Walking and boating through tourists-saturated Venice to catch as much as possible of the Biennale exhibitions, openings and parties is a tall order. The feeling of having missed too much despite the effort is overwhelming, as the event seems to be growing exponentially with each edition.
As any large exhibition, the current Biennale shows an array of very good works. Remarkably so, it also proposes the affirmative inclusion of prominent senior artists, which reveals much needed due respect to essential contributions to contemporary art languages. However, the central exhibition curated by Centre Pompidou curator Christine Macel seems to reenact old curatorial formulas -read Magiciens de la Terre’s ambivalent inclusion of wrongly labeled ‘shamanistic’ works – and a literal association of works by material and formal qualities that sadly result in a highly museistic and unoriginal proposal.
In regards to the politics of representation, some critics have pointed out that the good intentions of the Venice Biennale curatorial project have backfired. A sort of pedantic Eurocentrism seems to have guided the problematic inclusion of a couple of ‘human zoos’ set up by Olafur Eliasson and Ernesto Neto, which seemed to attempt to tick some boxes rather than address any radical proposition to the urgent problems of our time: the refugee crisis and the indigenous people’s struggle for land rights, linked to the depletion of our environment.
As a positive outcome, it was reassuringly novel to see national representations opting for non-western epistemologies and displaying versions of history articulated by artists of indigenous descent. However late this might be, such development is indeed promising. With excellent works, New Zealand presented Lisa Reihana’s film piece commissioned by curator Rhana Davenport , Tracey Moffat featured in the Australia pavilion and Chile’s Bernardo Oyarzun installation curated by Ticio Escobar.
As a conclusion, the Biennale’s agenda to satisfy too many stakeholders inevitably dilutes focus on the nature of contemporary art’s relevance today, entailing the risk of superficiality while becoming unsustainable as a global exhibition. One wonders if all efforts to be the major – and glitzy – world art event by the mother of all Biennales have not fallen into a simple replication of predictable curatorial models.
It is worth noting some independent shows and pavilions (Taiwan, Cuba, Azerbaijan, Zimbabwe among other highlights) that seemed to hold more relevance. And a jewel: the ambitious and stunning ‘Intuition’ exhibition curated by Daniela Ferretti and Axel Vervoordt at Palazzo Fortuny.