The Venice Biennale: First Course

This summer marks the 52nd International Art Exhibition in Venice, Italy--better know as the Venice Biennale. Begun in 1895, and held in odd numbered years, the Biennale has grown to become one of the most important international contemporary art events, and includes festivals of music, theatre, film and dance.

This year’s theme, “Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense,â€? is directed by Robert Storr, American painter and dean of Yale University Art School. Storr has curated a diverse experience that aims to satisfy more than just an insider art crowd. Created by invitation only, the works are either quite recent or highly relevant to contemporary art issues. 

The art is presented like a full course Italian meal, where the antipasti offerings can be found dotted around Venice’s many piazzas and palazzos. One of the most eye-catching, Subodh Gupta’s Very Hungry God (above), is a huge momento mori of a skull, humorously constructed from shiny Indian cooking utensils. It is installed on a floating platform in front of the Palazzo Grassi, and can easily be seen from any watercraft plying the Grand Canal.

The pasti course is presented by Venice’s own Peggy Guggenheim Museum, where the works of Joseph Beuys and Matthew Barney are compared and contrasted in “All in the Present Must Be Transformed.â€?

The international pavilions of the Giardini serve up the primi course, with the artworks of five dozen countries filling the buildings and gardens. U.K. art darling Tracy Emin has packed the British Pavilion with “Borrowed Light,â€? a multi-media installation of drawings, paintings, sculpture and neon elements that continue her razor-sharp commentary about society, as filtered through the lens of today’s self confessional preoccupation.

The art of the late Félix González-Torres graces the pavilion of the United States. Several of his “take-awayâ€? works are featured, speaking to the juggernaut of consumerism that is today’s society: one series consists of posters bearing the words “Memorial Day Weekendâ€? and “Veterans Day Sale,â€? stacked in the center of the room, freely available to all takers.

Catch the main course and dessert on Monday.

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