The Biennale’s Best: Paul Laster Asks Gallerists, Curators, and Collectors to Weigh In


What works did international art dealers, curators and collectors consider the most impressive at the 53rd Venice Biennale? It was surprising how consistently the same names came up. The US Pavilion (images here) ranked high, even before it was voted best pavilion of this year. And Elmgreen & Dragset’s “The Collectors” (images here) was another favorite. And everyone was impressed with Francois Pinault’s Punta della Dogana (images here).

Melissa Chiu, director, Asia Society, New York “Bruce Nauman is fantastic. The show of contemporary art from Afghanistan, Iran, and Pakistan, East-West Divan, which is pretty fabulous, is a good introduction to some of the leading artists of the region; and at the New Zealand Pavilion, Frances Upritchard has done a really great site-specific, decorative art, sculptural piece.”

Franca Sozzani, editor, Vogue Italia, Milan “I liked the Danish and Nordic Pavilions. It was a fantastic idea. I also liked Liam Gillick in the German Pavilion and Fiona Tan in the Dutch Pavilion. There’s good energy and I enjoy being here in this moment. It’s very inspiring because it’s a different kind of attitude, plus we did a big issue of L’Uomo Vogue with artists in their studio.”

Diana Picasso, archivist and granddaughter of Pablo Picasso, New York “The Punta della Dogana is an incredible place with a great collection. I particularly liked the Maurizio Cattelan installation, with the draped bodies that are sculpted in white marble, and the Cy Twombly paintings.

I love Twombly’s work. I loved Bruce Nauman at the American Pavilion, the installation of the sculptures of the hands — all those bronzes — it was very impressive. I haven’t seen everything yet. In Venice, there’s no past, no present.”

Alessandro Benetton, deputy chairman, Benetton Group, Treviso, Italy “I was impressed by the Punta della Dogana, not only for the quality of the art but for the architectural intervention, which was extremely well considered. It was done with respect for the past and with a vision for the future.”

Maureen Paley, art dealer, Maureen Paley, London “I was pleased to see Wolfgang Tillmans in the Making Worlds exhibition and I thought that the Roman Ondák’s installation in the Czech Pavilion was very special.”

Shamim Momin, curator, Whitney Museum of Art, New York “One of the things I liked best was the Mona Hatoum show at Fondazione Querini Stampalia. The thing that particularly struck me was the interventions in the historical house museum, where the works are so subtly integrated that you actually had to look for them. You end up encapsulating that whole context, what’s happening historically there, as well as how it’s changed by these very subtle moments that she inserts. It’s unusual to work in spaces in that way. I love our American museums, of course, but the endless labeling of things doesn’t seem to be necessary here in the same way. I think it adds a totally other dimension to be able to walk into a wonderful shrine of bones for minor priests, which I thought was genius, and there was an artwork in there — but you had to find it. It doesn’t scream out to you here it is. There is something about that that really helps integrate it into the history and richness of the culture, which I would like to personally think about curatorially.”

Jeffrey Deitch, art dealer, Deitch Projects, New York “I was at the opening of Punta della Dogana and thought it was just extraordinary. It’s at the highest level of art, installation, and architecture. It was very inspiring. In the Arsenale, I thought that the Paul Chan work was excellent. He’s put together everything that he has been working on and he’s got it all going. It’s very impressive.”

Emmanual Perrotin, art dealer, Galerie Emmanuel Perrotin, Paris “The new, large painting that Takashi Murakami produced for Francois Pinault at the Palazzo Grassi. It’s a masterpiece. I first saw it in Murakami’s studio in Japan and I was with someone who cried when she saw it.”

Alanna Heiss, director of and former director of P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York “The Palazzo Grassi is extraordinary and the installation this time is particularly convincing. Piotr Uklanski’s flashing dance floor and photographs of Nazis combine the joy and the terror of life.”

Antonio Honem, art dealer, Sonnabend Gallery, New York “The three exhibitions of Bruce Nauman are extraordinary. They are not really a retrospective. They are an itinerary through pieces of pieces of different periods and each one leads to another and certain themes keep coming back. It’s quite fascinating and I think it’s the ideal introduction to Nauman’s work.”

Nadine Johnson, publicist, Nadine Johnson Inc., New York “The Chapman Brothers at Punta della Dogana, the Steve McQueen movie in the British Pavilion, and the very pretty girls and hot boys.”

Matthew Higgs, director White Columns, New York and commissioner, Greek Pavilion, Venice Biennale “I really like Roman Ondák’s garden installation at the Czech Pavilion. It was a simple gesture, very beautifully pinched. Against the triumphalism of some other pavilions, it’s seemed beautifully modest; but I think it was one of the strongest things I’ve seen.”

Tim Blum, art dealer, Blum & Poe, Los Angeles “The Punta della Dogana. It’s spectacular, no matter how you slice it up, as architecture. That will be the big argument because then, of course, there’s the art and there is a lot of great art there. Over time, the blending of the two, the art with the building, it will grow and become even better. But right now you cannot walk in there and not focus on the architecture.”

Silvia Karman Cubiñá, director and chief curator, Bass Museum of Art, Miami Beach “I was particularly excited about the Thomas Saraceno installation in Making Worlds. I found it to be surprising, awe-inspiring, and really fun and the video portraits by Fiona Tan at the Dutch Pavilion were wondrous.”

Cecilia Dean, editor and co-founder, Visionaire, New York “The Danish and Nordic Pavilions were really, really fun because it was a whole concept and when it’s taken to another level it becomes performance art and it becomes more interactive, I love that. I schlepped all the way to the Lido Airport for the party and it was so much fun, it was like a giant rave, it was like every cute kid was there and we were all dancing, it was great. That was the party to be at, it was so much fun, it was so youthful and energetic. I loved it. I also thought the German Pavilion was great, Liam Gillick. I thought it was funny that they didn’t have a German artist. I’ve just always assumed that they should have their own countrymen representing them. The Making Worlds show was amazing. There was so much incredible work in it. I liked the Guyton Walker installation and Thomas Saraceno’s installation with string that you had to walk through. I love it when art makes you walk differently or plan your route or somehow impedes you. I find that more enjoyable than looking at something static on a wall.”

Germano Celant, director, Fondazione Prada, Milan “Steve McQueen makes an important contribution that’s political and critical of the Biennale, plus it’s soft and very elegant and very high quality. It’s a major contribution. Nathalie Djurberg has a great piece in the Making Worlds show, and I don’t just say that because we showed her at Fondazione Prada. One of the best pavilions, which got a lot of buzz, is the Danish and Nordic Pavilion. There’s a story there, and it’s intelligent.”

Ari Marcopoulos, artist and filmmaker, Sonoma, California “I loved Fiona Tan at the Dutch Pavilion. I laid down on the floor and watched the Marco Polo diary with the contemporary footage and I felt like I took a trip. I think that’s what art should do. It should transport you into another mood or another world. A lot of what I saw was a reaction to trends and that is always a little bit scary, but I did see some pieces that transported me and I was happy about those. John Gerrard’s installation on the island of Certosa was also good. This is my first time in Venice so I have other things to see. It’s a beautiful city.”

Paul Laster was in Venice last week thanks to our friends at The Daily Beast. Click here for more Art Beast scoops from the the 53rd Venice Biennale, Art Basel, and the world’s best museums, galleries, and auction houses.

Main image: Installation shot of an exhibition copy of Bruce Nauman, Vices and Virtues, 1983-88 as installed on the frieze of the U.S. Pavilion. Neon and clear glass tubing mounted on aluminum support grid. Photo by Michele Lamanna, courtesy Philadelphia Museum of Art