PRINT May 1999

International News

Venice Pavilions

IF (OR WHEN) VENICE’S PAVILIONS crumble elegantly into the Adriatic, a lot of history will go with them—and not just art history. Embarrassing reminders of nineteenth-century imperial hubris, they have recently become unofficial and inhospitable homes for refugees fleeing the former Yugoslavia, bringing the consequences of ethnic-cleansing campaigns and airstrikes right to the Biennale’s doorstep. Given the proximity of nationalistic violence, will the systematic pavilion-swapping program Achille Bonito Oliva incorporated in 1993 (the year that saw Hans Haacke’s pneumatic-jackhammering of the German Pavilion’s floor) be repeated in 1999? No, but a number of this years’ forty-eight national entries will metaphorically excavate this over-determined site and emphasize the advantages of hybridity and cross-national collaboration.

Representing France is the Chinese-born Huang Yong Ping. Ping’s nutty installation Sheep Peril, with its flock of gangly bamboo-legged sheep and two-story-high laughing cow, delighted visitors to the Fondation Cartier, Paris, in 1997. In Venice, his topical, site-specific work will show alongside the cryptic, cerebral propositions of installation artist Jean-Pierre Bertrand. For Denmark, Copenhagen-based artist Peter Bonde will collaborate with the distinctly Los Angelean, car-loving Jason Rhoades (last spotted in Europe touring the Continent in a Ford Caprice loaded with Sylvie Fleury’s perfume and Dieter Roth’s cheese-filled suitcases). The Spanish Pavilion will present mixed-media work by Parisian resident Esther Ferrer, a senior avant-gardist and key member of the Cage-inspired Zaj group formed in Spain during Franco’s regime. Ferrer’s work will show alongside Manolo Valdes’s patchworked canvases and wood sculptures. Further surprises are expected from Austria’s Peter Weibel, a regular curator of groundbreaking Biennale projects, while the US representative, Ann Hamilton, will explore the ideological ramifications of the Monticello-lookalike American Pavilion.

Developing the “Aperto” concept that he introduced to the Biennale in 1980, Visual Arts Director Harald Szeemann intends 1999’s event to foreground work by women and by younger artists [see interview with Robert Storr, p. 160]. Available numbers suggest this year’s national shows will feature around 0.666 (repeating) girls for every boy; still a case of “could do better.” Fractional status notwithstanding, Biennale females will undoubtedly make their presence felt. The demanding, ascetic, and elusive installation work of Ireland’s Anne Tallentire will get a well-deserved international airing. Rosemarie Trockel will square up to the particular historic challenges presented by the German Pavilion. And in the Nordic Pavilion, Finland’s Eija-Liisa Ahtila, maker of “confessional” videos featuring hired actors, will explore the theme of broken relationships, while Sweden’s Annika von Hausswolff will show further photographic confections: scenes of everyday life that carry despair to the point of absurdity. (Their escort: Norwegian Åsdam, whose “night garden” installation, ominously billed as “full of surprises,” will either cheer everyone up or spook them even more.)

There’s still a wee space left for those who paint. Australia’s Howard Arkley will stage-set his fuzzy Day-Glo paintings in a hyperreal suburban panorama, while, at the British Pavilion, Gary Hume gets to test the effects of southern light on his work of the past few years. If sunburn sets in, Venice visitors can retreat into Tatsuo Miyajima’s largest installation to date: 3,200 blue, twinkling LEDs, ranged around the Japanese Pavilion’s walls. A space in which to forget national conflict, Keep Changing, Connect With Everything, and Continue, Forever . . . or at least until November 7, when the plug will be pulled on this year’s Biennale.

Rachel Withers is a London-based writer.