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Curatorial Practices
Report from 49th Venice Biennial, Italy
by Cassandra Coblentz

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Ernesto Neto, Brazil

Ernesto Neto, Brazil

Vik Muniz, Brazil

Leandro Erlich, Argentina

Víctor Hugo Irazábal, Venezuela

Because the Gardini Pavilions were constructed based on a colonial model, many Latin American countries established their pavilions in other venues throughout Venice. Argentina made good use of not having a pavilion in the Gardini by holding its exhibition in the main post office of Venice. Adjacent to the Rialto Bridge, two artists exhibited deliberately evoked a sense of consciousness not only of the particular site itself, but of the larger exhibition experience in general. When walking around Venice to see the various Pavilions, one is haunted by various sets of eyes that peer out from random steps, bridges, and balconies. Upon entering the Argentine Pavilion, one becomes aware that these eyes are the work of artist Graciela Sacco. The piece is entitled Between Us, suggesting Sacco's desire to establish a direct rapport with her audience. She is watching you as you look at her work - in fact, she is always watching you beyond the space of the gallery, on the street, even when you are not aware. The work subtly plays on power dynamics between viewer and artist, artwork and exhibition space. Also on display in the Argentine Pavilion is a work by Leonardo Erlich, whose playful project also explores the relationship between viewer and artwork and in doing so, acts as an intriguing contrast to Sacco's subtle intervention. Erlich has constructed a swimming pool-like-structure, in which the water is held on a layer of glass that acts as the surface of the pool. The viewer is invited to enter into the side of the large construction only to realize they are underwater looking up out of a swimming pool. From above, viewers can look down into the pool, complete with a deck and floating toys, at people inside who appear to be underwater. Erlich's work is an experience of discovery that involves humor and a cleaver play on vision. It also serves to comment on social behavior in relation to physical environment. The play that Erlich's work demands of its participants was indeed a refreshing break from normal art viewing behavior. Another Pavilion worth visiting, if you can find it, is the Chilean Pavilion, that displayed the work of Juan Downey. Located in Thetas Celestia-Baqcini on the opposite side of the Venetian Military Zone as the Arsenale, the exhibition seemed an awkward space for Downey's work. In spite of the challenges of location, Downey's cleaver use of media is typically intriguing and provocative.

The scope of the Venice Biennale can be overwhelming, but fortunately the charms of the city provide a rich and complex setting in which to contemplate artwork and exhibitions. Although many of the choices made by curators this year are being subjected to substantial criticism, there is something rewarding about experiencing this international exhibition in the context of such charm and mystique, for in the end it is Venice itself that makes this international event so unique.


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