Despite receiving neither awards nor distinctions, Poland has displayed one of its strongest presentations at the Venice Biennale 2013
Konrad Smoleński's installation "Everything Was Forever, Until It Was No More" in the Polish Pavilion at the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013
With 88 national pavilions and over 150 artists invited to the main exhibition, the figure doubles with accompanying events. Massimiliano Gioni from Italy will serve as curator of the 55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia. In 2006, he curated the Berlin Biennale with Maurizio Cattelan and Ali Subotnick, and he is presently artistic director at the Nicolas Trussardi Foundation in Milan and at New York City's New Museum.
It would seem logical that encyclopedias should be found on bookshelves. However, Gioni decided to move them into a vast exhibition space at the Arsenale and at the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. The exhibition Encyclopedic Palace (Il Palazzo Enciclopedico) refers to the utopian concept of a museum of all human knowledge. The originator of this concept was the self-taught artist Marino Auriti (1891–1980), a refugee from fascist Italy. He patented the Encyclopedic Palace in the U.S. in 1955, but the building never came to fruition. The idea of a 136-story building rising from 16 blocks in Washington, D.C., survives only in the artist's architectural models, by which the Arsenale exhibition is inspired.
To participate in this year's Biennale, Gioni invited the most important representatives of contemporary art, and a variety of manufacturers and enthusiasts, which is an unusual move for such a prestigious event, which typcally presents the biggest names on the international art scene.
Art is combined with history; artifacts and relics filling other exhibition halls - like the 16th and 17th-century cabinets of curiosities complemented by collections of paintings, photographs, sculptures, bestiaries and series of objects from different cultures. The pieces gathered included 207 drawings from the Bible, by Robert Crumb, 40 images by Yüksel Arslan, 27 photographs of glass flowers by Christopher Williams, as well as 387 Houses of Peter Fritz by Oliver Croy and Oliver Elser.
This year's Biennale includes 90 grey statues: the Venetians by Paweł Althamer. The first of these figures was a series of polyethylene figures presented at the Deutsche Guggenheim in Berlin in late 2011 and 2012. Althamer created them using the technology utilised in his father's factory - the family company, Almech, moved to Venice before the Biennale, then produced a collective portrait of contemporary Venetians. Other versions of this work – in white – were presented at the Museion in Bolzano and at the Contemporary Museum in Wrocław. One of the sculptures also appears in the Greek Pavilion in the Giardini.
Frame from Stefanos Tsivopoulos's "History Zero", in which appear Paweł Althamer'sculptures for the 55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia / photo. Agnieszka Sural
Greek artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos presents in his History Zero - different ways to exchange goods and money. One of the videos shows a day in the life of an art collector who has a polyethylene Althamer sculpture in his collection. The Polish artist's work has been forsaken in an environment where people are completely bored with possessions. An old lady spends days making origami flowers out of euro banknotes. These flowers are regularly replaced with new ones, as with the banknotes, while the old ones – as if they were a real bouquet – end up in the trash.
One of the main elements of the Polish Pavilion is Mirosław Bałka's sculpture Black Pope and Black Sheep (1987). The work comes from the collection of the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw, and was recently presented at the Museo Reina Sofia in Madrid. Its vitrine was created for the Biennale in Venice.
The life-size figure of the crying Pope, accompanied by a black sheep, refers to the urban legend of the 1980s that Nostradamus had predicted the coming of a black pope. Bałka recently said in an interview with the newspaper Rzeczpospolita: "Now it acquired a new context through the selection of Pope Francis, who, although not black, as a Jesuit, is sometimes called 'papa negro'".
In the second part of the exhibition at the Central Pavilion in the Giardini, Artur Żmijewski presents the film Na ślepo (2010), which documented art workshops for the blind. The artist asked them to paint self-portraits and landscapes.
Żmiejewski represented Poland in the Venice Biennale in 2005. Other Polish artists who have participated multiple times include Bałka and Althamer. At least one artist, however, is debuting at the Biennale this year. Jakub Julian Ziółkowski, a young artist from Zamość, impressed Massimiliano Gioni with his surreal paintings, and had been invited to the exhibition The Generational: Younger Than Jesus at New York City's New Museum in 2009.
In Venice, Ziółkowski's work includes several new, outstanding paintings including Bestiary, Genesis of the Earth, 100 Eyes, 100 Fingers and The Man Who Laughs, inspired by Borges' Book of Imaginary Beings. The viewers' gaze follows stairs up to the ceiling, into the infinity beyond.
Jakub Julian Ziółkowski "100 Eyes, 100 Fingers", oil on panel, 2013 / photo Agnieszka Sural
All of this mirrors the idea behind the exhibition as a whole: that it does not lead anywhere. In principle, universal knowledge is impossible, Gioni told Elke Buhr in an interview for Monopol magazine, and its presentation in a traditional, literal way can be tedious.
This tendency is used in an original fashion to present paintings on walls and objects in showcases, some of them taken from the national pavilions of the exhibition and accompanying programs. These are extremely simple and witty - for example, Miloš Tomić’s conceptual video Musical Diaries and the collection of animals from leather covers by Vladimira Perić in the Serbian Pavilion curator by Maja Ćirić. And the worlds built from everyday objects by Sarah Sze, from the U.S. Pavilion curated by Holly Block and Carey Lovelace.
The curators of the exhibition said to Adam Mazur from Magazyn SZUM, “We start with the sound of bells, very strongly embedded in our culture and rich in meaning, and finish on an abstract drone.” Just as in the installation of Anri Sala, some were moved and left the Polish Pavilion with hearts anxiously pounding dry mouths.
Of particular interest are sound installations at the Biennale 2013, including the extraordinary achievement of Sala in the French Pavilion curated by Christine Macela - which is actually the German Pavilion, for in a political gesture of friendship they have exchanged pavilions - where he decomposes Ravel’s Piano Concerto for Left Hand. The Polish Pavilion presents a sound installation from Konrad Smoleński consisting of two massive bells and speakers and a metal cabinet that processes sounds. The pavilion, curated by Agnieszka Pindera and Daniel Muzyczuk, is organized in a clean, symmetrical way, aesthetically dissociated from Smoleński's punk background. Every hour, spectators assemble to watch the first slow, almost noiseless movement of the bells. They gradually accelerate into a very loud beat, which by the end has become an abstract sound from the loudspeakers, strong and vibrant, as if the pavilion walls were about to collapse.
Performance in the Romanian Pavilion of the 55th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia / photo. Agnieszka Sural
Performative actions are the most interesting and discussed of all. Ongoing throughout the Biennale are performances in the Romanian Pavilion, curated by Raluca Volinea, during which a group plays works presented at the Venetian event. In the Georgian Pavilion, curated by Joanna Warsza, the parachute group Bouillon combines religious cult with aerobics. The action in the shared Pavilion of Lithuanian and Cyprus, adapted into a gymnasium by curator Raimundas Malasauskas, was awarded the jury prize for originality.
Above all, the Golden Lion awarded to Tino Sehgal confirmed the importance of the current theme of iconoclasm. Sehgal, representing the U.K. but based in Berlin, received the award for "the excellence and freshness of his work, which widened the field of artistic disciplines".
Outside of the 55th Biennale’s programme, the reconstruction of Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form from 1969, curated by Harald Szeemann, is a must-see. The project set up by the Prada Foundation in one of the palazzos serves as a reminder of one of the most important post-war artistic events, in which Eva Hesse, Joseph Kosuth, Mario Merz, Lawrence Weiner and Richard Serra participated, among others. This exhibition gave lasting renown to the curator. Curators who collaborate with artists establish the artistic procedure before the final result, and serve as a intermediary between the artist and the public.
Georgian Pavilion "Kamikaze Loggia"/ photo Agnieszka Sural
In spite of not receiving any awards, Poles have their best representation yet at the Biennale. Along with the four artists represented at Smoleński's exhibit and at the Polish Pavilion, Karolina Breguła represents Romania in the exhibition Reflection Centre for Suspended Histories. An attempt. Natalia LL is taking part in The Grammar of the Body, Paweł Althamer in Parallel Convergences, Mirosław Bałka in Glasstress – White Light/White Heat, and the works of Roman Opałka are presented in the Pinault collection. Polish curators are producing exhibitions for other countries: Joanna Warsza is the curator of the Georgian Pavilion, and Adam Budak of the Estonian Pavilion. Pavilion 0, an initiative of the Propaganda Foundation, was set up by Tomasz Wendlanda and Grzegorz Musiał.
55th International Art Exhibition - la Biennale di Venezia
1.06 - 24.11.2013
curator: Massimiliano Gioni
Author: Agnieszka Sural, 7.06.2013
Translation: LB, 11.06.2013