Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World

My Thoughts on the Biennale

Having never been to a big art fair or biennale before, I didn’t really know what to expect when we departed for Venice. Once in Venice, our days were filled with examining numerous national pavilions, seeing other historical sites, and emerging ourselves in the Venice culture. After absorbing as much art as physically possible throughout the few days, I think that the Biennale both exceeded and fell short of my expectations. In my opinion, an international art fair like the Biennale gives countries a rare platform to make a statement about their important current issues, while both connecting itself to and distinguishing itself from the rest of the world. While many pavilions, such as Ghana, Australia, and Brazil made me think about important global and country-specific themes, I felt that many other countries, such as America and France were side-stepping around important issues and relying on superficial shock factors rather than deep messages. This realization hit me the most when walking through the seemingly endless maze-like rooms of the individual artists pavilion in the Giardini. The galleries there felt less thoughtfully curated and more kitschy or gaudy. While many artists, such as Teresa Margolles of Mexico, commented on important social issues on a monumental scale in order to display the weight of what was at stake in the piece, it felt as though the curators included other works that used dramatic light effects or video technology just to grab viewers’ attention. Countless important works felt overshadowed, and it was very difficult to know where to focus my attention. The platform of the Biennale allows artists from around the globe to relay something important and meaningful, but at times the show felt more like an international competition.

That is not to say that I didn’t enjoy my time at the Biennale. The trip allowed me to understand the contemporary art world in a new way, and I saw many installations that made me stop, think and really look. I was filled with a new inspiration to engage with art and artists from around the world, and I began to understand how East Asian artists fit on a more global stage. Not to mention, the sites in Venice were breathtaking. It was an unbelievable opportunity to get to experience the Biennale firsthand and engage with it critically. I can only hope I have the opportunity to do it again in the future.


Reese Berman

rdberman • October 21, 2019

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