I recently attended the Venice Biennale and then visited other European cities. I saw such interesting and sometimes great contemporary art that I thought I should blog about the highlights.

Established in 1895, the Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious in the world. The 57th International Art Exhibition – la Biennale di Venezia runs until November 26th 2017.

Australian Pavilion, showing the work Vigil from Tracey Moffatt’s MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings

Australia’s representative this year is Tracey Moffatt and having known her since 1984 and watched her career with fascination, like many others, I wanted to attend the opening.

A magical day began with the hauntingly beautiful voice of Deborah Cheetham singing in an Aboriginal language.  Tracey  Moffatt’s  MY HORIZON  consists of 2 evocative photographic bodies of work Passage and Body Remembers, and two new video works, Vigil and The White Ghosts Sailed In.

 

Passage by Tracey Moffatt from MY HORIZON. Photograph by John Gollings.

According to art critic Holland Cotter for the New York Times the Biennale is “tame” and “does not reflect a drastically changed world, and it fails to cohere”. Tracey Moffatt however, was singled out as one of the few artists to leave a “lasting impression” with her work touching on the tragedy of mass social displacement, past and present.

In the latest Artlink magazine Djon Mundine writes about MY HORIZON and Tracey Moffatt here.

The Biennale offers a very diverse selection of artists – I was lucky to catch a talk by Mark Bradford, the lively US artist, but many others, from all over the world and working in many mediums, were not well known to me. Older women like Romania’s Greta Bratescu and the UK’s Phyllida Barlow were given overdue recognition. (Elizabeth Cummings in Australia aged 80+ is also finally getting the recognition she deserves and her exhibition Elizabeth Cummings: Interior Landscapes at the SH Ervin Gallery, Sydney runs until 23 July).

The formal Biennale is in a park called the Giardini.  30 countries have pavilions there, and another 29 are available to other countries.  The artists of some participating countries are also exhibited in other parts of Venice.

But the International Art Exhibition also includes a curated exhibition, in 2017 entitled Viva Arte Viva, and is a selection of many artists from all over the world.  This is situated in the Central Pavilion (in the Giardini), and a short walk away, at the Arsenale, the old shipyard and armory buildings.

The Arsenale provides an intriguing long walk through huge and wonderful buildings with many interesting artists of all ages and working in many mediums, and some collaborations and community projects.  Indigenous artists and African countries are quite well represented.

from Emissaries by Lisa Reihana

The centrepiece of New Zealand artist Lisa Reihana’s Emissaries is a huge screen panorama of the arrival of Captain Cook in the Pacific.  Lisa’s In Pursuit of Venus was described as the best artwork in Venice by the Sunday Times critic and a “witty mix of live action and cunning special effects” that unfolds “in a riveting animated sequence”.

In the latest Artlink magazine Nicholas Thomas writes here about Lisa Reihana and how her work is an animated digital recreation of a giant French wallpaper, Les Sauvages de la Pacifique.  This wallpaper was printed in 1804-6 and was a romanticised imagining of Oceania.

Some critics have been unkind about Damien Hirst’s 50 million pound effort Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable with extraordinary supposed “salvaged” treasures from the monumental to the exquisitely tiny and precious. These are exhibited throughout Punta Della Dogana and Palazzo Grassi, two superb Venetian buildings owned by François Pinault.  Hirst’s colossal and menacing bronze Demon – 18 metres high and up to the third floor in the forecourt of the Palazzo Grassi, is unforgettable.

Demon by Damien Hirst. Image sourced from Culto.latercera.com.

Other excellent exhibitions are scattered through the city and some people have come to Venice especially to see Philip Guston and The Poet’s exhibition which is at Gallerie dell’ Accademia di Venezia until 3 September 2017.

Lorenzo Quinn - Biennale site - big hands

Lorenzo Quinn, Venice Biennale. Image sourced from The Telegraph.

20 million tourists visit Venice each year and Venetians don’t think they can absorb any more. Opposition to giant cruise liners is growing as they disgorge thousands of daytrippers that do not necessarily contribute to the economy, and the ships damage the lagoon.

Lake Como May 2017, Ace Bourke

I finally visited Lake Como and it was as lovely as I imagined. It was wonderful being in Europe again and spending time in beautiful cities, and leisurely visiting art galleries and museums with friends. I loved reading the newspapers which were full of the French and British elections and then unfortunately the terror attacks. Despite the tensions and political upheavals, people overall seemed to be primarily enjoying summer. With heightened security concerns, long queues at airports were understandable but seemingly interminable.

 

African mask by Romuald Hazoumè

PARIS: This African mask by Romuald Hazoumè was made from discarded biros he found each day.  He is one of many artists in a most exciting exhibition at the Fondation Louis Vuitton: ART/AFRICA The new workshop. It consists of three components: a private collection begun in 1989 by Jean Pigozzi; a curated exhibition of South African artists; and African works from the Louis Vuitton collection.  It is a fascinating exhibition: an imaginative and innovative use of materials; many mediums; a chance to see/share their world view; and a melding of traditional influences and new interpretations and directions.

Writing  recently about this exhibition, The Economist claimed that contemporary African art was “the next big thing” – replacing the interest in Chinese art, and it certainly has a unique imaginative creativity and vitality.

Frank Gehry’s Fondation Louis Vuitton by Ace Bourke

Architect Frank Gehry’s Louis Vuitton Fondation is undoubtedly very beautiful and a signature building.  It took 10 years to build and was apparently technologically challenging. Some buildings can be about the ego of the architect or the client, and can overwhelm the central purpose, and I think in this case some exhibition space for art was sacrificed.  Arken, south of Copenhagen was renovated in 2008, and is both an interesting and utilitarian museum of art.  In London people complained that the extension to the Tate Modern did not achieve a great deal.

The Fondazione Prada in Milan is also a strong architectural statement but I found it dark, austere and unwelcoming.  Milan was yet another historic and attractive Italian city, but with some new and exciting architecture.

Milan by Ace Bourke

I finally made it to Musée du quai Branly in Paris to see the museum where in 2013 Australian Aboriginal art had been incorporated architecturally into spaces in the building, including the cloud series by Michael Riley.  Also at this museum I saw an eclectic exhibition Picasso Primitif  (until 3 July) with paintings by him and objects that he had owned or had influenced him.  There was also a very precious exhibition La Pierre sacrée des Māori of jade objects sacred and sometimes magical to New Zealand Maoris (until 1st October).

The museum’s collection of traditional and indigenous cultural objects from all over the world is superb. Unfortunately, Australian Aboriginal art is exhibited rather badly, especially a group of bark paintings.  For decades now in Australia Aboriginal art has not been exhibited ethnographically, but as contemporary art in art galleries and museums.

In Paris I also visited art dealer Hervé Perdriolle who I initially met through a shared admiration for the work of the late Indian artist Jangargh Singh Shyam. He gave me a copy of his handsome and comprehensive book Indian Contemporary Art which concentrates on tribal artists.

The Pompidou Centre, Paris by Ace Bourke

The Pompidou Centre is 40 years old, and although a little tired looking is still a very striking building that invigorated the whole area. Until 14 August there is a very impressive exhibition covering the long career of photographer Walker Evans (USA 1905 – 1967).  Well known for his portraits of ordinary people, he was a very versatile and wide ranging photographer. There was also an exhibition of the black and white photographs of Czech Joseph Koudelka who Michael Riley often said had particularly influenced him.

Hokusai’s The Great Wave

LONDON: HOKUSAI: Beyond the Great Wave at the British Museum (until 13 August) is a very comprehensive exhibition of the work of the Japanese artist Hokusai. Life presented him with many challenges over his long but always productive career.  The commission in 1830 and success of the Thirty-Six Views of Mt Fuji woodblock prints was a very welcome respite from financial hardship and family pressures for Hokusai.

The NGV in Melbourne is also showing Hokusai  (21 July – 15 October) which also includes The Great Wave, probably the most famous Japanese work of art. This exhibition also spans his entire life with 150 works including woodblock prints, rare paintings on silk, and hand painted manga.

In 1996 I saw a definitive Alberto Giacometti  1901 – 1966 exhibition in London at the Royal Academy of Arts. GIACOMETTI at the Tate Modern until 10 September 2017 is a smaller but intelligently curated and selected exhibition of sculptures and drawings. You can read The Sunday Times review of the exhibition here.

Battle of Britain by Grayson Perry

I was fortunate to just catch DAVID HOCKNEY: 60 YEARS at the Tate Britain, but I missed Grayson Perry’s The Most Popular Art Exhibition Ever! which is now on at the Serpentine until 10 September. Read his amusing and informative article about popularity in the art world in The Guardian here.

Henning Larsen’s Opera House, Copenhagen

COPENHAGEN: Copenhagen was another lovely city with beautiful old architecture and the addition of exciting new buildings. I was extremely lucky to see South African artist William Kentridge’s extensive multi media exhibition THICK TIME at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art north of Copenhagen before it closed. It may have been the best and most absorbing exhibition I saw in Europe, and he is one of the world’s greatest living artists.

The museum is situated in beautiful gardens looking out to sea across to Sweden with strategically placed sculpture by Alexander Calder, Henry Moore etc.  Lunch in the restaurant was delicious  – I found it surprisingly hard as a vegetarian in Europe.  The museum shop was full of an extensive range of superb world renowned Scandinavian design. Denmark has recently topped the Social Progress Index – a survey of the best places to live. I asked a friend “what underpins the Danish economy?”.  “Know-how”.

William Kentridge, THICK TIME

LIONS: With World Lion Day coming up on August 10th and Christian’s birthday on the 12th August I will blog about how enjoyable it was to recently catch up in London with friends very involved with Christian the lion.

Nick Brandt Elephant drinking Amboseli 2007. Courtesy of Source Photographica

GOING GOING,

Nick Brandt’s handsome exhibition of African photographs from his book A Shadow Falls, closes Wednesday 7 July at Shapiro Gallery Queen Street, Woollahra in Sydney. He does not use a telephoto lens and enjoys waiting for days, even weeks watching the extraordinary African panorama unfold closely before him. Unfortunately he has also witnessed over the years the declining numbers and the battle for resources like water. The closeness to his subjects exhibits patience and mutual trust that result in extraordinarily intimate, dignified and exquisite photographs that on a large scale, can be breathtakingly majestic. He is exclusively represented in the Pacific region by Source Photographica.

GONE
In Australia we have just had a coup d’etat, putsch, take over, dumping, or political assassination of our Prime Minister, with the formidable Deputy Prime Minister Julia Gillard replacing Kevin Rudd. Up until a few months ago he was polling very highly, then his public support just evaporated and he had made no Labor Party faction, allies or friends. His popularity decline started with what appeared to be his “backflip” over the Emissions Trading Scheme. He had described climate change as the “greatest moral challenge” we faced, and despite his zeal, never really explained to the public the complexities of the issues. Faced with the disappointment of Copenhagen, blocked ETS legislation in the Senate, and waning community support, he was leant on by Julia Gillard, Wayne Swan and other powerbrokers in the party, to shelve the legislation.

Julia Gillard becomes Australia’s first female Prime Minister which she is not making a fuss about, and has taken over seamlessly, overnight! She seemed to have a new wardrobe at the ready. I think she will be a very successful politician as she has already exhibited, pragmatic rather than visionary, will win the coming election, and be in power for many years. We are indebted to Kevin Rudd, especially for removing John Howard, and he seems to be effective internationally, and would be very useful at forums such as the United Nations. Barry Humphries aka Dame Edna Everage once said “in Australia if you stumble, they trample you to death”.

It has demonstrated who has power and influence with government – big business, millionaire miners, trade unions, party factions, polls, and the media.

Jessica Rudd, the ex PM’s daughter has written a book, Campaign Ruby, due out in August. It has been described in The Australian (26 June) as “a freakily prescient script for the way events actually unfolded… an incumbent prime minister rolled by his deputy… a woman, and the execution is a “swift and seamless move”.

We have witnessed not only the spectacular – and avoidable – unravelling of a prime minister, but a self inflicted spontaneous combustion. I have found it riveting, and the commentary in the papers excellent. New snippets of information are still emerging. I especially liked the articles by Peter Van Onsolen and Noel Pearson in The Australian (26-27 June). Noel advised the formerly, supposedly, left-leaning Julia “Many of the social ends you require liberal means, and what you want for the country will not transpire unless you harness the power of liberal answers to the social questions you hold dear”. Every politicians conundrum, as they battle for the centre/middle ground.

ETS

Julia has moved quickly to resolve a fight Rudd had picked with the mining industry over a new tax and now will have to articulate her policy on asylum seekers and the ETS. Many have been disappointed to learn she was in favour of shelving the ETS legislation – and she will have to explain herself! She believes in a price on carbon, but wants “community consensus” (she loves expressions like this), before she proceeds. Tim Flannery has endorsed the government’s model as effective (SMH 3-4 July), and there seems to be a momentum building again by people who do want to see some immediate action. Email your local MPs! This issue also cost Malcolm Turnbull the job as Leader of the Opposition.

Nick Brandt Cheetah and cubs Maasai Mara 2003

WHALES

The machinations and some of the accusations at the International Whaling Conference in Morocco were extraordinary, especially the behavior of the Japanese. Advaaz successfully assembled 1.2 million signatures on a petition to help fight lifting the ban on commercial whaling. Another example of successful internet activism.

ENERGY

A recent report states that by 2020 60% of Australia’s energy could come from 12 proposed solar-thermal plants, with the other 40% from wind energy from 23 sites (SMH 22 June Solar, wind power may meet 2020 energy use). Another report examines how industry especially could use energy much more efficiently, slashing emissions (SMH 24 June Companies told to get smart on power). There are alternatives to coal and uranium!

NEWS ETC

The Cove documentary is finally being shown in a few Japanese cinemas despite small but noisy and targeted opposition. The “mother of animal law”  U.S. lawyer Joyce Tischler is visiting Australia in August (Voiceless)… Jan Cameron the wealthy founder of Katmandu clothing empire has set up the Animal Justice Fund especially aimed at the inherent cruelty of battery hen farms and piggeries. Two recent SMH “Lunch With” interviews have been heartening:  young Simon Sheikh CEO of GetUp! with 350,000 enthusiastic members (SMH 26-27 June), and Linda Selvey, the recently appointed CEO of Greenpeace (SMH 3-4 July). Both are intelligent and effective advocates and leaders of campaigns for issues that concern many of us, such as the treatment of asylum seekers and climate change. Our leadership has been failing us.

All images courtesy of Nick Brandt and Source Photographica.

Nick Brandt Elephant train Amboselli 2008