The Best Venice Biennale 2013 Artwork You Haven’t Heard About


Ten days into the Venice Biennale, the vast majority of reporting has been dedicated to three things: the inaugural national pavilion for Vatican City, the palpable aftershocks of political unrest in the Maldives, and the avalanche of praise for Massimiliano Gioni, who curated the centerpiece of the fair (seriously, I cannot find an unfavorable word about that guy). There is a lot of compression and consolidation at work, which makes sense, but it leaves out a lot. After the jump, discover a few pieces of work that have slipped away underrated so far at Venice.

From the Netherlands: Mark Manders

Installation: Mark Manders, Room with Broken Sentence, Dutch pavilion, Venice 2013. From l. to r: Working Table (2012-2013); Closet (1989-2013); Mind Study (2010-2011). Photo: Jan Kempenaers.

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Crossing the pomo absurdism of Bruce Nauman with Martin Puryear’s love of woodcraft, this Dutch representative has brought to Venice a wholesomely unsettling selection of sculptures, installations, and architectural designs from the full length of his career.

From Paraguay: Félix Toranzos

Félix Tornanzos, selection from Palace of the Winds series, 2012.

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Calling on a fascination with the Old World, Paraguay’s Félix Tornanzos has built an abstract “wandering museum” meant to capture the smoky, terrestrial mystery of a visit to the Palace of Winds, a marble octagonal tower located in the Roman agora in Athens. The emphasis in Tornanzos’s work is on a quiet, meditative reckoning with the past, which he says seeks “the eternal silence, after the fleeting glance of the observer, at a wandering moment in search of times and winds.”

From Ireland: Richard Mosse

The Enclave, production still, Trevor Tweeten (cinematographer) shooting Arriflex 16mm camera mounted on Steadicam in South Masisi, Nov 2012.

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He may not qualify as unexposed, but I still consider Mosse’s contributions to this year’s Venice Biennale underrated. More to the point, most of the attention lent to his Enclave series focuses on his use of the now-discontinued Kodak Aerochrome film, as if Mosse’s objective were merely to make the exhibition novel and fun, instead of viscerally affecting and aesthetically deep. For the record, I think his photographs are all of these things.

From Mexico: Ariel Guzik

Did you think there was no more room for futuristic kinetic sculpture in an international competition like Venice? You thought wrong. Exploiting resources from the schools of sound art and interactive installations, Guzik’s invention, which he calls Cordiox, creates music based on the changes in the atmosphere measured by a large cylinder made of pure quartz and three long, tense chords harp chords.

From Belgium: Berlinde De Bruyckere

Berlinde De Bruyckere. Kreupelhout – Cripplewood, 2012-2013.

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You can’t go wrong with goth. Driven by the mutual admiration of South African novelist J.M. Coetzee, Berlinde De Bruckere invited the writer to co-curate this year’s Belgian pavilion. His centerpiece, Kreupelhout – Cripplewood echoes the gnarly, unstable, death-obsessed tone of Coetzee’s stories.

From Finland and the Nordic countries: Antti Laitinen and Terike Haapoja

Terike Haapoja, Inhale / Exhale, 2008/2011. Mixed media: glass, mdf, soil, electronics, sound.

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During the last Biennale, in 2011, a large tree fell through the Finnish Alvar Aalto Pavilion, ending the exhibition and causing significant damage to the building. For a group of artists and curators like Terike Haapoja, Antti Laitinen, and Gruppo 111, it wasn’t hard to read some symbolism into this, and make art that responded to the (sometimes brutal) whims of mortality and chaotic weather. The results — infrared videos of recently deceased animals in Community, and photographs of felled trees in Forest Square — while hardly cheerful, are very compelling.

From New Zealand: Bill Culbert

Bill Culbert, Daylight Flotsam Venice, 2013. Photograph by Jennifer French.

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It’s easy to reach for comparisons with Dan Flavin in the light installations of Bill Culbert, but while Flavin tended to celebrate the standalone severity of his angular lightbulb sculptures, Culbert is like a Texan in Sicily or a Mexican in Basel; his playful, inquisitive work embraces odd contexts and the potential to reshape them.

From Argentina: Nicola Costantino

Nicola Costantino, Eva, los Sueños, Video Installation, 2012.

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Nicola Costantino has created the most self-consciously patriotic exhibition in Venice with her two video projections and two works of sculpture, seeking to say something new about the public persona and personality myth of Eva Perón.

From Austria: Mathias Poledna

Mathias Poledna, still from Imitation of Life, 2013. 35mm color film.

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Before the rise of tackier, shriller “limited animation” techniques typified by Hanna-Barbera’s cartoons for television, animation was a uniquely dignified (albeit laborious) form of art. Imitation of Life is presented by artist Mathias Poledna as a somewhat romantic ode to this era of storytelling, characterized by its delicate and sentimental — though altogether contemporary — renderings of animals and nature.

From Greece: Stefanos Tsivopoulos

Stefanos Tsivopoulos, History Zero (still), 2013. Video.

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Though grazing references to the crisis in Greece abound in the entry by artist Stefanos Tsivopoulos, current events are not the reason you should see his contribution to the fair. His film, titled History Zero, seems to call for an ambitious reevaluation of current modes of storytelling, offering the varyingly comprehensible accounts from a senile art collector, a scrap metal scavenger, and a vagabond photographer.