They are as indispensable at every Venice Biennale as the crowded water and ocean buses of the Aperol, which are drunk here after looking at the art: assertions, first, that national self-portraits at the pavilions of the participating countries are essentially a thing of the past. Second, the idea that art can be judged by a professional judge, as if it were an exercise competition on the ground.
Particularly indispensable are long queues to the national pavilions and public speculation over who the jury will award the Golden Lion to. The jury remains silent as a matter of principle until the oracle is left weary after days of preview. Only then announces. And then everything that was not supposed to matter before becomes very important again.
The jury announced over the weekend: that the Golden Lion for what it considers the best national pavilion goes to Great Britain and Sonya Boyce, the Golden Lion for Best Female Participant in the International Biennial Exhibition for American Simone Lee. One lifetime business goes to Germans Katharina Fritsch and Cecilia Vicuña from Chile. There was a little lion for Ali Sherri from Lebanon.
The Russian house remains completely closed for fear of itself
The latter is showing one of the few films in this Biennale, which were dominated by video installations. The long poetic images deal with the kneading of mud bricks when building a dam in Sudan and the mythical potential of this antique material. Fritsch displays the highly realistic sculpture of at least a life-size elephant, a work from the 1980s, in the context of the exhibition at Giardini, intended to refer to an elephant said to have been at home here long before the Biennale was founded, as well as the matriarchal order that exists among these animals. In short, Vicuña’s portraits lay out pre-Columbian images and myths in a feminist way. It is clear that these awards continue the thematic focus of the Biennale-based Cecilia Alemani.
And my lion? Lee also filled the USA Pavilion with her large bronze figures of black female figures mocking Europe’s heroic monument culture and externally transforming them into an African thatched hut. However, the award in the narrow sense is for a sculpture that opened the Arsenal Biennale and which was first seen on New York Highline a few years ago. Their artistic program was also coordinated by Cecilia Alemani at the time. Suddenly, up Tenth Avenue, there is an old black woman’s tower with a collar-shaped skirt as the base, which was supposed to remind us of an African hut. (What is less prevalent in Venice, but plays a role in the USA: representation through more abstract monuments in public space is often rejected by societies, and there is clearly an interest in formations in the corresponding key, so to speak, statues answer Heroic Bronze for White Colonial Rulers.) Sonia Boyce, on the other hand, is British with Caribbean roots. Its pavilion aims to celebrate the power of female voices. This is done with elaborate audio installation and with posters honoring artist Tanita Tikaram.
Reports that the Biennale primarily wanted to honor “black artists” raise questions of origin, skin color, and gender at first glance, perhaps a little harsh about the quality of their artistic contributions. Especially since there is no shortage of fine art in this biennale, especially by black women of all possible origins and nationalities. The fact that Great Britain and the United States, of all things, are the epitome of what was once considered an imperial nation victorious in this way is a heavy blow that only the global micro-community of Venice can do so well. At least the French pavilion received an “honorable mention” for an installation and performance dealing with Algerian heritage in France. And the Russian pavilion remains completely closed, ashamed of the importance of its own imperialism. Sometimes, but only occasionally, a single security guard takes care not to get disfigured.
“The Germans,” to stay in the somewhat substantive tone of this particular version of the Biennale, the Germans have to come to terms with the fact that a rather unfair joke has been circulating on the streets of Venice for years, according to which only one German pavilion puts Question: Will he really deal with himself and his story again – or will he win the Golden Lion? It’s been a long time since we’ve been able to do both at once. But about the past few years there has also been a book recommended by the Institute of Foreign Relations at Schirmer Moselle.
Despite this, it remains a blessing overall that many states continue to provide a pavilion here. This makes Venice the only art gallery in the real world. Everywhere else there is one curator, one organizing team, one view of the world and things, but here there is a lot. Finally, a recommendation that has less to do with black women and more with black girls (and boys, as well as whites, Asians and Latin Americans): Francis Alice shows a selection of his films about children’s play in the Belgian pavilion. You can’t tell anything more intelligent, influential, or even more political about the world and the times in which they live. And for those who stayed at home, Alice also shows them online.