This spring Glamcult attended the preview days of the 57th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia. The oldest and largest contemporary art biennale in the world is pretty much to fine art what the Eurovision Song Contest is to trivial pop music. Countries “compete” with one another with exhibitions presented in their respective national pavilions. In Venice, Anne Imhof’s Faust snatches the Golden Lion for best pavilion for Germany. On the same evening in Kyiv, Salvador Sobral brings the crystal microphone back for his homeland Portugal.
Geopolitics and national identity regularly play a significant role during the Eurovision Song Contest. Jamala, the Ukrainian winner of the 2016 edition, sparked outrage in Russia with her song 1944, a reference to Stalin’s mass deportation of the Tatar population from the Crimea. This year, the Russian contestant Yuliya Samoylova was banned from entering the host country due to her previous travel in contested territory: Crimea. Likewise, in Venice, national identity, past and the current state of affairs, regularly become curatorial and artistic frameworks. This year, New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana presents a large panoramic video piece in which actors reenact the gruesome colonial past of her country. On the other hand, the artists Nathaniel Mellors and Erkka Nissinen look into the myths of creation of Finland with a satirical video installation that involves a surprising animatronic egg.
Ever since David Haines’ 2013 exhibition at Upstream Gallery in Amsterdam, I’ve been taking regular Instagram shots of my boyfriend next to works of art at various fairs, exhibitions and other events. #Fabianwithart involves a recurrent subject, Fabian, put in relation to an artwork. As the standing figure, Fabian becomes the human counterpart to art. With stylist Ekaterina Razgonova hopping on the bandwagon, team Glamcult embarks on an early easyJet flight to Venice full of art professionals—in hopes of bringing #fabianwithart to the next level.
Upon touchdown we make our first Biennale stop at Phyllida Barlow’s folly in the British Pavilion of the Giardini. Barlow’s extensive take of the pavilion has both colourful and sinister qualities. The artist succeeds in combining the successive gallery spaces in a painter-like flow of sculptures that resemble an almost papier-mâché-like organic assemblage. Colourful tones contrast with grey pallets and familiar shapes clash with abstract forms. As pictured above, Fabian is wearing a sweater by Won Hundred and trousers by &Other Stories. The balcony structure under which he stands is a reference to the city of Venice, we are told.
In the same Giardini, we also visit the Belgian Pavilion with the solo show of Dirk Braeckman. There is something extremely refreshing in seeing a solo photo exhibition at the Biennale. The pristine and almost contemplative presentation gives full potential to admire the work of the Belgian artist, whose black-and-white work puts the emphasis on photographic process. Fabian is wearing a shirt by Paul Smith and a suit by ASOS.
On the other side of the Giardini, the Central Pavilion hosts one of the locations of the main Biennale show, Viva Arte Viva, curated by Christine Macel. Macel’s show aims to celebrate art, its place in society and its relevance to human life. Macel also claims to put artists at the center of attention in the exhibition. As she puts it, Viva Arte Viva is a Biennale designed “with artists, by artists and for artists”. Although this sort of statement may raise a few eyebrows—the active curatorial role of the invited artists in a more than likely heavily curated show could be questioned—we move on and stumble upon the work of Philippe Parreno. Cloud Oktas (2017) is part of the artist’s series entitled Quasi-Objects; according to the French philosopher Michel Serres, that what is neither a subject nor an object is a “quasi-object”. Parreno’s use of daylight, flickering neon and its resulting sound can in fact only be experienced on spot and thus solely function in relation to the viewer. Surrounded by Parreno’s electromagnetic sonic cloud, Fabian is sporting a jacket by Balenciaga, turtleneck by Scotch & Soda and trousers by Acne Studios.
Visitors of the Biennale preview do not only sign up for a marathon of countless art shows; the evening program of private parties, launches and other cocktail events is an intense obstacle race scattered throughout the streets of Venice. From the Russian vodka and champagne party hosted in an outdoor fish market (follow the persistent smell) to the Berlin boat party with artists Wu Tsang and Boychild as DJs, visitors of all festivities end up in the same place: the Bauer, a five-star hotel that every night inevitably becomes the (un)official after party location of the Biennale’s VIPs and wannabees.
Back to art on day 2, we head across the water to the island of Giudecca. The Icelandic Pavilion begins with a much-needed espresso bar. As we step into a curtain of dark threads (creatures’ hair, we discover later), we find ourselves in the center of two large vertical projections from floor to ceiling. Artist Egill Sæbjörnsson has allowed two trolls to gain control of the premise. Ugh and Boogar claim to be addicted to caffeine and seem to be at ease within the dynamics of the art world. As they philosophize and discuss with each other about the nature of being a troll, they take a bite of what looks like art world people (we recognize the infamous Klaus Bisenbach, current director of MoMA PS1) and casually go on Tindr to check potential dates. What appears to be a light-hearted comical work at first sight is in fact a technically well-constructed piece that touches on current politics and critically questions the dynamics of the art world. The trolls have been around for a decade and the artist seems to have given any sense of authorship to them. Through the projection of either Ugh or Boogar, Fabian is wearing a trench coat by Daily Paper, a shirt by Weekday and trousers by Reconstruct Collective.
Venice is the house of countless palazzos and unusual places. To take a break from the usual biennale venues we take a short detour to Palazzo Fortuny. Mariano Fortuny y Madrazo (1871 – 1949) was a Spanish fashion designer, known for introducing the Greek-inspired Delphos gown in the early 20th century. His Venetian palazzo has now been turned into a museum, filled with art, lamps and maquettes (Fortuny was also a set designer and lighting engineer). During the Biennale, the museum houses the exhibition Intuition, which is co-curated by renowned interior designer and art collector Axel Vervoordt. Pieces of Fugimoto, De Kooning, Abramovic, Courbet and Basquiat are brilliantly combined within the rich environment of Fortuny’s old residence. Standing opposite of a Venus torso, between a painting by Mariano Fortuny and suspended canvases by Michel Mouffe, Fabian is wearing a Dries Van Noten jacket, a shirt by Reconstruct Collective and trousers by Acne Studios.
On day 3 we reach the Arsenale, where the other part of Christine Macel’s show is hosted. Located in a shed at the very end of the park of the Arsenale, we find the work of Salvatore Arancio, entitled MIND AND BODY BODY AND MIND. Arancio’s psychedelic video helps one “becoming a better artist” by means of hypnosis. The sci-fi-looking sculptures next to the video space, glazed in a tie-dye colour scheme, have been executed by the artist’s collaborators following a similar hypnotic session (there is no mention whether mind-altering substances played a role in the making of the work). Besides being visually pleasing, the piece does fit into the artist-driven curatorial line of Christine Macel; everyone watching Arancio’s video may soon become an artist of his or her own. Fabian is wearing trousers by Monique van Heist and a poncho by Scotch & Soda.
Fittingly, we conclude our Venetian art escapade with a Eurovision viewing party in a random Irish Pub. The performance by Spanish “surfer” Manel Navarro doesn’t quite pan out; Spain ends last with just five points. Similarly, #fabianwithart rarely succeeds with performances, large installations, or sound and video works that won’t let themselves be captured in a smartphone picture. So should you decide to go to Venice for the Biennale—open until the 26th of November—don’t miss the works of James Richard (Welsh Pavilion), Guan Xiao (Arsenale), Anne Imhof (German Pavilion), Wendelien van Oldenborgh (Dutch Pavilion), Kader Attia (Arsenale), Roberto Cuoghi (Italian Pavilion) and Pauline Curnier Jardin (Arsenale).