We’ve been gadding about again. Only four or so weeks after the summer trip to Italy we just got back from around 66 hours in Venice. Not nearly enough one might think but you can pack quite a bit into that time if you use it well. The central focus was supposed to be the Biennale but as I get older my desire to ‘do’ these big set piece events in their entirety is waining. So this time we decided to go into the city itself on the Saturday. Interspersing visits to ancillary shows with a mini ‘giro d’ombre’ and as a consequence traversing the byways of parts of Dorsoduro, San Marco and San Polo. It proved to be one of the best days I’ve ever spent in the city in all my visits to the Biennale (and we are wondering now why we’ve never just gone to Venice for itself, rather than always the art event). We did see some very interesting contemporary work…and a fair bit of it painting.
But first it was into the Punta Della Dogana for Danh Vo’s Slip Of The Tongue.
What a space! It just shows what virtually unlimited resources can lead to. The show was quite a stylish affair, with a really light touch across the rooms that make up this extraordinary space. Danh Vo’s work is dotted around with contributions from a range of the great and the good of the current scene with several younger figures I was less familiar with. Work by Hubert Duprat and Henrik Olesen caught my eye. Duprat is best known now for bejewelled bugs but I especially liked the pieces Volus and Tribulum that spoke a taut, sparce, simpler sculptural language. Olesen’s diverse output included stuff I couldn’t get on with like his Portrait Of My Mother, two pieces of used pine timber, but his Companion Species eschewed super cool for a more intense negotiation between digital and material engagement and images with content that allows interpretation.
Perhaps the strongest, and in some ways the simplest, work on offer, that subtly critiqued the whole shebang, was Elmgreen & Dragset’s Powerless Structure Fig. 13 – it suggested that the outside was much the more important than the interior despite the cultural power contained within. Not only that but it was so exquisitely fabricated and installed. So a show that delighted and in places infuriated pretty much in equal measure.
Onwards we went, pausing only to admire the interior, and especially the floor, of the Basilica di Santa Maria della Salute towards the Peter Doig exhibition at the Palazzetto Tito. Nothing to do with the official biennale of course and a cynic might say not surprising given the sumptuousness of these paintings that positively delight in the act and the metier of the medium.
And the imagery is even more expansive than before…including overt reference to the city of Venice itself. But its the fierceness of the painterly intelligence at work that really steals the show. There is economy, but never less than necessary to get the job properly done. Then there is the bravado of the obvious (especially in some of the colour combinations) but done with such panache and offset by equally surprising and complex choices that they just make you smile. Its a show on a scale and in a space that feels absolutely right. A top job that says painting is alive and kicking in amongst all the multi media and the ‘stuff’.