Venice Biennale: VIVA ARTE VIVA

    Christine Macel, the French curator of this edtion of the Venice bienniale, said in her opening statement‚ ‘Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human

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. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom and for fundamental questions. … VIVA ARTE VIVA is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists, about the forms they propose, the questions they ask, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose.’
John Waters 'Study Art Sign' of 2007 mixed media (c) the artist; photo by PAS



Then, she clusterd the show into nine so-called trans- pavilions, ‘to favour access and understanding of the show’:



  • Pavilion of Artists and Books (Giardini)
  • Pavilion of Joys and Fears (Giardini)
  • Pavilion of the Common (Arsenale)
  • Pavilion of the Earth (Arsenale)
  • Pavilion of Traditions (Arsenale)
  • Pavilion of the Shamans (Arsenale)
  • Dionysian Pavilion (Arsenale)
  • Pavilion of Colors (Arsenale)
  • Pavilion of Time and Infinity (Arsenale)



In my view, here the curator asks too many questions (trans-pavilions) and, thus fails to get enough convincing answers (artistic practices) to them. It would be better to focus deeper on two or three of these themes and to deal with them in an artistic way, than creating one more of the mega-shows, which are less and less possible to see in one week’s time. Instead, the title of the show, VIVA ARTE VIVA, does not mean much, but is then overloaded with these nine trans-pavilions.



Installtation detail by Dawn Kasper: 'The Sun, the Moon and the Stars' of 2017 (c) the artist; photo credit by PAS



In these nine trans-pavilions, Christine Macel often asks necessary questions for today’s society, which are guided by her humanitarian thinking. In the Pavilion of the Common, for instants, the artists ‘explore the notion of a common world and the way to build a community, as a way to counter individualism and self-interests, which represent a worrisome threat in today’s troubling climate.’



Detail of 'Hassan Sharif Studio (Supermarket)' Installation by Hassan Sharif 2017 (c) the artist; photo by PAS


To my relief, Ms. Macel didn’ t stage Karl Marx lectures, as the previous Venice biennale curator, Okwui Enwezor, did. This Venice biennale’s signature show ARTE VIVA ARTE is not as depressive and anti-capitalistic as the previous one, but it is also not only a show, which serves the art market as one more curated shopping window.



‘The Play Have a House’ by The Play, 1972; recreated in the Arsenale © the artists; photo by PAS


Interestingly, in the Pavilion of the Common, she featured less known historic positions, like ‘The Play’ a Japanese art collective. In ‘The Play Have a House’ of 1972, the artists built a house-like raft, lived in it for five days and floated down a river between Kyoto and Osaka. A thyphoon-warning stopped them. In the end, the collective burnt their house-raft and left only documents of the performance. For the biennale, they re-created the raft and put it in the Arsenale for the time of the show.



Kananginak Pootoogook: ‘Untitled (RSMP and Innuit Family)’ of 2007 © the artist


It is also a strength of this show, to feature many artists unknown to a wider art world audience. I welcome the continuing curatorial efforts to widen art history from an all too Western, to a more Global perspective. Even more than in Carolyn Christof-Bakargiev’ s dOKUMENTA(13) of 2012, Christine Macel features a lot of art by or in collaboration with indigenious artists. I noticed one more time that works by artists, well known to the art world, are easier to read, which makes it sometimes admittedly difficult for me to recognize them. I liked the drawings by the Innuit artist Kananginak Pootoogook (1952 – 2010 in Canada), who documented daily Innuit life.



Archaf Touloub 'Untitled' mixed media (c) the artist courtesy by Galerie Plan B; photo credit by PAS


The curator is right, when she writes at the start of the Pavilion of Tradition, ‘Traditions that were once rejected in the 18th century by the Enlightenment and later by secular Modernity, have re-emerged in the worst sense, namely fundamentalism and conservativism, sparkling rejection and nostalgia for the past believed to be better.’ I just don’t see how a focus on tapestry and textile art could foster this necessary debate? Do these people really attend a Venice biennale, or does this art reconfirm the perceptions of the attending audience anyway?



Olafur Eliasson 'The Green Light' workshop installation in Venice 2017 (c) the artist photo by PAS


At the core of the main pavilion is a workshop-installation by Olafur Eliason, which had already been installed in Vienna and Basel before. He and his team build there green lamp sculptures designed by him and assembled by mostly nice looking refugees. I liked the installation/performance in Vienna, as the refugees have something reasonable to do and all the sales of the lamps go to charity for better integration. I also own one of the green lamps. It is clear that Ms. Macel wants to make a statement for personal involvement to make a small change, but is this installation really worth to be the centerpiece of the Pavilion of Artists and Books? I think the refugee issue is too complex to simplify it to the ‘good refugees’ who undoubtedly need our help, but leave out any aspects of the root causes of the conflicts causing their escapes. If you want a work dealing with freedom in the current situation, just look at the Golden Lion-winning German pavilion by Anne Imhof: It is brilliant.



Paintings by Cilia Sánches 'Trojans Polytryptich' of 1999 (c) the artist; photo by PAS


The show becomes really weak in the ‘Dionysian Pavilion’. It is meant to ‘celebrate the female body and its sexuality, life and pleasure, all with joy and a sense of humor.’ Sorry, I really couldn’t find any convincing Dionysian catharsis, nor joy and humor.



Sheila Hicks: 'Escalade Beyond Chromatic Lands',installation 2017 (c) the artist; photo by PAS


Concluding, I want to state that VIVA ARTE VIVA is still a show worth seeing. I encountered many interesting artists, like Sheila Hicks, who I didn’t know before. Also, it is not as depressive as the previous biennale signature show was. However, don’t extpect it to deliver sufficient convincing artistic position for the nine Trans-pavilion-questions the curator asks. But Venice biennale is always worth the trip!


by UGL. , Andrea Bischof and  Karin Lambert

(Photos by K. Lambert)




VIVA ARTE VIVA signature show of the 57th Venice Bienniale curated by Christine Macel

Through 26th November 2017






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helen, 23-10-17 17:47
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