Mark Glazebrook

Chaos in Venice

Mark Glazebrook goes in search of visual delights at the Biennale art extravaganza

A couple of vaporetto stops in the direction of the Lido, from near Piazza San Marco – fortified, perhaps, by a cold glass of wine and some lively light music from the immaculately dressed band outside Florians – and you are in the merciful shade of the public gardens, where some of the national pavilions of the Venice Biennale have stood, designed like temples, for a hundred years or so. Here, every two years, you can be sure that, in the form of chaos, all hell will break loose.


,img>It will break loose quite soon during your passionate search for a glimpse of up-to-the-minute visual delight or significance. Visual art is the focus in theory, but other issues compete for the viewer’s attention. Art politics, for example, are about as ‘covert’ in this Biennale as the military operations in Afghanistan, overtly announced as such by President Bush, thereby giving some of the game away. Real politics too cannot but join the Biennale fray. It is said that Israeli and Palestinian artists wished to join hands in exhibiting together, but that their governments stopped them. The two governments have a perfectly good excuse. The theme-encapsulating title of this Biennale di Venezia is Dreams and Conflicts: the Dictatorship of the Viewer. For good or ill it is not entitled Reality and Peace; the Dictatorship of the Artist.

Not that Francesco Bonami, the brave director of this year’s event, is against artists. On the contrary, he would seem to be against the growing power of the prima donna-ish curator, which has increased, is increasing and ought to be diminished. Consequently he has devolved power, offering ‘complete autonomy’ to ten curators, presumably modest ones, to ‘realise their visions’ in a series of thematic sideshows such as Utopia and Clandestine. The latter is curated by Bonami himself.

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