55th Venice Biennale: Mr. Gioni's Gigantic Wunderkammer

Paolo Baratta (president) and Massimiliano Gioni (curator) of 55th Venice Biennial (c) PAS


Paolo Baratta, long-time Biennale president, chose Massimiliano Gioni (39), as the youngest curator for Biennale keynote show, because - as he put it - he likes to take risk. Mr. Gioni is certainly a bright curator, but I think for this show, his risk didn't pay off: For me the keynote show is too big, too arbitrary and too inconsistent to its own concept.



Installation view of 'Venetians' an 2013 iteration of 'Almech' by Pawel Althammer (c) the artist, photocredit PAS



Luckily, there are still a number of great works, like Pawel Althammer's 'Venetians', in it and at the rest of the Venice Biennale: You can always rely on the swarm intelligence of the other curators of the 88 national pavilions and the collateral events. So, the trip to Venice is always worth it.



Model of 'The Encyclopedic Palace' by Maurino Auriti, 1950s (c) the artist, photocredit by PAS



Mr. Gioni took the title 'Il Palazzo Eciclopedico' (The Encyclopedic Palace) from Maurino Auriti (1891 - 1980), who was an Italo-American self-thought less-known artist. In 1955, he filed a US patent for his vision of a museum designed to showcase the entire range of humanity’s achievements - from the wheel to the satellite. Mr. Auriti built a model, which is in the Biennale show on loan from the American Folk Museum. The museum was never built, as Maurino Auriti failed to find financial backing for his project.



55th Venice Biennale curator Massimiliano Gioni (c) PAS



'I am interested in artists who try to know and understand everything!' said Massimiliano Gioni in the opening press conference. He looked at various sources: From established artists, outsider art, Shaker drawings, drawings of Shaman of the Solomon Islands to the adolescent erotic visions out of Evgenij Kozlov' s Kommunalka.


He says, 'The works of these artists help illustrate a condition, we all share: We ourselves are media, channeling images, or at times even finding ourselves possessed by images. (...) How can we deny the talismanic power of an image, when we still carry pictures of our loved ones in our cell phones?'


O.K. I get his point - but why did I have to fight myself through art, artifacts and found objects of more than 150 artists to learn this lecture?



Gioni's Wunderkammer at the Arsenale (c) PAS



Mr. Gioni designed the show in the Arsenale as a progression from natural forms, to studies of the human body to the artifice of the digital age, loosely following the typical layout of 16th and 17th Century 'Wunderkammern' (cabinets of curiosities).


At the Arsenale I can follow his Encyclopedic Palace concept the least. For me the show is too big and too arbitrary and too inconsistent with its own concept. Often it gives me the feeling of an accumulation of curiosities. Other works are all too commercial.



 What do the pathetic easy-to-market paintings by Lynette Yiadom-Boakye or Thierry De Cordier contribute to this debate?




Sculpture by Sarah Lucas (c) the artist courtesy Lisson Gallery, photocredit PAS



What have Sarah Lucas' terrible shiny brass remakes of her own sculptures to do with Auriti's palace?



Doll house of 1973 by Robert Gober (c) the artist, photocredit by PAS



Why do I have to be thought that the great artist Robert Gober built doll houses to make a living before he could sell his art?



Object by outsider artist Shinichi Sawada, Japan (c) the artist photo by PAS



Also the focus on outsider art is not really new: Max Ernst and Jean Dubuffet worked with it since the 1920s. Outsider artists from Gugging’s Haus der Künstler in Austria, like August Walla or Johann Hauser, are regulars in European shows and auctions since the 1980s. Maybe, this is different from an American perspective?


From an institutional point of view, it is probably remarkable that a Venice Biennale curator, who is one of the key gatekeepers between the in- and outside of the International art world, invited so many outsider artists.



'S.S. Hangover' performance by Ragnar Kjartansson of 2013 (c) the artist, photocredit by PAS


Don't get me wrong, there are some great works in this show, but rarely do they make sense in Mr. Gioni's curatorial concept. I especially liked the performance by Ragnar Kjartansson and pieces by Pamela Rosenkranz and Wade Guyton, in the room following the hard-to-bear Ryan Trecartin videos.



Installation view of videoinstallation by Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch (c) the artists, photocredit by PAS



I think in a world which is becoming increasingly complex, it would be a sign of curatorial bravery to try to focus on the essence.








'Il Palazzo Enciclopedico' at the 55th Venice Biennale, Venice, Italy

Through 24 November 2013






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