What's in Storr?

New York

Left: Venice Biennale president Davide Croff. Right: Venice Biennale artistic director Robert Storr. (All photos: David Velasco)

Given that the forthcoming 52nd International Art Exhibition of the Biennale de Venezia is the first organized by an artistic director from the United States, it has seemed odd that clues about hyperproductive curator, critic, teacher, and (lest we forget!) painter Robert Storr’s exhibition have mostly come piecemeal. Clues have arrived from his interviews with German feuilleton writers, jump-the-gun e-mails from galleries proudly announcing, for example, the participation of Los Angeles–based artist Charles Gaines or office-aesthetic-obsessed archivist and performer Christine Hill, and, of course, the ever-reliable rumor mill. At noon on Friday, roughly two hundred journalists and assorted interested parties descended on the Museum of Modern Art, Storr’s former employer, to get the full scoop. “We heard about the conference at the last minute,” whispered a friend who works in MoMA’s publication department, indicating, perhaps, that while Storr has postdefection pals in the palace, this was not considered an overly special occasion. “We’re only here because a curator told us he was on his way down to the auditorium.”

For those of you unfamiliar with the process, those random MoMA staffers were joined by journalists, curators, gallery staffers, and unknowns, most poised, like myself, with pad and pencil. Before the proceedings, people walked the aisles, air-kissing and offering predictions under their breath. So, what did we learn? Storr’s exhibition, burdened with the grammatically intimidating title “Think with the Senses—Feel with the Mind: Art in the Present Tense,” is deliberately small as blockbuster biennials go, with only ninety-six artists and artist groups; will include “art that speaks to the present moment” without being a survey of objects produced in the last two years; will feature those who “straddle the divide between the beauty camp and the criticality camp” (not, I admit, the most savory image); and will teem with artists working in the United States, who make up a third of the hallowed list. Storr averred that many of these had arrived from elsewhere, citing Emily Jacir and Louise Bourgeois, the latter being “as French as they come—but she lives downtown.”

Bourgeois, obviously a Storr favorite (he coauthored her Phaidon monograph), came up at another moment, as Storr described his mix of “the young and the restless, and the aged—who are also restless.” Indeed, the list is very long in the tooth: By my rough count, there are eighteen artists born in the '40s, eleven born even earlier, and a lone youngster: San Francisco–based artist Emily Prince, born 1981, who, I later learned, embroidered the cover of avant-harpist Joanna Newsom’s 2004 album The Milk-Eyed Mender. “I don’t want people to keep score,” Storr cautioned, admitting immediately that he knew people would. So here’s another tally: With Raymond Pettibon, Raoul De Keyser, and Francis Alÿs (as well as Jason Rhoades and Fred Sandback) in Storr’s exhibition, and Isa Genzken representing Germany, I don’t envy New York superdealer David Zwirner’s Venetian party planner.

Left: MoMA director Glenn Lowry. Right: Davide Croff and Robert Storr.

Storr and Davide Croff, the Biennale foundation’s president, claimed ignorance regarding which Chinese artists curator Hou Hanru had selected for that country’s pavilion. Good thing they’re listed in the press packet: Shen Yuan, Yin Xiuzhen, Kan Xuan, and Cao Fei. Curiously, Juergen Teller, Mark Titchner, and Sam Taylor-Wood are among those representing Ukraine, in a pavilion commissioned by Peter Doroshenko. Turkey and Africa have each been invited to fill a centrally located pavilion at reduced cost—“as part of Rob’s aesthetic direction,” Croff explained, indicating that this would not be a permanent situation. (India was invited but couldn’t participate.) Italy gets its own pavilion for the first time, and Ida Gianelli has selected Giuseppe Penone and Francesco Vezzoli—natural bedfellows, surely—to create new works for the Tese delle Vergini, in the Arsenale. By this point, a parlor game—unlikely two-artist pairings—suggested itself: Karen Kilimnik and Mark di Suvero? Candida Höfer and Martin Kippenberger? Oh, wait . . .

The US pavilion (Felix Gonzalez-Torres) was little discussed, and the British (Tracey Emin), French (Sophie Calle), and German (Isa Genzken) ones went unmentioned. The limp questions offered during the brief Q&A session extracted little new information of note, though Artnet editor Walter Robinson asked about budgets, which provoked the dapper Croff to describe his foundation’s resources (nine million euros for this show) as “scarce.” At this point, Storr interjected with fulsome praise for MoMA’s International Committee, a group whose members one can imagine providing a decent meal and a soft pillow to a weary curator; it had apparently done just that during his six-continent journey. (Pierre Huyghe, included in the exhibition, had already plundered Antarctica so Storr didn’t have to.) With that, the conference ended, prompting another round of second guessing, informal wagering (I bet Susan Rothenberg paints a horse!), and, for the lucky ninety-six, celebration.

The full artist list is available by clicking here.