Time pushes us through life, and many of us don't have the opportunity to travel the world, much less take a moment to ourselves, to experience new places, people, and things.  More often than not, jobs, children, and a multitude of acquired responsibilities begin to take precedence over big dreams and the exciting challenge of entering uncharted territory.  

Recently I met up with some old friends, all of whom have children and these very stable, contained lives.  Seeing them with their families was beautiful, almost regrettably so, and for a moment I envied them.  I don't know why, but I didn't get that gene.  You know it---the one that makes people crave routine and desire the predictable.  Luckily, the next day, as I shared my feelings with a dear friend, I was reminded of the value those of us who choose to walk alone also have;  that while some of us are sent here to pass on strong threads of family tradition and reap the benefits of roots and grounding, there are others that are here for a different reason.  

The lawn of the Palace Cavalli Franchetti, housing the Veneto Institute of Science, Literature and Art;  Photo by Seanica Howe.

So today, due to my curious nature and insatiable spirit, I am sharing with you a bit of Venice, and portions of its Biennale that, if you were there, would blow your mind.  Because of my inability to settle down, I combed through this Italian labyrinth, jet-lagged and yearning for inspiration, searching for great art so that you wouldn't have to.  Cozy up on the couch and serve the kids dinner.  Ranked in no particular order, here are the best and brightest of what you're missing on the other side of the Atlantic.  If you decide to take a tiny weekend to walk the streets of the sinking city before the grand show closes in November, there will still be time to squeeze in a bottle of wine and return home before the baby sitter can light the house on fire. 

1.  Sarah Sze's "Triple Point:" U.S. Pavilion, Giardini

Okay fine. I admit it. One of my closest friends works for this artist and I AM American, so maybe I'm playing favorites. But if you've never seen Sze's work up close and personal (other than in the closet of the Hort collection I hadn't), then it's time to do it in Italy.  I'm not sure if Sze designs her installations to be fraught with meaning or to function as a critique on society, but this is how I see her disorienting and carefully crafted microcosms that weave into architectural wonders. 
An exterior view of the U.S. Pavillion at the Venice Biennale featuring the work of Sarah Sze; Photo by Seanica Howe.

 "Triple Point," is a series of environments in which Sze pieces together essential everyday materials, trash, and ephemera.  Each of the constructs convey the mad chaos of life through the vernacular of a carpenter or mad scientist. Some resemble views from a planetarium, but all are sad reminders of the wasteful and consumption-obsessed society in which we live.  I couldn't help but think, after leaving the exhibition, that this will probably be the perception aliens have of us when they discover our planet hundreds of years from now:  exquisite, interesting, and the consequence of an inescapable, overwhelming mess made voluntarily.

One of a series of installations inside Sarah Sze's "Triple Point;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Sze's installations are so intricate and painstakingly constructed, and by the artist's own two hands I might add, that one cannot help but admire Sze for the hours it must have taken to acquire each and every tiny stick, thread, photo, and plant for this fragile erector set of memories and "stuff."  It's complicated, indecipherable, and visually stunning.  Go get 'em Sze.  If I don't see an installation of hers in the MoMA soon I will boycott, and I'm positive I won't be alone.

2.  Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop:" Israel Pavillion, Giardini

Years ago, when the powers that be decided to assign the buildings for the Venice Biennale, some insightful person must have thought: "I have a great idea. Let's save visitors some trouble so that in 2013 they will only have to take about ten steps to see the two best artists the city has to offer.  We know they are going to be lazy. We've seen how they completely bi-pass the whole relationship thing and substitute it with a cellular device, so surely they will want to skip out on moving through the city. Plus,we know that group exhibition might be a bit much, so let's pack a punch."  Alright, maybe it didn't go that way, but in my head it did.   

Video still of Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Ladies and gentlemen there is A LOT of video art in this Biennale.  So much so that a little eye-rolling seems in order after about the tenth installation, but Ratman's multi-medium, video-centered work raises the bar.  Video artists take note.  Instead of using the space as a container ignored by most, Ratman constructs his installation to have the pavilion work as a part of it.  

Five video projections lead the visitor through the space, giving the impression of scaling and then entering a mountain with a group of men and women that, as it turns out, arrive on the other side to create sculptures within the pavilion: the same space from which you are viewing the work.  Witness the artists mushing and molding clay busts of themselves while murmuring strange noises into microphones inserted into their heads (the busts, not their own).  
Video still inside Gilad Ratman's "The Workshop;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

As you exit the space it all becomes clear: the hole in the floor is the one broken through by the artists and the DJ in the initial video is mixing their voices into electronic deliciousness. It's a play on relational esthetics utilizing current media and music.  In short...it's (insert profanity here for effect) rad.  

3.  Marc Quinn's Solo Show: Giorgio Cini Foundation, San Giorgio Maggiore

Anyone who has known me for more than five minutes will quickly assess that I'm more into beauty than blood and guts, and I've been known to walk away from a violent or aggressive piece of art before giving it a fighting chance.  I'm a big believer in selecting the images we expose ourselves to (that's another article), so it speaks volumes for Quinn that a sensitive soul like myself can't help but acknowledge the strength of this artist.  
Marc Quinn's giant blow-up statue, Breath (2012), at the entrance of his solo show at the San Giorgio Maggiore; Photo by Seanica Howe.

While cruising around Venice, it's impossible to miss his enormous blow-up lavender statue of an armless woman with a very masculine head sitting on the island of San Giorgio Maggiore.   Evidently this was a re-creation of the actual one he did in London and even though it's a bit of a monstrosity when cast against the stunning Venice architecture, by the end of the week my eye found its way there like a well-tuned honing device.  
Marc Quinn, Flesh Painting (2012); Photo by Seanica Howe.

Quinn is a mastermind at bringing the creepy and disturbing to life in a way so esthetically appealing that he forces the viewer to stretch beyond his or her comfort zone, challenging their psyche.  When one stands before an uber realistic painting of human flesh and suddenly feels hungry or begins to ponder how the billowy white extensions of fat compliment the smooth red meat like lace on a dress, it becomes blatantly obvious just how conditioned we are in the way we categorize and judge images.  

Seanica Howe with a sculpture by Marc Quinn, as part of his solo exhibition at the Giorgi Cini Foundation; Photo by Seanica Howe.

His work challenges mainstream notions of beauty and perfection by focusing on subjects rarely used in classical media, i.e. large sculptures of the stages of fetal development and pregnant men in gym shorts.  Possibly Quinn is a freaky trekkie type or a guy who wasn't properly monitored by his parents on the number of hours he clocked in front of horror films. I've never met him but I'm glad something went awry.  Quinn's work has the ability to change the way we see the world, encouraging us to embrace and accept the good, the bad, and the ugly.

4.  Richard Mosse's "The Enclave:" Ireland Pavilion, Collateral Exhibition 

Mosse's photographs and video are bright, colorful, painterly, and crisp.  After entering this collateral show off the beaten path, prepare to be greeted by landscapes filled with fluorescent pinks, warm reds, and electric blues and greens.  Prickly trees sporadically intersect rolling hills and winding water.  
A Richard Mosse photograph inside "The Enclave;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

At first glance these images appear highly retouched by an artist adept at photoshop, except they are anything but.  These seemingly picturesque countrysides are created with military technology, one that results in pared down images with easily identifiable elements used for camouflage detection, and are films and photographs of the Congo, a locale legendary for its gorilla warfare.  The video shown inside the pavilion documents the predatory intensity of a jungle bloodied with battle.  

The artist works his way through the area capturing rebel fighters, both alive and dead, and other occupants of this lush but deadly region.  Mosse's work is a reminder that all that glitters is not gold.  Our senses are easily deceived by beauty, a notion that serves as a manipulative tactic for those in power and one that often functions as an illusive veneer for a frightening reality. 

5.   "The Encyclopedic Palace" by Curator Massimiliano Gioni: Giordini-Arsenale 

Based on the concept of a worldly encyclopedia, a dream envisioned by an Italian-American artist named Marino Auriti circa 1955, Gioni brings together, in two sprawling spaces split between the Arsenale and Giordini, museum quality works, both old and new, to catalog our evolution through images.  Via more than 150 artists from over 37 countries, Gioni weaves a story that is nearly impossible to tell, akin to climbing Mount Everest, but he succeeds through the use of understandable yet sophisticated wall text and engaging artworks that are logically arranged.  


Inside " The Encyclopedic Palace:" an installation shot of Pawel Althamer's Venetians (2013); Photo by Seanica Howe.

I realize at this moment that I am about to make some outlandish statements to impress upon you just how unbelievably amazing this exhibition is, especially for someone acutely aware of a curatorial perspective, but I am going to do it anyway.  Massimiliano Gioni may be an oracle, or even a god, and "The Encyclopedic Palace" is the most impressive exhibition I have ever seen; EVER, without question.  Nothing touches it.  

I suspect that Gioni's "Palace" will be talked about in history books as the moment the art world collectively woke up, recognizing that the the next step in our evolution, creatively, is to find a way to sift through the noise that has resulted from what we see and consume; that art is magical and it is the artist, proclaimed as such or not, who is here providing us with ways to bridge the physical with the ethereal; and that we are at a turning point, pushing past the material, and it's been our artists' projections through an array of media that has gotten us here.  Art, in any form, is a manifestation of a source tied to imagination, a creative component of our higher selves, each with a power of its own.  

A painting by Augustin Lesage from his series Composition Symbolic (1923-1932) on view at "The Encyclopedic Palace;" Photo by Seanica Howe.

Gioni gives me hope.  When someone at this level, who is recognized as an authority within the art world, isn't stuck in a one-dimensional conversation regarding art as politics, idea, process, or thing, goes beyond strict left brain thinking and far into the right, blending the two in an all-encompassing way to create a deeper understanding of what is happening around us, I can't help but think we are on the right track. Mr. Gioni, I, for one, am eternally grateful.


Well, that's it, my grand top five.  I'm not David Letterman so ten seems excessive and, as you know, I need to keep moving.  Get back to tending the lawn or head to your nine to five---whatever it is you grounded types do.  I'll meet you in back in Miami...arrivederci!
 


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