La Biennale di Venezia

IMG_20150507_173231La Biennale di Venezia, the 56th International Art exhibition, kicked off on May 5 with openings all over Venice. (The Biennale Arte officially runs from May 9 through November 22.) The theme of the exhibition this year is “All the World’s Futures.” My friend Sundaram Tagore insisted that I go to the Biennale for myself and I am glad I did!

My three days in Venice were filled with mind-opening insights into how humans and humanity have evolved—and the prospects for the future of our planet. It was interesting to see that the Asian countries (Korea, Japan, Pakistan, India) and the Middle Eastern countries (Iran, Uzbekistan) had vibrant and bold political statements presented through their art. In contrast, the Nordic exhibits were reflective of the peace amidst global chaos. Hong Kong artist Tsang Kin-Wah’s “The Infinite Nothing” rebelled against age-old beliefs. Originally a devout Christian, Tsang began to question religious values when he came under the influence of Friedrich Nietzsche’s existentialist philosophy. Tsang’s video oeuvre can be characterized as a constant search for meaning and purpose in life: “Are we not straying as through an infinite nothing?” he asks.

The art exhibits varied in theme. One presented the idea of a “perfect future,” which featured a 22nd-century world that was super efficient, climate controlled, and instantly connected to everything in the world. The perfect human specimen walked a rotating rim to keep fit, and water and food were provided in a measured amount to each human. Quite different were the graffiti-like installations in the Azerbaijan pavilion, offering a medley of peace, mental confusion, unity, and chaos that screamed from the extreme cross section of art at the Biennale.

The Japanese exhibit was perhaps the most talked about at the Biennale. Artist Chiharu Shiota’s “The Key in the Hand,” curated by Hitoshi Nakano, had hundreds of keys hanging by red wool. The impact was mesmerizing as I walked under the cavern of red. The boat in the center signifying the navigation of the journey through life was really quite special!

The “My East is Your West” opening, with Shilpa Gupta from India and Rashid Rana from Pakistan at Palazzo Benzon, was fantastic. The emphasis on the breaking of barriers and social commentaries of injustice asked such questions as, “Will it be alright if we win?” Cloth installations in meters measured the barriers between India and Bangladesh. Rashid was in Lahore and talked to every guest at the opening party via a video chat projected onto an entire wall to everyone’s delight.

Most of the Biennale exhibits are located at the Giardini and the Arsenale, both close to the center and St. Mark’s Square, while other exhibits can be found at Tutti i Giorni, Al Tramonto, Zattere, La Fondamenta ai Gesuati, and Ponte Longo. My tip: Lilya Pavlovic-Dear is an artist to watch! Lilya lives between New York and Paris, and was born in the Ukraine. Her work at the Biennale was serene; I liked it very much.

Camille Norment’s “Rapture” at the Nordic Pavilion was a “site specific sculptural and sonic installation” for which the American-born Oslo-based artist composed new music on a glass armonica, a legendary 18th-century instrument that creates ethereal music from glass and water that sounded a lot like an “Omm” chant to me!

It’s interesting to note that the glass armonica—once played by Mozart and Marie Antoinette—was first celebrated for curing people with its entrancing music, but later banned because it was thought to induce states of ecstasy and arouse sexual excitement. Camille Norment comments: “Sound, by its nature, permeates borders—even invisible ones. Throughout history, fear has been associated with the paradoxical effects music has on the body and mind and its power as a reward-giving de-centralizer of control.” I thought this was a special exhibit to see for anyone visiting the biennale.

I was fortunate to bump into American photographer Hugo Tillman (of “Beijing Series” fame), who then toured the central pavilion with me where there were many New York–centric art installations—all “must-sees” for New Yorkers, as we will understand the subtle nuances best! A favorite was the “Nelson Rockefeller 1958 Ballot” installation. Nelson Rockefeller resigned from federal government in 1956. In the state election of 1958, he was elected governor of New York by over 600,000 votes, defeating the incumbent, multi-millionaire W. Averell Harriman (even though 1958 was a banner year for Democrats elsewhere in the nation).

A highlight on the walk from the Giardini to the Arsenale included the Serra dei Giardini Greenhouse that was built in 1894, the oldest permanent structure of the whole original system of the Biennale.

Adel Abdessemed’s work showed in the same space with Nympheas’s “Grouping of Knives.” Another notable was Matthias Schaller’s “Das Meisterstuck,” also featured in last month’s New York Times. Matthias has photographed the art pallets of masters like Picasso, Monet, Cezanne, Kandinsky, Bacon, and Twombly, which offered pure revelation into the various artist’s minds and creativity.

I left inspired by the Biennale’s “All the World’s Futures.” Art is truly the best reflection of reality, and the future is looking good!