plastic tarp and masking tape. Just twenty six inches past the pavilion’s main entrance, he built a rough cinderblock wall spanning the width of the building, so that visitors were completely barred from passing farther than this messy liminal zone, strewn with the detritus of the wall’s construction and a now unenclosed toilet. After following a dusty path to the pavilion’s back door, one encountered two armed uniformed guards who informed visitors that entrance was permitted only upon presentation of a Spanish passport or other legal identification. While this ploy may have at first appeared gimmicky, the installation came alive after one witnessed scores of disgruntled non Spanish visitors turned away at the door (one indignant Dutch couple put up a good fight to no avail). Sierra, more than any of the participating artists, seemed to understand the implications of a national pavilion as a quasi sovereign space. Although this politicized zone was obviously staged, its implications were made forcefully real. Would be visitors unexpectedly confronted the conflation of political and spatial barriers, an experience made all the more jarring and timely following the softening of borders within the EU, as well as their recent tightening in other parts of the world.Across the Giardini, it was politics, or rather “business,” as usual for United States representative Fred Wilson. As part of his didactic exploration of the history of blacks in Venice, he hired an African immigrant to stand outside the US pavilion with a passel of artfully faked designer handbags. Unfortunately, however, they weren’t actually for sale, or at least not without a call to Wilson’s gallery. According to the Financial Times, the artist remarked that his museum ready creations “will be for sale. Just not at the usual street prices.” For all those viewers who might have bemoaned Murakami’s troubling market complicity and the evils of globalization, here was a bag with more respectable credentials than even the totes at Utopia Station. Nestled safely within the outstretched wings of the American pavilion, the handbags (and their salesman) were clearly framed as “art,” not fashion, cheap replica handbags with all the requisite critical distance such a distinction implies. Yet the gesture seemed outright tame and contrived in light of the vendors outside the Giardini hawking “real” knockoffs, seductively plastered with counterfeit reinterpretations of a reinterpreted monogram. Murakami’s bags may indeed signal art’s ominous and orgiastic embrace of global consumption, but in contrast to the Biennale’s largely tired take on geopolitics, they somehow seemed less fake than fake designer bags true.Less than MoreWHAT IS UTOPIA? HOW DOES THE UTOPIAN IDEA ENGAGE WITH HISTORY AS WELL AS WITH THE PRESENT?How might utopia be reconceived and reconfigured for our troubled times? And how can utopia a concept typically set forth in a text find its material counterpart in works of art? These and related questions are raised by “Utopia Station,” a heterogeneous, multiform, sometimes messy but always provocative, indoor and outdoor, large scale exhibition of objects, installations, videos, films, and performances by sixty artists and collectives, curated by Molly Nesbit, Hans Ulrich Obrist, and Rirkrit Tiravanija for the Venice Biennale.”Utopia Station” is a literal “station” last stop on the line of exhibitions on view at the Arsenale. But it is a station in a metaphoric sense, too: one arrested moment in an ongoing investigation that has included the Discount Replica Louis Vuitton Bags Utopia Seminar (part of the graduate program in visual arts at the University of Venice), a weekend gathering in Poughkeepsie, New York, the publication of a journal, Janus, in Belgium, and an ambitious poster project including works by such well known artists as Marina Abramovic, Fischli Weiss, Leon Golub, Steve McQueen, Annette Messager, Elizabeth Peyton, Rosemarie Trockel, Thomas Hirschhom, Louise Bourgeois, and Ed Ruscha. And given the near hundred degree heat in Venice, it was impossible, walking and rewalking the long, long trail to the show with bleeding feet and burning head, not to relate “station” to the physical suffering high quality replica handbags china and mental anguish narrated in the stations of the cross. But once you got there, things changed. In the heat and agitation of the Biennale press opening, “Utopia Station” offered a kind of redemptive, if unkempt, respite. The station itself was planned as a long, low platform part dance floor, part stage, and part quay, to paraphrase the curators. Along one side was a row of large circular benches and tables, designed by Liam Gillick, where one could read, talk, rest, powder one’s nose, or take off one’s shoes as the spirit moved. On the other side was a wall intersected by small rooms for installations, performances, and projections. Outside was a rough, weedy, but spacious garden planted with installations, events high quality replica handbags china , seating space, and not quite enough shade.Among the most memorable works on view at “Utopia Station,” indoors or out, were Agnes Varda’s video projection Patatutopia, 2003, which features close ups of potatoes, their withered complexions creating a sense of uncanny pathos as they move and metamorphose across the screen; Yoke One’s contribution, which includes the “Declaration of Nutopia” signed by John Lennon and herself in 1973 and wall maps on which visitors are encouraged to stamp the words IMAGINE PEACE; an enchanting video by Shimabuku called When sky was sea, 2002, featuring fish kites floating in a sea sky of heavenly blue; a series of album covers by Rodney Graham, done in the blackest of black inks; and Tacita Dean’s Alabaster Window Project replica louis vuitton , 2003, a stained glass window in muted colors, suggesting, perhaps, transcendence.Despite such highlights, I think it is fair to say that few of the works on view engage directly with the idea of utopia that inspired the show. In some cases, utopia might present itself through a sort of willed free association: For example, if you had seen Varda’s wonderful film Les Glaneurs et la glaneuse (2000), you might connect her potatoes to the theme of gleaning and the ecological ideal of living on leftovers, a utopian notion of sorts. But on the whole, the utopian idea was implicit rather than explicit, figurative rather than literal in the work on view in Venice with rare but welcome exceptions.There was, for example, Martha Rosler’s Speculations and Speculative Fictions, 2003, which, to borrow the words of its creator, was “an episodic investigation of time, time travel, and visions of social transformation,” performed in the setting of a still larger project, the Oleanna Space/Ship/Station, which drew on ongoing collaborations with present and former students from around the world. Engaging science fiction literature, especially the 1970s feminist variety, this multipartite work considered the hazards of travel from the time of Homer to the era of the space shuttle. Some of the political inspiration for the piece came from a renegade Scandinavian branch of the Situationists who were expelled from the movement for refusing to renounce the art world, a nice utopian irony in the context of the Venice Biennale!The work on view that grapples most directly perhaps with the historical idea of utopia is Leif Elggren and Carl Michael yon Hausswolff’s portentously titled The Annexation of Utopia by the Kingdoms of Elgaland Vargaland, 2003, a book shredding and recycling act for which the Swedish artists pulped multiple copies of a specially printed edition of Sir Thomas More’s Utopia (1516), formed the pulp into lovely sheets of raw paper, and hung them out to dry on open air clothes.