As an ex-Guggie girl, a nickname given to me by Steve Martin in 1998, I have a fondness for the Arsenale exhibition area of the Venice Biennale. Back story: In 1998 and 1999, I worked at the Peggy Guggenheim Collection and helped manage the American Pavilion at 49th Biennale. The 49th Biennale was very first to incorporate the Arsenale into the arty campus. I loved the open and rough space of the former shipyard, and more importantly, I loved the aggressive and experimental agenda of the Arsenale.
This year’s Arsenale, and Biennale overall, is like watching evolution on speed. Bice Curiger’s ILLUMInations at the Corderie (and in the Giardini*) is an amazingly curated and overlapping show with art world newcomers and heavy hitters like James Turrell and his Ganzfeld Apani, a magic box of sorts where apparently non-existant walls appear solid by light changes. I write apparently because I did not have time to wait in the 90 minute line to step into the void. My favorite pieces? The humorous and life-sized wax statues modeled from Giambologna statues by Urs Fischer and of course The Clock (video installation) by Christian Marclay, Golden Lion award winner, where real time is synched and showcased by showing time-corresponding film and video clips.
Frankly, the more intriguing area was the curated pavilions where a kind of even flow brought one curated country to the next. My favorites included newcomer Saudi Arabia (Shadia and Raja Alem) The Black Arch- a blue lagoon/shell, Turkey (Ayşe Erkmem) Plan B- colored piping, India, and Argentina for its Hobbit meets Clay-mation landscape.
The back yard of the Arsenale left me a bit bi-polar. I loathed the over-the-top Italian pavilion where Vittorio Sgarbi managed to confuse me by creating a warehouse of Italian art, where I couldn’t appreciate anything due to the clutter but felt extraordinarily happy the People’s Republic of China Pavilion, maybe it was the cloud? And I did find the impromptu Austrian band a bit of fun. . .
*ILLUMInations also showcases three paintings by Venetian painter Jacopo Tintoretto (1518-1594) in the former Italian pavilion at the Giardini.