By Alexander Wainwright.
I flew into the Marco Polo airport mid afternoon for the Venice Biennale. Waiting for my luggage, I gazed out upon the sparkling sea and thought of that famous German writer, Thomas Mann, who wrote the novella Death in Venice. It’s the story of a great writer, Aschenbach, who seeks solace from from the exhausting demands of his work only to find himself in Venice where he becomes attracted to a beautiful, young man and descends into all consuming passion.
As I gathered my luggage up, it occurred to me that Mann’s novella might not be as readily understood now that attraction to one’s own sex has gained far greater acceptance than in Mann’s time. For me, it is nobody’s business whom someone happens to love. Tolerance and acceptance should be sought. But it’s interesting that fundamental changes in attitudes of society might well make a work of art rather quaint and difficult to understand. I decided to find any answers I might at the Venice Bienalle.
I headed for the dock. Mann once said that to best appreciate the unique beauty of Venice, one must approach it from the water. And so I took the motoscafi from the airport which let me off at San Marco. To drink in the mysterious essence of this city, a water’s eye view is a must.
I had booked a small hotel near St. Marco for the week so I could visit the Venice Biennale which is such a massive international art exhibition that I could not hope to see more than a fraction of it in that time.
That evening, I arrived at the Belgian pavilion to see the show entitled Personne et les autres. The Biennale is usually organized around the idea of the nation state so that each country has its own space or pavilion. However, the Belgians have departed from this idea so that artists from a variety of countries are included, The exhibition is curated with the idea of the individual at the centre and the world seen from the different perspectives surrounding him.
In the Belgian pavilion, some of the artists are from Africa. The curators hope to challenge our preconceptions [Eurocentric views] of art by putting many, often contradictory perspectives, under one roof. Perhaps this is part of a trend away from the closed-off, exclusive nature of the nation state and toward a broad gathering of humankind under one roof. Are we struggling through art to find ways of communicating across the many divides of this world? Through fostering tolerance, surely we can take a small, unifying step. Such ideas give me hope.
Although I’m primarily a representational painter of landscapes, I’m fascinated with all forms of visual art expression. My friend Rinaldo is a conceptual artist and since I’ve been here in Venice, I have actually wished he were here. I confess that I have not tolerated his performance works of art very well. Privately I’ve considered them rather childish. But my respect has grown for his work and views in the last few years. Both of us have our parts in The Trilogy of Remembrance, which is all about art, life and love. If you’d care to join us and look at life and art from radically different perspectives, please take a look at the novels in the trilogy in the carousels below.
In the Belgian building, I was fascinated with the work of Adam Pendleton, who lives and works in New York. Very much a multi-media artist, he has mounted a fine exhibition of work ranging from silk screen prints to video installations. His installation has been inspired by the phrase Black lives matter.
We are all too familiar with the horrific cases of Trayvon Martin, Eric Garner and Michael Brown–to name just a few. Surely it is a civil right not to be killed! Pendleton’s recent work is greatly influenced by these frightening events.
In response to a question about his use of the phrase Black lives matter, Pendleton said, “The phrase itself represents many realties. It is at once a public mourning, a rallying cry, and a poetic plea. Ultimately, it’s a profound reaction to an absurd reality.”
For me the most striking aspect of his most recent work is that it’s couched in the very current events of police brutality primarily against black males. Black Lives Matter.
I could not help but think of another New York artist, Jean Michel Basquiat whom I met in a strange trip back to the 1980’s
Basquiat said that while he might be famous for his art, he still couldn’t get a cab in the city. As a street artist, he and friends were subjected to the danger of police brutality on a daily basis.
I wonder what differences there might be in the art of both men? Or, if in fact there are any commonalities at all? Off the top of my head, it strikes me that Basquiat’s painting is angrier and Pendleton’s work is cooler and more detached. For me, that might mark significant changes not only in art but in society since the 1980’s. Has the mood shifted?
Looking back on the civil rights protests and riots of the 1960’s, I recall mainly the perfectly understandable anger. Today there is naturally anger but I sense a new tone of quiet determination. Perhaps that heralds a new period just as we saw with the acceptance of gay rights. Pendleton seems intent on capturing the sense of a moment in time and wants to engage everyone in a world-wide consideration of racial inequities not just in the USA but around the world. This new tone suits his message. And growing tolerance can only help.
What do you think?
Mary E. Martin is the author of two trilogies: The Osgoode Trilogy, inspired by her many years of law practice; and The Trilogy of Remembrance, set in the glitter and shadows of the art world. Both Trilogies will elevate the reader from the rush and hectic world of today and spin them into realms of yet unimagined intrigue. Be inspired by the newly released and final installment of The Trilogy of Remembrance, Night Crossing. Presently, The Drawing Lesson is a Wattpad Featured novel which you can read in it’s entirety right here Wattpad.com