Director of the 55th Venice Biennale Massimiliano Gioni knocked it out of the park with a central exhibition that was a beautiful, inspiring, coherent exploration of the spiritual, technology and natural forms. If you are remotely turned on by self-taught artist healers, surrealism and general oddness there was something for you. My person highlights of the week are as follows:
1 Bedwyr Williams
Welsh artist Williams’s space-rocks installation all made sense once you watched the wild film in Room Five – an incredible whirlwind of references that took in everything from jelly cakes to mosaics to the formation of the earth. ‘The Starry Messenger’ was simple genius. A two-minute glimpse of the 18 minute oddity film can be viewed here:
2 Thomas Zipp
Zipp’s collateral event – that phrase which makes it sound like an artistic war zone – was a paranoic interactive semi-psychiatric home, where viewers could put on helmets and project fish-eyed faces on monitors, play old organs, run on giant hamster wheels and read books on sex. All super strange and refreshingly progressive.
3 Cindy Sherman’s curated room at Il Palazzo Enciclopedico
A giant Paul McCarthy doll with its textile guts falling out. An archive of Victorian baby photographs, all featuring figures under black sheets. African mask photographs. A Robert Gober dollhouse. A frightening Miroslaw Balka sculpture. These were just some of the many uncanny works in the room curated by Sherman. Exceptional.
4 Richard Mosse
Dazed bigged Richard Mosse up before Venice opened – and deservedly so. Mosse’s infrared multiscreen installation pushed his exceptional still photos to a whole other level. This was a pavilion that everyone was talking about. Veering between heart-breaking beauty and a tense sense of violence, Mosse established himself as a force to be reckoned with.
5 Camille Henrot in Il Palazzo Enciclopedico
Henrot’s video turned the multi-moving image experience of the desktop into a perfect montage on film. Henrot deservedly got a Silver Lion as the most promising young artist. There was a touch of the National Geographic about her piece but the results couldn't have been more contemporary.
6 Ryan Trecartin and Lizzie Fitch
Trecartin’s installation of new work at the Gioni show was very good (if a touch Harmony Korine at moments) but the bad acid vibes of the Miami-esque installation in Prima Materia at the Putana della Dogana was something else. Tense, unpleasant, incredibly current – looking at this collaborative work was like standing in the internet.
7 Jeremy Deller
The walls were lined with flints through ritually into the Thames, mural of eagles and a giant (staunch socialist) William Morris throwing Abramovic’s yacht, walls of photos of political protest interspersed with images of David Bowie in concert taken by fans, the sound of Voodoo Ray on steel drums and at the back a nice cuppa stand. Everything you could want from Deller in this sea of slickness.
8 Everything at Museo Fortuny
This a museum that literally it is impossible not to be overwhelmed by. The dead Spanish artist Tapies’ collection curated by Axel Veervordt was incredible – it included the best Giacometti sculpture from 1929 you’ve never seen, an incredible rusty Rothko, a surprising Pollock painting sketch. It made you realise how ‘important’ artworks are often just the pieces you are lucky to have access to.
9 Konrad Smolenski
The Polish pavilion was filled with two giant bells and a stereophonic wall of speakers. They rang in an increasingly slow resonance that was so loud and physical that many people chose to wear earplugs in the room. This was sound sculpture in a way that you had no choice but to respond.
10 Aleister Crowley and Frieda Harris’s Thoth Tarot cards
This was a super rare chance to see the original deco-esque paintings that Crowley created with artist Harris reflected his own dark weird take on the deck based around his self created magick religion Thoth. The kind of work you would never expect to see in Venice which is what made it so inspiring.
Francesca Gavin is taking part in a Venice debrief along with Paul Pieroni and JJ Charlesworth this Friday June 7 at 1pm at the ICA.