Art & Design

Venice Biennale 2017: Viva Arte Viva

A celebration of artists it was declared to be. After a year of such political upheavals and with the society trying to understand what is true and what is false as far as common discourse is concerned, there is this grand applause, “Hail to the Art, Hail to the Artists!” , trying to incite a wave of defiance. However, this is not to be achieved through politics; it’s the use of secret forms, shapes, materials, sounds and constructions which can help us to comprehend what being an artist really is.

However, this grand applause, within an environment where each statement loses its meaning, transforming at the same time a new reality as a continuous creation of parallel universes, it’s not sufficient. Nowadays, an exhibition of this kind of magnitude cannot be in search of a safe environment to really guard any kind of artistic act.

Any Biennale visitor would find a work of art to his liking. In fact, the opposite, i.e setting up an exhibition consisting solely of bad artwork, would be a real achievement for any curator! In Viva Art, it’s not the quality of the art works that is the problem; it’s the way that these works are put together to form one big story. It’s the act of celebrating as an antidote to the dead ends we have reached.

An artwork that has stuck with me the longest is a piece created in 2007 by John Waters, the cult film director of the film Pink Flamingos. It’s called : Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite). Its message is highly ironic yet it describes perfectly its surroundings.


A little further, there are the artworks by Edi Rama (b.1964 Tirana). He is an artist as well as the prime minister of a Balkan country, the former Mayor of Tirana and a basketball champion. The choice of including him in the main exhibition raised many questions among those who follow the current political affairs in neighbouring Albania. This is John Waters’s sign personified; both Prestige and Spite present and personified.

John Waters Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite) 2007 acrylic urethane on wood and aluminium
John Waters Study Art Sign (For Prestige or Spite) 2007 acrylic urethane on wood and aluminium

Germany achieved a rare double in Venice, winning both the Golden Lion for its national pavilion with Anne Imhof’s performance as well as having a German artist, Franz Erhard Walter, being awarded the exhibition prize. Regarding their work, these two artists could not be more different. One of them loud, provocative, sexual and dark. The other one quiet, colourful and introspective. Both very precise and meticulous.

Prior to the award, it seems that many have overlooked Walter’s work at the Arsenale. On the other hand, one had to wait over an hour to check upon Imhof’s performance. During the awards ceremony Imhof said: “My work stands for the grace of thoughts, for liberty, for the right to be different, for gender nonconformity, and the pride of being a woman in this world.” According to the international press, this is a piece that raises many questions regarding the times we live in. The only thing I have to add at this point is that no fashion show can turn into a black metal gig, only because the models perform a solid headbanging session with an industrial musical background. The Ikea/Balenciaga bag might illustrate this point the best way possible.

Yorgos Sapountzis Sculptures Cannot Eat 2017 Mixed Media
Yorgos Sapountzis Sculptures Cannot Eat 2017 Mixed Media

* Greece was represented by Yorgos Sapountzis with his work “Sculptures Cannot Eat” (2017) in the Central Exhibition and Yorgos Drivas in the Greek Pavilion with his “Laboratory of Dilemmas” (2017).

Till 26 November 2017

Words by Nikolas Ventourakis