Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Venice Biennale: Not Only Biennale - Palazzo Grassi - The World Belongs to You

Palazzo Grassi: The World Belongs to You.   The exhibition The World Belongs to You  curated by Caroline Bourgeois, at Palazzo Grassi, until December 31 2011, oers the public the chance to explore the world of artists from dierent origins, inviting them to reflect upon the vertiginous rhythm of change in a modern world characterized by nomadism, internationalism and hybridization.  Taking its lead from François Pinault’s forward thinking approach to collecting, the exhibition embraces multiple fields of knowledge in order to oer a new way of understanding contemporary society.    Originating from the four corners of the world the forty presented artists all approach the upheavals of our world from dierent individual perspectives, illustrating the tensions but also the hopes that result from them.  The exhibition revolves around major themes of contemporary history: from the breakdown of symbols, to the temptation of self-withdrawal and isolation, the attraction of violence and spirituality in a troubled and globalized world. Each artist is presented in a space dedicated to his or her work. However, thanks to the open layout of the venue, none of these spaces are shut o from each other, thus allowing visitors to see interacting influences through dierent viewpoints.
Above: Jeff Koons,  Balloon Dog, 1994-2006.

 Palazzo Grassi: Takashi Murakami, 727-272 (The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate), 2007-2009.  727-272 (The Emergence of God at the Reversal of Fate), is a site-specific work commissioned to the Japanese artist Takashi Murakami for this room of Palazzo Grassi. One of the most celebrated Pop artists to emerge in the East during the last few decades, Murakami worked on this masterpiece for about three years. The painting is a reinterpretation of works by some of the past masters of Japanese art; these have long been a source of inspiration for Murakami, who combines the narrative and compositional techniques of traditional Japanese painting with the modern style of manga comics. The starting-point for this pictorial narrative is the central figure of “Mr Dob”; a sort of alter ego of Murakami himself, this character is depicted with a typically manga-style face, a sly smile and three eyes that seem to look far into the distance. The narrative starts on the right, with the flow of color, comparable to that one finds in Warhol’s Oxidation paintings, bringing us to the second figure of the work. This is an old wise man inspired by the legendary Chinese emperor Shennong, who lived around 2700 BC. Considered the deity of Agriculture, his name actually means “heavenly peasant” – Shennong would invent the plough and teach his people how to cultivate wheat and cereal crops. He is also celebrated as a deity of Medicine: according to legend, he would test hundreds of herbs to evaluate their curative properties; if of beneficial properties, the herb was said to light up his stomach – which was transparent – if harmful, it would blacken it. This is the role in which Murakami depicts Shennong, with a blade of grass in his mouth. On the far right of the work a large smiling lion emerges from an arch made of skulls; this is an image taken from Stone Bridge at Mt. Tiantai by Sakaki Hyakusen, an eighteenth-century Japanese artist. In Chinese and, later, Japanese mythology, the lion was the animal that stood guard over the threshold of Buddhist temples, a good luck figure that kept misfortune at bay. And it is a process of ‘re-invention’ that Murakami follows in his own image of the imposing custodian, adding a few stylistic details. Finally, on the first three panels to the left, one finds another depiction inspired by the past: the tornado is drawn from Transcendent Attacking a Whirlwind by the eighteenth-century Japanese painter Soga Shohauku. Murakami’s majestic work is a reflection upon the nature of the human soul and the transcendence of being; upon the importance of the indissoluble links between ancient and modern, past and present. Such a bond between the old and new is one of the keystones of Murakami’s poetics.

Takashi Murakami and Francois Pinault.

Palazzo Grassi: Joana Vasconcelo, Contamination , 2008-2010. Extending across the atrium, Joana Vasconcelo’s Contamination consists of a patchwork sprawl of brightly colored forms that invade the architecture of Palazzo Grassi.  Constructed out of materials either hand-made by Vasconcelos herself or found during her visits to several countries.   Contamination is in constant growth as she continues to add new elements to her work during each installation.  The title Contamination implies this notion of proliferation, like that of a spreading virus. It also presupposes a conflicting relationship with the other works on display, as the word suggest, they are being exposed to something impure or polluting.

The Portuguese artist Joana Vasconcelos.

Palazzo Grassi:  Farhad Moshiri, Life is Beautiful, 2009. After living in the USA for thirteen year, in 1991 Moshiri returns to his native Iran.  This mixed Iranian- American experience provides the setting for much of Moshiri’s work, which frequently returns to the theme of Iran’s obsession with the Eastern world, a paradoxical situation in a country where the governing Islamic regime has been battling the so-called “Cultural Invasion” of the West for the past 25years.  Here Moshiri deliberately plays off the Dada tradition of creating artworks from found objects, an artistic notion that isn’t typically well-accepted in Iran, where Moshiri considers that art education ends after expressionism and abstraction, well before Duchamp’s innovations.  1242 knives of different sizes and color are embedded in the wall, spelling out the phrase Life is Beautiful.  The use of daily objects, which on occasion can become lethal weapons, reveals the underlying sarcastic ambiguity of Moshiri’s statement, as Iran struggles to define what it finds “beautiful” today.

  The curator of The World Belongs to You, Caroline Bourgeois.

Palazzo Grassi:  Yang Jiechang, Stranger than Paradise, 2010-2011. Yang Jiechang was born in Southern China and graduated from the Chinese Painting Department of the Guangzhou Academy of Fine Arts, where he trained in calligraphy and traditional Chinese paintings.  After the events of Tiananmen Square, finding it impossible to work as an artist in a country where artists were treated as dangerous intellectuals he moved to Paris in 1988.   His formal artist training and his study of Tao and Zen Buddhism still play an important role in the work he creates today, which combines Eastern tradition and spirituality with modern concepts.  In the seven panels that compose Stranger than Paradise, Yang humorously depicts a paradisiacal vision of animals and men frolicking joyfully in nature.  Yang eliminates all types of differences, religious, ideological, ethical and political, which he considers as the source of conflicts in modern society.  The format he adopts, particularly in its lack of perspective typically seen in traditional Chinese paintings, creates a distance with the viewer who is forced to observe from the outside, as a stranger, this heavenly land which he will never be able to penetrate.

Paris based Chinese artist Yang Jiechang.

Photograph by Manfredi Bellati

Palazzo Grassi:  Friedrich Kunath, The Past is a Foreign Country, 2011.  Born in West Germany Friedrich Kunath has been living in L.A. since 2007.  Kunath’s work often evokes the divergent worldviews and emotional states that he has experienced while living in these two places.  This work, commissioned for Palazzo Grassi, embodies a particular mindset characterized by Kunath as “tropical depression”: a combination of melancholia with a sense of hopefulness, opposing feelings that are evoked by the sharp contrast between the wintry landscape of the snow-globe and the summery Hawaiian shirt.   While it is literally true that, for Kunath, The Past is a Foreign Country, the figure’s imprisoned head and closed eyes suggest a frustrated attempt at denying the past.  Through this work, the artist reflects on the promise that Los Angeles has represented for generations of emigrants, which the city itself both fulfills and disappoints, leading to this blend of nostalgia, disappointment and optimism.
Above:  Takashi Murakami poses with Friedrich Kunath and Kunath’s The Past is a Foreign Country work.   

Palazzo Grassi:  Maurizio Cattelan, We, 2010.    Maurizio Cattelan was born in Padua and now lives and works in New York.  We is the three-dimensional version of a work by the artistic duo Gilbert and George entitled In Bed with Lorca created in 2007 for an exhibition entitled “Everstill” that celebrated the life and work of the Spanish poet Federico Garcia Lorca.  The artists photographed themselves in their customary tweed suits, lying side by side on Garcia Lorca’s narrow wood-frame bed. In Bed with Lorca work hints at Garcia Lorca’s homosexuality, which he never publicly acknowledged.  Here, both diminutive waxwork models resemble Cattalan himself, suggesting that Cattelan identifies with both Gilbert and George and with Garcia Lorca himself – but this cannot be taken for granted, as Cattalan often ironically borrows imagery from oeuvre of other artists, playing with notions of authorship and originality in order to challenge contemporary artistic thought and theory.   Perhaps We should be considered rather as a meditation on death, as the two versions of Cattelan are depicted at different stages of aging, stiffly positioned like corpses in a coffin.  This work, as well as those currently on display at Punta della Dogana, exemplifies the way in which Cattelan’s interventions blur the division between art and reality.

Palazzo Grassi: Francesco Vezzoli, Just a Gigolo.  Francesco Vezzoli was born in Brescia, Italy,  and graduated from Central Saint Martin’s School of Art and Design, London. He currently lives and works in Milan. Vezzoli’s video installations investigate the role of cultural icons in the popular psyche and the workings of fame and power. Marlene Redux: a True Hollywood Story! parodies sensationalist American TV documentaries, chronicling the fictionalized career and eventual death of Vezzoli himself through a combination of testimonies by his friends and foes, archival footage and excerpts of his work. In Democrazy, Vezzoli examines the strategies of political communication, creating promotional videos for two electoral candidates with different political visions, played by the actress Sharon Stone and the writer and philosopher Bernard- Henri Lévy. Outside the theaters showing his two films, Vezzoli advertises his next feature, “Just a Gigolo” with a poster created for this exhibition. Vezzoli humorously appropriates all the clichés normally used by the media to romanticize the lives of public figures – sex, ambition, money, crime, etc., in order to explore the way in which the showbiz industry influences our lives and dreams.  

 Italian artist Francesco Vezzoli and curator and art critic Caroline Corbetta.

Palazzo Grassi:  The El Anatsui and David Hammons room. El Anatsui, New Layout, 2009.  El Anatsui was born in  Ghana, he moved to Nigeria in 1975, where he lives and works today. His work recontextualizes African traditions within the modern world, applying artisanal methods to common sculptural materials or to recycled items. In 2002, El Anatsui began to work with bottle tops of alcoholic beverages, which he flattened, straightened and stitched together with copper wire, to form patterned metal sheets. Early sculptures of this type were inspired by Ghanaian textile patterns, particularly by the colors found in traditional Kente woven cloths. The bottle tops also refer to Africa’s colonial past: alcohol was one of the first commodities brought by European traders to exchange for goods in Africa. El Anatsui appreciates these works for their flexibility, both in the process of construction (sections can be taken out, replaced, or shifted to a different location), and in the method of display. These broad sheets, when pieced together, transform a simple, discarded material into a monumental form.

 Palazzo Grassi: a detail of David Hammons, High Level of Cats, 1998. David Hammons was born Springfield, Illinois. He now lives and works in Brooklyn. Hammons draws on his cultural identity, creating art by recycling found objects of little value that specifically refer to aspects or attitudes of black Afro-American culture. Two self-portraits from 1971, I Dig the Way this Dude Looks and Black Mohair Spirit, belong to the early Body Print series. Resembling X-rays in their detail and translucency, these are direct imprints of Hammons’ body, in which three facial features, hair, nose and mouth, suffice to visibly testify to his ethnicity. The artist investigates the use of different objects and materials in order to represent blackness, relying on language to suggest the underlying logic justifying his choices. Hammons’ culturally loaded titles often contain the key to interpreting the meaning of his works. For instance, High Level of Cats pokes fun at the pretence of “high” art and at the social aspirations of “cats” (the slang term for Afro-American men), literally placed at a “high level” atop traditional African drums.

The director of Palazzo Grassi, Punta della Dogana and Francois Pinault Foundation, Martin Bethenod.

photograph by Manfredi Bellati 

Palazzo Grassi: Matthew Day Jackson, All in the Family, 2011. Matthew Day Jackson was born in California and now resides in Brooklyn.  This installation, commissioned for this exhibition at Palazzo Grassi, presents his vision of humanity’s future via references to the past.  The works mounted on the walls evoke different disasters and moments of beauty in contemporary American history, from the jungle of Guyana to the surface of the moon.  With Utopian Community and Domestic Drawing (Time, December 4, 1978), Jackson points out how seemingly pure, progressive thinking can contain the seeds of its own destruction:  these works refer to the Jonestown Massacre, the 1978 suicide/murder of 913 members of the People’s Temple, a cult founded by Jim Jones which started out as a utopian project promoting racial justice and a more equitable society.  In the two other works, the Apollo space missions, Nasa’s moon-landing project of the ‘60s and ‘70s, become a colonial enterprise with ominous consequences.  Within the context of these apocalyptical references, the objects in the display case remain open to interpretation.  Linking total destruction with a moment of creativity, the depictions of the human body in different materials suggests a sense of regeneration, a rebirth of man in a different form.

Palazzo Grassi: Urs Fisher, Violent Cappuccino, 2007. Born in Zurich, Urs Fischer today works in both the United States and Europe. Fischer’s interest lies with the everyday objects of our surroundings. His production process is organic and experimental, proceeding through trial and error and embracing both construction and destruction: the lavender piano and stool of Untitled are both solid and soft, in the midst of a fantastic metamorphosis under the pressure of some invisible force. Fischer resorts to different media, from sculpture to photography, drawing and painting, always with the goal of discovering and confronting new aspects of reality by presenting the viewer with contrasting, juxtaposed elements. Violent Cappuccino reveals the way in which the artist chooses riddle-like titles, combining common words into unexpected phrases. This constitutes a linguistic complement to his enigmatic work, in which a skeleton, cast in aluminum, either climbs in or out of a box, Fischer is careful to leave each work open to the viewer’s interpretation. Finally, to create Verbal Asceticism, the wallpaper that lines the room, Fischer photographed every inch of this space as it appeared during Mapping the Studio, the previous exhibition at Palazzo Grassi: Raymond Pettibon’s installation of comic-book-style drawings reappears now in trompe-l’oeil to invoke the museum’s past, but also to highlight the notion that art deflects the certainty of seeing.   

Palazzo Grassi: Charles Ray, Family Romance, 1993.  Charles Ray was born in Chicago and lives in Los Angeles. His complex sculptural works, which require months, sometimes years, of meticulous preparation, aim at upsetting the viewer’s conviction of being in control of reality. In Family Romance, the four members of the nuclear family are presented naked and, in opposition to the store-window mannequins they resemble, they are anatomically complete and rendered with meticulous attention to detail. Despite their different ages and developmental variety (fully-grown adults and pre-pubescent children), all are presented at the same height. This, compounded by the title, Sigmund Freud’s phrase for repressed eroticism within the family unit, makes the sculptural group an effective and grotesque comment on the illusion of “normality.” 

Palazzo Grassi:
Sislej Xhafa, KOMT, 2007.  Sislej Xhafa is an Albanian artist, born in Kosovo. He left his homeland in 1988 for England, before moving to Florence to study at the Academy of Fine Arts. He is now based mostly in New York. In his works, whether they take the shape of photographs, videos, objects or performances, Xhafa frequently considers the itinerant lifestyle, not always adopted by choice, that led him to examine critically the social and political conditions of the various countries in which he has lived. Themes of human rights, clandestinity and migration are thus addressed via Xhafa’s own personal experience. He often investigates the legal status of his country of origin, which declared independence in 2008, while Serbia still claims it as part of its own sovereign territory. Faced with extreme poverty as a consequence of living under strict communist regime, a large part of the population left Kosovo at the beginning of the ‘90s, heading West. Xhafa illustrates the failure of their movement in search for a better life with KOMT. The roller skates, cut off at mid-calf and lying on the floor, are rendered immobile through their material, thus depicting the impossible migration of an immobilized youth. 

The Albanian artist Sislej Xhafa.

Palazzo Grassi: Jonathan Wateridge room. Jonathan Wateridge, was born in Zambia, he lives and works in London. In Another Place, a series of seven large canvases, Wateridge captures different moments in the production of an entirely fictional movie, loosely inspired by the story of William Mulholland, the engineer responsible for the construction and eventual collapse of the St Francis dam in 1928, a tragedy that caused the death of hundreds of Californians. An atmosphere of impending disaster thus pervades each work – but the calamity itself takes place off-screen, in the false universe of the movie’s production. Wateridge subtly reveals the duplicitous nature of these images through various visual clues, such as the presence of a make-up artist painting a wound on an actor’s back in Directional Interchange. To produce these paintings, Wateridge duplicates filmmaking techniques: he meticulously stages each one, building sets and props and casting his friends as each performer/character. The life-size figures invite the viewer to participate in each of the immediately familiar but non-specific scenes, thus blurring the boundaries between the narrative and the production process. In what he describes as “elaborate fictions with visible seams,” Wateridge questions the nature of truth in images, whether they be painted, photo- graphed, or filmed.

Jonathan Wateridge

Palazzo Grassi:
Giuseppe Penone
,  Respirare l'Ombra - Foglie di Te', 2009.  Giuseppe Penone was born in Garessio, a village in the Italian Alps; he now divides his time between Paris and Turin. A member of Italy’s Arte Povera movement of the 1960s, Penone uses simple materials from daily life to point to the boundaries between art and nature, and to the interconnection amongst all organic life forms. Paradoxically using solid means to suggest an intangible concept, Penone attempts, with Respirare l’Ombra ("Breathing the Shadow"), to represent a shadow in sculpture: it is contained within the hollow space created by the conical arrangement of leaves. The shape of this cavity corresponds to the imprint of an absent body; within it, Penone has placed the organs related to breathing, the lungs and the trachea, made of gilded leaves. Leaves themselves are related to the notion of breathing, since they produce oxygen through the process of photosynthesis. Finally, breathing as related to the olfactory senses is evoked by the delicate scent of the tea leaves that line the room. The whole forms a unique installation, conceived for Palazzo Grassi

Palazzo Grassi: Lunch in the Garden. Appetizers made with root vegetable including beetroot and celeriac.

Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi: Marina Abramovic and Angela Missoni. 

Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi: Artist, philosopher, and poet Lee Ufan.

Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi. The Missoni Maccapani sisters, Margherita and Teresa with New York based art advisor, Raphael Castoriano. 

Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi. New York art dealer, david Maupin and editor in chief of W magazine, Stefano Tonchi.

 Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi. New York artist Rob Pruitt.

Having Lunch in the Garden at Palazzo Grassi.  Artist Tatiana Trove, whose installation is on show at Punta della Dogana. 

Tadao Ando arrives at Palazzo Grassi. 
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