Artistic constellations of the southern hemisphere...

Artistic constellations of the southern hemisphere: the historical nucleus of the Venice Biennale

We are all strangers on this planet. The most obvious meaning of the 2024 Venice Biennale lies in the quicksand that makes a large part of humanity prey to the sensation of being neither here nor there, neither gone nor reached its destination. The mapping of the section of the historical nucleus is no exception, divided into three exhibition areas. It is an artistic (as well as historical) journey in twentieth-century art created outside the traditional Euro-American gravity center. By largely exhibiting artists making their posthumous debut at the Biennale, the curator intended to pay off a debt of gratitude towards those who are unacknowledged by global trends.

Nil Yalter, “Pink Tension”, 1969, acrylic on canvas, 120 × 180 cm, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere”, photo by: Matteo de Mayda, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Abstractions, in the central pavilion of the Giardini venue, also includes, among the thirty-seven works on display, a work inspired by Russian constructivism by the Turkish-born artist Nil Yalter, awarded the Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement. The canvas represents a sort of transition between art for art’s sake and the social commitment that will characterize, from the end of the 1960s, the creativity of the artist now a French citizen: the title, Pink Tension (1969), is a synthesis of Yalter’s contemporary role. Reading the biographical data of the artists included in this section, what stands out is the majority numerical data of those who were born in a place (south and east of the world or minority communities in the north of the world such as the aboriginal and native ones) which will prove to be different and even far away geographically from that of death. Artistically, there are many conceptual and technical contrasts present in the works on display. The contrast between the time-resisting strength of a path and the fleeting nature of a sunset can become vibrant, in some cases the relationship between calligraphy and abstraction becomes central, the power of the colors conveys the impression of overcoming the physical constraints of the object, the formal asymmetry combines well with the three-dimensionality and the center of the works, spatial relationships and very simple shapes coexist harmoniously.

Ram Kumar, “Women”, 1953, oil on board, 60.5 × 102 cm, Taimur Hassan Collection, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere”, photo by: Matteo de Mayda, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Portraits, also in the central pavilion of the Giardini venue, includes, with the same selective philosophy as the main section, one hundred and nine works by artists in which geographical disorientation is less present, in favor of a more marked territorial rooting. It is possible to trace a common thread in a more critical and more suffering human representation. An example of this, but many could be cited, is Frida Kahlo‘s canvas (clearly, from a global perspective, the most recognizable icon of the section) in which suffering manifests itself with the omnipresence of a portrait of Diego Rivera in her self-portrait. Another leading element of the section, in line with the message of otherness of the Biennale, is the constant presence of colors and representations that link the artists to their land. The identities, expressed above all by the artists, are also a form of resistance to colonialism, the non-binary and homosexual feelings that emerge when reading the biographies of the artists present enhance the courage to feel at the center of oneself in social contexts and pioneering historical eras. The aura that hovers in the atmosphere is that of a perennial “Je est un autre” (I am another), no longer paraphrased in a shadowy key of the self but in an altruistic key towards the other.

AA.VV., “Italiani ovunque”, 60th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia, “Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere”, photo by Marco Zorzanello, courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

To see Italians everywhere, the title of the third part into which the historical nucleus is divided, we move to Corderie dell’Arsenale. This area includes thirty-nine Italian artists who, during the 1900s, lived or were born in other countries or even marked their existence with very long stays across the border. The other winner of the Biennale’s Golden Lion is present, the Calabrian and now Brazilian Anna Maria Maiolino, who with her work Ano 1942 (1973) creates a significant mental map of the migratory experience. 1942 is the year of Maiolino’s birth and Italy, depicted with the silhouette blackened by fire, is the representation of the Allied bombing which stamps the loss of the country of origin in the year of the artist’s birth. In this subsection, for our national eyes, the sense of penetration is greater, given the presence of well-known and recognizable artists. From the point of view of the support, the vast majority of works are placed on the legendary glass easel by Lina Bo Bardi, also an artist born in Italy, who died elsewhere (specifically, in Sao Paulo, Brazil). From a thematic point of view, there is a right balance between depictions belonging to the artist’s identity (therefore with typically Western stylistic features) and hybrid depictions thanks to the contribution of artistic elements linked to the world of the artist’s arrival. In the exhibition, the link with reality prevails, but there are also surprising forays into abstraction and the unusual.


Historical exhibition
at Giardini and Corderie dell’Arsenale
curated by Adriano Pedrosa
20/04 – 24/11/2024


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