RA Magazine Summer 2013
Issue Number: 119
Preview: Venice Biennale
Pavilions to palazzi
The Director of this year’s Venice Biennale, Massimiliano Gioni, tells Catherine Milner about his grand vision for the world’s most glamorous art event
Massimiliano Gioni, the new Director of the Venice Biennale, is perched forward like a sprinter, his eyes fiery. He is explaining his plans for the 55th Biennale, which he has conceived on a grand scale. ‘Museums are the new cathedrals,’ he says. ‘I want this year’s Biennale to be like the Great Exhibition – a memory palace that demonstrates the necessity of the arts in challenging times and discusses the role culture has to play in international relations.’
Marc Quinn at his London studio with Map of the Space-Time Continuum, 2013, which he is showing at the Cini Foundation on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore, Venice. Photo Marc Quinn studio/Courtesy Marc Quinn studio. The exhibition Gioni has curated, ‘The Encyclopaedic Palace’ is at the heart of the biggest contemporary art festival in the world and is intended to celebrate man’s achievements – from the invention of the wheel, to the satellite. His show presents a giant cabinet of curiosities, from Asian Tantric paintings to works by America’s Shaker community.
Gioni, 39, is the youngest director of the Biennale since it was set up in 1895. ‘A defining characteristic of my generation is the access we have to the past,’ he says. ‘We have this desire to possess information. But though it is all accessible online it is not necessarily all comprehensible.’
Some 88 countries – each with its own pavilion displaying work – are taking part. New this year, the Iraq pavilion includes work by Jamal Penjweny, who drew attention for his series Saddam is Here (2010), photographs of Iraqis in everyday places holding a photo of the former dictator. The Vatican too is participating for the first time, exhibiting works based on the Book of Genesis from 10 contemporary artists. Britain is represented by Jeremy Deller, best known for his bouncy inflatable replica of Stonehenge, Sacrilege (2012), which toured the UK last year.
The dozens of satellite shows are another draw, showing contemporary art in gorgeous spaces such as Palazzo Grassi and Palazzo Fortuny. The Prada Foundation is remaking the exhibition that put Conceptual Art on the map, ‘When Attitudes Become Form’, mounted originally in Bern in 1969.
Not to be missed is the Cini Foundation’s major survey show of Marc Quinn. This includes the site-specific installation Map of the Space-Time Continuum (2013), his monumental sculptures of sea shells, on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore. Ai Weiwei shows a new site-specific work at Sant’Antonin church, as well as landmark works from his extraordinary career. Meanwhile, across three venues, Palazzo Franchetti presents a distinguished line-up of artists, including RAs Cornelia Parker, Tracey Emin, Ron Arad and Tony Cragg, who have each created their first works in glass. It looks set to be a vintage year for those wishing to browse the best contemporary art in the world without having to travel around it.
Man of steel
Britain’s best-known sculptor, Sir Anthony Caro RA, has a retrospective in Venice
It is hard to believe that Sir Anthony Caro RA, one of Britain’s pre-eminent sculptors, will be 90 next year. He produces a sculpture a month and last year created one that ran the length of three blocks in New York. A major retrospective of his work opens in June as one of the highlights of the Venice Biennale, and a show of new work is also at the Gagosian gallery in London. ‘The fact is, I don’t feel old – I feel new,’ beams Caro. ‘Making art gets easier – I am not so frightened of making a mistake. But I do sleep a lot.’ He is in his studio in Camden Town where, directing a team of four, he is transforming hunks of steel into leaves; paper into water, heaviness into light.
Above us, in her own studio, his wife, the painter Sheila Girling, also in her late 80s, is labouring away. It is she who throws in the aperçus that have, he says, the most dramatic effect on his work. ‘She will always surprise me,’ he says.
Anthony Caro RA with 'River Song', 2011-12, at the Museo Correr, Venice. Photo Mike Bruce/Courtesy Gagosian Gallery.
Caro’s current interest is in transparency, as can be seen at the Museo Correr in Venetian (2011-12), which combines hovering planes of steel with dark red Perspex. In the 1960s he was happy with making works to fit on table tops; now they are often the size of a car, even a house. ‘They’re not enormous compared to Richard Serra’s,’ he says of the sculptor whose works can stretch over hillsides. ‘But there is a size I like, and a size I find difficult, and somehow mine have just got big.’
The exhibition in Venice includes painted steel works from the 1960s and 70s, such as Orangerie (1969) and Cadence (1968-72), as well as early drawings and paper sculptures. A recurring theme is his work inspired by paintings – Garland (1970) based on Matisse’s Moroccans (1916) being one of the most ravishing.
Meanwhile, in London, Caro’s Gagosian show features quarter-sized models of the sculptures that were planned to line Park Avenue in Manhattan in a project that is currently on hold. The works are an astonishing outpouring by an artist of any age, let alone one of 89.
Caro’s tireless will impels him to go to his studio every morning. ‘In the old days, the legs went easier. Until I was 82 I felt I was still in the world. Now I feel more detached – I am on my own path. I know I can’t change anything now, whereas in the past I think I could.’ The exhibitions ahead seem certain to prove just how wrong he is.
© RA Magazine
Editorial enquiries: 020 7300 5820
Advertising rates and enquiries: 0207 300 5661
Magazine subscriptions: 0800 634 6341 (9.30am-5.00pm Mon-Fri)
Press office (for syndication of articles only): 0207 300 5615