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Venice Biennale

PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 1:22 am
by garth cartwright
Inspired by Mark Hudson's Titian biography I decided to take a late autumn trip to Venice. Last time I was there must be about a decade ago (to see a Balthus retrospective) and Flo had never visited. I went up earlier than her as I wanted to check out the Venice Biennale which I've never previously attended - man, it is huge! They call the Biennale "the art world Oscars" and I spent 2 days plus trying to see as much of it as possible. It begins at the original Biennale site and then spreads through a huge area of former factories/warehouses and then into the city itself with everything from churches and private houses becoming galleries. I'm a fast walker but even so I didn't get to see everything.

Like the Oscars, most of it is naff - conceptual art remains in the ascendant - but it provides a fascinating overview on contemporary art making from 57 nations. That much of it is generic conceptual art suggests that the art world resembles the music world with certain styles being copied internationally. Some really good work - an Icelandic video installation had 2 men playing piano/guitars/banjos in the Canadian rockies across several screens all synced to a soundtrack. Very wittily done and the music, a kind of rolling mix of bluegrass meets Keith Jarrett, worked. John Cale represented Wales with a film and soundtrack but as that was on one of the outer islands I didn't get to see it. Steve Mc Queen represented the UK with one of his films but you were only allowed in on the hour so I missed it. Never been that keen on his work - the feature film Hunger was an effective enough meditation on Bobby Sands but his Turner Prize films left me cool.

After all that contemporary art it was grand to slip back the centuries and find works by Titian, Bellini, Tintoretto, Georgione and such. Venice is such a pleasure to wander in, get lost, find places you never knew existed, gorgeous and full of atmosphere. And no cars or motorbikes! It is also prohibitively expensive - one trip on a vaporetto (river boat) is 6.50 euros. A vaporetto day pass is 16 euros. And while it's fun to walk everywhere the boats are a brilliant way of getting around the city and just observing it from the water. Sit down for a coffee and its five euros. A meal that is not rubbish will cost at least 40 euros. Apparently the city has lost a third of its residents over the last decade as it is too expensive for them to live their. And almost everything closes at 11 so workers can get back to the main train station so to head home. I did find a reasonably priced one star hotel (a Hudson recommendation) and autumn/winter is supposedly the quiet season (hard to believe).

We also visited Padova - first time there for both of us. only 2.90 train ticket - Italy's trains are so cheap! We went to see the Giotto frescoes - you are only allowed 15 mins in the chapel but it was worth the 14 euro entry; all those claims for the man's genius rang true and his frescoes still convey such narrative drama and emotion. Padova has a lovely old town centre with one of those perfect Italian markets where what appears to be the world's freshest and best cheese/meat/veggies etc are for sale. It also hosts a huge Renaissance palace that had an exhibition celebrating the work of Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid who is often feted as "world's foremost architect". I must admit I find her futuristic towers for Dubai and Singapore a bit too showy and busy for my tastes. Interesting to see that she gets commissions to design electric cars, handbags, lamps etc - all very top end futuristic luxury products. Impressive in a kind of Space 1999 style.

Northern Italy appears unaffected by the recession - shops offer countless designer items, everyone is smartly dressed and prosperous looking, streets are tidy. So different to south east London! Gorgeous to visit Italy is but living there? The chaos and excitement of London still holds more appeal.

PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 11:53 am
by Des
I look forward to the book, 'More Tat than Talent - Conceptual Stuff at the Venice Biennale.'

PostPosted: Thu Nov 19, 2009 6:40 pm
by judith
A city filled with art and no cars, even if the contemporary selections not to my taste - the concept alone is a work of art in my mind, and then to be able to see Giovanni Bellini and the likes. I knew nothing of the Venice Bienalle. It is relatively new to Venice, 1895, I suppose but in that short time has survived war and fascism and dissent and politics. I imagine there have been some interesting stories on the ins and outs of organizing and running the show through different eras with stuff from all over the world. Sounds like the 'informal' exhibits are major in the experience too. Thanks for taking the time to enter this, Garth.