After all, of all Italian cities, Milan probably deems the least Italian. No jolly groups sipping Aperol Spritz while playing boccia. Instead, executives rushing from their stately apartment houses to offices in glittering business centers. Hardly a narrow cobblestone alley. Rather big cars on broad avenues. Few statues around. No renaissance. No baroque.
Nevertheless, if you are prepared for what to expect, Milan will not disappoint you. Therefore, let me guide you to the city’s most important art venues – and beyond.
Most visitors to Venice stay and explore only the Centro Storico, thehistoric center. It is divided into six districts called Sestieri. Although they seem to form one large island, there is a total of 120 islands in the lagoon. However, only 11 are permanently inhabited.
Of those islands, Murano is the third largest one – after the Centro Storico and the Lido. It actually consists of seven small islands divided by eight channels and connected by bridges.
Visiting Basel, you’re not only seeing Switzerland’s third-largest city – after Zurich and Geneva. You also get to know lots of great art venues. And if you hike the Rehberger Trail, a route decorated with sculptures by German artist Tobias Rehberger, you can even cross the border to Germany walking.
That’s one of the things I absolutely love about Basel: It is located in the tri-border area of Switzerland, Germany, and France. Three totally different countries getting connected in harmony.
Hardly anyone I know has ever heard of the Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, so I really think it’s Istanbul ‘s best-hidden Gem.
Coming to this grand city on the Bosporus river, obviously, everybody is standing in line to see the antique masterpieces at Hagia Sophia and the Topkapı Palace. Or – if they venture away from Sultanahmet – the very ‘French’ Dolmabahçe.
But hardly anyone comes to Istanbul to see the young, fresh, and daring Turkish contemporary art.
Why isn’t modern Turkish art more famous? The few times I spent in Turkey I saw outstanding, fresh and daring art – paintings, videos, and sculptures. Never heard of before.
And I’m afraid that due to recent politics it’s not a prosperous time for contemporary Turkish artists to be introduced worldwide. While at least some people leave the beaten paths of Topkapı, Dolmabahçe & Co. to visit the Istanbul Modern, another treasure chest is still quite hidden: TheProje4L/Elgiz Museum of Contemporary Art, founded by Can Elgiz in 2001.
Hard to believe that it’s been already one month ago that I’ve been to Venice on the occasion of the 57th Biennale. Time passes so fast. But it’s a good moment to look back on this marvelous and inspiring visit and show you my favorite works so you save time in case you join the final sprint: The Biennale is on till November 26!
I put together my very personal collection of the works that I liked the best. I’ve left out some of the pieces that I’ve already introduced during my daily Venice-posts “…a week in September” and although I’ve sorted the works by country, they are not necessarily from the designated country pavilion.
For instance France: At the Giardini’s French pavilion is an exhibition by Xavier Veilhan, but I liked french-born Kader Attia’s installation at the Arsenale much better so I included that one for France. When I like a certain national pavilion and then particularly liked another artist and piece from that country as well, I included both – like I did for instance with Albania.
It’s a good moment to present this international lineup, since it’s only a retrospective for me – you can still go, the Biennale doesn’t end before November 26, 2017.
Big advantage: prices for accommodation and many services and goods are much lower than in summer, but I still recommend to check in addition my post on how to get more for less on your trip to Venice.
Three blurry paintings by Leonard Qylafifrom the series Occurrence in Present Tense
Edi Rama has been Albania’s prime minister since 2013 and besides being an artist, he’s also a writer and used to be a basketball player. I live in a country where the chancellor used to be a physicist; that’s only hot on ‘The Big Bang Theory’.
Eve Arizanamed her installation Murmuri (Mutter). Each of the clay bowl has its own ‘voice’.
Antigua and Barbuda
Frank Walter was not only a painter, he was also a poet and writer. To honor that I took a picture of his old typwriter in front of his naiv, very Caribbean paintings.
El hombre con el hacha y otras situaciones breves (The man with the axe and other short situations) Oh, el hombre con la hacha is a mean little man – and it’s amazing how you can change the scenery by just looking at it from different angles. This work by Argentinian artist Liliana Porter is in my personal top ten; for its originality and its beauty.
A teeny tiny lady is fishing in a sea of…chiffon. Every single exhibit is made in such a ingenious fashion, every single one is a tender tale. These installations are like illustrations of life.
Hardworking little lady – sweeping the fiery red dust. (The figurine is maybe 1.5 inches tall)
The horse problem by Claudia Fontes at the Argentinian pavilion. Although it’s also meant to be poetic, it deems rather tacky – and it’s well beaten by Liliana Porter’s elaborated perspective and esthetics.
One of the many, many pieces referring to refugees coming ashore is the installation Vigil: using sequences from old Hollywood movies and documentary shots of refugees, Tracey Moffatt lets the film stars suspiciously observe the refugee’s arrival.
I already pointed out a couple of times how much I like Austrian enfant terrible Erwin Wurm; but to see his – admittedly iconic – One Minute Sculptures yet again…well….I enjoyed his “Drinking Sculptures” – and actually the entire exhibitions – on my art trip to the Ruhr much more.
It’s funny – Dirk Braeckman is a reversed Gerhard Richter: While at Richter exhibitions people get really, really close to check whether the painting is not a photograph, at this show people get really, really close to check whether the photos are not actually paintings.
Bolivia participated for the first time in the Venice Biennale and presents artists Jose Ballivian, Sol Mateo and Jannis Markopoulos. Maybe it’s because of the debut that the topic is very ambitious and serious thematizing the development and tension of Latin America in relation to the Northern countries.
Safet Zec: Exodus – scenes depicting different scenarios of refugee and the hardship of migration, painted in the narrative fashion of the old masters like e. g. Tintoretto or Veronese. Every single of these tableaus at the Chiesa de la Pietà tells you a story on the protagonists’ hardship and destiny.
Since the Canadian pavilion has to be renovated, anyway, Geoffrey Farmer was free to arrange his destructive yet fun – and literally refreshing – installation A way out of the mirror like a demolition party. Water fountains are exploding entraining everything around.
Bernardo Oyarzun – from the Mapuche indian tribe himself – is pointing in his installation Werken the oppression of Chile’s indigenous population. 1000 ceremonial masks, made by 40 Mapuche indians, are standing in the center surrounded by 6907 illuminated still existing Mapuche family names.
Guan Xiao‘s video David is ironic and hysterical. It sketches the sell out of national art symbols like the David statue from Florence – to be found on cups and towels and T-Shirts and degenerating to be piece of tacky decoration or a marketing scheme. Showing this film nowadays at the Biennale where everybody is running around consuming art, taking pictures without even looking at the works is a slap in everyone’s face; my cheek is burning, too.
Czech Republic and Slovakia
“Plavala husička po dunaji” – there was a goose swimming on the Danube river with her goslings in tow. Seeing Jana Želiská‘s installation, this old Czech children’s song came to mind – although hers are swans: Swan Song Now. And yes, that’s all that there is with this work, and Želiská was criticized for the banality of her installation.
The audience is invited to assemble, together with migrants participating in Ólafur Eliásson‘s project Green Light – An artistic workshop lamps from wood, recycled yoghurt cups, plastic bags and green LEDs. For a contribution of at least € 250 you can take your lamp home. The money doesn’t go into Mr. Eliásson’s piggy bag, but will be donated to a good cause.
Especially at this year’s Biennale I realized what an adequate art venue churches are: the light, the sound, the atmosphere – all this puts the works into a special space. And Paul Benney, creator of somber paintings (he calls them night paintings), shows his impressive chiaroscuro paintings Speaking in Tongues in the murky Chiesa di San Gallo.
This Installation by Kader Attia is simply genius: Voices from female Arabic singers make sand vibrate in glass globes. And it actually works only with the voices, it does not vibrate when there are e. g. instruments. Absolutely fascinating! And a clear feminist message, too.
Although the German entry by Anne Imhof even won this year’s Golden Lion prize, I cannot include her since unfortunately I didn’t get to see it. There was only one performance the day of my visit and as I got there it was already over. So I pick Fiete Stolte‘s copper feet on raw wood called Printed my Steps. I discovered Stolte only recently, but must say: way to go, Fiete (pun intended).
There were many really good works at the pavilion of Grenada – many beautifully Ocean related. But I picked Jason de Caires Taylor who created the first under water sculpture park off the West Coast of Grenada in 2006. Especially since this year Damian Hirst causes a sensation with his exhibition ‘Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable’ – irritatingly similar to de Caires Taylor’s much older project that in addition was meant to raise awareness for the endangered oceans.
Sabrina Bertolelli, one of about a dozen artists exhibiting at the pavilion of Guatemala, ‘plants’ unique CONTEMPORARY-FLOWER…!, indeed.
Too bad it’s not possible to show the crazy, colorful, hysterical installation Songs for Disaster Relief by Samson Young. Installed in tacky sitting areas songs like “We are the World” or “Do They Know it’s Christmas” are blaring from tube TVs while lights are flashing in bright colors – it’s a zoo; and it’s great!
I guess Hungarian artists don’t have it easy – just like e. g. Hungarian journalists. So why not sticking with peace? It deems political yet doesn’t offend anybody – everyone likes peace, it’s safe. Peace on Earth by Gyula Várnai deems a bit haphazardly, yet I liked the rainbow made of these tacky socialist breast pins.
However, the art nouveau facade of the Hungarian pavilion is at least as nice as the art shown inside.
Gal Weinstein used rather unusual materials like mildew, stale coffee and sugar to decorate the pavilion of Israel. It’s said that the installation Sun Stands Still is a critique of civilization – I don’t know, I just found it unusual and interesting how something usually considered ugly all of a sudden becomes beautiful and decorative.
Jesus industries – from creation to decay: It’s huge, it’s creepy, it’s art; it’s Imitazione di Cristo by Roberto Cuoghi
Photographer Joana Choumali lets people migrate from one place to another by cutting and pasting. This way she points out in a very touching way how these individuals leave gaps in the original spots and look out of place in the new one. A very emphatic way of sketching the problem and a very interesting artistic translation.
Spoiler Alert: Before entering the Japanese pavilion to see Takahiro Iwasaki‘s installation Turned Upside Down, It’s A Forest, make sure to climb the ladder underneath and stick your head in the hole. I don’t tell you more.
Cody Choi decorated the Korean pavilion’s facade so you can’t miss it – and cannot avoid it, either. His Venetian Rhapsody – The Power of Bluff is as flashy as can be.
The absurdity continues inside with Lee Wan‘s work For a Better Tomorrow amidst Proper Time – Though the Dreams Revolve with the Moon
Petrit Halilaj‘s wallpaper installation Abetare made of old school books also made it from the Biennale to the exhibition Art and Alphabet in Hamburg.
The motives are downright crazy and that they are lustrous woodcarvings makes the whole appearance even more wacky. Thank you, Mikelis Fišers, for your exhibition What can go wrong, based on tin foil hat theories. We have for instance Giant Grasshoppers Massacre Tourists by the Pyramids of Giza…
…or The Last Yeties Protest Against CO Emmission by the Great Wall of China
Of course it’s daring and a feminist act when Lebanese artist Huguette Caland paints nudity and public display of affection on traditional Arabic clothing.
All sculptures of Wong Cheng Pou‘sA Bonsai of my Dreamare very tender and poetic. The one where two guys actually carry the one in the middle through the wall is my favorite.
For his installation The Life in the Folds, Mexican Carlos Amorales developed his own alphabet (interestingly the clay letters are pipes) and arranges the letters on big white tables to a story of immigrants; in the video screened in the back the letters come to life and tell a refugee story, too.
Michel Blazy recycles. And by recycling he creates art. In Venice he planted a Foret de Balais, a broom forest.
A very artistic alternative to swords to ploughshares: just turn them into graceful cranes like Chimeddorj Shagdarjav did: I’m bird – a truly inspiring installation.
When it isn’t about migration and refugees, it often is on colonisation (also some sort of migration, though) and oppression of native culture, customs and traditions just like in Lisa Reihana‘s video installation Emissaries.
A banner denouncing the leak of progress referring to ‘mañana’ was made by Juan Javier Salazar, calling it sarcastically Land of Tomorrow. Salazar sadly died last year at the age of 61.
Well, to be honest, the exhibit is not that great, but anything that puts Janusz Korczak and his wonderful and sacrificing work for children into focus deserves at least to be mentioned. Sharon Lockhart arranged her installation around the newspaper by and for children called Little Review initiated by this great man.
They remind me of the first epic films from the twenties – the deployment of the masses, the esthetics of the totalitarian, the scary play of lights and shadows, Grisha Bruskin arranged his scenes in an extremely theatric fashion.
It’s certainly the interaction between the abandoned, ruinous hall and the screening of a door obviously moved by the breeze filmed by Vadim Fiškin. Together this creates an atmosphere of slow, poetic decay. Scotland
In Rachel Maclean‘s super fun movie Spite Your Face Pinocchio is trapped in a world of pretentiousness and consumption.
On the facade is still written ‘Yugoslavia’ and inside three artists are showing their work at the Serbian pavilion. I’ve picked two extremes: Dragan Zdravkovic‘s ironic, hilarious self-staging…
…and Vladislav Šcepanovic‘s upsetting compositions that he calls ‘Political Pop Art’, depicting – in the fashion of traditional pop art – logos and slogans on one hand, on the other horrific scenes from the world’s trouble spots.
With the sizable ship Zai Kuning focuses on the Malay ethnicity: the orang laut, water people, living on and of the water – nowadays of course endangered by pollution and tourism. Dapunta Hyang: Transmission of Knowledge reminds of the former emperor Hyang.
Also dealing with the topic of migration, Candice Breitz‘ installation is one of the most touching works: Hollywood stars Julienne Moore and Alec Baldwin are sitting in front of a camera telling atrocious stories of their escape, the way across deserts and waters. In the adjacent room you can see the real narrators on screens. Puzzling effect, that the actors’ tales touch you partly more.
Called after his work Women of Venice that he showed in 1956 at the French pavilion, the Swiss pavilion is all about Giacometti: Teresa Hubbard and Alexander Birchler are showing simultaneously two films dealing with Giocometti’s love affair with American artist Flora Mayo – which is controversial given the fact that Giacometti denied all his life to participate in the Biennale at the Swiss pavilion and now there is shown this work of high intimacy.
Tehching Hsieh is famous for extreme long term performances. This is a video on his project One Year Performance 1980-1981 (Time Clock Piece): Over one year he hourly clocked in and took a picture. Hourly. Day and night. Looking back at his project he stated that “wasting time is my concept of life (…) Living is nothing but consuming time until you die.”
I love art that invites me to participate. Whereby I still wonder what happened to me participating in Adrian Piper’s project The probable trust registry from 2015 – never heard from again. Anyway, at the Tunisian pavilion you had to answer a couple of questions and were then supplied with a Universal Passport. The Absence of Paths – a beautiful idea – and we Germans are lucky to have such a universal passport, and it’s not only an art project…
One of the most surprising exhibitions was Synesthesia by a team of Turkish designers. Neither the design exhibition at the Palazzo Michiele nor this Turkish section are officially part of the Biennale, but the works by the team TRUE-TREU – exclusively dealing with immigration and refugees – are so unique that a place in this list is well deserved. A Life Vest? by Argun Dağçınar is the most flashy piece.
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