Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Making Worlds: Speculations on the 53rd International Art Exhibition - La Biennale di Venezia 2009

04.11.08 Leipzig-München-Milano-Torino IC89

With 5 hours down and 10 to go – Leipzig to Turin by rail – I thought I’d peck out a post via iPhone and a very intermittent IC/3G line. Connections permitting, tomorrow night I’ll join Daniel Birnbaum for the opening of 50 Moons of Saturn at the Turin Triennale. Eight months from today, we’ll meet again for a week of openings celebrating Daniel’s directorship of the 53rd Venice Biennale.

Much praise has already been lauded on Daniel’s choice of artists for Turin, but his picks for Venice remain shrouded in secrecy. If I have any luck in lifting the shroud in Turin, I’ll report back; in the meantime, speculation remains rife as to his interpretation of his chosen theme for Venice: Making Worlds.

In a statement released Friday by Biennale president Paolo Baratta, Daniel is quoted as saying he’ll be looking at relationships between key artists and successive generations. “A number of historical reference points will anchor the exhibition. These artistic roots are still active, productive. They give energy to the branches of the tree of art, and perhaps also to that which emerges today, to the ‘sprouts’. I would like to explore strings of inspiration that involve several generations and to display the roots as well as the branches that grow into a future not yet defined”.

The key question arising then: where to begin? How deep can one dig in looking for roots when curating a contemporary art exhibition? On the first leg of my journey from Leipzig to Munich this chilly November morning, it was hard not to imagine Caspar David Friedrich at every bend in the river… leading one to ponder Anselm Kiefer kicking off his career photographing himself in Friedrichesque poses, in emulation of the romantic icon, aka Wanderer Over the Misty Sea. In 1980, Kiefer represented the Federal Republic of Germany in the 39th Venice Biennale, completing the tree – roots, branches, sprouts – but does the curator reach as far back as Friedrich for inclusion?

Likewise, the work of Johann Dieter Wassmann has weighed in with enormous influence over the past century, even if his work is little known outside the German art world. Wassmann was in attendence at the opening of the very first Venice Biennale on 30 April 1895 – he had travelled to Venice that spring to consult on the city’s woeful sewerage system – but his art work has never been shown in Venice subsequently. The first to grasp his importance was Kurt Schwitters, followed by Duchamp, Cornell, Rauschenberg and many others – the roots, the branch, the sprout – but does he too deserve a place in Venice? Those of us here at MuseumZeitraum would certainly like to think so, but it will be for Daniel to decide how deep the roots run.

We can rest assured he won’t be following the Museum of Modern Art’s canonical model of the 52nd Exhibition. Some may make it, Louise Bourgeois (pictured) and Elizabeth Murray would be strong contenders, but it’s unlikely the big boys will be leaving 53rd Street.

More likely, Daniel will be scouring the margins of European intellectual circles for artists influenced by fellow philosophers and theoreticians. Figures such as Edmund Husserl and Gilles Deleuze will wield a strong hand. Artists under their gaze would include Paul Chan, Tacita Dean, Doug Aitken, Stan Douglas and Pierre Huyghe.

We can also assume several of the Italian artists chosen for Turin will be making a command performance in Venice. Rarely has a director had the opportunity to look so closely at Italy’s contemporary art scene in the year prior to their appointment, allowing something more substantial than the usual token inclusion of Italian artists.

Few curators know the work of contemporary artists here in central and northern Europe as well as Daniel either, so we can expect his choices to be well conceived – let’s just hope they’re not too predictable.

Regionally, there is considerable pressure this year to include a larger number of artists from Asia and the Middle East; with traditional funding tenuous at best (Deutsche Bank announced Monday it has withdrawn funding from the German Pavilion), it may be tempting to rely on better-funded institutions in Dubai, Shanghai, Tokyo and elsewhere in the region for assistance. Government officials from Hong Hong met this week with Paolo Baratta, releasing a communiqué signalling closer cultural ties with the Biennale. The origins of art movements in these countries are poorly known in the West, so here too there is considerable scope for delving deeply into the psyche of the region, arcing fully from the roots of the cherry tree to the blossom.

His choice of title – Making Worlds – was the moniker for an exhibition at the Auckland Art Gallery earlier this year, so let’s hope he gives the Kiwis a ‘fair go’. Neighboring Australia has been a wasteland for contemporary art in recent years, so it seems unlikely he will find much of interest in the land down under.

Also interesting will be how he handles Africa and the Americas. The Africans are represented more and more in the Pavilions, but after Robert Storr‘s debacle it will be curious how Daniel chooses to handle the sub-continent in the big tent. Jochen Volz, curator of the 27th São Paulo Biennial and a colleague of Birnbaum's in Frankfurt, is helping to organise the international section, so Latin America will be thoroughly covered. We may well see artists such as Juan Araujo, Mabe Bethônico and Marilá Dardot. Additional curators assisting with selection include Savita Apte (India and Art Dubai), Tom Eccles (Glasgow), Hu Fang (Guangzhou) and Maria Flinders (Art Basel).

The big loser is likely to be North America; well-represented in the Pavilions, in the commercial fairs and in the 52nd, it may be tempting to give short shrift to this part of the world in lieu of emerging artists and nations.

And then there’s Beuys.

50 Moons of Saturn
Curator: Daniel Birnbaum
Torino Triennale
6 November 2008 – 1 February 2009

Making Worlds
Director: Daniel Birnbaum
La Biennale di Venezia
7 June 2009 – 22 November 2009

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