Spiegel-Wilks Seminar: Venice Biennale

Contemporary Art in East Asia and the World

Natasha’s Thoughts on the Venice Biennale

As this year’s Venice Biennale is nearing its close, I am struck by how many people from so many different places travel to see this cultural event. Even though everyone’s experience in the Biennale is individual, there is simultaneously a collective aspect that is felt throughout, beyond the occasionally crowded galleries, which seems unique to Biennale culture.

It was very exciting to see the Biennale after spending many months imagining what it would actually be like. I was particularly eager to see how different countries represented themselves and made a statement about what issues are important to them in the national pavilions. Especially given this year’s theme “May You Live in Interesting Times,” I think that countries really had an opportunity to be very political and to take a strong stance on the most important issues of our time.

Since there is so much art in one place during the Biennale, at times it can seem provocative for the sake of trying to garner attention. While other countries took a simpler, more direct approach. For me a country that took this simpler approach and did so very effectively was Luxembourg (more on that in another post.)

I couldn’t help but watch the people watching the art while I myself was looking at the art. With so many different artists represented, and so many different kinds of artwork, it is fascinating to see how people interact with and engage with the different aspects of the Biennale, since it is truly more immersive in the city than simply the Giardini and the Arsenale. Though we were in Venice for a few days, I can imagine that the city never stops having this sense of artistic buzzing.

Seeing how Venice as a city was impacted by the Biennale was very interesting. The canals, the architecture, and even the lighting all transport you to the Renaissance. But the negative impact of tourism on the city is apparent as you walk the streets, with signs hanging from windows protesting the large cruise ships that eclipse the vaporetto. It will be interesting to see how the city approaches the issue in the next couple decades, especially with the increasing flooding due to climate change.

It was truly incredible to see a different facet of the art world beyond museums, galleries or art fairs. I think the Biennale does function as a forum for inspiring thoughtful discussion around contemporary issues, even beyond those explicitly stated in exhibition handouts. It really is a interesting time for the world and for the Venice Biennale itself which made strides towards having an equity of gender representation this year. For me, seeing artwork from so many different artists from so many different countries all in the same place somehow reinforces a collective humanity and served as a reminder for how much forward thinking creativity is happening around around the world (though it is important to question who isn’t being represented and why). Though the Biennale is an institution that needs to be examined critically, I hope to experience it again at some point in the future and see how it continues to evolve.

Natasha Guy

naguy • November 11, 2019

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