May 22nd, 2015

By Eileen Treasure, Fine Art Consultant

Installation view of artwork included in “All the World’s Futures” exhibition at the Venice Biennale. Photo: Ben Genocchio.

(Excerpts from article by Ben Genocchio for Artnet News)

Okwui Enwezor, this year’s curator of the international contemporary art exhibition in Venice, has delivered what can only be described as the most morose, joyless, and ugly biennale in living memory; a show that, in the name of global action and social change, beats the visitor up with political theory rather than giving us the pleasures and stimulation of great art. His vision of the world is bleak, angry, and depressing.

All art has its moment as “Contemporary Art.” One could argue that most art throughout the centuries was created or altered with a political angle. Artists are passionate people! Picasso’s “Guernica” is regarded as the most expressive anti-war painting of all time. While it may not be the sofa painting for most of us, you have to agree that it’s a magnificent piece of fine art. Are we (artists and admirers alike) so sophisticated today that we cross all lines of decency and throw away the definition of fine art?  In my opinion, it’s more challenging to create politically forceful messages within the confines of traditional fine art mediums. And if an artist wanted his message to last for centuries, that’s what he/she would do.

Anyway, what’s wrong with art that makes us happy?

The Biennale is 120 years old and if it still has value as an exhibition then it is in the fact that it delivers, on an influential stage, successive and often conflicting perspectives on contemporary artistic practice and its relevance to the world in which we live. You might not agree with Enwezor’s vision of art and its utopian role in today’s world—I certainly don’t—but there is no denying the world today faces deep divisions and crises and an uncertain future. How those forces impact artists is worth exploring, I agree.

It seems pointless, in a way, to argue further with the exhibition theme, “All the World’s Futures.”  This is Enwezor’s vision of the world today through the art he admires. I just don’t know why it has to be without compassion, love, beauty or hope and so relentlessly earnest and bleak that it excludes all aesthetic pleasure and fun.

From here “All the World’s Futures” quickly descends into a catalogue of all of the world’s misery. Ebola, civil war, human trafficking, natural disasters, labor exploitation, environmental destruction, inequality—it’s all here, in artwork so conceptually driven as to be in many, many cases annoyingly didactic.

Large black curtains hang from the exterior of the Italian pavilion, making the building look like there is a wake going on. Is the art world in mourning? Violence and death are everywhere here. I usually go to CNN and BBC World to get my depressing world news, not the Venice Biennale.

Enwezor is known for his preoccupations with geographical diversity and a staunchly anti-capitalist approach to art. Guests are welcomed by a reading of all four volume’s of Karl Marx’s 1867 opus Das Kapital.

For some reason, there has been more comment about the commercial aspect of the Biennale this year than usual.

Although not ostensibly a selling event, it has also become, inevitably, a “honey pot” for dealers to promote their artists to the collectors who attend.

Even a small location outside the official event can cost 100,000 dollars to rent. With the price of contemporary art escalating, that kind of outlay can be easily recouped. Most work you see at the Biennale is unobtrusively for sale.

But for an idealist like Enwezor, this proximity to the market should not present a problem: Marx supported the market, writing that no work of art was complete until it had been sold.

Adrian Searle of The Guardian said after viewing this year’s Biennale, “I have seen the future and I’m not going.”

Here’s a link to Ben Genocchio’s complete article in Artnet News: