The next stop for the global art world’s moveable feast is the 53rd Venice Biennale, which has its professional preview June 4-6, 2009, before opening to the general public for a six-month run, June 7-Nov. 22, 2009.
Once a supreme status symbol of international success, with over 300,000 visitors and pavilions for more than 70 nations, the biennale seems to have succumbed this year to a certain avant-garde vulgarity and sensationalism.
Bruce Nauman and Steve McQueen, the artists selected for the U.S. and Great Britain pavilions, respectively, are both known for their taste for sadism, Nauman with his evil clowns and "fun from rear" neons, and McQueen with his prize-winning movie celebrating Irish hunger-striker Bobby Sands.
In the Russian pavilion is Paris-based artist Andrei Molodkin, whose sculptures of word-shaped vessels fed by snaking tubing, all filled with black oil, have been a hit at recent global art fairs. Molodkin made news last week by claiming he had a process to turn human corpses into oil that he would use in his work.
But the biennale is a big show, and there’s plenty of tamer fare on hand. Representing France is Claude Lévêque, who specializes in poetic light installations. Across the way at the German pavilion is Liam Gillick, who makes in colorful, designy sculptures and 3D concrete poetry. Yes, Gillick is English, and his presence in the German pavilion represents the art-world’s "assault" (such as it is) on the outdated notion of the nation-state.
Similarly, the collaborative art duo of Michael Elmgreen & Ingar Dragset are organizing both the Nordic and the Danish pavilions, apparently to resemble collector’s homes. E&D are famous for set pieces such as the Prada Store they plopped down in the desert outside Marfa, Tx., and the full-sized replica of a subway system they installed in the basement of the Bohen Foundation in Manhattan.
Aging rock start John Cale, once guitarist for Velvet Underground and now living in Los Angeles, is representing Wales with an "audiovisual piece" that explores Welsh identity, located in an old brewery on the Giudecca. Nearby is apavilion for Palestinian artists, the first in the global art show.
Other artists include Silvia Bächli and Fabrice Gygi (Switzerland), Miquel Barceló (Spain), Martin Boyce (Scotland), Shaun Gladwell (Australia), Žilvinas Kempinas (Lithuania), Elke Krystufek (Austria), Rafi Lavie (Israel), Mark Lewis (Canada), Teresa Margolles (Mexico), Iván Navarro (Chile), Fiona Tan (Netherlands) and Miwa Yanagi (Japan).
Daniel Birnbaum, the curator of the international exhibition, launches a series international series of press conferences this month (Rome, Berlin, Paris, London, New York), though the advance word is that he plans to concentrate on painting and drawing -- what an idea! Birnbaum has his work cut out for him in any case, considering the hostile reception that typically greets these shows (not least from previous curators, as when the hapless 2007 curator Rob Storr was scoured by the abrasive Francesco Bonami, organizer of the 2003 installment, in the letters pages of Artforum).
Meanwhile, back in New York: Despite last week’s upward bounce of the stock market, art dealers are overcome by a sense of abiding economic dread. "You can taste the fear," said one uptown dealer.
Nonetheless, many artists remain sought after, if you can believe the red dots. In its final report, the Armory Show reported sales of works by Anish Kapoor ($1 million and $700,000), Louise Bourgeois ($1 million), Sigmar Polke ($340,000), Werner Drewes ($170,000) and Nick Cave ($45,000). Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin sold two copies of Paola Pivi’s neon reading "Stop the complaint, we just bought it" for $32,000 each.
Up on Madison Avenue, all the hauntingly beautiful drawings by the late folk artist James Castle on view at Knoedler & Co. were sold or on reserve, at prices between $10,000 and $30,000. And downstairs, in Knoedler’s Project Room, the Irish artist John Gerard’s uncannily detailed digital animation of a wire-screened oscillating fan, made in a video edition of 12, was half-sold-out at $25,000 per.
Speaking of Knoedler, its sister business on West 57th Street, Hammer Galleries, famous for realist painting, is facing some changes, as the building has been sold. Stay tuned.
Kitsch corner: Thomas Kinkade, "Painter of Light™," has teamed up with the Walt Disney Company to market a charming new print titled Pinocchio Wishes upon a Star, celebrating the 70th anniversary of the Walt Disney Pinocchio cartoon. What’s more, according to Kinkade, hidden within the picture -- in the style of contemporary painter Mark Tansey -- are a portrait of Walt Disney, countless images of Mickey, 25 hidden letter "N"s (for Kinkade’s wife Nanette), and a portrait of Kinkade and his wife and four daughters. Pinocchio Wishes upon a Star is published in multiple editions and sizes, and ranges in price from $175 to $2,250.
ROSETTA STONE is a New York writer.