Venice 2013: La Biennale - 55th International Art Exhibition: Giardini Central Pavilion. The title chosen by curator Massimiliano Gioni for The Biennale, until November 24, is The Encyclopedic Palace. Massimiliano Gioni introduced the choice of theme evoking the Italo-American self-taught artist Marino Auriti in1955 filed a design with the US Patent office depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico, an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge, bringing together the greatest discoveries of the human race, from the wheel to the satellite. Auriti’s plan was never carried out, but the dream of universal, all-embracing knowledge crops up throughout history, as one that eccentrics like Auriti share with many other artists, writers, scientists, and prophets who have tried, often in vain, to fashion an image of the world that will capture its infinite variety and richness. The Encyclopedic Palace exhibition is laid out in the Central Pavilion in the Giardini and in the Arsenale forming a single itinerary, with works spanning over the past century alongside several new commissions, including over 150 artists from 38 countries.
Above: Carl Gustav Jung – The Red Book, 1914-1930. The book was named for the color of its leather cover; it occupied Jung intermittently for over sixteen years as he labored to document his personal cosmology in a way that would convey the tremendous import. The revelations within it had a profound influence on Jung’s later career, particularly in his formulation of his theory of individuation. “All of my works, all of my creative activity,” he later recalled, “has come from those initial fantasies and dreams.”
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Eva Kotatkova, Asylum, 2013, mixed media installation. The work of Eva Kotatkova examines institutions and disciplinary systems, from primary schools to prisons, considering the ways in which they can determine behavior. Using what she describes as an “archeological” approach. She dissects the mechanism underlying the everyday, often using her own experiences, memories and personal history as a point of departure.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Shinro Ohtake, Scrapbooks #1-66, 1977-2012, mixed media artist books. Shinro Ohtake is an influential presence in Japanese contemporary art. His Scrapbooks have grown to a collection of over sixty individual books, some bulging with seven hundred pages. Like keepsake albums taken to a feverish extreme, these books hold mountainous collections of found materials: pictures from magazines, ticket stubs, photographs, matchbooks etc. He collages and paints these to create complex stratified compositions, so that each book also becomes a sculptural object. They function as crystallization points where the cast-off sweepings of visual culture are transformed into heightened versions of themselves.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. James Lee Byars, The Figure of the Interrogative Philosophy, 1987/95 and the Figure of the Question of Death, 1987/95, gilded marble. A self-proclaimed mystic and an inveterate showman, the late James Lee Byars fashioned his life into a kind of artwork, shaping a persona through his richly variegated body of work. He spend most of his life wandering tirelessly, but his time in Japan from 1958 to 1968 was the most formative. There, he enthusiastically undertook studies in Noh Theater, calligraphy, and Zen Buddhism, which would have a profound impact on the rest of his career.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Peter Fischli and David Weiss, Suddenly This Overview, (1981-), unfired clay, approx. 180 sculpture. From the start of their collaboration practice in 1979, Fischli and Weiss’s work was marked by a playful disregard of all things high-minded. Instead they valorized the childish, the banal, and the wondrous, often hilarious and poignant effect. This their first large-scale collaboration, continuous to expand. A collection of over two hundred small, unfired clay sculptures that represent the world through a seemingly arbitrary selection of events, objects, phases, and concepts both historical and imaginary.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Domenico Gnoli, Winged Rhino at 15th Floor, and Snail on Sofa, both from the series What is a Monster?, 1967, India ink, tempera and acrylic on cardboard. Domenico Gnoli was, by his own admission born into the world of art. “For me imagination and invention cannot generate something more important, more beautiful and more terrifying than the common object, amplified by the attention that we give it.” He stated. In his series of drawings, What is a Monster? (1967), a whimsical bestiary first published in Horizon magazine, alongside a text by poet and novelist Robert Graves, rooted in the teeming dreams of Hieronymus Bosch and the Surrealists, these works feature creatures of all stripes inhabiting interiors much like those in Gnoli’s paintings.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Shaker Gift Drawings. Polly Jane Reed, Heart-shaped Cutout, 1844, ink on blue paper. In the 1840s, Shakerism entered a period of spiritual revitalization known as the “Era of Manifestations,” which saw a yearning for “spiritual gifts’ such as spirit possession. The spiritual drawings produced by sixteen Shakers, who referred to themselves as “instruments” tasked with recording the visions given to them by heavenly beings. Though admired for their beautiful patterning, the drawings are noteworthy for their very existence, which contradicts the sect’s well-known prohibition on the making of images. The Shakers allowed an exception for these, as they were considered not superfluous decoration, but direct portals to the world beyond, which could be used both to instruct, by way of symbolic vignettes and pictorial compendia of significant figures, and to provide a view of heaven itself, which, in their images bears a striking resemblance to the communities that the Shakers had build for themselves.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Andra Ursula, T. Vladimirescu Nr.5, Sleeping Room, 2013, wood, metal, glass, fabric, paint. Darkly comic and often irreverent, much of Andra Ursula’s work stems from a mining of her Romanian roots. For The Biennale, she has used a series of dollhouse-like models based on the interior of her childhood home in the small Transylvanian town in Salonta. These models, which cast the shabby interior of her house as a miniature stage, take their cue from an earlier work, which Ursula originally conceived as and object through which she could purge past psychic trauma, more a talisman than a sculpture.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Morton Bartlett, Untitled (doll), plaster, fiber hair, paint, fabric. When he passed away in 1992, Morton Bartlett left behind a collection of anatomically correct, handcrafted dolls packed carefully in thirty-year-old newspaper, accompanied by stacks of B/W photographs depicting the dolls in a variety of intricately staged tableaux, both with and without their clothes. Before their discovery no one knew of his unusual obsession with these dolls, which he modeled from clay before casting in plaster and painting naturalistically.
Giardini: Central Pavilion - The Encyclopedic Palace. Imran Qureshi, Moderate Enlightenment, 2006/9, opaque watercolor on wasli paper. Imran Qureshi first learned the Mughal tradition of miniature painting, while at Art College, where the tradition saw a revival beginning in the 1980s. Qureshi saw new possibilities for a style historically reserved for the portrayal of religious icons, military battles, and courtly life. His depictions both harnessed and challenged the typical characteristics of the paintings, inserting emblems of present-day Pakistan into the highly ordered and often idyllic landscapes of miniature painting. In Qureshi’s series of miniatures, Moderate Enlightenment, various characters take part in common leisure activities: they lift weights, hold shopping bags, or, with the sobriety of two men caught at a crossroads, blow bubbles at one another. The curious figures seem to assume a special significance on the flattened picture plane, challenging the historicity of traditional Mughal style, while embodying contemporary culture shifts that quietly counter Western preconceptions of the Islamic world.
Seen in the Central Pavilion, Patrizio Bertelli and Miuccia Prada.