“Stop!” says the guide at the Punta della Dogana museum, pointing out the window. “Don’t just focus on the art inside. Remember – we are in Venice.” Thinking about the sinking city as a piece of art in itself was the equivalent of dropping a boulder in our already overflowing art cups, so the Honours in Curatorship students just laughed.
Nancy Dantas, officially the liaison officer, unofficially the guide/interpreter/therapist/comforter/foster mother of the curators in training had packed the Venice schedule with all the must-see Biennale events. The main art show, curated in two colossal venues by Okwui Enwezor, was the very large tip of the astronomic iceberg. The class had four days to take in the mammoth body of exhibitions floating around the Grand Canal – challenge accepted.
Highlights included just about everything. Mark Dion and Arseny Zhilyaev’s Future Histories imagined a museum in the distant future where man had colonised numerous other planets and brought his forefathers back from the dead (Image, right: “Golden cats of happiness” at Mark Dion and Arseny Zhilyaev’s Future Histories). A tour of the immaculately designed Olivetti Showroom, a 50s-designed typewriter museum on the Piazza San Marco, was a particular treat: the wood and marble interior heights the senses to beauty in the details of interior design and architecture.
The Henri Rousseau exhibition at the Palazzo Ducale, a well-sized collection of works by the artist and his contemporaries, boasted an installation that blended beautifully with its historic housing. Large metal screens in bottle green and rust brown hugged the walls from door to door, leaving skirting and ceilings to breathe and be seen by visitors. Curatorship students love peeking behind paintings to see how they’re hung and scrutinising labels for everything from font to paper quality – the exhibition was well structured, well hung, and brilliantly labelled. The art was great too.
Portable Classic at the Fondazione Prada presented an impressive collection of historic sculpture replicas, displayed in metal and perspex ‘studios’ that both conversed with the Palazzo Corner della Regina and referenced the brand’s Ready-to-Wear show space in Milan. (Image, below, left: A viewing studio at Fondazione Prada’s Portable Classic)
Proportio, an expertly curated collection of paintings, sculptures, installations and new media by a wide variety of artistic rock stars ranging from Anish Kapoor to Sandro Botticelli was a four-floor investigation into matters of proportion. Some argue it was better than the official Biennale. (Image above, right: A Botticelli at Proportio (right))
It is worth noting that none of the highlights mentioned above are official components of the Venice Biennale. Said Biennale takes place in two locations at the end of a long public transport journey by boat. It comprises of the main Enwezor-curated show, flanked by seemingly countless pavilions from countries across the globe (there are 53). Needless to say, nobody saw everything. But almost everyone saw the sneaky tree that moves around the French pavilion so slowly one almost doesn’t notice (image, left). Most kicked back on the lawn chairs in Germany’s impressive futuristic viewing room to watch a short film that simultaneously dealt with migrant issues and made you feel as if you’d stepped into a video game (Image below: A digital reality at the German Pavilion).
Whoever complained about too much of a good thing probably never crammed the Venice Biennale into four days. The 2015 Honours in Curatorship students had far too much of a brilliant thing where art in Venice is concerned. Hopefully speaking for the group, this reporter can attest to a keener understanding of the depth and range possible in the field of curatorship, as well as a healthy dose of inspiration for our upcoming curatorial projects.
The Venice Biennale is a worthy addition to anyone’s bucket list, even if they’ve been there before. The sheer volume and quality of what’s on show is awesome in the true sense of the word. It can also be overwhelming, but when it is, you can always stop, look out the window and remind yourself that you are in Venice.
Image above: A classic view of the Grand Canal as seen from the Rialto bridge.
All photographs captured by Daniël Geldenhuys.