The Magazine

Venice the Menace

From the September 5 / September 12, 2005 issue: Or, what I saw at the banal Biennale.

Sep 5, 2005, Vol. 10, No. 47 • By P.J. O'ROURKE
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Didacticism was to be found, of course. Argentinean Sergio Vega urged Biennale patrons to have their photograph taken next to a handcuffed mannequin with a burlap bag over its head. Alas for poor Pfc. Lynndie England, if only she'd been an aesthetic type. And the first thing I saw entering the Arsenale was manifestos from some U.S. art collective calling itself Guerrilla Girls. Among these was a parody of a coming-attractions poster: The Birth of Feminism starring Pamela Anderson as Gloria Steinem, Halle Berry as Flo Kennedy, etc. The tag line: "They made women's rights look good. Really good." As the Devil whispered to Rudyard Kipling (but recused himself from whispering to the Guerrilla Girls), "It's clever, but is it art?" Actually it's not clever. The Guerrilla Girls are too young to remember what a babe Gloria Steinem was. She made Pamela Anderson look like, well, Flo Kennedy. And the Guerrilla Girls are too old to realize how beside the point their point is.

Here's Indy driver Danica Patrick interviewed in Newsweek: "Are you the Gloria Steinem of racing?" "The what? I don't even know who that is."

Hanging beside the blather was a chandelier fashioned by Joana Vasconcelos from 14,000 tampons. Maybe this was an indignant statement about drudgery enforced by gender constructs--darn hard to light for dinner parties. Maybe this was an ironic commentary on a visit to Venice where everybody's wife wants to buy a great big incredibly expensive Murano glass chandelier. Or maybe this was just a waste of time.

The modern art of 2005 wastes more time than the modern art of yore did. You could walk right by a Jackson Pollock drip canvas in half a second. Not so with the dominant creative medium of the Biennale, video art, the finger paint of the 21st century. I experienced, as quickly as I could, 36 examples of the form and doubtless missed many others because I would stumble into pitch-black exhibition spaces that smelled strongly of face-pierced video art aficionados and would bolt before anything video transpired. Also there were a number of national pavilions, such as Albania's, that I wasn't able to find.

Herewith, a sampling of Boring Video Downloads, or BVDs: lonely-looking people talking to the camera; lonely-looking people not talking to the camera; people looking lonely; people with light bulbs over their heads, which would indicate ideas if this were a comic strip but since this is video art it doesn't; the Rosetta Stone being dusted; pictures of an empty movie theater; pictures from an empty movie projector; someone's sweaty, hairy back; a city skyline with trash piling up in the foreground in the shape of the skyscrapers (get it?); a fellow who has turned a kitchen table upside-down, attached an outboard motor to it, and is cruising across a bay; a man in a bear suit living in the Berlin Zoo; cardboard cartons rigged with overhead projectors so that viewers look into boxes full of little naked people engaged in mildly prurient activities; a man in a waterfall with real water falling in front of the video screen (get it?); and an imaginary trailer for an imaginary remake of Bob Guccione's all-too-real 1979 smut-flop Caligula featuring--in a successful attempt to capture the alpha of boring and the omega of thoughtlessness--guest appearances by Gore Vidal and Courtney Love.

John Stuart Mill said that the purpose of art is "the employment of the powers of nature for an end." Specifically, the huge, flabby hind end of a transvestite named Leigh Bowery in a video showing spring-loaded clothespins being attached to tender parts of his body. He deserved it. Nearby was Regina José Galindo's video of herself having her hymen surgically restored in extreme close-up. I will forgo description of the luncheon fare available at the Biennale. Fabulous Italian food may be of interest to readers, but not on the way back up. (Memo to video auteurs: There already is a method of turning moving pictures into art. It's been in use since The Birth of a Nation.)

Among the many uninteresting things about the Biennale was the dearth of artworks that you'd like to have or to hold or to look at again as long as you live even if they were done by a beloved (if psychiatrically disturbed) son or daughter. The aptly named Louise Bourgeois had some aluminum sculptures that were blobby and intestinal in a nice kind of way and would look great on my mantle if my mantel were three feet wide. And I was enthralled by Subhoda Gupta's rows and rows of stainless steel shelving carefully stacked with pristine cooking utensils. Gupta, who is Indian, went straight to the point with his title: "Curry." My guess is that he's not an artist at all but is bucking for a green card as a kitchen designer.