July 14, 2009

Venice Biennale

The Venice Biennale has international pavillions that showcase art from different countries by their own artists. The Danish and Nordic Pavillion was exceptional in that it featured international artists in two fictional domestic environments, curated and staged by the artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset. The first featured a fictional house that went on sale after a family supposedly broke up. Things were not what they seemed to be.

In the fuzzy picture above a sculpture of a house maid is cast in gold which contrasts with your traditional image of a maid. A chair seems to dissolve into the ground as a sign of decay, a theme that ran thru the entire house.

A set of stairs did not seem to be functional or leading up to anywhere as it was supposed to. A richly-set dining table (not pictured) was fractured in the middle, including the plates on it, overlooked by a collage of signs made by street bums from across the world, begging for money, in contrast to the once idyllic scene of modern family life. Read NYTimes T Magazine feature on this pavillion.

The second exhibit space in the Danish & Nordic pavillion was a well-appointed modernist house furnished with iconic scandinavian furniture and provocative art.

Visitors approached the residence from the pool where a dead body greeted them floating in the pool, either as a result of murder or suicide, leaving the visitors in suspense of a mystery unfolding.

There was a narrative developing as visitors entered the residence and started viewing the Polynesian sculpture having a dialgoue with its modern counterpart next to it, a black and white photograph by Wolfgang Tillmans, with naked men lazing down on a lawn.

While proceeding further into the residence, visitors encountered two paintings by Hernan Bas, a Miami artist known for his gay themes (Please see my April 2009 posting for more on Hernan Bas).

Next installation revealed a set of Tom of Finland drawings with depictions of men having raunchy sex, further moving the viewer into a gay subtext.

Next was a pair of sculptures of Michalengelo's David by controversial New York artist
Terence Koh, adding a contemporary interpretation of a classical work (and a prominent gay icon).

Behind the minimalist living room organized around a fireplace was a set of
Vibeke Slyngstad paintings that hinted at the fictional resident's sophisticated collecting taste.

As one approached the corner end of the house, a desk built by Simon Fujiwara revealed the mystery to the entire residence/installation. A manuscript on a typewriter; a collection of photographs; and clippings revealed a suspense novel in the making, in which the protagonist, a rich gay collector, ends up drowning in his own pool. The suspense was over. All the pieces of art now came together to complete a narrative and solve a puzzle for visitors who did not know what they were getting into in the first place. It was a very clever installation.

The Danish and Nordic Pavillion set itself apart from the other international pavillions by telling a story though international artists' work rather than representing national artists for self promotion.

On a parting note, i could not resist the construction of the ceiling in the pavillion.

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