Wednesday, 12 June 2013

A Tale of Two Bernards

The Biennale runs on until mid-November, but some of the smaller exhibitions will have packed up long before then; so we took the opportunity on Sunday to try and knock off some of the early finishers. And to help us in this, we made use of "My Biennale Guide 2013" :-

- every event listed with start and end dates, locations marked on a map, and all in a convenient pocket-sized little book. What could be more useful?

We start with two artists inspired by their time in Madagascar. Or rather, we don't. We find ourselves in San Polo in search of a building that doesn't seem to exist. We walk up and down Calle Bernardo, several times. It really isn't there. We take out the useful little pink book and recheck the map. Then we recheck the listing. Ah. The map is directing us to Calle Bernardo, whereas the listing specifies Calle Bernardi. A subtle, but important difference. 

Still, the proper location isn't far away, so off we head, and within ten minutes we find ourselves outside Palazzo Ca' Bernardi. Recheck the book. Yes, this is definitely the place. Except that the art is conspicuous by its absence. There's no official Biennale sign to be seen. It just seems to be a private residence, and the only sign is for a bed and breakfast. We don't think we can really ring random bells and ask "Can we come in and see the art please mister?" so, reluctantly, we give the Madagascans up as a bad job.

There may be some art behind this door. And, then again, there may not.

Not to be downhearted, we strike out for Costa Rica at Ca' Bonvicini, not very far from where we've just come from. Except that when we arrive, Ca' Bonvicini appears to be a dentist's surgery. And not called Ca' Bonvicini. We walk up. We walk down. We walk around. But San Polo 2164 is obstinately refusing to be anything other than a dentist's.

Hang on a minute, San Polo??? 

We recheck the useful little pink book. The map directs us to San Polo. And the listing directs us to Santa Croce.

We've been on the go for an hour-and-a-half now and, in a city where almost every available building is pressed into use as an exhibition space, we have somehow contrived to find No Art At All.

It would be fair to say we're losing faith in the useful little pink book at this point, its convenient size not really compensating for the fact that it seems to be of limited use when it comes to actually finding anything. So we decide to cut our losses and head for somewhere that we actually know exists, Ca'Foscari, hosting a pretty good exhibition of contemporary Russian art.

Lenin encounters one of Giacometti's "Walking Men"

"Russia is the Motherland of elephants"

 There's a lot of it to get around, and by the time we finish the weather has completely changed and it's raining. We decide to make our way back via the Palestinians at the Liceo Artistico. The garden at the rear has been turned into a rather striking installation.

Giardino Occupato. You can guess what it's about.

The Ukrainians in Campo Santo Stefano are still open for business, with a well-thought-out exhibition of sculpture and video; and then we make our way home. It's been a good afternoon's work in spite of a shaky start. But next time the little pink book will probably be left at home.

Thursday, 6 June 2013


The Venetian Businessman is very excited. He flicks through a catalogue from one of the national pavilions at the last Biennale until he finds a glossy image of a painting, a Sergeant Pepper style gatefold, and points to the top right corner.

"See, there we are!"

Sure enough, there he is. With his entire family, gaily waving at the viewer as they drive off in a taxi. I have to admit, I'm impressed. He doesn't just like the Biennale, he's actually been in it.

He smiles.

"Of course, the best part is always the...vernissage! How do you say that in English?"

I have to tell him that we don't really have an equivalent. We're boringly literal and just say “the opening party”.

We have tickets for the Scottish opening on Thursday, and we run into old friends and acquaintances ("You live here? I thought I hadn't seen you in a while..."). It's touching to hear people wishing us well. There are some of the great and the good from the Scottish arts scene, the culture minister makes an OK speech, and the gin (yes, the gin) is flowing freely. Food is non-existent. We're going to drink spirits on an empty stomach at 3 in the afternoon. What do you mean, “where are the tasty bar snacks?”, this is Scotland!

It's a good event but what about the art? Ah.  Well now. We really want to like it but the overwhelming impression is one of “will this do?”. To be fair, the place is packed out, and it's too noisy to really take in any of the video work so we'll go back and give it another go. .

 We head off to Iraq (not literally) with some of our friends. One of the highlights of the last Biennale, their pavilion at Ca'Dandolo is a mixture of the political and the lyrical, and very impressive. As well as the art, the intention is to create a salon atmosphere where the visitor can just wander in, select a book or newspaper to read, and enjoy a cup of tea. Excellent art, well thought out, making great use of the space. And on a shallower level, their opening party is a veritable banquet!

It's early evening now, and we move on to Ireland at Fondaco Marcello. We don't actually have tickets for this, but the man on the door mistakenly thinks he recognises us and lets us in anyway. The food has already been hoovered up by the time we arrive, but thanks to our Iraqi chums we're not in danger of going hungry; and at least there's no sign of the prosecco running out. The artist, Richard Mosse, has created a multi-screen video installation, a grimly compelling piece on rebel enclaves in Congo, shot on colour infrared film that renders the green landscapes pink and red. It's a powerful piece of work. At nearly forty minutes in length we only have time to see about half of it, but we'll be sure to return.

Back across the Grand Canal, then, to Newfoundland at Galleria Ca'Rezzonico. The art is nothing special, but the catering by Ai Artisti is first-class. We really aren't going to need dinner tonight.

Right next door at the Workshop gallery is a non-Biennale event, where new sculpture from the Syrian artist Diana al-Hadid is displayed alongside a piece by the late 19th century Italian sculptor Medardo Rosso. It's excellent work. A classy touch is provided by the presence of an actual sommelier, chain of office and all, for prosecco duties.

Technically, I have a rehearsal tonight, but then we run into a friend of mine and decide to stay for another drink. Oh what the hell, let's make it two. I started drinking gin at 3pm, my absence is probably advisable anyway.

Slowly, but steadily enough, we make our way home. We may not have made it onto any yachts, but we've had a good afternoon's vernissage.