LAST CALL FOR THE VENICE BIENNALE
The sensational Venice Biennale is about to have its last hoorah for another two long years. November presents the last chance to look at Europe’s densest display of contemporary art. Two hundred thousand people have already surged into the world’s greatest show but it’s still very much open and hugely well worthwhile .
The Biennale has not withered with age. Custom has not staled its extraordinarily dizzying variety. It has spread like honey on toast, all over the magical city. And it’s got better. Where once the entire thing crowded into too many identical tents in the core Giardini and Arsenale areas , many imaginative shows now bob up in unusual places – Renaissance palaces gothic sstorage areas, side chapels of famous churches.
For instance the official pavilion for Australia is in the central gardens Angelica Mesiti’s Assembly is a new three-channel video installed ‘within an architectural setting’ inspired by the historical shape of the community circle and amphitheatre.
But in the Bohemian Giudecca area, the Church of Santo Spirito’s ante-room is packed with an alternative Australian exhibit of the Dawn of Time in rock form suffused with thrilling music composed especially for the event .
The delightful Thai national offering , three bright illuminated works by Somsak Chowtadapong to represent a folk story is tucked behind the famous Paradiso cafe and restaurant. It is an idyllic lunch pavilion in gardens on the Grand Canal where Pablo Picasso. Peggy Guggenheim and artists various used to entertain. Rather unfortunately the Thai custodian has to re-direct customers looking for the loo, but still manages to do a tour of their exhibits with sincere charm “ Have you been to Thailand? You must come and see us, it’s wonderful”
The theme of this year’s exhibition is mysterious. “ May you live in Interesting Times’ . The title is everywhere, on the great red banners hung to proclaim an exhibition within. it is the smaller countries seem this year at least to have the best shows. Sponsored by the Francophone society, the Cote d’Ivoire showed three artists with world beating potential. One an abstract pattern maker Ernest Dükü,’s work was faux naïf at its best but the portraits of Tong Yanrunan took over the exhibition Here is a painter in the style of Francis Bacon but with more warmth and less self consciousness (and much less money attached), who can conjure likenesses in a few hours leaving his sitting subjects impressed by his sheer talent. Footballer Didier Sokora was thrilled with his sitting experience and appears on video in the exhibition alongside the other models to talk about the experience. As Didier explains, Tong’s portraits have a real authentic appeal and the delightful Castello Gallery, right on the Grand Canal is a lovely calm place to show them, with its grand promenade of light stone dock outside.ts its door.
Next to the Venice art school on the Giuodecca (“No Tourists Allowed’ hangsthe placard outside) with its expanse of water stretching out the lovely islands of St.George and the Redemptore church in the background, we came across the Romany installation. It showed a moving children’s film about the pain of growing up as a Roma, your culture and language under threat. The cavernous space was hung with Roma art and strikingly some of it from Gypsy people in Britain. Damian Le Barr of TV fame, was hot news in this exhibition and there were photographs of his wife in full gypsy costume, demonstrating with a cardboard placard round her neck from a sequence she had created. An enormous book invited guests to join a plea to the EU for more care of gypsy culture.
Although Britain has a pavilion of its own ( you can’t help rather wishing it still was a countryside pavilion restaurant it once was) the outstanding exhibit was from Edmund de Waal in a beautiful Romanesque storehouse next to the famously restored La Fenice. His theme is exile and he has collected hundreds of books on the subject, all on display. He too had a book of participation full of inspirational reading suggestions.
The intriguing news is the trip is entirely possible by train. Like the Marseille express which steams out of St Pancras on a daily basis, - it’s still astonishing to read the Departures Board and see that great Mediterranean port sandwiched happily between Leicester and Nottingham as a calmly quotidian destination. Venice. might be the city of Marco Polo and Vivladi but a train takes you there right from a St.Pancras first stop Eurostar to Paris. Second leg, a wonderful train from Italy’s Thello www.thello.com/en company. It leaves at 7.30 in the evening from Gare de Lyon/Santa Lucia and gets into Venice/Paris at half past nine ready for breakfast. Neat red modernist cabins with couchettes and bathrooms update overnight travel – and the cost travelling midweek is a pleasant surprise. We found a ticket home from Venice for two including the couchettes was only £140. In an age of climate awareness it is heart warming to learn your carbon footprint hardly touches the earth from train travel. What a shame that many European overnighters have closed. Thello has shown foresight as well as style in their model – and the joy of simply hopping on a train without a smidgeon of security oppression in contrast to the quasi military régime now at London airports