Over the weekend the 55th Venice Art Biennale, the largest and most important international showcase for contemporary art, opened to the public. Sculpture, drawing, installation, performance, and video were all on view—challenging and expanding our notions of what art is and continues to be.
With more than 150 artists from 37 countries, and 88 National Participations in venues throughout the city, a range of topics were explored visually: everyday life in Iraq; the war zone in eastern Democratic Republic of Congo; cloning as it relates to exploration. There were also calls to look inward, with the main exhibition wondering: "What room is left for inner images in an era besieged by external ones?" And South Korea's Kimsooja asked viewers to tap into their own bodies and breath—an interesting exercise to do among a crowd of art viewers, which included curious members of the clergy.
Exhibitions were held in the most beautiful of settings—century's old piazzas, places of worship, marble villas, and sinking townhouses—which created a sometimes jarring juxtaposition of old and new. For instance, Ai Weiwei's Disposition—a series of large scale dioramas portraying his 81 days in detention in a Chinese prison, where his every move, including showers and sleeping, was monitored by authorities—was exhibited in a 7th century church.
Throughout Venice, the art also continued outside, with clever urban interventions found around the city, like the artist who attached himself to a canvas and invited people to paint what they thought a terrorist looked like. As major issues were examined indoors, the same played out on the streets, with several people gathering amidst the art celebrations to stand in solidarity with Turkey.
If there is one takeaway from the sprawling Biennale, it is that art remains one of the most impactful vehicles to create dialogue about the world and inspire change. Seeing the quality of work, how this disparate group of artists chose to approach their subject matter, and the profound effect their messages carried, was an important personal reminder of the power of creativity. Following is a roundup of some of this important work.
Ai Weiwei at the German Pavilion. Stool installation represents the "rampant proliferating organisms of this world's megacities."
Seen on the streets.
Sarah Sze, representing the U.S.
Cripplewood tree made of wax. Berlinde De Bruyckere. Belgium.
Frailty. Discovery through psychedelics. Pawel Althamer. Poland.
Healing art. Emma Kuntz. These drawings were made next to her patients' bodies as healing therapy. Switzerland.
Child exploring South Korea's Kimsooja installation.
Mark Manders at the Polish Pavilion.
Art on the streets, Venice.
Ai Weiwei, Dispositions.
Performance at "The Encyclopedic Palace."
"Create a terrorist" on the streets.
Book installation at the National Pavilion of the United Arab Emirates.
R. Crumb's The Book of Genesis.
Gondola performance art.
Select images via Jasmine Pasquill