For a long time, the Venice Art Biennale was the prerogative of “dominant white males”. From its creation in 1895 until the early 1950s, it was a closed club of Western countries, whose national pavilions were concentrated in the Giardini.
For a whole century, even after the deployment of the Biennale to the Arsenal and the opening of pavilions from all over the world throughout Venice, women did not represent more than 10% of the artists invited, then 30% these last two decades. And now, for this 59th edition, the Italian Cecilia Alemani, curator of the Biennale’s international exhibition, has decided to strike a blow. Among the 213 artists she has selected, 80% are women or non-binary people. A real revolution!
→ PORTRAIT. In Venice: Zineb Sedira, between great history and personal story
And it’s not the only one. In the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement, this director of the High Line art program in New York also invited many African-American artists, but also Caribbean, South American, African, Asian, further accentuating internationalization. already well underway by its predecessors. Result: 84% of the artists of the main exhibition of the Biennale appear there for the first time. This breath of fresh air is felt as soon as you enter the Arsenal, where the monumental statue of a black woman signed by the African-American Simone Leigh (also featured in the United States pavilion) welcomes visitors, before suddenly giving way to a wave of ultra-colourful and abundant works, sometimes recycling ancestral techniques of embroidery, tapestry, weaving…
Power to the imagination
In this first part of the journey, devoted to man’s relationship with nature, animism and voodoo come to dethrone Western beliefs and our anthropocentric vision. In a video, the Chinese Zheng Bo seems to dream of an erotic fusion between men and plants. Worlds open up, where kingdoms mingle and cross paths with mysterious spirits, as in the paintings of Portia Zvavahera (Zimbabwe) or Jaider Esbell (Brazil). Argentinian Gabriel Chaile carves giant pre-Columbian pottery that embody members of his family. The Colombian Delcy Morelos immerses us in a labyrinth of humus with the smells of spices and cocoa. By entitling her exhibition “The Milk of Dreams”, Cecilia Alemani had promised to put the imagination in power. It succeeded !
Dedicated to cyborgs and the post-human world, the second part brings a darker note. American Tishan Hsu fuses silicone limb fragments on an operating table similar to a connected screen. The Frenchwoman Marguerite Humeau invents biomorphic sculptures between the prehistoric creature, the egg and the bone…
→ SELECTION. In the studio of the sculptress Chana Orloff
In the preamble, the hanging celebrated the women of the avant-garde, Dadaists in the lead, who played at inventing hybrid bodies, mechanically augmented. On five occasions along the way, the curator will shed some retrospective light on pioneers who have remained on the margins of art history for too long, unearthing formidable ensembles of surrealist women or creators of kinetic works.
In the garden of the Virgin, we will not miss the post-industrial vestiges frozen in bronze by Marianne Vitale: models of American bridges burned like mikados, liquor bottles swaddled in monstrous dolls. These games of metamorphosis continue in the central Pavilion of the Giardini.
The always neat hanging sometimes plays with contrasts, opposing the ironic knitted paintings of Rosemarie Trockel and their abstract geometry to the crystal mutants of the Romanian Andra Ursuta. There too, many discoveries await the visitor: the majestic primitive macrame goddesses of the Indian Mrinalini Mukherjee, the disturbing photographs of the Polish Aneta Grzeszykowska showing her daughter playing with dolls with the bust of her mother (the artist) molded in silicone.
And better known figures such as the painters Paula Rego or Miriam Cahn are entitled to superb ensembles, without forgetting the pioneer of digital art, Vera Molnar, finally invited to Venice… at 98 years old!
Some traces of the war in Ukraine
► No Russian flag this year in Venice. Its curator and artists resigned shortly after the invasion of Ukraine. No giant yachts of the oligarchs either on the quays of the Giardini.
► The Ukrainian pavilionhe succeeded in the end in showing The Fountain of Exhaustion, by Pavlo Makov (refugee in Austria). A derisory trickle of water flows through a series of blue funnels…
► Other artists who remained in Ukraine sent works via the Internet inspired by scenes of violence, anguish or resistance that have punctuated their daily lives since the start of the war. Printed, they are displayed outside, in the Giardini, on burnt wooden poles around a mountain of sandbags. A “Ukrainian square” has been set up by the organizers of the Biennale, in conjunction with the Ukrainian pavilion and the Victor-Pinchuk Foundation in kyiv.
► A naive painting by Maria Primachenko – whose works would have disappeared in the fire of the Ivankiv museum – was also added in extremis at the entrance to the international exhibition, in the Giardini.