The Swatch Eye

La Biennale di Venezia

The Exhibition with a Thousand Faces

11/15/13

For this 55th International Art Exhibition, curator Massimiliano Gioni played skilfully with the oddities and contradictions of this timeless city. With Il Palazzo Enciclopedico, he showed that art can offer unlimited models and responses to the challenges of living in the modern world :

“When we work in front of a computer or watch TV, we’re used to receiving a lot of information. Our office has become a sort of digital curiosity shop, from which all kinds of relationships can be created. I wanted to create a space that allows us to re-live such an intense experience. I wanted to put on an exhibition packed with objects, and that’s why this edition was twice the size of the previous one. However, these images are so deep and striking that they lose their volatility.” 

 

This aim to bring meaning back to the flood of images that bombards us comes at a crucial time. The massive use of social networks and other exchange platforms has led to unprecedented output. According to a recent study, as many images were produced between 2011 and 2013 as from the start of humanity up to 2011. In this era of information overload, we risk losing sight of the importance of representations. Inspired by encyclopaedia formats and curiosity shops, the young Italian curator set himself the mission of helping us (re) discover the (magical) effects that images have on our imaginations. 

 

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So, to build his Palazzo, he used an impressive collection of almost 4000 works, laid out like a life-sized internet session. This environment allowed spectators to experience the feeling of overload and profusion that defines the way we access knowledge in the modern world. The layout of the exhibition was largely determined by the architecture of the buildings. Both the Arsenale and the Giardini were partitioned so that each space allowed visitors to lose themselves in a succession of interconnected cosmogonies. Each room presented a distinct approach to the role art plays and its ability to transform the world. “Wherever they’re from, the role of artists is to take us somewhere,” says Massimiliano Gioni.

And, from well-known artists to dabblers on the fringes of the art world, all the works are treated according to this same principle of equality. The aim is to get art down from its pedestal. By comparing the way we look at works from very different registers, the aim was also to push spectators to go beyond simple aesthetic attributes. “Art is more than just a beautiful image on a wall and I wanted to make these works more real, more palpable in some way. I wanted to show how each work, in its own way, corresponds to much deeper realities anchored in each individual. Thanks to this accumulation of unique, individual adventures, this Biennale presents a kind of storytelling collection.”

 

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Massimiliano Gioni acknowledges that his Palazzo has some romantic aspects. Particularly this idea of the solitary individual who, following an idea or their intuition, strives, in spite of everything, to make sense of the world that surrounds them. It’s a way of showing that, when you’re swept along by the wave of creativity, it doesn’t really matter whether the end result is a success. Beyond the apparent diversity of the Encyclopedic Palace, its individual stories all share a common trait : each project is the fruit of a daring, determined vision.

Sheltered by the twists and turns of its narrow streets and canals, few cities can offer the same experience of space and time as Venice. Lose yourself in its labyrinthine streets, let yourself drift from one stop to another, each visitor is forced to adapt to the whims of this time in suspense. This slow pace is a rare excuse for contemplation and the city casts its magic spell on hordes of tourists and refined aesthetes alike. To commemorate its long-standing connection with the art world, Swatch decided to commemorate its 30th birthday at the 55th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

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