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Piazza San Marco, Canaletto, late 1720s
Metropolitan Museum of Art

       
 

Notes from the 53rd Venice Biennale...

 
 

Russian Red!

   

 

  

 

eCognoscente has just returned from the 53rd Venice Biennale that has transformed Venezia into some beautiful open-air museum: Some countries occupy the large modernist pavilions in the lush giardini or in the enormous loft-like buildings of the Arsenale (Venice's ancient shipyard and once the largest in the world), while others find a home in the various palazzi, squares, and open spaces around the city.

We were particularly taken by the Russian Pavilion whose theme Victory over the Future was in such marked contrast with the city surrounding it, where Tintoretto's house, the grand palaces from the 15th and 16th century and the languorous winding canals draw one's gaze ever towards the past.  Having shaken off an often didactic and brutalist Soviet tradition, the work displayed sophistication and a remarkable diversity of ideas.

Andrei Molodkin's two glass sculptures representing Nike of Samothrace and titled Le Rouge et le Noir (one thinks of Stendhal's 1830 novel) are a perfect symbol for the pavilion: confident and bold appropriations of conceptualist art.  One of the figures is filled with red liquid, the other black -- blood and oil -- brought together in one single image in a video projected on a screen, questioning perhaps the price at which oligarchs have achieved power in the New Russia and on the ambiguous nature of victory there.


A Pepperstein watercolor from Landscapes of the Future, 2009

The polymath Pavel Pepperstein, who is also a novelist and rap musician, filled an entire room inside the pavilion with a series of colorful and skillfully-executed watercolors, both childlike and sophisticated, titled Landscapes of the Future.  Light-on-their-feet geometric forms and other shapes that recall Moscow Conceptualism and Suprematism push up into futuristic landscapes.  The artist sets the works to Stravinsky's The Rite of Spring -- a groundbreaking futuristic piece when it was composed in 1913 -- spliced with his own rap composition.  Pepperstein's brazen re-appropriation of the old Russian avant-garde points towards a more open and free society, a victory over the past perhaps, as well as the future.

 

Like Santiago Calatrava's recent clever update of the Venetian bridge (glass and Istrian marble) at the Piazzale Roma, Molodkin and Pepperstein have taken images and concepts from the past and fashioned something distinctly modern and hopeful, an artistic rebuke to the Russia of Putin et Cie.  

 

Explore: www.labiennale.org/en/Home.html


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"Blood" filled Nike from Le Rouge et le Noir,
Andrei Molodkin

 

 


 

 


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