Venice Biennale 2017 highlights: outstanding national pavilions and artists

artists, spaces, Venice tours

20 November 2017

It always takes a few weeks to digest the Venice Biennale, walk-to-art Venice and all the visuals.

The 57th Venice Biennale had Viva Art Viva as the theme and was curated by Christine Macel (Chief Curator at the Musée National d'Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, France). She was the fourth woman in 122 years of the Biennale history to curate the former Venetian military dockyard – the Arsenale.

I have been fortunate to see many Venice Biennales (and this was the fourth with walk-to-art) and must admit that the 2017 edition was a little underwhelming. Of course, there are always outstanding national pavilions, but the Arsenale was a touch on the bland side compared to previous years.

My highlights:

Taiwan PavilionDoing Time
Artist: Tehching Hsieh
Curator: Adrian Heathfield

Tehching Hsieh's artwork at the Taiwan pavilion in the Venice Biennale

I do not normally engage with performance art, but this exhibition was just wonderful. The dedication to the performance, the determination and the discipline were incredible. Doing Time exhibited two of Hsieh's One Year Performances together for the first time, assembling his accumulated records and artefacts into detailed installations. In One Year Performance 1980–1981 (Time Clock Piece), Hsieh subjected himself to the extreme discipline of clocking on to a worker's time clock on the hour, every hour, for a whole year. In One Year Performance 1981–1982 (Outdoor Piece), Hsieh inhabited a further sustained deprivation: he remained outside for a year without taking any shelter. During the course of his One Year Performances Hsieh was an illegal immigrant.

Andorra Pavilion – Murmuri
Artist: Eve Ariza
Curators: Javier Balmaseda, Ivan Sansa, Paolo De Grandis

Eve Ariza's artwork at the Andorra pavilion in the Venice Biennale

It is such a pleasure to walk into a space and breath a wow!

Walking into the Andorra Pavilion was like suddenly being wrapped by tonal beauty. The 9,000 clay bowls attached to the dark grey walls in different tones echoed a sound of unity and togetherness. "Channeling the tradition of clay art, Andorran artist Eve Ariza worked on the multiplication of the bowl as a container of truth and placidity. The ceramic bowl appears as the first form modeled by man with an intention. She purposely tears its base to reveal a mouth-like shape, thus transforming its essence and leaving aside its conventional use."

New Zealand PavilionEmissaries
Artist: Lisa Reihana
Curator: Rhana Devenport

Lisa Reihana's artwork at the New Zealand pavilion in the Venice Biennale

Amazing to have gone back numerous times and seen the New Zealand Pavilion holding such a large crowd consistently. In a great position at the end of the Arsenale, Lisa Reihana produced an outstanding video work that was technically faultless and captivating.

"In Lisa Reihana: Emissaries, imperialism's gaze is returned with a speculative twist that disrupts notions of beauty, authenticity, history and myth. in Pursuit of Venus [infected], which was the artwork in which Emissaries was based on, is a cinematic re-imagining of the French scenic wallpaper Les Sauvages De La Mer Pacifique, 1804–1805, also known as Captain Cook's voyages. Two hundred years later – and almost 250 years after the original voyages that inspired them – Reihana employs 21st century digital technologies to recast and reconsider the wallpaper from a Pacific perspective."


Damien Hirst's artwork

Damien Hirst

I feel the need to include Damien Hirst's Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable at Palazzo Grassi and Punta Della Dogna, both owned by French entrepreneur François Pinault. He also owns one of the largest collections of contemporary art in the world and in 2006 obtained ownership of Palazzo Grassi to display the collection. Damien Hirst is part of it, and the event marked his return after a 10-year hiatus from making art. It was over the top, extravagant, egotistical and an expensive exercise!