Sunday, August 14, 2022

The 59th Venice Biennale & Cecilia Alemani's "The Milk of Dreams": Apr 23 - Nov 27


The Venice Biennale will once again be the most significant exhibition I will see this year. Returning for its 59th installment after a two year delay, Cecilia Alemani, the New York-based Italian curator had more than the usual prerequisite time to prepare her curatorial work. Even with the additional years involved in it's assembly due to the global pandemic, "Venice Biennale Curator Cecilia Alemani Doesn’t Want to Do a ‘Coronavirus Bienniale’", and has offered a lens of the world that instead more representative of, "A Curator’s Vision for a Post-Pandemic Venice Biennale". The centerpiece of which being the large pavilion of the city's mariner rope making factory of the Arsenale and the nearby Giardini. Her extended research has produced another unusually coherent show, which in addition to the global overview of new art, also presents a deeper frame of reference in showing historic work, often by surrealists such as Ithell Colquhoun, Dorothea Tanning and Remedios Varo. Such artists prefigure Alemani's preoccupations in contemporary work; the body in transformation, metamorphosis, and non-gender specific perspectives on form, in many ways it could be said that this installment is "The Women's Biennale", in doing so Alemani has produced, “A Venice Biennale Informed by the Pandemic, that Spotlights Women". Both The New York Times' “Looking Inward, and Back, at a Biennale for the History Books”, and The Guardian's "The Guardian View on the Venice Biennale: Sensuous and Serious", highlight the great achievement of spanning the historic, the contemporary, and a volume of work that is to be experienced “with the fullness of the body”, as expressed by Alemani to The Guardian. Even the video and media-focused installation works are said to have a material feel, sometimes in the setting in which they are shown, such as P.Staff's mirrored kaleidoscope of colors that channels its violent subject matter. Cinders, burnt wood, and accompanying olfactory characteristics fill Switzerland's pavilion, dedicated to Latifa Echakhch's massive figural sculptures in the environment of "The Concert". Or in the case of the elaborate earth maze by Colombian artist Delcy Morelos, already focused on the terra, in which she enhanced the sensory experience by engaging the olfactory senses through tobacco, cocoa, cloves and other spices in the soil.

Collaborative works also feature largely in the main exhibit, and this year's Golden Lion went to Sonia Bonce for her showcasing of black female vocalists in her pavilion for Britain. Alberta Whittle representing the Scotland pavilion talks of her accomplices, from dancers, musicians and historians who have contributed to her film, the Polish pavilion features a series of extraordinary patchwork frescoes by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas that was assembled with fellow sewers. In the way of the major awards, two special mentions were awarded this year to the following national pavilions, France, for their "Les rêves n’ont pas de titre", and Uganda, for "Radiance: They Dream in Time". With Best Artist of the international exhibition going to Simone Leigh from the United States, the Silver Lion for Best Young Artist awarded to Ali Cherri also in the international exhibition, a pair of special mentions were given to Lynn Hershman Leeson and Shuvinai Ashoona, and this year there were also awarded two Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement, which went to German artist Katharina Fritsch and the Chilean artist Cecilia Vicuña. Among the 58 countries represented in the National Pavilions, and 30 Collateral Events to be found throughout the city, there are innumerable sculptural works, performances and installations of note. Highlights from which include a Ha Chong-Hyun retrospective, and the massive sculptural paperworks of Chun Kwang Young, in collaboration with architect Stefano Boeri presented together as "Times Reimagined" in the Palazzo Contarini Polignac. This year, the Norway pavilion is dedicated to the Sami people of the arctic circle, the Japanese pavilion wholly as an audiovisual installation by Dumb Type and Ryuichi Sakamoto, and the archive exhibition "Impossible Dreams" fills the whole of the space dedicated to the Taipei Fine Arts Museum of Taiwan. Nearby in San Marco, there's the light-mirroring steles of Heinz Mack, and the Mexican pavilion represented by Naomi Rincón Gallardo's "Vermin Sonnet". There's also the Canadian pavilion focused on the work of Stan Douglas, and Pedro Neves Marques' multiple screen audio-visual installation "Vampires in Space" at the Portugal Pavilion. “Human Brains: It Begins with an Idea” curated by Udo Kittelmann and Taryn Simon is at the Fondazione Prada, and the Gallerie dell’Accademia di Venezia hosts an exhibition of Anish Kapoor. The fifth edition of MUVE Contemporaneo at Palazzo Ducale presents Andselm Kiefer, and an exhibition on the island of Giudecca of the 20th Action Painting by Viennese artist Hermann Nitsch.

This year’s international group show, "The Milk of Dreams", takes its title from a fairytale by the British-born Leonora Carrington, who is at the heart of an intensely eerie mini-survey to rival the huge surrealism blockbuster at the Peggy Guggenheim Foundation in Dorsoduro. There are capsules such as this throughout, as detailed through Artforum's "Chimerical Romance", "Say it with Bolts!", and "Thought Experiment", some of which are historic and even scholarly, others span the spaces from outsider art, to cyborgs, and vibrantly lifelike mannequins, all of which seen in this context express an air of late-flowering surrealism. The Milk of Dreams” says Alemani, focuses on three themes; “the representation of bodies and their metamorphoses; the relationship between individuals and technologies; and the connection between bodies and the Earth”. In doing so, it dances between primordialist and technological imaginings, creating hybridized possibilities of human form and consciousness “becoming-animal,” “becoming-machine,” and “becoming-earth”. Further reporting for The Guardian, Adrian Searle is our chaperone to its wonders and marvels, the beautiful and the terrible, the celebratory and the morbid all fill the 59th Venice Biennale. Which as Searle points out is in some ways business as usual, but this year there are no billionaire oligarch yachts moored by the Giardini and there is less opulence and ultra-wealth spectacle and celebrity all-round. The Russian pavilion is closed (the curators resigned) and Ukraine has a large presence both in their pavilion and in the various spaces between those of the other nations. These pavilions and main exhibition that comprise the global art overview, situated the ancient and decrepit and historic palazzos, the lush sunlit Giardini and glorious Arsenale and Forte Marghera of Venice, are better for it, as laid out in Searle's compendious, "Cyborgs, Sirens and a Singing Murderer: The Thrilling, Oligarch-free Venice Biennale".