Biennale sculptures in Venice

For over 120 years the Venice Biennale has been one of the most prestigious cultural institutions in the world. Today the Biennale is attended by over 500,000 visitors. In 1895 the first international art exhibition was organized and in the 1930s new festivals were born: Music, Cinema and Theatre (ex. Venice Film Festival) were added. In 1980 the first international architecture exhibition took place and in 1999 dance made its debut at the Venice Biennale. 

The 57th international art exhibition “Viva Arte Viva – Biennale di Venezia” is curated by Christine Macel and organized by Biennale director Paolo Baratta

VIVA ARTE VIVA is this year’s theme and matter of the art fair. It’s subdivided into nine chapters, beginning with two introductory areas in the Central Pavilion, followed by another seven across the Arsenale (Historical hint: The Arsenale is the largest pre-industrial centre of the world. The shipyards were the symbol of the military, economical and political power of Venice back in time. Later it became a more commerce-related site) through the Giardino delle Vergini.

Altogether 120 artists from 51 countries were invited; 103 of these are participating for the first time. The huge exhibition also includes 86 national participations in the historic pavilions at the Giardini, at the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice. 3 countries are participating for the first time: Antigua and Barbuda, Kiribati, Nigeria.

This year, selected “Collateral Events” are also taking place in the area. Promoted by non-profit national and international institutions, they present their exhibitions and initiatives in Venice during the 57th Exhibition.

Along the Grand Canal some sculptures are presented. I will describe two of them:


Golden Tower – James Lee Byars

Walking around the many canals, on the way to the Peggy Guggenheim museum, a colossal pillar is raising up behind the small and ruinous Venetian dwellings. The shiny effect of the golden tower is building a high contrast. It’s situated at a small “piazza” (Campo San Vio, on the edge of the Grand Canal), surrounded by older edifices. It seems like the sculptural work is creating a warm and sparkling atmosphere. Given its central location it’s hard to miss. Still, people react in vastly different ways: Some of them perceive it as a succeeded contribution to the Biennale, while others think it’s a huge phallus work, which has been put in the middle of a historical place.

But what’s the intention of the artist?  Byars describes The Golden Tower as a colossal beacon and oracle that would bridge heaven and earth and unify humanity – a contemporary monument surpassing the grandiosity of the Lighthouse of Alexandria.

The idea of “The Golden Tower” first began in 1974 and was developed with numerous conceptual studies throughout the artist’s career. The work was first exhibited in 1990 at the “GegenwartEwigkeit” exhibition at Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin and later, in 2004 at the retrospective “Life, Love and Death” at the Schirn Kunsthalle in Frankfurt.

With a height of over 20 meters, The Golden Tower is the artist’s largest and most ambitious work. The Venice installation is the first to fully realize the artist’s intentions of presenting the sculpture in a public space.

Curator Alberto Salvadori comments the work:

“The splendor of gold hints at the symbol of the sun but also becomes a symbol of inner illumination, of intellectual knowledge and spiritual experience. A concept of divinity. That’s the deeper motivation in James Lee Byars’s use of gold (… ). It is the ultimate symbol of greatness and the infinite.”

The presentation in Venice is doubly significant and can be connected to Byars’s deep “relationship” with the city. Starting from the 1980s he lived off and on in Venice and worked closely with the master glass-blowers of Murano to realize his major 1989 sculpture (The Angel). Throughout his career Byars enacted numerous performances in Venice. He also participated in four previous Venice Biennales.

General information: From May until the end of November the 57th edition of “La Biennale” is taking place in Venice.

Photo: Judith Bradl (copyright)
Photo: Judith Bradl (copyright)
James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, on view in 1990 at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.
Installation view: Arp Museum / James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, 1982-1992           PHOTO: MICK VINCENZ / SOURCE: QJUBES.COM
James Lee Byars, The Golden Tower, 1990/2004                                             PHOTO: Schirn Kunsthalle Catalogue

Support – Lorenzo Quinn

Riding down the Grand Canal on a “Vaporetto” (public boat), filled with tourists, all of them taking photos of every single building the boat passes by. Fresh air blowing everyone’s hair while still staring, eager for another photography motif. One of the buildings, the boat passes, will catch the view of everyone. It has been “decorated” with two huge hands. Those hands at Ca’ Sagredo Hotel are emerging from the Grand Canal and it’s a sculpture by Italian artist Lorenzo Quinn. “Support” aims to make a statement on the effects of global warming. Quinn, known to use body parts and especially hands in his sculptures, uses the gigantic hands as a force of nature.

The artist states:

“I wanted to sculpt what is considered the hardest and most technically challenging part of the human body. The hand hold so much power – the power to love, to hate, to create, to destroy.”

Quinn produced the sculpture in his Barcelona studio using an ancient method known as “lost-wax casting,” a millennia-old process that involves casting a mold created with a wax model of the sculpture. While the installation is meant to elicit both desperation and hope, Quinn also revealed it carries a more personal meaning to him. In an interview with he says:

“Venice is a floating art city that has inspired cultures for centuries, but to continue to do so it needs the support of our generation and future ones, because it is threatened by climate change and time decay. I have three children, and I’m thinking about their generation and what world we’re going to pass on to them. I’m worried, I’m very worried.”

In fact, the hands are modeled after one of his children’s and in an Instagram post, Quinn said that “Support” wants to speak to the people in a clear, simple and direct way through the innocent hands of a child and it evokes a powerful message, which is that united we can make a stand to fight the climate change that affects us all.

Photo: Judith Bradl (copyright)
Photo: Judith Bradl (copyright) 
Installation of Lorenzo Quinn’s sculptural work at Hotel Ca’ Sagredo                                           PHOTO: LORENZO QUINN/ SOURCE: MYMODERNMET.COM
Transport of the gigantic hands by Lorenzo Quinn                                                                            PHOTO: VENEZIA TODAY / SOURCE: MYMODERNMET.COM

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