Now Reading: The Power of Modern Art at Venice’s Biennale Arte


The Power of Modern Art at Venice’s Biennale Arte

June 28, 201912 min read

Biennale Arte is an art exhibition hosted in Venice, Italy, that gathers numerous contemporary artists and presents their work under one theme. Occurring once in every two years, it presents its visitors with a certain viewpoint on the events of modernity and the state of society and conveys it through art. This year’s Biennale was curated by Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery in London and an art critic. Titled May You Live In Interesting Times, this year’s exhibition presents the visitors with a sprawling range of meanings hidden underneath the surface of countless artworks.

Including over 150 artists altogether, the event spreads from the Central Pavillion and the Arsenale, which is composed of artists from a variety of countries, to the separate pavilions curated separately by each country. This year, four new countries were participating for the first time Ghana, Madagascar, Malaysia and Pakistan. It is an event that could be compared to Fashion Week by its scope of influence, considering how it gathers approximately 500,000 visitors from May to November, when it is held. To a modern artist, there is no doubt that participation in the Biennale is good for publicity.

Living in the age, where art has reached a peak point, there is the question of how artists could enhance their skills and art? What is the next step for an artist after he has mastered drawing perfectly realistic artworks? Biennale Arte manages to answer this question perfectly, by showcasing numerous artworks that are minimal in composure but provide great meaning and intensity. Perhaps, one of the most striking pieces of art in the Central Pavilion is a large robot, encased in a glass cube that fruitlessly attempts to clean up a dark red liquid, metaphorically — blood. Created by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu, it is titled Can’t Help Myself and could be inferred as a symbol for how humanity cannot save itself from war and destruction. The use of a robot, a rather progressive object, denotes the rise of automatization, cold and emotionless labour. Despite the numerous efforts, the red liquid prevails.

Can’t Help Myself by Sun Yuan and Peng Yu. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva

Fruitlessly, the robot attempts to clean up a dark red liquid, metaphorically — liquid. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva























Another note on automatisation is explored in the Belgian Pavilion, which features a set of mechanical dolls. Separated by metal bars, they seem to coexist in separate worlds — those marginalized by society, are behind bars, meanwhile, the artisans are at the centre of the visitors’ attention. Accompanied by sounds, the viewers are immersed in a tiny society, which could be a reflection of the one we are living in today. As is the robot, the dolls are emotionless: they merely do as they are programmed to and remain in the places they are assigned. It is a pavilion that may not strike the visitor straight away but is left looming in the mind for a while afterward.

MONDO CANE, by Jos de Gruyter and Harald Thys, presents the artisans, who are true to themselves and their trade, in the centre of the room, whereas those marginalized by society are separated and remain behind bars. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva











The Fool, placed behind bars. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva













The Biennale also shows how extended the use of mediums by artists could be: from painting to installations, to photography, to videography. It shows how wide the range of what is considered to be art is and could hint to how anyone could be an artist in their own way. This could be a reference to the interesting times we live in, where the world is filled with images and information. Modern art is not a stranger to this concept. It is undoubtfully interesting to visit such an event, as it is unpredictable. One is never sure about what he will view at such an event.

Nevertheless, art at the Biennale extends itself beyond the world of creativity and into the problems of modernity. It is something that is retained beneath the surface of each piece, whether in the Central Pavilion or in one of the countries’. Although the Biennale used to be criticised for the inclusion of separate pavilions in the era of globalisation, it is the perfect way for each country to express its concerns about politics, society or merely art,  through artworks and installations. The expansive variety of mediums presented allows for the freedom of creativity and expression.

The Brazillian Pavilion is a prime example of this. Through the use of a dance video, the viewers are provided with an insight into Brazillian contemporary culture at a time of social and political tension. The title of the video is Swinguerra is a combination of the dance style and the Portuguese word for war: it is a perfect description for such a video, which seeks to battle the offscreen sociopolitical debate in Brazil, as the (predominantly black and non-binary) dancers channel themselves through their energy-filled dances onscreen.

Still from Swinguerra by Barbara Wagner and Benjamin de Burca, which is a dance video presenting the viewers with the sociopolitical issues in Brazil. Image Source: artnet news

Another frequent medium used at the Biennale is installations, especially those which are curved in shape. Martin Puryear’s Liberty in the American Pavilion immerses the visitors into a fairytale-like landscape, with curved wood carvings. Puryear, who is renown for his wood craftwork, uses his art to touch upon numerous aspects of the world and American history. Using wood, metal, and textile, the artist unites numerous cultures into one, crafting a sort of national liberty amongst one another.

Hibernian Testosterone, by Martin Puryear, is a reproduction of the skull and antlers of the great Irish elk, a species of a giant deer which is long extinct. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva

Aso Oke, by Martin Puryear, reproduces a hat, which is part of contemporary dress for Nigerian Men. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva

The Nordic Pavilion, which consists of artists from Finland, Norway, and Sweden, crafts a surreal landscape, made from a variety of peculiar objects. The soft tones and the arrangement of the installations create the essence of a highly stylised still life being created right in front of the visitors — perhaps, artists will come out to sketch the scene. Although the artists use a wide range of materials, they all merge into one unified landscape. This pavilion could be considered purely aesthetic and yet, it seeks to exhibit the harmful influence of humans on the environment. It is undoubtful that such use of material and color is a sure way to draw anyone in to ponder on the meaning behind the artwork.

The Nordic Pavilion, by Ane Graf, Maria Teeri, Janne Nabb and Ingela Ihrman, seeks to explore the harmful influence of humans on the environment. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva




















The variety of materials merge, producing a surreal landscape. Image Credit: Aly Balakareva















Such an event acts as a perfect outlet for artists to voice their concerns about politics and society using the way they know best — through art. Filled with deep, underlying messages, the art pieces stand in the pavilions and galleries, ready to be inspected and dissected for meaning by art-lovers. However, to an average art-lover, this could be a daunting job. To some, walking through rooms and corridors filled with minimalistic pieces, which do not offer a slight hint to what they are about, could be far from pleasant.

It is an event that requires time to settle in one’s mind. It does not require quick judgement and allows one to infer their own meaning about the artworks exhibited. For modern artists, Biennale Arte acts as liberation: it shows how art today can be fluid, it is not required for it to be in a certain form. It allows freedom for expression in any form the artist prefers, whether painting, sculpture, installation, videography or photography.

To some, Biennale Arte may seem to be pointless. For them, minimalistic pieces may be far from the concept of art. Nevertheless, the Biennale shows how anything and everything could be considered art and the meaning it possesses is what makes it so valuable.

Featured Image via Aly Balakareva


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Aly Balakareva

Born in 2003, in Sochi, Russia, I have always had a passion for storytelling. For the past ten years, I've been living in and exploring Cyprus. Currently, I write and edit for Affinity Magazine Arts + Culture section, and in my free time, enjoy watching films and listening to music.

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