Mon, May 15, 2017 - Page 4 News List

German artist takes top national prize in Venice

DANCING AND DOBERMANS:Anne Imhof design’s for the German pavilion won the Golden Lion for a mix of totalitarian imagery with a fashion-show-like performance

NY Times News Service, VENICE, Italy

The top prize of the Venice Biennale, the world’s oldest and grandest international exhibition of contemporary art, on Saturday was awarded to Anne Imhof, an artist and choreographer whose grim and threatening occupation of the German pavilion, complete with anti-riot wire fences and barking Doberman pinschers, was the talk of the art world.

Imhof was awarded the Golden Lion for best national participation, which is given to the strongest of the 85 exhibitions mounted in pavilions in the Giardini della Biennale and across Venice.

For her exhibition, titled Faust, Imhof blocked the front door of the German pavilion, built during the Nazi era, and installed a raised glass floor through which a leather collar and bottles of hand sanitizer were visible.

A dozen performers in black athletic wear posed and preened among spectators or on raised platforms. They crawled under the glass floor at times and walked slowly, like wraiths, against a harsh metallic musical score.

The performances are to run throughout the Venice Biennale’s six-month duration, though Faust is just as unsettling when seen empty.

“First off, I felt aggressively affronted,” said Catherine Wood, a senior curator at the Tate Modern in London and a specialist in performance. “The dogs were barking behind a tall wire fence, and I was being shunted around to the side of the building with a massive crowd. Yet the movement, mood and sound inside — the dronelike group poses, and a tall, thin woman slow-motion headbanging, tossing her long black hair — were exquisitely calibrated and seducing.”

“I thought the sadistic state of hyper-visibility inside was brilliantly conceived,” Wood said. “Between the glass architecture and the performance as a theatrical spectacle without a backstage, there was nowhere to hide. But she finds a space, in this impossible state of existence, for poetry and music and ways of being together that are classic and beautiful.”

Imhof’s work, which disturbingly mixes totalitarian imagery with the slouchy looks made famous by fashion designers such as Balenciaga’s Demna Gvasalia, divided spectators at the biennial’s preview this week. Her dark vision was previously on display in Deal, a performance and exhibition at MoMA PS1 in 2015 in New York, which featured several of the same dancers in an equally bleak exploration of anomie and repression.

An honorable mention for national participation went to Brazil, which featured a minimal installation of stones and welded grating by the artist Cinthia Marcelle.

Imhof’s show was favored to win the Golden Lion, and the wait to get in stretched for nearly an hour during the professional preview. Other national presentations that garnered praise included those of the US, which the artist Mark Bradford endowed with a downbeat but powerful sequences of paintings and papier-mache sculptures, and Romania, which featured a poetic mini-retrospective of the 91-year-old artist Geta Bratescu.

The Venice Biennale is a show presented in two parts: Alongside 85 national presentations in which countries present solo shows or thematic exhibitions, a central exhibition takes the pulse of art worldwide.

This year’s exhibition was organized by Christine Macel, chief curator of the Pompidou Center in Paris, and the jury also awarded several participants in the central exhibition.

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