Before arriving at the fairs in the Giardini Gardens, I had to pass a large pile of white sacks resembling a hill. It is a gesture of solidarity with the Ukrainians who are sandbags of ruins surrounding the monuments against destruction. But in Venice, war is not only symbolic. The Russian Pavilion is closed. The large, palace-like building is guarded by policemen armed with shields.
In defense of Ukraine
Art vividly reminds us of the atrocities of war. In the former church rented by Viktor Pinchuk, a wealthy Ukrainian art collector, is a color painting of Maria Primachenko, a prominent Ukrainian artist, many of whose paintings were destroyed from the museum in Ivanovo near Kyiv, during the early days of the war. Closer to the war is the installation of one of the most talented Ukrainian contemporary artists, Nikita Kadan, who installed the spur elements of the chassis on a metal pole. Kadan told me that he came to Venice directly from Kyiv, and that he was allowed to leave thanks to a special letter from President Zelensky. – We are here on a mission to defend Ukraine, we are not fighting at the front, but we are doing everything we can to get people to look at this front – he explains.
The title of the Ukrainian exhibition “We defend our freedom” is also a message from the President of Ukraine, written on a postcard sent to Italy. Of course, Zelensky did not come to Venice, but he sent politicians there who discussed the status of Ukraine among European leaders. Former President Alexander Kwasniewski also spoke against the background of the blue and yellow flag in Takashi Murakami’s painting. – As long as art and culture exist, it is worth believing that terrorism can be defeated. He argued that people die alongside us, but that we have the privilege of being in an unreal world.
The title of this year’s Biennale, Milk of Dreams, evokes this unreal world. Quote taken from The Surrealist Stories of Leonora Carrington. Italian curator Cecilia Alemani explains that in the dream of the title she gives a voice to those who want to reimagine society.
But to do this, you must first think about art anew. In 1971, art theorist Linda Nochlin asked a fundamental question: – Why were there no great artists? In 2022, Al Yamani proves that artists were always with us, and we didn’t pay attention to them. And if the previous Biennale was the first in history that equal proportions of male and female artists were achieved, the majority of the 213 artists invited to this year’s primary exhibition are women.
Bronze and metal sculpture “Last Garment” by Simon Lee, representing the United States
Photo: Marco Cappelletti / Unregistered
A story about a woman
The exhibition opened with a huge elephant with its trunk facing the guests. Rushing down the hall, as in the tale of the elephant in the living room, symbolizes a problem that cannot be condoned and yet is ignored by all. The Elephant is a sculpture by eminent German artist Katharina Fritsch, who received the Special Lifetime Achievement Award at this year’s Biennale. Fritsch begins a story about the contemporary canon of great female artists whose names should be known. Among them are the painter Miriam Kahn, the American sculptor Ruth Asawa and the Czech Maria Bartosova. We go back to the history of the Bauhaus to see that women were present there too – and this is shown by the unusual costumes and ensembles designed by Lavigne Schultz, strange human-like creatures made of chestnuts and matches or characters from “The Wizard of Oz”.
This year’s Biennale also disrupts the system that used to be guarded by men. Never before in the history of this event have so many abstract paintings and simple sculptures been presented. They were replaced by fine ceramics, installations that smelled of earth and coffee, and embroidered fabrics.
It can be clearly seen in the exhibition of Polish artist Ewa Koriluk (included in the program of events accompanying the Biennale). There is, among other things, an excellent work “Ja, Biay Kangór” (appropriate spelling) – already in the 80s the artist created fabrics that today impress with energy and freshness. Young artists can envy this energy. There’s something else in her work that reflects the spirit of this year’s Biennale – totally elusive categories.
I rushed to the next exhibition, and there are more than a hundred of these in the program of the Biennale. I remembered how, three years before, I had found myself by chance at an exhibition in Venice, where on the floor there were bundles of red threads as thick as bundles of straw. The gray-haired artist wrapped her hands around the guests lying on the floor. Not daring to lie down, I asked a friend who had taken part in the examination what his impressions were. “It’s not art, it’s magic,” she said. This artist was Cecilia Vicuña, who was awarded this year for her lifetime achievement.
The Polish pavilion by Małgorzata Mirga-Tas fits perfectly with the story of women creating art on their own terms. Her exhibition became famous long before the opening of the festival. First of all, because she is the first female artist from Rome to represent a European country at the Venice Biennale.
Mirga-Tas transformed the great hall of the Polish pavilion into a palace, divided by embroidered columns between which embroidered fabrics hung from floor to ceiling. Each of them tells a different story.
On the highest bar suspended from the ceiling are figures of knights, ladies of the court, genre scenes resembling Renaissance paintings. The series is inspired by the prints of French artist Jacques Calot, who drew caricatures of Rome in the 17th century. Despite the passage of time, stereotypes about gypsies have not changed much. The colorful fabrics of Mirga give them dignity, and the Roma turn out to be the rightful participants in European culture. And although the 12 million ethnic minority in Europe, the largest in Europe, did not have many representatives in art yet, it was time to change that. The curators, Joanna Warsa and Wojciech Szymański, reiterate that although Mirga Tass touches on important social problems, her voice is not critical, but rather focused on what is good, and the artist focuses on the positive aspects of her own identity. This is also the purpose of the fabrics on which are embroidered figures important to him and the Gypsy culture. The following tracts of material are adjacent to the grandmother of Mirja Tas, thanks to which Magorzata transferred to the art school, Babusza – the most famous Roman poet or Alfreda Markoska, who died a year earlier, who saved 50 Roma children from death during the World War. Secondly.
“Magic of the World” – this is the title of the exhibition in the Polish Pavilion – could become the title of the entire exhibition at the Biennale. Along with women, in drapery, vases, and embroidered sculptures, stories come to us of nations or ethnic minorities that have not yet been considered partners in discussions of art.
Simon Lee, Bronze Sentinel, 2022
Photo: Marco Cappelletti / Unregistered
The room is full of curtains
One of the most touching stories in this year’s Biennale concerns the Cuban artist Bilqis Ion, who was invited to Venice in 1993. The organizers paid for the plane ticket, but the family was unable to take the drawings to the airport. The father packed his son’s business on his bike, traveled dozens of kilometers along dirt roads, but was late for the plane. After 30 years, the works of the Cuban artist opened one of the main parts of the exhibition.
American sculptor Simone Lee is the first black woman to represent the United States at the Venice Biennale. Her sculptures resemble busts of black women, servants, and farm workers, bent over, hunched, and clad in ragged clothes. The most brutal is the story of the black Haitian artist Myrlande Constant, who studied street painting, creating portraits of tourists – painting slaves sailing by boat to America.
The longest queue in front of the French Pavilion, and in fact, this waiting can be considered an artistic element, because after crossing the threshold, we did not enter the gallery, but entered the interior as an elegant retro bar. The counter, and behind it, bottles of expensive alcohol gleamed on the table. Looking in the strange place, I saw a stage with musical equipment prepared for performance. And only a simple coffin standing in the corner of the room did not give me peace. These are the props used by the author of the Zainab Sedira suite in the film Presented in the Next Room.
The film tells about her love for cinema, uncommon and frankly tragic. The artist comes from an Algerian family, and with her parents she moved to France to obtain the status of a second-class citizen. The films she watched allowed her to learn about the world, but also perpetuated terrible stereotypes about her country of origin. The artist recalls: – We were filthy or charming newcomers from a land full of women with bare stomachs and men rushing on camels in the desert.
Like Mirga-Tas, Sedira has a knack for using a cheerful color palette to show the sad truth that the culture that is supposed to elevate and enrich us, supports a deep sense of being aliens at the same time.
This year’s Biennale is like walking into a room full of curtains. Leaving a layer of meanings aside, we discover another layer. However, we are still in an unreal world. In Europe it is safe. The most important awards are given to the pavilions of France, Great Britain and an artist from the USA. The galleries are visited almost exclusively by wealthy white European audiences who, watching tales of poverty and exclusion, watch an orange drink.
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