Art by the Water
The 54th edition of the Venice Biennale opens on 4 June, and this year promises to be better than ever
Robert Bound, Sunday, 1st May 2011
The 54th edition of the Venice Biennale is almost upon us (4 June–11 November), and this year’s theme, under the presidency of Paolo Baratta, is ILLUMInazioni, or ILLUMInations. Presumably the italicisation of the second part of the word is an emphatic nod to the 82 artists from around the world taking part, but will visitors to the show be able to glean the theme? Another question might be whether all the participating artists are successful in tackling the limitations of their allotted space. And are curators teasing out links between nationality and art? How does the Biennale affect the art market and how does the art market affect the Biennale? Is it all about paint again?
An air of goodwill and a sense of nice timing waft around the British Council’s choice of Mike Nelson (b. 1967), a sense that the Londoner is an artist’s artist. Nelson’s installations and sculptural pieces tend to be subtle explorations of history and reputation, specific to the site on which they sit – he’s previously explored shipping lanes, trade routes, ideas that make empires. In terms of Venice, Nelson has declared that the work ‘will have some relation to what’s happening now – in North Africa and the Middle East.’ Nelson’s conceptual universe of buildings within buildings (the abandoned snakehouse of 24A Orwell Street at the 2002 Sydney Biennale, and the unsettling room-within-a-room that was The Coral Reef [Fig. 1], displayed at Tate Britain in 2000) seems perfectly suited to the lovely yet loaded space that is Edwin Rickard’s Edwardian teahouse at the head of the Giardini’s main street. Nelson’s intervention will be no mere decoration.
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