Glenn Ligon, A Small Band, 2015 and Oscar Murillo, signalling devices now in bastard territory, 2015, Central Pavilion at Giardini
Pamela Rosenkranz, Our Product, 2015, Swiss Pavilion, Giardini
Christoph Büchel, THE MOSQUE: The First Mosque in the Historic City of Venice, 2015, Santa Maria della Misericordia, Cannaregio, Venice
Kutluğ Ataman, THE PORTRAIT OF SAKIP SABANCI, 2011
Bruce Nauman, Human Nature/Life Death/Knows Doesn't Know, 1983, Arsenale
Rashid Rana, War Within II, 2013-14, India-Pakistan Pavilion
THE MOSQUE (closed)
Gulf Labor, "Who Is Building the Guggenheim Abu Dhabi?", 2015, Arsenale
Tetsuya Ishida, Recalled, 1998, Giardini
Enwezor gave a voice to usually marginalized,
underrepresented artists, those primarily from Asia, Africa, and the
Middle East, but had no specific theme or overarching topic to help him
curate these works.
As he explains in his curator’s statement, “[r]ather than one overarching
theme that gathers and encapsulates diverse forms and practices into one
unified field of vision, All the World’s Futures is informed by…a
constellation of parameters that circumscribe multiple ideas, which will
be touched upon to both imagine and realize a diversity of practices.”
His main goal was just to make sure that there was representation from
minorities, but he does not follow through executing and curating the
show well to make sure these artists are exhibited well. Enwezor gives
these minority artists, 139 in total, a platform for their voices, their
woes, their anxieties.
But with so many talking, it is difficult to distinguish what each is
saying. It is imperative as a viewer to listen to these lesser-known
artists and learn from their works; however, the spectator only has so
much of an attention span. Both exhibitions at Arsenale and Giardini are
filled with such diverse works, covering divergent topics that all
exhibited together they begin to lose their impact.
The standout pieces at this Biennale are the ones that manage to take up
a whole room or happened to be singularly exhibited in a pavilion. For
example, at the Giardini, the Swiss Pavilion, represented by Pamela
Rosencrantz this year, chose to create an immersive experience commenting
on race in her home continent. She created a pool dyed of the same color
as the standardized, pale Northern Europe skintone, common in her
homeland, but also pushed as the standard of beauty abroad in countries
where people have different skin colors.
Off-site, located in the neighborhood of Cannaregio, the Christoph Büchel
made a powerful statement heard round the world. For the Icelandic
Pavilion, he constructed and opened Venice’s first mosque. The
groundbreaking act of open a house of worship for a minority long ignored
by the city speaks to a history of discrimination for Muslims, who have
been routinely underserved by the Venetian community. Not surprisingly,
the day after I visited, the mosque was shut down, with an excuse of the
artist not having a proper permit to run a religious enterprise.
Another example would be My East is Your West, a collaborative pavilion
between India and Pakistan located off-site in the Palazzo Benzon. Here
artists of both nationalities take the effects borders have had on their
people and the repercussions of the geo-political tension. One especially
intriguing piece is by Pakistani artist Rashid Rana called “Viewing,
Viewer and Viewed”, a live video installation where one screen is located
in the palazzo in Venice and there is another located in an exact
reproduction of the room located in an open-air market in Lahore.
This piece acknowledges the global nature of art and allowed people of
kinds to interact with each other and the art, even if they could not
afford the flight to Venice.
Amid the world-class art at the Biennale, there were still some misses in
Enwenzor’s exhibition. The Nigerian-born curator added a innovative
feature to the long-standing Biennale: ARENA, an auditorium-like space
reserved solely for live performances.
The most-promoted performance was a live-reading of the entire text of
Marx’s Das Kapital orchestrated by artist Isaac Julien that would run for
the whole length of the Biennale. Seeing the performance live was
uninspiring and dull. Reading the text aloud does not add a new dimension
to Marx’s work, but rather bores the viewers, most which who chose.
Seeing the Das Kapital highlight the major irony that surrounds this
whole Biennale. A fixture in the art world since 1895, the Venice
Biennale is one of the major foundational blocks of the Euro-centric art
world. Rather than an event for the people, showcasing the most
important, groundbreaking contemporary art of the time, as it promises,
it is an event that caters to the privileged. The opening of the Biennale
was one of the most important events in the art world social calendar and
was attended by moneyed collectors and other art world elite. Reading Das
Kapital was thus a ironic statement.
Enwezor has brought some change to the Biennale system. He is paving the
way for other aspiring African curators and bringing attention from
wealthy art patrons to underrepresented artists from non-Western
He even ruffled some feathers when he changed to the opening
date of the Biennale. The Biennale traditionally opens in June and is
usually considered a preview for Art Basel, the art fair that launches
about a week later in the middle of the month. However, this year, the
Biennale opened a month early in May and messed with the traditional art
world shopping schedule: first stop at the Biennale in Venice, then go
buy it the next week at Basel. The privilege and wealth that surrounds
the history and workings of this Biennale undermines what the
well-intentioned Enwezor is trying to do and leaves a viewer atmosphere
with a hypocritical taste in one’s mouth.