PRINT May 2001

World Report

Venice Biennale

“Cecilia, how many artists do we have?” inquires Harald Szeemann, director of this summer’s Venice Biennale. “Eighty-eight,” announces the chipper voice of an assistant. But the list of participants in this year’s international exhibition isn’t likely to be clinched until just before the opening on June 10. “There will be some last-minute additions,” says Szeemann, who cut off the number of artists at 104 for his 1999 version of the show. The question of the Venice Biennale’s status in today’s art world is more complicated. What is the role of the original, this Italian mother of all biennials, now that some fifty contemporary-art biennials vie for attention around the globe? “For a while I wouldn’t go to Venice because the international section just wasn’t exciting enough,” Szeemann says. “It became a carousel—one would see the same things again and again.”

The national pavilions were more challenging than the international part of the show.“ When he was asked to be in charge of the ’99 Biennale, the curator says, ”It was clear that I wanted it to become like a young woman again, and the way to make that happen was to create a really ambitious international section. Only then could Venice return to being considered a model for the other biennials."

And ambitious it was: Szeemann says that this time around he has encouraged commissioners to take especially strong positions in the pavilions, in response to complaints that his international show overshadowed the national contributions. The national pavilions do promise to be exhilarating—with the US represented by Robert Gober, France by Pierre Huyghe, Germany by Gregor Schneider, Britain by Mark Wallinger, and Canada by Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller. Those of us who experienced Szeemann’s 1999 extravaganza, with its parade of mammoth installations by, among others, Jason Rhoades, Paul McCarthy, Thomas Hirschhorn, and the late Chen Zhen, encountered a perceptual shift: Normal-size art suddenly appeared almost frail. No doubt the vast and newly utilized rooms of the Arsenale demanded colossal contributions.

I wonder aloud whether this year’s show will be as physically impressive. “In Venice one knows nothing until the very last moment,” Szeemann replies. “But it seems that we are getting even more space this time. There will be a passage opened to the Garden of Virgins, and this means one more huge pavilion, which I visited recently with Richard Serra.” Serra hasn’t been included in the Biennale since 1980 due to the cost of shipping his enormously weighty sculptures, but he’s planning to return this time with a brand new work. Szeemann, while struggling with the financial aspects of the inclusion, says the budgeting “belongs to the battle.”

The most radical difference from the last Biennale, however, will be not the size of works but the range of genres. This year’s biennial is not only an exhibition of visual art. “The space where Shirin Neshat was shown last time will be devoted to theater, dance, and music,” says Szeemann. “I’ve also invited filmmakers such as Atom Egoyan, Chantal Akerman, and David Lynch, whose works will be integrated into the show.” The inclusion of film in the exhibition in a sense holds up a mirror to the cinematic aspects of the work of many artists today. Szeemann points to Le Detroit, 1999–2000, a “fantastic” piece by Canadian artist Stan Douglas, as a particularly exciting example of this hybrid genre.

Titled “Plateau of Mankind,” Szeemann’s show takes three Joseph Beuys installations as its point of departure. Indeed, Beuys’s geophilosophical vision may form a good foundation for anyone trying to chart the terrain of human creativity. Szeemann also mentions, jokingly, Deleuze and Guattari’s Thousand Plateaus as an inspiration, but here their thousand plateaus have become one.

Szeemann calls himself an “old school” curator; he selects artists independently rather than with a curatorial team or advisers. “I go everywhere, ask around to find what’s interesting and lively. I always give credit to whoever has helped me, but I make all the decisions myself. Not immediately, but when the pieces of the mosaic are starting to fall into place.” These pieces will include a new series of paintings by Cy Twombly, paintings by Gerhard Richter, new works by Richard Tuttle, Gary Hill, and Jeff Wall, and contributions by young artists who have had little international exposure. Whereas China had a certain pride of place last time around, it seems that Finland and Central America figure prominently this time. Will they emerge as new centers of creativity? While there is certainly geographical (and generational) scope to the show, in the end it will represent Szeemann’s singular and subjective vision of the world of art—and the world of art can be counted on to respond with views of its own.

Daniel Birnbaum is a contibuting editor of Artforum.


“Plateau of Mankind” artists (to date):

A1 – 53167
Chantal Akerman
Francis Alÿs
Tiong Ang
Gustavo Artigas
Atelier van Lieshout
Vanessa Beecroft
Joseph Beuys
Richard Billingham
Pierre Bismuth
Emery Blagdon
Botto e Bruno
Tania Bruguera
Roderick Buchanan
Chris Burden
Maurizio Cattelan
Loris Cecchini
Com & Com
Cracking Art Group
Chris Cunningham
Josef Dabernig
Lucinda Devlin
Rineke Dijkstra
Stan Douglas
Atom Egoyan / Julião Sarmento
Helmut Federle
Regina Galindo
Cristina Garcia Rodero
Gérard Garouste
Yervant Gianikian / Angela Ricci Lucchi
Luis González Palma
Paul Graham
Veli Granö
Hai Bo
Federico Herrero
Gary Hill
Laura Horelli
Yishai Jusidman
Ilya and Emilia Kabakov
Marin Karmitz
Abbas Kiarostami
Susan Kleinberg
Mattieu Laurette
Marko Lehanka
David Lynch
Mark Manders
Tuomo Manninen
Eva Marisaldi
Viktor Maruschtschenko
Barry McGee / Stephen Powers / James Todd
Marisa Merz
Chantal Michel
Priscilla Monge
Ron Mueck
Marco Neri
Ernesto Neto
Carsten Nicolai
Olaf Nicolai
Manuel Ocampo
Arnold Odermatt
João Onofre
Tatsumo Orimoto
Tanja Ostojic
Manfred Pernice
Paul Pfeiffer
John Pilson
Neo Rauch
Heli Rekula
Gerhard Richter
Gerd Rohling
Alexander Roitburd
Tracey Rose
Mimmo Rotella
Anri Sala
Charles Sandison
Ene-Liis Semper
Richard Serra
Santiago Sierra
Lars Siltberg
Nedko Solakov
Eliezer Sonnenschein
Georgina Starr
Do-Ho Suh
Fiona Tan
Javier Téllez
Alessandra Tesi
Jaime David Tischler
Niele Toroni
Gavin Turk
Richard Tuttle
Cy Twombly
Salla Tykkä
Keith Tyson
Eulalia Valldosera
Minnette Vári
Francesco Vezzoli
Bill Viola
Not Vital
Massimo Vitali
Jeff Wall
Magnus Wallin
Nick Waplington
Franz West
Maaria Wirkkala
Yu Xiao
Zhen Xu
Vladimir Zacharov
Heino Zobernig