I could fill pages discussing the spectacle and spectacles of the Biennale. Such sights! A slightly deranged, rabid hunger for novelty gripped some members of the international art class as they fought heat exhaustion and alcohol poisoning (all tomorrow’s parties today!) to lurch hopefully with digital camera and notebooks poised, from one country’s representative to the next. Then there was the branding success of the Australians (again) in fitting out every trade fair attendee with their yellow, over-the-shoulder fashion accessory (Naomi had one, she was wearing it on her yacht).
And then there was the art. Oh yes—the art. First thing to say is—there was so so much of it—way too much of it. Perhaps rather quaintly I still harbor the ridiculous out-dated notion of taking time with artworks—but at a biennale, slow digestion is a practical impossibility—this is art for those on the move (with the calf muscles of an Olympic athlete to prove it). Further stops on the ‘Grand Tour’ see them decamp to Basel, Münster and documenta. All this jetting around isn’t good for the environment; with Venice’s imminent disappearance beneath the snot green waters of the lagoon, it might be prudent to relocate the whole operation to Dubai World. Exclusivity could at least be guaranteed, and continent and country hopping kept to a minimum.
Something certainly needs to happen. I can’t make my mind up if Venice looks antiquated and much removed from its rumored original intentions (innovation, debate, provocation), or if it’s merely a prescient vision of the future of art in a homogenised global market. Either way the comparison with last year’s Berlin Biennale does it no favours (the memory of Berlin’s open-ended curatorial approach lies heavy in my mind). Once the subsidised alcohol had worked its magic, loquacious gallerists, critics and artists largely seemed to bemoan the art ‘experience’. Certainly Robert Storr’s much vaunted exhibition Think with the Senses—Feel with the Mind, while not without interesting blue chip work, was a very conventional, cellular museum style show, while many of the ‘off site’ spaces seemed happy to ape the style and look of the main party—like adolescents trying to attract the attention of adults.
But back to the editorial brief—here are my dubiously determined recommendations. In no particularly order I enjoyed Charles Avery’s drawings at the Scottish pavilion and Dan Perjovschi’s drawings in the Italian one, the cynicism of Emin (the most shameless thing she’s ever done?), the queue for the German pavilion (they know not what they queue for but they queue all the same), Joshua Mosley’s animation, Franz West’s big lumps, Callum Morton’s ‘Valhalla’ (smoke and lights—you can’t beat it—like the opening of a David Hasselhoff show in Berlin) and lastly the exotic range of eyeware now pioneered by international curators—formally innovative, conceptually clear.
John Beagles is an artist and teaches at Edinburgh College of Art