Venice Biennale Reviews; Pinault's Dogana Ready for Next Biennale; Palazzo Grassi Director to Head Versailles; Pro Austria in the Works?

CRITICS WEIGH IN ON VENICE BIENNALE

“Expanding.” “Tragic.” “Well-behaved.” “Serious.” “Undistinctive.” Those of some of the adjectives that stand out in the first round of press reviews of the Venice Biennale. Corriere della Serra's Sebastiano Grasso notes the great expansion of the event, which is making the central exhibition “unrecognizable” due to the invasion of collateral shows at alternative sites: “Exhibitions in homes and offices, in former churches, palace courts, private galleries,” writes Grasso. “Artistic scenes are multiplying and the whole city is for rent, including the islands.”

Le Monde's Harry Bellet and Philippe Dagen see reflections not of expanding sites but of the darkness of our current era. “It's impossible to be mistaken here,” write Bellet and Dagen. “The entire 52nd Venice Biennale—the national pavilions in the Giardini, the Arsenale, and the various exhibitions in the palazzi—breathes the air of the times, sometimes tragic, sometimes funerary. It is generalized, whatever the continent, the generation or the artists. . . . It gives the Biennale, which is so often confused, tonality and coherence. The work of artistic director Robert Storr is a success; his Biennale [is] one of most interesting of the past decade.”

Die Frankfurter Rundschau's Elke Buhr is not so convinced, especially by the Arsenale. “[It's] an exhibition that has noticed that the world really exploded at all corners and ends—but that found no other form of argumentation, other than well-behaved illustration,” writes Buhr. “The documentary is at work again and again, with photographs of fences, soldiers, demonstrations, destroyed cities. In Paolo Canevari's work, a boy plays football with a human head; the young American Emily Prince draws with pencil the passport photos of Americans killed in the Iraq war and wallpapers a wall [with them]. The political seems so zealous here that a marvelously poetic work like the trick film of Francis Alÿs about shoe shining nearly disappears.”

Die Neue Zürcher Zeitung's Samuel Herzog underscores Storr's attempt to unite feeling and intellect in the present. “An exhibition developed that does away with anything spectacular and is determined by a thoroughly serious basic tone,” writes Herzog. “The art appears here as a beauty braked by the froth of the times, which finally does away with all makeup and reaches interior values by stressing outer attractions.”

Der Standard's Markus Mittringer finds Storr's show well executed. “But one could also say: undistinctive. Waste dumps full of testimonies to correctness are punctuated by fairlike rides.”

PINAULT’S DOGANA READY FOR NEXT BIENNALE

It's official: François Pinault's new contemporary-art center located in the Punta della Dogana will be open for the next Venice Biennale, in 2009. According to reports from AFP and Le Monde, the French collector and Christie's owner made the statement upon signing the official contract for the Dogana project with Venice mayor Massimo Cacciari. In order to make the 2009 inauguration, Pinault, who is already occupying the Palazzo Grassi, has called for a rapid construction project, which will develop under the plans of star architect Tadao Ando.

“I know what artworks will be exhibited here [in the Dogana],” Pinault told reporters. “But I'm not going to tell you! And then it's contemporary art, which evolves quite rapidly. In two years, new masterpieces will surely emerge, so we'll have to wait.” While keeping secrets, Pinault plans to take advantage of the Dogana's vast 4,500-square-meter (48,438-square-foot) exhibition space, including the higher ceilings in comparison with the Palazzo Grassi. “We want to exhibit more large and heavy works,” said Pinault. “That's the interest of this building, which is very tall. And we will show different works—it will not be a static exhibition.”

PALAZZO GRASSI DIRECTOR TO HEAD VERSAILLES

In other Pinault-related news, the director of the Palazzo Grassi, Jean-Jacques Aillagon, has been named president of the Château de Versailles, just outside Paris. Aillagon, who was the French minister of culture from 2002 to 2004, takes over from Christine Albanel, who was named minister of culture last month by newly elected president Nicolas Sarkozy. From 1996 to 2002, Aillagon acted as the president of Paris's Centre Pompidou. The sixty-year-old bureaucrat has been directing Pinault's project in Venice since March 2006. No word on whether Aillagon will maintain his position at the Palazzo Grassi.

PRO AUSTRIA IN THE WORKS

Austria may soon enjoy its own version of the Swiss arts-funding council Pro Helvetia. Der Standard's Thomas Trenkler reports that the announcement was made during the official opening of the Austrian pavilion in Venice by Chancellor Alfred Gusenbauer. While promising a “Pro Austria” for “contemporary art,” Gusenbauer offered no further details, despite questions from reporters at the event. There were no clarifications from the Austrian cultural ministry. Trenkler wonders if the council would follow the Pro Helvetia model and thus fund international art events, beyond the borders of Austria. The proposal has surfaced earlier in 1999, although Trenkler notes that the former plan was not to support contemporary art but rather to purchase restituted artworks.

Jennifer Allen