Can Venice take the leap to a new relevance for artists?
I am on my way to the Venice Art Biennale to take part in a discussion about both the future and the form of the Biennale. I suspect that, whatever I say, nothing will change, as this event is old and - like the Chelsea Flower Show and Wimbledon - is part of the social calendar that endures.
In spite of this, the question is interesting.
The organisation and format of the event is still based on the idea of artists displaying their wares in a space that we could call 'a gallery'. Many of these spaces are programmed in the Giardini by individual countries, who are, in a friendly way, competing. They would deny this but that is the ambience I perceive.
The question is one of context for this biennial gathering of artists and their hangers-on. It is certainly true that many younger artists are in 'post'gallery mode.
The 'new'art market has to a certain degree collapsed and the current practitioners are not interested in this area anyway. Many want to engage with the environment, in a way that brings their practice much closer to architecture than was formerly the case.
Before I return to Venice I would like to contextualise my thoughts by considering Tate Modern. Note that it is not called a Museum of Art. It contains some of the worst exhibition spaces in the world, due to myopic advisers to the Tate board. The inevitable future for this supermarket of the new past is to become a museum, because it will run out of having artists to celebrate, given their lack of interest. The same demise will befall the Venice Biennale if the focus remains the existing pavilions and galleries. Much more interesting is the idea of Venice itself. How could the Biennale respond?
Clearly the British Pavilion could be returned to a tea room to some great effect, but the authorities in Venice are very difficult, and to change any existing structure, however small the intervention, is almost impossible. If the new generation of artists is going to find relevance in Venice, in its mission to be part of the world and to try to change it, then Venice itself needs to respond in a different way.
I understand that it is a World Heritage Site, and that adaptation and alteration are difficult, but there is an opportunity in the lagoon itself for a United Nations venue to be created by artists for all. Imagine a new island that could complement the existing city, which, with its many hotels, is well set up as a conference centre. A place that will lie beyond the reach of the arts administrator and art consultant.
The existing event is a little like the Prix de Rome, which was set up to allow promising young things to live and work in Rome for a period, when the Classical and Renaissance antiquities had a direct currency relating to the practice of 150 years ago. The Venice Biennale, which is a hundred years old, probably came out of the relevance of Venice as a place apart, and therefore had a value as a retreat literally floating on water, to view art from around the world. The event, as I understand, came out of a series of discussions at the Café Florian.
Today, the idea of being apart needs to be reinvented and Venice could be the ideal place to do it. The Biennale as a format has been copied around the world, and it would be very fitting if the place that originated it were to shift the concept forward through reinvention.
A new island at each Biennale, perhaps, including performance and architecture who knows?
WA, from a plane seat and a bench in the Giardini