Last week I was lucky enough to have a class trip to Venice for the Biennale, paid for by John Moores University (thank you!). We spent four days there, but only one of these was dedicated to exploring the Biennale. Therefore please excuse how general this post is, I would have loved to have gone into every pavilion and to have really had a chance to get to know the art but with only a day to trek through this immense exhibition (this year it had 88 countries exhibiting all over Venice, 10 of which were making their debut) I really had no time at all to take everything in and by the end of the day I couldn’t stand to look at another piece. So the first thing I would tell anyone hoping to visit the Venice Biennale in the coming years is to set aside plenty of time to get around what you want, not necessarily every pavilion of course, and most definitely wear comfortable footwear.
Although I was impressed by the various countries’ pavilions, these were nothing in comparison to Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace). Each Biennale a curator is chosen to organise an international exhibit and this year Massimiliano Gioni was inspired by an idea first generated by the Italian-American artist Marino Auriti to create what he conceptualised as a temporary museum. Marino Auriti’s museum was to hold all of the world’s knowledge so this was no easy task for Gioni to undertake, but I must say, he did an impressive job.
Although it did nothing to answer life’s big questions Il Palazzo Enciclopedico did offer up countless answers to one which definitely concerns the art world and all of us within it: what is the purpose of art? Every artist within the Giardini building half of this exhibition had clearly created their work with such inspiration and purpose. Artists like Guo Fengyi whose art followed on from her practise of Qigong Philosophy and helped her manage the pain of acute arthritis. Or a Quaker Church Group whose beautiful designs of hearts and simplistic religious scenes were a way of expressing their devotion.
The art spanned the entire 20th Century, right up to contemporary practises and consisted of a really diverse representation of different cultures, genders and motivations. In fact, what I was probably most impressed with, and this should not be an impressive thing at all, was just how many female artists were exhibited. Even with such different inspiration, all of the artists were still connected by these motivations, by the power of what was going on behind the canvas.
Many of the artists had used psychology like that of Carl Jung’s (who’s Red Book was actually exhibited in Il Palazzo) to create art which went beyond aesthetics, which could help people in a form of art therapy. The exhibit also featured works by Rudolf Steiner, founder of the Steiner school system, thus placing art in an educational context. Overall the entire exhibition enabled me to refocus art as not just an aesthetic, but an everyday necessity.
My absolute favourite artist who contributed to Il Palazzo in the Giardini was Ellen Altfest (pictured above and below) who produced highly detailed, incredibly realistic and yet minute paintings of still lifes and most importantly in my opinion; male nudes. A female artist depicting a male nude is still not an incredibly common thing and especially not in the honest way that Altfest portrays hers’. Every blemish is painstakingly painted in, (Altfest can spend between 3 and 15 months creating one artwork, working only with natural light) every lump and bump and absolutely every tiny hair.
The Giardini half of Il Palazzo was where I spent most of the day while visiting the Biennale (in case you couldn’t tell…) and was probably the highlight of my Venice trip. I don’t mind having had to skim through each pavilion, stopping for a break only in the British exhibit where they had free tea, because Il Palazzo had it all for me. The entire exhibit really cemented art as a necessary part of society, something I feel strongly about, and represented the role of art in contemporary society perfectly to me. I will probably have to write a Part 2 about the rest of the Biennale because I’ve written so much on this one exhibit but that is just how exciting I found it.