VENICE BIENNALE: VIVA ARTE VIVA

2017 is packed with art highlights, and the next great event will begin in May: The Venice Biennale. “L’Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte, La Biennale di Venezia” – as it is officially called – will celebrate its 57th edition this year. Until the 26th of November visitors will be able to explore the world’s oldest international art exhibition, which originated in 1895.

Every other year, many different nations present themselves in their pavilions at the Giardini di Castello which forms the Venice Biennale’s core location. In addition to that, a curated central exhibition can be seen at the so-called Arsenale. In the 1930’s a music festival was added to the art exhibition, as well as a film and a theatre festival. Since 1980, friends of the art of construction are also drawn to Venice to attend the Architecture Biennale, which is alternating with the original Biennale.

This year, Christine Macel from France was chosen to curate the Biennale program. Since 2000 she has been working as Chief Curator at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where she is in charge of the area for contemporary and young art. She has a reputation of being uncompromising and bold. Surprisingly, she is only the fourth woman ever in the biennale’s 122-year-old history to hold a leading position, even though there is hardly a shortage of exceptional female curators and museum directors today. Macel brings plenty of Biennale experience to the task. This woman has without a doubt worked her way up to the top of the Biennale. In 2007 she was responsible for curating the Belgian pavilion and showed works by Eric Duyckaerts, and in 2013 she chose Anri Sala’s multimedia installation for the French pavilion. She also was part of the Biennale jury in 2011.

HARSH REALISM IN THE PEARL OF THE ADRIATIC

Women will also be responsible for the German pavilion: Curator Susanne Pfeffer chose the Frankfurt-born artist Anne Imhof to fill the pavilion with art. The multimedia artist’s oeuvre includes painting, sculpture, installations, and performances.“ Anne Imhof faces the brutality of our times with harsh realism,” Pfeffer says. “In her scenarios she reveals how our body is constructed by drawing boundaries in material and discursive, in technological, socio-economical, and pharmaceutical contexts. Anne Imhof thus makes the space between body and reality visible, the space where our personality comes into being.” Or, in the words of Goethe: “The mediator of the inexpressible is the work of art.”

In 2015, the extended running time of the Biennale broke all records: More than 500,000 visitors were counted. In 2017, the Biennale’s board again chose an early start for the Venetian art show. As soon as mid-May, the central exhibition, as well as the exhibitions in the national pavilions, and the “eventi collaterali” – additional shows  – open their doors.

All in all, the Biennale presents the biggest concentration of contemporary art in the world and allows manifold insights into today’s approaches to art making.

HUMANISM IN VENICE

Christine Macel’s concept for the central exhibition is of surprising simplicity and maybe that is what’s so intriguing about it:  Viva Arte Viva – this motto points at the intention to develop art “with artists, by artists, for artists”. The artists themselves are put centre stage and get the opportunity to express themselves. In Macel’s view,  the “role, the voice, and the responsibility of the artist” are of particular importance in contemporary debates. The exhibition’s goal is “to open up a path into neo-humanism”. Hopefully, some humanistic ideals will remain in the minds of the visitors – they are desperately needed in today’s world – and will get applied in their everyday lives.

The actual heart of the Venice Biennale, however, consists of the exhibitions in the 85 official national pavilions. First time participants are Antigua and Barbuda, Kazakhstan, Kiribati and Nigeria. For diplomatic reasons, Scotland and Wales, as well as Taiwan and Hong Kong – among others – have been moved to the additional program.

As long as Venice is not swallowed by water, let’s meet at the beautiful and beautifully morbid Adriatic Sea! A word by Lord Byron promises great things, and so does the Biennale:

In Venice, Tasso’s echoes are no more,

And silent rows the songless gondolier;

Her palaces are crumbling to the shore,

And music meets not always now the ear:

Those days are gone—but beauty still is here.