The Chinese had never exhibited at the Venice Biennale until twenty years ago, but this year they are absolutely everywhere. They have more pavilions than handbag shops. The vast space of the Arsenale Nord is hosting a compendious survey of contemporary art from China, "Voice of the Unseen".
There are almost two hundred different artists represented. Some of it is brilliant, but an awful lot is mediocre; and, above all, there is simply too much of it. After more than a couple of hours the mind is just not up to concentrating any more, and the eyes are sliding off the exhibits.
This is a shame, as there is plenty of good stuff to check out here. The trouble is that what you perceive as the good stuff is very much dependent on how sore your feet are.
Still, we were quite taken by this :-
- the seat at the end was apparently reserved for a statue of Mao, but the piece was mysteriously damaged before it could be shipped. In the meantime, Caroline stepped in to help out the Cultural Revolution.
Another piece demonstrates the problem with the volume of work on display :-
- a haunting portrayal of exhausted miners in the aftermath of a disaster, it feels crammed in and overwhelmed by the surrounding pieces.
The best, perhaps, is one that you can't actually see at all :-
- the crate contains six versions of a painting depicting the founding of the Chinese Communist Party, with each one changed to take account of the prevailing mood of the time, adding or subtracting key figures depending on their official status in Party history at that moment. It was not allowed to be displayed in China, and so the artwork has now become the packing case with an explanatory note. The message is powerful in its simplicity : things have changed, but not all that much.
The Andorra pavilion is also to be found in Arsenale Nord. Dwarfed by the size of the Chinese exhibition, it comprises just three works by three artists. Yet it's one of the best things we've seen so far : intelligent, beautiful and well thought out, it's a perfect example of less being more.