Tales. From the artists muses and otiosity, from the lighthearted playfulness of the arts, tells the 57th art Biennale in Venice. A celebration of the arts as they are – with no fancy, superordinate theme. “Viva Arte Viva” is the theme of this years Biennale. The motto says it all: Live art, live. And breaks it down to the old but gold, and long forgotten “L’art pour l’art” – meaning that art shall serve no other purpose than to be… art.

Art as a magnet.

Venice has a lot of amore with the arts, most suitably. For the Biennale, the lagoon city is on it’s best behavior, almost bursting at the seams. The guests are a slightly different crowd than the usual. Wearing arty black instead of expedition-beige, fashionable beards instead of sneakers and backpacks, red lipstick lips and Haute Couture. Artists, collectors, museum staff and art lovers are pushing through the narrow streets of Venice, leaving the Rialto Bridge and the St. Mark’s square behind. They all have one collective destination: the Giardini, the gardens at the east end of the island. In the garden park, built by Napoleon back in the day, 29 majestic national pavilions are exhibiting the most contemporary of national arts until the end of November. Alongside the pavilions, over 60 more national exhibitions are on display in the Arsenale haven and scattered all over the city. But the main exhibition area in the Giardini remains the core attraction of every Biennale, working the crowd like a magnet. Who wants to stay on track over the variety of shows, should thus come prepared – and with a map.

  • Der deutsche Pavillion ist Schauplatz eines spektakulären Werkes, welches sogar mit dem goldenen Löwen ausgezeichnet wurde. Foto: Kristina Erhard

Germany, Austria and the rest of the world.

Outside the German pavilion, the crowds are forming long queues. Nobody can really tell what is about to happen, and if there will be a performance. But there is: And the following five-hour epos, with the sounding name “Faust”, is all worth it. Who enters the pavilion is immediately captured by the most recent opus of Anne Imhof, the famous visual artist and choreographer from Gießen, Germany. What the performance is all about? Personal and territorial boundaries. About offense and defense, consumerism and control – all happening amongst the audience. Imhof equipped the entire pavilion floor with transparent panels. Against these glass screens, the actors bodies turn into fleshy masses. Performers and dogs are switching roles in this play of a restricted world. In the end, it is all well and wow: the pavilion, designed by Imhof, got honored with the Golden Lion. The star prize for the best national contribution. The full show is still to see at two dates in November

  • Aktionskünstler Erwin Wurm lädt den Besucher ein, an seinen "One Minute Sculptures" teilzunehmen.
    Aktionskünstler Erwin Wurm lädt den Besucher ein, an seinen "One Minute Sculptures" teilzunehmen. Foto: Kristina Erhard

Victim of a major accident seems to be the massive overturned truck, catching the attention of passers-bys outside the Austrian pavilion. The work of two renowned artists: Actionist and object artist Erwin Wurm invites visitors to participate in his “One Minute Sculptures”, guiding the participants with instructions staged on furniture and a wrecked trailer. For the light artist Brigitte Kowanz the pavilion was equipped with an extension called “Light Space”. There, with the help of light and mirrors, the artist extends physical space into countless new ephemeral spaces. Highly recommended by the critics.

Spiel mit Licht und Schatten: das Werk der russischen Künstlerin Grisha Bruskin.

Of course, all pavilions at the Giardini are worth a visit. Impressively cynical but compelling: in the Russian pavilion Grisha Bruskin is looking for a metaphor for the aggressions and the terror of our recent and present – from Palmyra to New York. The Israeli pavilions advocates a similar agenda: entering the building, the visitor is welcomed by the buildings 1952 Bauhaus-references, to arrive at bare walls, stained top to bottom. The corners hoste obscure shadows, strongly advising against further inspections. The reverberation of flames, resembling the launch of missiles, projected on a molded wall in Venice is seems ironic. Gal Weinsteins project may be interpreted as melancholic and poetic allegories on the history of Israel, but seems more like a memorial against negligence and destruction.

  • Gal Weinsteins Projekt regt zum Nachdenken an Foto: Kristina Erhard


The more you try not to seek political interpretations in the pavilions of the Biennale – just as proposed by the motto “Vive Arte Viva” – the more you find them. Nevertheless this holds the comforting thought, that art still considers itself a medium for criticism and protest.

Post Scriptum: art oasis and art business.

Are there still art sweet spots, some oasis, rarely touched by the market? The museums were considered a save choice for long. But that has changed. And leaves the Biennales as the last resort for non-commercial, independent exhibition of art. The best of arts is promised – far from capitalist venturing and financial speculations. And still: major collectors occasionally acquire whole pavilions. In 2013 Jochen Zeitz bought the whole Angola-Pavilion, which was awarded with the Golden Lion that year, for his museum in Cape Town. And why not? The art market is a stable one and still a considerable investment opportunity, in a world challenged by uncertainty and war.