Barbara Lee Smith: Viva Arte Viva, 2017 Venice Biennale
The 57th International Art Exhibition, titled Viva Arte Viva is now in full flow at Arsenale and Giardini venues, and in several locations in Venice, Italy. With 120 invited artists exhibiting, 103 of these are participating for the first time.
An irresistible event for Textile artist Barbara Lee Smith who took herself off to the City of Canals, and here she shares her thoughts about what she discovered.
Barbara Lee Smith: The oldest, biggest art exhibition in the world is the Venice Biennale. I haven’t any idea why I waited so long to go to this event, and now I have two years to wait for the next one. So, here’s my bottom line: Go this year if you possibly can.
This 57th Biennale runs through to November 26, so you may be able to summon up the time and money for a trip to Venice. Okay, now you can get back to reflecting on some of the artist’s works that moved me. Check out the many websites about the artists, countries and the dozens of exhibitions around the city while you are at it.
A week is too short for any complete view, but you can certainly see plenty in that time. Read the reviews, some ponderous; some enlightening, and then go and make up your own mind.
I can only write about a few of the artists whose work moved me, but what I can say is that textiles, and what I would call a textile sensibility, were abundant.
Christine Macel, Chief Curator of the Centre Pompidou, selected the 120 artists who appeared this year. Her brief was to consider this an ‘age of anxiety’ and to focus on the
Important role artists play in inventing their own universes and injecting generous vitality into the world we live in.
There was a humanitarian approach within her choices, and I was moved by so many works that dealt with shattering issues with warmth and depth, as well as a focus on solutions, not just problems. There was Hope in much of the work. In no particular order here are some of the artists whose works keep returning to mind.
Marie Lai (1919-2013) received a memorial exhibition. Part of the ‘arte povera’ movement, her stitched textiles of maps, books and an altar cloth were early on in the pavilions. I was fascinated by the pages contained within books made from bread.
Her work alone threatened to delay my meeting others at the chosen time.
Near the end of the pavilions, filling one huge wall of the Arsenale, were large colourful balls by Sheila Hicks. While there were many Do Not Touch signs throughout the exhibitions, the sign here instructed the viewer to Do Not Sit.
This was a joyful assemblage, and yet I thought it paled in comparison with another American artist, Judith Scott (1943-2005), whose work was shown very close to it. The story of Judith Scott is one of determination and the need/urge/compulsion to make and to contain.
Born deaf and with Down Syndrome, Scott spent much of her life in a dreadful state institution before being rescued by her sister, Joyce, No, not that Joyce Scott!
Judith Scott found a means of expression within the arms of the Creative Growth Center in Oakland, California. Here she wound and wrapped and bundled small objects into large cocoons, very powerful in both assembly and display.
Many of the works had a stitch-like surface, and it was hard to tell until I was close enough to see that they were drawings. The work of Lebanese artist Huguette Caland drew on the female form as both design and commentary. Her mannequins were both drawn and stitched: beautiful, witty, and provocative.
Tang Nannan and Yao Huifen
There were so many more within the acres of the exhibitions, a number of which focused on traditional textiles reused or reimagined, and the Chinese Pavilion offered the largest Suzhou embroidery I’ve ever seen, a collaboration between Tang Nannan and Yao Huifen, titled Oblivious Ocean 202, 130 cm x 260 cm.
Venues emerged all over Venice. My first sight of one was coming in from the airport on the Grand Canal, oh, I love writing that!, where a giant pair of arms, weighing in at 5000 pounds, emerged from the water and appeared to hold up a 14th-century building, now the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel. Titled Support, the Italian artist, Lorenzo Quinn, chose to comment on the vulnerability of our earth and Venice in particular, caused by climate change.
One private Palazzo hosted an exhibit titled Objection. Not part of the official ‘pavilions’ at the Biennale, this exhibit was in what was called the Humanity Pavillion. While it doesn’t come up as a website, a bit of searching reveals articles on the two women artists and the show.
One of the artists, Michal Cole, covered a room with 25,000 silk ties that first attracted me, but then proved decidedly creepy. All the ties have been worn, and as Cole relates,
They bear witness to the machinations of male society – business meetings, pub drinks, parties, weddings, prostitutes, funerals, court appearances, political meetings decision making, firing workers, blood sweat and tears.
Ties cover floor, walls and ceiling, chandelier, stuffed animal heads, furniture, busts, and a rifle mounted on the wall that used a Donald Trump, label included, silk tie along the stock. The title of the installation: Top Gun.
An interactive art work, begun in 1968 caught my eye back at the Arsenale. A Stitch in Time by David Medalla welcomed participation with threads, needles, scissors and one’s choice of what to add to this enormous hammock-like canvas. I felt the need to be part of this art work.
As I watch the nightmare of my country slipping into insularity, I’m reminded that Art in all shapes and forms envelopes the world, tying us together in a language of connection, possibility and promise; even when things go awry, we can still leave our mark.
A Note for those travelling to the Biennale. Buy your tickets on line and print them before going to the exhibition. That saves waiting in the interminable queues for either purchase or Will Call.
The bar code on your printed page is what you’ll need for entering either the Giardini or the Arsenale. That bar code is good for one entry to each venue, and that means you don’t have to rush through one to ‘do’ the other in the same day.
For more information visit: www.barbaraleesmith.com
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