Short films outshine traditional art in Venice
At the 49th international Biennale, artists engage visitors with multimedia works
Once again, the Venice Biennale has materialized, like a temporary Oz, along the shimmering lagoon of Venice. It delivers an irresistible mixture of the alluring, puzzling, provocative, and revelatory.Skip to next paragraph
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The 49th International Exhibition of Art of the Biennale of Venice opened last month and continues through Nov. 4.
Held here nearly every two years since 1895, the Biennale is one of the most enduring and renowned forums of contemporary art. Its happily controversial shows have hosted lots of forgettable works, as well as avant-garde milestones, from Impressionism and Expressionism to Pop Art and beyond.
The artists are a roving international tribe, and while the works may or may not come to the US, some artists do surface in America from time to time. It's an event that few opinionmakers, dealers, or curators miss, as a kind of global survey of what's going on in other countries.
This year, 64 countries are participating, more than ever before, spreading miles of contemporary art over grounds that include the Giardini, the leafy park where 29 nations have built permanent pavilions; the nearby Arsenale, the majestic Renaissance-era shipbuilding complex of the Venetian Republic; and other venues.
The strongest works this year are in the Giardini. Any visit should include the pavilions of Canada, France, and Germany (the prizewinners), as well as the pavilions of Belgium, Britain, South Korea, Russia, and the United States.
"Some of the things I've seen here are almost impossible to describe. They can only be experienced," Franck Giraud recently told The New York Times. Mr. Giraud is the international director of 19th- and 20th-century art at Christie's.
Some artists are advancing and merging the decade's prevailing art forms - installations, performance art, and video - and building entire environments that engage viewers in a disorienting blend of illusion and reality.
A spy-movie scenario
Canadians Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller have created "The Paradise Institute." The multimedia installation includes a miniature theater with 17 velvet seats, each equipped with dual-microphone headsets. Their 12-minute film transforms the movie-viewing experience into a Cubist collage of sensations, blending fragments of a spy-movie scenario, the taped voices of fictional audience members, and the viewer's own perceptions.
Pierre Huyghe has crafted a multichamber gallery of sound and light inside the French pavilion. Ceiling tiles glow as visitors play a video tennis game, while, visible through a translucent wall, an animation in another room shows block-style housing towers that seem to signal one another with their blinking lights.
In the German pavilion, Gregor Schneider has installed his ongoing project, a full-size model of a tenement house in his hometown. A few visitors at a time explore the installation, which at first seems like a fun house with its false doors and rooms within rooms, each with a distinct character. But the journey increases in intricacy, requiring people to squeeze into narrow, labyrinthine hallways and crawl through knee-high passages.
Mark Wallinger has taken over the British pavilion, where he performs in one of his videos as a blind prophet. Ascending an escalator in a London underground station while facing the camera, he seems to be walking backward. He recites the opening verses of St. John's Gospel while passersby sweep up and down the escalators alongside him, like souls moving between heaven and earth. The effects of his reverse editing are both humorous and stirring.
Plunging into spare art