This picture-postcard city of shimmering lagoons is plastered with red-and-green posters that read Think With the Senses — Feel with the Mind. Art in the Present Tense, the theme of the 52nd Venice Biennale. Since Wednesday, collectors and curators, artists and dealers have flocked here to look at and to gauge the state of new art.
But amid the glamorous parties and the people watching (Elton John and the actress Kim Cattrall were among the celebrity sightings) are chilling images of an apocalyptic world.
The works on view at the national pavilions in the Giardini, the shaded gardens that have been home to the Biennale for more than 110 years, and at the Arsenale, the former shipyards and warehouses where Venetian fleets were once built, pose many questions but provide few answers. The Tokyo-born artist Hiroharu Mori, for example, presented visitors with A Camouflaged Question in the Air, a giant white balloon with a big question mark in a camouflage pattern in the center.
The marriage of politics and art is nothing new of course, but this year reminders of death and war and forces beyond our control are everywhere. “There is a sense of fragility, and war is only one of the destructive forces,” said Robert Storr, the curator of the Biennale’s central exhibition. A former curator at the Museum of Modern Art in New York who is currently the dean of the Yale Art School, Storr is the first American to organize this event.
“I wasn’t trying to deliver a message, but like Bruce Nauman, I wanted to say, ‘Please Pay Attention Please,’” he said, referring to Nauman’s writings of that title.
It was hard not to pay attention. The paintings, installations, and videos in the exhibition organized by Storr in the Italian Pavilion variously deal with the sublime, the spiritual, the terrifying, and the unknown. Some of the works seem quite innocent, like a video of a giant hand arranging a doll’s house, by a Japanese artist known only as Tabaimo. Yet as the tiny furnishings fall into place, a giant squid bubbles out of a caldron, destroying the idyllic scene.
New silk-screen paintings by the American artist Jenny Holzer, best known for her neon signs of social commentary, are based on classified military documents and the Guantanamo Bay detainment center, including a medical examiner’s autopsy report for an Iraqi national. He had suffered “fractures of the ribs and a contusion of the left lung” suggesting “significant blunt force injuries of the thorax,” the report says.
But at the core of the show are more enigmatic works by older contemporary masters like Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Ryman, and Sigmar Polke. Polke’s skylit room of magical paintings — dark abstract, translucent canvases — had viewers returning at different times of day to witness how they changed as the weather did, from bright sunlight to rain.
As is true at every Biennale, art and commerce are inextricably intertwined. Francois Pinault, the luxury goods magnate who owns the Palazzo Grassi and recently won a bid to transform the old customs house here, the Punta della Dogana, into a contemporary art space, edged out a score of museums who competed to buy the entire room of Polke’s paintings. He is planning to show the seven works — a triptych and six individual paintings — in a special room in the Dogana that the Japanese architect Tadao Ando and Polke are to design together.
“The artist wanted them to remain in the city where they were conceived,” said Philippe Segalot, the New York dealer who brokered the transaction.
Near Polke’s paintings in the Italian Pavilion is a show-stopping installation by the French artist Sophie Calle. In one of two stark rooms, viewers are presented with a wall text explaining that Calle learned her mother had a month left to live the same day she received a call inviting her to exhibit at the Biennale. In the next room, is a video of her mother resting peacefully in her final hours with medical attendants hovering over her; her favorite music, Mozart’s Clarinet Concerto, plays in the background as the screen eventually fades into darkness.
Calle also represents France in its national pavilion. Again, she transformed the space into an autobiographical installation, here of paintings and videos, asking 107 women to interpret a breakup letter from a man she had been involved with. Actresses acted the letter, a singer sang it, a criminologist analyzed it, an editor annotated it, a photographer shot it, and a crossword puzzle specialist created a crossword puzzle of it. There was even a parrot who ate the letter.
When Auntie Su (蘇) was evicted from her apartment last Monday, locals were so overjoyed that they sent thank you wreaths to the Tainan Police Department. “Justice has been served.” “Punish villains and eradicate evil,” read some of the notes. “Thank you, hardworking police for bringing peace and quiet back to Tainan!” a neighbor posted on Facebook. Auntie Su is a notorious “informer demon” (檢舉魔人), someone who is known to excessively report violations either for reward money or — depending which side you’re on — to serve as a justice warrior or a nosy annoyance. Usually they are called “professional”
In Taiwan’s foothills, suspension bridges — or the remnants of them — are almost as commonplace as temples. “Suspension bridge” is a direct translation of the Chinese-language term (吊橋, diaoqiao), but it’s a little misleading. These spans aren’t huge pieces of infrastructure. The larger ones are just wide enough for the little trucks used by farmers. Others are suitable for two-wheelers and wheelbarrows. If one end is higher than the other, they may incorporate steps, like the recently-inaugurated, pedestrians-only Shuanglong Rainbow Suspension Bridge (雙龍七彩吊橋) in Nantou County. Because torrential rains hammer Taiwan during the hot season, the landscape is scarred by
With his sugarcane juice stall at Monga Nightmarket (艋舺夜市) floundering due to COVID-19, things took a turn for the worse for Lin Chih-hang (林志航) when he was furloughed from a part-time job. The crowds are trickling back to this nightmarket in Taipei’s Wanhua District (萬華), but Lin is now so busy that he has hired a friend to run his stall. As the sole driver of the night market’s delivery service, established on April 12, Lin takes on an average of 20 orders on weeknights and over 60 on weekends, with his father helping out when he is too busy.
May 25 to May 31 Three months before his 90th birthday in 2015, Chung Chao-cheng (鍾肇政) woke up shortly after midnight and experienced a inexplicable sense of clarity. “Suddenly, my mind started going all over the place. There were some recent memories, but also many that I thought I had long forgotten. They would appear and disappear from my brain one after another, and they were so clear, so lucid. Even the memories from 70, 80 years ago felt like they happened yesterday. I suddenly thought, if I still remember so much, why don’t I write everything down?” Despite his solid