The Art Biennale 2017 (May 13 – November 26) will be a remarkable exhibition, even for frequent visitors. Curator Christine Macel intends to create a totally different scene compared to previous editions. With ‘Viva Arte Viva’, she puts the artists at the forefront of the exhibition, and not only the art. She also pays a lot of attention to the visitor experience and the interaction between artists and visitors.
The 120 participating artists at the Viva Arte Viva exhibition and the 84 national participations will bring a lot of variety to Venice. The mix of established names and young newcomers will show everything from photography to installations and performances. It looks like it will be a very intriguing fusion of contemporary art.
The main sites are Giardini and Arsenale, including the Giardino delle Vergini towards the Arsenale Nord. The many national and collateral events across the historic center of Venice, and even on the San Servolo island, are certainly worth a few days extra.
This post will present you more details about the history of the Art Biennale, curator Christine Macel and the theme Viva Arte Viva. I will also give you an idea of what the countries have in mind for you.
The history of the Art Biennale
The 2017 edition is the 57th International Art Exhibition, which is the official name for the Art Biennale. The first one took place in 1895. The goal of the Mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico, was to transform the artists’ evening meetings at Caffè Florian into a prestigious international exhibition. The city quickly built a pavilion to host the first exhibition in the public gardens in Castello. The first foreign pavilion, Belgium, followed in 1907 for the 6th Art Biennale.
There were over 200,000 visitors at the first International Art Exhibition in 1895, which was a very high number for that era. The 2015 exhibition ‘All The World’s Futures’ attracted over 501,000 visitors and more than 8,000 accredited journalists, but this number excludes collateral events and national participations outside Giardini and Arsenale. 120 years and 56 editions later, I think we can say that the Mayor succeeded in his goal.
Thanks to the collaboration with the Google Cultural Institute since 2015, the exhibition can now also be visited online. This could generate more interest and buzz around the event, especially towards a different audience, and attract new visitors to future editions.
If you want to know more about the history of the Art Biennale, you can read my guest post on this topic on the website of Monica Cesarato.
Curator Christine Macel
Christine Macel is a French art historian. She is the chief curator at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, where she is responsible for the Department of ‘Création contemporaine et prospective’, which she founded and developed. She also created the ‘Espace 315’ gallery at the Pompidou, dedicated to young international artists. Her involvement in promoting young and lesser-known artists is also reflected in her approach for the Art Biennale 2017. She also contributes to several magazines such as Artforum, Flash Art, Art Press and Parkett and is the author of many essays, books and catalogues.
This is not her first appearance at the Venice Art Biennale. Christine Macel was the curator of the French Pavilion in 2013 and of the Belgian Pavilion in 2007. She is only the fourth women to curate an Art Biennale in Venice, after María de Corral and Rosa Martínez who co-curated in 2005, and Bice Curiger in 2011.
“Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the favourite realm for dreams and utopias, a catalyst for human connections that roots us both to nature and the cosmos, that elevates us to a spiritual dimension. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference.”
Theme Viva Arte Viva
Christine Macel has selected ‘Viva Arte Viva’ as the main theme, which puts the artists in a strategic role. It will be a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists, about the forms they propose, the questions they ask, the practices they develop and the ways of life they choose.
Of the 120 artists which she selected from 55 countries all over the world, 103 participate for the first time in Venice. Some are discoveries, many others are rediscoveries. The oldest participant, Anna Halprin from the United States, celebrates this year her 97th birthday. The youngest participants are Katherine Nuñez (25 years old) and Issay Rodriguez (26 years old) from the Philippines.
Several new initiatives will give the audience an opportunity to better understand the artists and the way they create art. This close interaction with the visitors should create a different vibe around the Art Biennale.
- The Viva Arte Viva exhibition is set up as a series of Trans-pavilions, in which different aspects of the artists are approached. They should be considered as chapters within a book. The story begins with two introductory realms in the Central Pavilion in Giardini and is followed by another seven across the Arsenale through the Giardino delle Vergini. You can start your own story in the Pavilion of Artists and Books and end it in the Pavilion of Time and Infinity.
- A weekly Open Table (Tavola Aperta) will be set in front of the Central Pavilion in Giardini and in the Sale d’Armi inside Arsenale. The artist and the visitors can have a casual lunch together, while talking about the artist’s practice. Fridays and Saturdays are reserved for artists selected by Christine Macel, while Wednesdays and Thursdays are dedicated to the artists of the national participations. The Open Table events will be filmed and streamed live on the website of La Biennale. The calendar with names will be announced a few days prior to the opening of the Art Biennale.
- The Artist’s Practices Project shows a series of short videos made by the artists to illustrate their universe and their way of working. This started earlier this week, on February 7. Every day, a new video is uploaded on the website and Facebook page of La Biennale. These short movies give you the opportunity to discover the artists even before the start of the exhibition.
- For the project Unpacking My Library, the artists have made a list of their favourite books, which will be published in the catalogue and be visible at the Biennale. This is an occasion to get acquainted with them and can be a source of inspiration for the public.
Personally, I find all these initiatives very intriguing and I look forward to learn more about the artists.
A first example of the more prominent role of the artists and how they work, was the international symposium ‘Nexus Pavilion’ on February 2-3. This was organized by La Biennale di Venezia and DG CONNECT of the European Commission. Artists, musicians, curators and leading figures in the world of research, institutions and industry discussed the exchange between art and technology, and how to improve the existing relationship between art, science and technology.
The 84 national participations will display a wide variety of contemporary art in Venice. Some decided to rely on well-known artists, while other countries take a bigger risk with special installations. There will also be a lot of video and performances this year. Personally, I am not a big fan of videos. As I don’t have enough patience, the video has to appeal in the first seconds, or I won’t stay. I was however very pleasantly surprised by the video of the Albanian team at the Architecture Biennale in 2014. I watched it for the full 20 minutes and I still remember every second of it. I do like performances however, so I look forward to these.
With 84 countries, there should be enough variety to ensure that you find something to your taste. I cannot mention all the pavilions here, but these 9 pavilions immediately caught my attention.
New: Antigua and Barbuda will be present for the first time in Venice. Their exhibition ‘Frank Walter, the Last Universal Man’ is an homage to the eccentric Antiguan artist and writer Frank Walter (1926–2009). He was the first man of color to manage an Antiguan sugar plantation and had delusions of aristocratic grandeur. The exhibition in Venice is the first comprehensive monograph of this important Caribbean artist. Another new national participation is Kiribati, a group of 33 coral atolls and isles in the Central Pacific. The fact that they travelled that far, from the very first time zone on earth, is enough reason to honour them with a visit to their ‘Sinking islands, unsinkable art’ exhibition’ at Palazzo Mora.
Location: The pavilion of the Syrian Arab is located on the San Servolo island and is already worth a trip for this reason alone. This small island used to host the Venetian hospital for the mentally ill. It is now a resort for artists. The exhibition for the Art Biennale is called ‘Everybody Admires Palmyra’s Greatness’. (Update May 2017: Unfortunately, the location of this exhibition changed to Giudecca.) A second location which is worth visiting is the pavilion of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg, which is located in an apartment in the San Marco sestiere. The exhibition ‘Thank you so much for the flowers’ of Mike Bourscheid will discuss social etiquette, a subject which you don’t really expect at an Art Biennale. He is known for his humorous installations, so it should be fun.
Famous names: Austria selected Erwin Wurm and Brigitte Kowanz for their pavilion in Giardini. I have been impressed by the works of Erwin Wurm since I saw his exhibition in Middelheimmuseum in Antwerp in 2011. I look forward to discover his new work, in combination with the neon lights of Brigitte Kowanz. Another famous name is Takahiro Iwasaki, who will show this ‘Turned Upside Down, It’s a Forest’ exhibition at the pavilion of Japan. I have seen some pictures of his work and it looks amazing, as you can see on the picture above.
Home country: Belgium will show a new series of black and white pictures of Dirk Braeckman, in an exhibition curated by Eva Wittocx. He will present powerful pictures that respond to the mass production and consumption of images. Dirk Braeckman approaches photography in a unique way and applies special processes and techniques in his dark room to create authentic images.
Music: France will create a ‘Studio Venezia’ within their pavilion in Giardini. The installation of Xavier Veilhan will combine sound and decor, inspired by the world of the recording studio. Visitors will be able to discover exceptional musical instruments, some of which will be created for the occasion, and listen to musicians from all over the world. It is a totally different concept which might be relaxing amidst the other pavilions.
Most bizarre: Earlier this week, Iceland announced that the artist Egill Saebjörnsson has transferred his role at ‘Out of Controll in Venice’ to Ūgh and Bõögâr, two Icelandic trolls. And no, I’m not joking. These trolls of 36 metre high eat people (especially children), but wanted to become exhibitors in Venice. You can read their story in the Trollbook. This whole concept is so absurd that you have to discover it to see whether or not it makes sense. I think this exhibition will be the most controversial, with many people liking it and probably as many disliking it. One thing is sure, everyone will remember it afterwards.
Does this all sound interesting to you? If so, make sure to read my post ‘How to prepare your visit to the Art Biennale 2017’. Similar as last year for the Architecture Biennale, I will add previews on most of the pavilions on a regular basis. I will start with the ones mentioned above in the coming days and weeks. There are also collateral events and exhibitions which run in parallel to the Art Biennale, such as Philip Guston at Gallerie dell’Accademia and Intuition at Palazzo Fortuny. Shortly after the opening of the Biennale Arte 2017, I will publish additional details on each pavilion and on all the treasures I discovered at this year’s event. You can find the overview of all the articles related to the Art Biennale 2017 via this link.
Don’t forget to follow The Venice Insider or to subscribe to our newsletter if you want to keep up-to-date on this topic. All practical details on the Biennale, as well as an overview of all the artists and national participations can be found on the website of La Biennale. You can also order the catalogue of the 2017 Art Biennale online.
Enjoy the Biennale!
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