Venice Biennale of Art: Between Surrealism and Real War

Status: 21.04.2022 11:48 paradite

The anticipation of the art biennial is currently taking place in Venice and the art show will open to the public on Saturday. This year it’s all about surrealism – and the war in Ukraine.

Jörg Seisselberg, ARD Studio Rome, Mr. Currently Venice

Cecilia Alemani stands in front of the central pavilion in Giardini and shrugs with a smile. Yes, admits the 45-year-old Italian, times were different when she started planning the Biennale two years ago. At the time – in the midst of the pandemic – she had decided in favor of surrealism as the formative direction of exhibition art. But because of the war in Ukraine, the artistic theme of the Biennale is more current than ever, as the New Yorker points out with elections.

“If we think about the conditions under which Surrealism appeared in Paris in the 1920s, then it was a situation very similar to what we are experiencing today,” says Alemani. Surrealism developed “from the ashes of the First World War, at a time when totalitarian regimes came to power, with the birth of fascism.” It was a very political, anti-militarist, anti-totalitarian art movement.

The 2022 Art Biennale with the motto “Milk of Dreams” is political. The central pavilion is characterized by surrealist works that work with the alienation and distortion of human bodies and objects and address the relationship between man and technology, between man and nature.

The war in Ukraine is in the spotlight

However, the most important political theme of the Surrealism Biennale is the real war in Ukraine. For a long time it was unclear whether the Ukrainian contribution would reach Venice. When the war broke out, 78 water installation pipes by artist Pavlo Makow were still in Ukraine, says Ukrainian pavilion curator Maria Lanko: “We started clearing our camp when the war was approaching.” The installation pipes could have been placed in three boxes. It was clear that they were getting into a car and “that we can get them out this way to represent our country here with what we have”.

Personally, Maria Lanko was brave enough to get behind the wheel and bring the work of art across the border to Poland and from there – with the support of the Biennale organizers – to Venice. “The hips had to be pulled out and they had to be pulled out of me,” Lanko says. Because she was the only one on the team who had no children or other relatives to care for. That’s why, says the curator, she could get in the car and just leave.

The “source of fatigue” of the artist Pavlo Makov in the Ukrainian pavilion.

Image: AFP

Russia is left out

The work of art, explains artist Pavlo Makow, also tells of the exhaustion of democratic societies that are not prepared to defend themselves. Until the beginning of the war, his artwork was a warning, now it is a statement.

Makow reacted suddenly to the statement of the director of the German Biennale that art in Venice should enable dialogue even in time of war. Makow, on the other hand, refuses to speak, even to Russian artists who canceled their participation in the Biennale in protest of Putin’s fight against aggression: “Unfortunately, Russian culture has now come to Ukraine with tanks and missiles.” Ukrainian artists are now trying to save their culture. So Makow says, “I do not feel like I can talk to them now. The only place we can have a dialogue right now is at the front.”

In addition to Ukraine’s national contribution, Biennale management has set up a Piazza Ucraina, a Ukrainian square, directly at the entrance to Giardini. The central work of art, a pyramid made of sandbags, can be seen from afar. On the other hand, the large Russian pavilion will remain closed this year. Officials with contacts with the Russian government are not allowed to attend the Biennale.

More women there

A biennial experiencing a turning point under the shadow of the war in Ukraine. For the first time, 80 percent of the participating artists are women. There are so many strong female artists, says the director of the German Biennale, so the turnaround is delayed after many years of male dominance.

The German pavilion was also designed by a woman. Conceptual artist Maria Eichhorn has discovered – in the true sense of the word – the history of the German-influenced building of the fascists in the premises of the Biennale. The plaster was removed from the walls and parts of the foundations were unearthed to show how the National Socialists in 1938 had established their extension over the original German pavilion from 1909.

“Relocating a Structure” by German artist Maria Eichhorn can be seen in the German pavilion.

Image: EPA

Eichhorn herself does not want to comment on her work. Curator Yilmaz Dziewior says: Given the current situation in the world, it is more necessary than ever to deal with totalitarian structures and raise awareness of them. Maria Einhorn managed to translate this into a powerful and at the same time poetic image by exposing the layers of the building’s history in the German pavilion. The result of their work, says Dziewior, shows a great need to deal with German history.

Removed plaster and partially excavated plinth in the German pavilion are just a part of Eichhorn’s contribution to the Biennale. This includes parallel guided tours of Venice, the site of anti-fascist resistance during the German occupation.

The Golden Lion for Eternal Achievement goes to the Germans

German sculptor Katharina Fritsch was honored with the Golden Lion for her work of life in Venice this year. Her life-size sculpture of a green elephant stands at the entrance to the central pavilion – and is one of the most important works of the 2022 Surreal Biennale.

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