Venice Biennale 2003
As I write these words I am inextricably implicated. By this very meander do I become guilty. Through writing about art one becomes a part, however small, of the crime that is the Artworld. One sacrifices innocence, integrity and sobriety for the bacchanalian overflow of false-consciousness and free drink that is an essential part of the vernissage.
Resembling a vast university private view without parents, the Venice biennale – on its three press days – was a seething mass of Artworld hangers-on. And, until this very moment, I was an outsider to it all. Sure, I went to the parties and I stared at the art, but I was there by default, a most sceptical plus one. Being an outsider amongst self-styled outsiders, although at first I only whispered the fact, gave me enormous kudos in a place where what usually makes the Artworld cool was altogether absent. For in Venice, where virtually everyone was part of the art scene, one could sense the lack of that which usually gives them definition: that is, the indignation, the philistine indifference, and the cooing bemusement of the general public. Without this backdrop to their avant-gardisms, the art of the Artworld is embarrassing. Radicalism becomes a dull affair without normality there as contrast.
Over the last 100 years, Art has stropped its razor to such an extent, that the cutting edge is barely even a wire. The outcome has been the relentless search for originality (difference) and, latterly, the unsettling (shock). By pursuing the furies of experimentation for so long, by having their thinking directed by capital-p Progress, it is not hard to feel a sense of lassitude in their productions. The blame for this has been variously attributed, but I believe it must lie squarely with their masters: the museums, whose chronological imperative drives them without rest.
A quick economics lesson: the most efficient way to spend money is to spend your own money on yourself. You know what you want. The next most efficient is to spend other people’s money on yourself. You know what you want, but might go a bit crazy. Less efficient is spending your own money on other people (gift buying), resulting in garish socks and ties. But by far the least efficient way is of spending money is getting other people’s money and spending it on other people. This is, of course, how the artworld is funded, with museum representatives wandering around with their purses bursting with the money of their patrons and, indeed, the taxpayer. Unlike literature, art is founded on the fact of its uniqueness; the artist only has to sell that one copy, whereas the writer has to sell thousands.
Each of the three press days at the Biennale was sweltering, a humid 35 Celsius minimum. Even as the gloaming enveloped a thousand sozzled critics it didn’t get any cooler. No, with all that alcohol burning inside of them it got even hotter. We were treated to the sight of the coolest figures in the Art World coated with a layer of sweat so thick it distorted their features like a cubist painting. Matthew Collings, obviously prepared, carried around a sweat rag the size of a table cloth.
Outside the Giardini is a circle of small stones bearing the name of each of the countries that are not participating in the Biennale. It is called the Presence of your Absence, but this is not a show of solidarity. It is an attack on the very foundations of a supposedly international exhibition, one which doesn’t have representatives from countries as vital to global affairs as India and Pakistan; Iraq and South Africa. Semi-official status is granted to such side-shows as the Thailand tent with its vulgar kitsch; the Welsh assemblage on the Giudecca; Taiwan’s rooms next to the Doge’s Palace. (Incidentally, half of the Doge’s palace was obscured by a Potemkin-style reproduction of it, which covered repairs. This practice is common in Venice, preserving the bourgeois uniformity. It is also indicative of the chaotic construction going on behind the showy surface.
Santiago Sierra represented Spain and decided to focus his ire on the very concept of nationhood by not allowing anyone into see his exhibition who didn’t have a Spanish passport. The front door had been completely closed off with breezeblocks and from what my Spanish girlfriend told me, there wasn’t anything in there worth seeing anyway. Only the decayed remnants of last the previous representative’s more conventional exhibition. On the one hand, Sierra’s gesture produced an awful lot of talk about fairness and what is art, and ooh, isn’t he clever/stupid/etc. On the other hand, it didn’t cost much to put on. The art councils of the world have set aside thousands of Euros, if they weren’t going to spend it on art then? The Spanish party was fantastic. Excellent buffet, prosecco and even an eighties disco afterwards. Let’s Dance!
The overall title of the exhibition is Dreams and Conflicts: The Dictatorship of the Viewer. The former is so vague that it can be interpreted in any way you want. The latter, actually supports such vagueness by saying that it is your interpretation as a viewer which controls all meaning. My interpretation?
Postmodern art was always a farce, the tragedy is that no one minds.