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Brief Published: 7 Jun 2013

Venice Art Biennale: The Encyclopedic Palace


Spread across several sites in Venice, the 55th Venice Art Biennale brings together international artists under the themed banner of The Encyclopedic Palace – a celebration of the richness and variety of life.

Directed by Massimiliano Gioni, chief curator at the New Museum in New York, this year’s theme is inspired by an 11ft-high tower designed by Italian artist Marino Auriti in 1955. Auriti’s Encyclopedic Tower of the World was created as a model for a museum that would display the full range of human achievement – from the wheel to the satellite. A praise of human existence, ethical values and worldly knowledge, Auriti’s dream to build the museum along the Mall in Washington DC did not come to pass, but Gioni has given it a new lease of life as the inspiration of the art encompassing the biennale. 

Money and power proved a reccurring theme this year, as artists attempt to make socio-political comments about money and the art world. In the Russian Pavilion, conceptual artist Vadim Zakharov created a continuous shower of golden coins that appears to fall from the sky (visitors are issued with umbrellas). This statement on greed, wastefulness and gluttony was also expressed in the British Pavilion by Turner Prize winner Jeremy Deller, whose painting We Sit Starving Amidst Our Gold features a image of the late British artist and designer William Morris throwing Russian business tycoon Roman Abramovich’s famous super-yacht into a lagoon.

And Deller’s pavilion is noted as the standout pick of the crop for its focus on British society – its people, icons, folklore and political history. An eccentric mish-mash of artwork, film, interactive sculpture and historical artefacts help to tell a garbled history of Britain and its rich heritage. America’s own pavilion also entertained visitors with installation artist Sarah Sze’s epic raw material constructions, which she described as “orientation and disorientation” in an interview with the New York Times.

Cutting through the noise, the piece we most favoured – for its incorporation of interactive digital technology – was Last Train by Israeli artist Ron Arad. Based on diamonds and their industrial strength and use in glass etchings, artists are invited to etch glowing messages and artwork on digital screens through an intuitive app. 

Art & Design