Craig Garrett, Phaidon's Commissioning Editor for Contemporary Art, previewed the 54th Venice Biennale, and shares his tour around the biennale, which runs until 27 November.
The huge number of exhibitions across the city make Venice the place for contemporary art throughout the summer. The biennale - this year titled ILLUMInations by Curator Bice Curiger - is notable for the number of new works created specifically around the theme including The National Apavilion of Then and Now (2011) by British artist Haroon Mirza. A sound installation as much as a sculpture, the work includes a ring of LEDs hooked up to an amplifier in a custom-designed anechoic chamber.
Urs Fischer’s Untitled (2011) consists of three burning candles representing his office chair, his friend Rudolf Stingel and, spectacularly, a full-scale replica of Giambologna’s Rape of the Sabine Women. Created from a 3-D scan of the original sculpture, it is made entirely of wax, pigment and wicks, and over the course of the exhibition it will melt down to a puddle on the Arsenale floor.
At the international pavilion, Maurizio Cattelan welcomes visitors to the 54th Venice Biennale with 2,000 stuffed pigeons lurking on ledges and rafters throughout. Titled The Others, it’s an expansion of a work he first conceived for the 1997 Biennale, and although it may have lost some element of surprise, it still manages to induce paranoia among the more expensively dressed.
Mike Nelson’s immersive installation in the British Pavilion spectacularly transforms the Giardini. After navigating a labyrinth of claustrophobic rooms, visitors emerge into what appears to be a courtyard in Turkey. Based on a similar installation he had created for 2003 Istanbul Biennial, it is faithful to the smallest detail and takes a familiar premise to new heights. Most attention-grabbing is the United States pavilion, which features an inverted M1 Abrams tank with a member of the US Olympic team running on a treadmill atop of its moving treads.
Absent from the exhibition in body but not in spirit is Ai Weiwei. Hundreds of visitors carried bags that signalled their support of the jailed Chinese artist.