PRINT September 1990


THE 44TH BIENNALE has left many visitors with mixed feelings. Director Giovanni Carandente had the laudable goal of returning the institution to the artists, and imposed no central theme for them to conform to as the exhibition’s core. But though it’s true that the prepackaged themes of the ’80s Biennales were realized all too predictably, in this version one misses a critical idea, if only as something to disagree with. In the Central Pavilion, in the place of a strong critical or historical subject, is the “Ambiente Berlino”show, a display of (West and East) Berlin artists. Unfortunately this is a dismal, severe, depressing spectacle, misleadingly suggesting only that German art is in a bad way. It deprives the Biennale of a vital heart, so that the whole seems formless and sluggish.

On the other hand, the presence of artists such as Jenny Holzer in the American Pavilion, Geneviéve Cadieux in the Canadian, the Indian-born Anish Kapoor in the British, and the aboriginal artists Trevor Nicholls and Rover Thomas in the Australian are welcome hints that the curators of the national pavilions are at least beginning to recognize that the art world cannot remain a white man’s club. The politically oriented work of the Border Arts Workshop, Gran Fury, and Lorna Simpson is similarly salutary in “Aperto 90.” However one might later come to assess them in critical terms, Holzer’s American and Reinhard Mucha’s West German pavilions are impressive installations: they would have been talked about in any Biennale (as, no doubt, would Antoni Miralda’s extravagant space, and Jeff Koons’ lubricious one). It is sad, though, that this kind of scale, this kind of expense, is necessary to separate these artists from the mire. Caught between the grayness of the overall context and the grandiosity that seems necessary to break out of it, less elaborate pieces, such as the Austrian Franz West’s subdued white sculptures, and Cadieux’s moving installation, pass almost unnoticed.

Analysis, ideas, the making of connections: the Venice organizers seem to have given up on the challenge of providing these things. In their absence, the exhibition becomes a kind of neutral container. If this acritical Biennale remains a ground for debate, it is only because of the amount of worthwhile work it collects in one place, and so we have treated it rather as we would treat some gallery-rich city at the height of the season: there is much to see, and many relationships to unravel, but no pattern or plan into which everything can be forced to fit. And so we address a selection of artists rather than the Biennale as a whole. For the artists keep our interest, even as the framework around them disintegrates.