Casino Advantage

Nicolas Trembley around Venice


Left: French Pavilion curators Suzanne Pagé and Béatrice Parent. Middle: Annette Messager with the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion. Right: Pierre Cardin.

Representing one’s country at the Venice Biennale is undoubtedly an honor. It can pump up an artist's career—but it can also take the wind out of one's sails. There is no other exhibition in which artists must stand at their own front doors, so to speak, making themselves available to critics and passersby. “Like prostitutes,” said one visitor to the Giardini. The up side: “Those who used to think you were full of shit might suddenly love you because it’s ‘your moment’—or because you have the right dealer.” Artists know it’s just a game, but when it’s their turn they may find the going is tougher than they expected. Dutch duo de Rijke/de Rooij risked alienating devoted fans of their bon chic bon genre abstract films with a very disturbing play, recorded on 16mm film—but I loved it. On the other hand, Tino Sehgal, the hip young conceptual artist-slash-economist who, along with Thomas Scheibitz, represented Germany, failed to impress with his piece, which had performers shouting, “This is so contemporary, contemporary, contemporary!” Auf wiedersehen!

With her exhibition at the French Pavilion, Annette Messager seems to have picked up on the capricious nature of the whole affair. On the neo-classical façade, she covered the word FRANCIA with a neon sign that reads CASINO. Inside, in a three-part installation, she allegorized the Venetian figure of Pinocchio. Casinos are “places of pleasure and perdition, where you play with money,” the artist explained, cryptically intoning, “We’re on show even when we’re alone. I love the phrase ‘losers win.’” As for Pinocchio, the liar, the machine who tries to be human: “We all lie,” said Messager.

This year marks the first time that France has selected a female artist to represent the country, and Messager was duly rewarded with the Golden Lion for Best Pavilion. (Another Lion, presented by Walker Art Center director Kathy Halbreich, went to Harald Szeemann, and was graciously accepted by the late curator’s wife, Ingeborg, and daughter, Una.) In fact a feminist vibe was unsurprisingly pervasive. The rather flat and curiously anachronistic Arsenale exhibition, curated by Rosa Martinez, set the tone with an outsized Guerilla Girls poster that pointed out the woeful male-female imbalance of Biennales past. Statistics, we hate that.

Left: Bob Colacello and Gloria von Thurn und Taxis. Right: Una Szeemann with her father's honorary Golden Lion.

Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey sponsored Thursday night’s official French post-opening dinner party—to the tune of a few hundred thousand Euros. Continuing its public-relations policy of having a finger (or whole hand) in every contemporary art pie, the luxury goods conglomerate had chosen nothing less than the Palazzo Ducale on Piazza San Marco for its fête, which felt a lot like a jet-set wedding. Few artists, but lots of designers and CEOs representing their multiple brands. At least the food was good. But I couldn’t help recalling the night before, when Jarvis Cocker, on the train to Venice to DJ at Thursday's Frieze party, ingenuously asked, “What’s the difference between this and Art Basel?” Nobody could come up with an answer.

Left: LVMH CEO Bernard Arnault. Middle: Dealer Almine Reich and artist Sylvie Fleury. Right: Curator Eric Troncy.

Left: Fendi CEO Michael Burke. Middle: The French Pavilion. Right: Bernard Picasso.