(The) Contemporary: Reflections on the 55th Venice Biennale

Sarah Sze, Triple Point, 2013, mixed media. Installation view, US pavilion, Venice, 2013. Photo by the author.

The 55th installment of the Venice Biennale has come to a close, ending yet another months-long, ever-expansive spectacle of contemporary art seen by 475,000 visitors, in a century’s old city that remains a spectacle in and of itself. The sheer scale and scope of the exhibition–this year comprised of a main exhibition curated by Massimiliano Gioni entitled The Encyclopedic Palace that included 150 artists, 88 participating nations, and close to 50 collateral events–makes seeing everything and subsequently reflecting upon it nearly impossible. I visited in early November while on a research trip, and I am surprised by how much my experience at, and of, this year’s Biennale has stayed with me, by how profound an impact it has had on me as an art historian. I say surprised not only because I am disposed to a cynical suspicion about now-ubiquitous international contemporary art biennales and fairs, which somehow manage to be both bloated and vacuous, but also because, as a historian who works on postwar art of the not-so-distant past, my relationship to “the contemporary” and “contemporary art,” both in regards to my teaching and scholarship, has felt rather tortured of late. Continue reading “(The) Contemporary: Reflections on the 55th Venice Biennale”