PRINT September 1986

Our Journey Takes Place In A Port Of Embarkation. . . .

ACCORDING TO ANCIENT LEGEND, you can find one of the centers of the world—the omphali or navels—among the islands of La Grazia, San Giorgio Maggiore, and San Servolo, in a specific area of the lagoon in front of the San Marco basin in Venice. Who knows, maybe this is why the Venice Biennale, in addition to being the oldest international survey of art (it was first held in 1895), remains so intriguing. Not even the Documenta exhibition in Kassel, West Germany—justly prestigious for the rigorous intellectual work that often goes into its discovery, delineation, and celebration of major trends and works of contemporary art—has managed to tarnish the gilded aura of the Venetian institution. Not even backward and deaf directors, rash and muddled curators of the various sections, and irresponsible and unaware bureaucracies (all of whom have played a part in the exhibition and will continue to) have been able to diminish the Biennale's powers of attraction and suggestion.

This year again there was a huge quantity of material—thousands of works and not all of them art, hundreds of artists and not all of them living, national pavilions and international exhibitions. Indeed, because of this, the art world was there en masse—with its upper crust and its unsalvageable plebeians, its ruling class and its oppressed, its wealth and its poverty, its intolerable snobs and its continual dreamers, its pursuers of the truth and its liars, its false prophets and its crazies, from Poland and from Japan, from the most remote provinces of the empire and from the glorious capitals, from the countryside and from the deserts, from the sewers of the cities and from suburban villas, from the Soviet Union (stopped in time) and from the countries of the Third World (continually oscillating between past and future), from countries at the leading edge to those in a state of perennial adjustment to others. All these came together, bringing along their desires and nostalgias, offering tales in diverse languages or demonstrating impenetrable silence.

The lagoon is not yet sea and no longer land. And it is an embarkation point—for the spice and silk routes, for north and south, east and west; a crossroads, the navel of the world.

Pier Luigi Tazzi contributes regularly to Artforum.

Translated from the Italian by Meg Shore.