The Venice Biennale’s Pavilion of Joys and Fears transforms the obligation that artists have to show us their personal absorption into a ‘generous exception’

The curation of the second part of the Venice Biennale’s Main Pavilion in the Giardini comes across as fake as it desperately tries to show art’s credentials for claiming its place as a subjective human endeavour. The way Macel explores ‘the humane aspects of the human soul’ through art is, to say the least, clumsy. This second part is called, the Pavillion of Joys and Fears and the Biennale’s Chief Curator wants to ‘explore the relationship between the individual and his own existence, his emotions and feelings or the ones he tries to generate’. If this topic is a curatorial one, this is only because we have forgotten what art stands for. Let me say that in my opinion, art is what some specialists called artist do to make those moment of solitary absorption (that we all have) into something to be shown without suspending the disbelief that makes us think that that visual object has not been made for us to see.


MacArthur Binion

As a practitioner of what I called the ‘Love Mafia’, she even dared to include her artist lover, Michele Ciacchiofera, in the show which raises serious ethical questions. In her text, she says that the crisis of humanism happens in ‘a world shaken by conflicts, wars and increasing inequality that lead to populism and anti-elitism’. It is there where ‘subjective emotions resurface, now more than ever’. Honestly, I find it difficult to trust a curator that includes her own partner in the exhibition when she talks about ‘anti-elitism’. Besides, aren’t emotions always subjective? And, of course, this is something that the informed viewer still drags from the previous Pavilion where is the curator has also decided to refer to the work of the artist as something that only exceptionally subjective, personal and private. This is sad. In other words, there is something blasé in Christine Macel that makes itself even more evident when she tries to present artists as producers of human absorption.

All this is even more difficult when the curator claims artistic status by trying to balance, on one hand, the apparent need of art to still look like its addressing the formal questions raised by modernism while, at the same time, rushing to seem to be addressing ‘personal issues (this is the case with the inclusion of McArthur Binion and Hajra Waheed) and the need to make the experience of the visitor, an ‘emotional’ one. I will call this the Bill Viola-isation of the Venice Biennale and these aspects are represented by the proliferation of ‘sensationalists’ videos with people having ‘moments of absorption’ such as Argentine Sebastian Diaz Morales where a man is Mindfullness-y floating in a sea of peacefulness.


Hahra Waheed 

Hahra Waheed is all that is wrong in contemporary art. Placing postcards (some of them black) on two opposing shelves she asks the viewer to read them as allegories of the fate of nine missing migrants that perished trying to cross the Mediterranean. The visual language is so symbological that the whole exercise comes across as tasteless and desperate. According to Macel, the artist ‘grew up in a restrictive and constraining context where taking photographs and filming was not allowed. It might explain her attraction to geopolitics, the seeking for truth, questions of surveillance and archiving documents’ (sic).

In the same room, there is McArthur Binion and his Sean Scully-esque abstract paintings made of Photostats of his birth certificate, pages from the single address book he kept from the 70s to the 90s and most recently photographs of his birth house in Missisippi’. According to the artist: ‘I am making the abstract, personal’ and it is this idea of ‘the personal’ that raises some concerns to the emotionally intelligent viewer. Does that mean that abstract painting is never personal? Do we need to include photographic or documentary evidence of our personal life in order to make art ‘personal’? This is the way CVs are written not the way art is made. There is something analogous between the way chief curator Christine Macel sees human absorption as a topic instead of as a pre-condition for a visual work to be considered as art and the way some of the artists she includes, believe that the personal lies in the documentary archive which seems to mean that, in order to show our insides, we have to disclose our data. J A T