October 30, 2014 Repository 160: The Art Olympics’ Theme Revealed | Enwezor’s Venice Biennale Posted In: contemporary art, exhibition of note, perspective, philosophy

Okwui Enzewor photographed by Oliver Mark

Okwui Enzewor photographed by Oliver Mark

Every two years the art Olympics takes place on the water soaked streets and alleys of Venice – a perfectly discombobulated city that has troubles with the environment (sinking), and is drenched in historic specificity and nostalgia. Venice is a caricature of the world right now indeed – environmental problems breathing heavy down our necks, and the pull of history and push of progress keeping us entirely confused about where our next steps should be.

And Venice is gorgeous, it’s romantic and it’s really, really old. Which makes the smashing of contemporary global art onto its grounds the most compelling part of the bi-annual festivus that is the Venice Biennale. “All” countries are represented at the art Olympics to compete for the eyes and adoration of the viewing public. Something about the intermingling of so many perspectives makes it always worth the trip.

Two years ago the theme was “The Encyclopedic Palace” – an anthropological approach to the study of images by one of the youngest curators elected for the task – the New Museum’s Massimiliano Gioni. Okwui Enwezor’s theme this year was revealed last week as “All the World’s Futures“. The theme is one of the broadest I’ve ever heard, which is likely helpful in dealing with the varied works the artists will be showing. In other words, it’s a lot easier to write Chop Suey on the menu, allowing for many different ingredients not to be overly specified. In his words:

‘The ruptures that surround and abound around every corner of the global landscape today recall the evanescent debris of previous catastrophes piled at the feet of the angel of history in Angelus Novus. how can the current disquiet of our time be properly grasped, made comprehensible, examined, and articulated? Over the course of the last two centuries the radical changes have made new and fascinating ideas subject matter for artists, writers, filmmakers, performers, composers, musicians. it is with this recognition that the 56th international exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia proposes all the world’s futures, a project devoted to a fresh appraisal of the relationship of art and artists to the current state of things.’

On first blush the three outlined layers of the exhibit (or in his words “Parliaments of Form”) seem daunting instead of playing with the imagination:

Liveness: On Epic Duration
Seems another name for a long, three month long performance piece maybe?

Garden of Disorder
The Giardini – or “garden” in Italian – is the spot where all the countries have their pavilions. It seems he is envisioning this as the spot for national conflicts, etc?

Capital: A Live Reading
Pretty much what it says – a live reading of Karl Marx’s “Das Kapital”. This is in the Central Pavilion which is where the curator has most control – where they can really focus the audience on their theme. So he’s chosen this book, and the following to describe what is going on there..yes I am sufficiently flummoxed :

“the structure and nature of capital has captivated thinkers and artists, as well as inspired political theorists, economists, and ideological structures across the world. a core part of this program of live readings, is ‘Das Kapital’ a massive meticulously researched bibliographic project, conceived by the artistic director in the central pavilion.’

Didn’t Marx artistically conceive that book?

I’ve met Enwezor years ago at the San Francisco Art Institute when he was a visiting professor there. It was hard to understand his talks, as he has a thick accent. Later in 2008 there was a battle royale between Robert Storr and him, where Storr was admonishing him for making sweeping assumptions and belittling the significance of political events in 1968. It makes sense that Enwezer is focusing on politics and the material in this round of the Biennale – he seems very comfortable rabble rousing and comes from a very politically charged upbringing in Nigeria. Storr’s Biennale was focused completely on the immaterial of the material, it was titled “Think with the Senses, Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense”.

Some critics of Enwezor have claimed that while he is African, he has focused on African artists in the diaspora versus Africa-focused artwork. Regardless of criticism, I believe it is almost impossible to fail in the aforementioned stunning environs of Venice. Much like it’s almost impossible to fail out of Harvard. You can literally place any inventive work there and the work is re-contextualized and invigorated. So really the eye should be on the artist, and what they come up with. There is not always good work mind you, I’ve seen derivative work there, as well as mind bending visual studies and works of consequence. I’ve seen performance art that reminded me of gnats at a picnic, and I’ve seen performance work that genuinely moved me.

I’m on the fence about going, while I know it is the non plus ultra of what is going on in the art world, I’m not compelled to visit if the overarching theme remains so obtuse, and seemingly focused on the fact that history is an ever growing heap of wreckage piled up by an insatiable wind.  They have not revealed the participating artist list – this may change my mind entirely.

Wishing the artists luck in their last steps in preparing for next Spring’s vernissage.



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