Studio Institute interns were asked to write a series of blog posts chronicling and reflecting on their time in Venice, their teaching work at Istituto Provinciale per l’Infanzia Santa Maria della Pietà in Venice and in San Donà di Piave, and their experience as docents at the U.S Pavilion:

Week 7

Emma Ike

Each workshop at La Pietà and San Donà has been inspired by Martin Puryear’s artworks and processes. Students have responded to the artist’s use of symbolism, his allusion to important civic issues, and his investigation of identity, to name a few themes. The lessons have explored a multitude of ideas relating to Puryear’s sculptures on view at the Biennale, while allowing students to learn about different mediums and cultivate their own artistic voice.

The students at La Pietà have visited the Biennale and spent time looking at and sketching Martin’s work. I think this experience was especially important for them, in that they were able to make meaning of the work in real time, and feel a connection between their community, the Giardini site, and the artist himself. Aya, a young girl at the charity, has expressed a deepened interest in Martin Puryear since that visit. The students at both charities are at varied levels in their artmaking, but I believe that they are beginning to create artworks that they care for, and are proud of.

I have deeply enjoyed seeing the students immerse themselves in artmaking. In the summer heat during a presumed school break, it can be difficult to have the class settle into the workshops. But in some moments, there is solace in the art processes—I remember during a printmaking lesson I noticed that the class seemed to slow down, quietly preparing their plates and pulling prints. I cherish those moments of natural quietude in the classroom, because it indicates that the students are immersed in their artworks, briefly practicing an intensity that matches any esteemed artist at work.

Haley Kane

In my experience at the pavilion, the most memorable interactions I’ve had have been brief conversations, often surrounding a single piece of Martin’s.

One interaction in particular stands out for me. It happened just this week, with Nanase and I guarding rooms one and two in the pavilion.

A woman and her son approached us rather suddenly, eager to talk about the work in room two. This was a surprise to us; visitors with this level of urgency only appear once or twice a day. She began to speak; it was clear that she was not from the United States initially, both by her accent and the first few phrases she muttered. “You know,” she said, “we weren’t really into this pavilion initially. We saw it was the United States, and then came into this room and saw all of these ‘Western’ motifs, what with the wagon and the skull, and thought it was a bit cliche. But then we kept looking and—”

She goes on to mention the close-looking and resulting conversation she had with her son, and how they both got to the sculpture’s uncanniness without any help (thus far) from the exhibition’s written material. Nanase and I were both incredibly impressed, both by their attentiveness and their original take — for as long as I have been working and looking within room two, not once have I begun to relate the two works in it (Hibernian Testosterone and New Voortrekker) to one another, or consider them both as distinctly “Western” objects.

Nanase wasn’t as fazed; she said that in her experience, people have compared Hibernian Testosterone to works by Georgia O’Keefe before. But this entry-point to this particular conversation surrounding these two works and the exhibition at large got me thinking about Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà from an entirely new vantage point.

What does it mean, to intuit these works as “Western?” What American tropes do we associate with that phrase, and in what specific ways — individually and mutually — do these works challenge these tropes? These are questions that have, over the past few days, shifted the way I think and discuss and teach about the works in room two. I’m thoroughly grateful for this particular conversation, and what came from it.

 

Nanase Shirokawa

Recently, I was on a shift in the second gallery when a woman and her teenage son came up to Haley and I and politely asked if we were American. I had initially expected her to inquire about our roles as interns, how we ended up at the Biennale, or perhaps something about the process of Puryear being selected to represent the U.S.—questions that come up with relative frequency during our time in the gallery. However, when we responded that we were indeed American, she gestured to the pieces in the room—Hibernian Testosterone and New Voortrekker—and asked us, “As Americans, what do you think of these works? Because to me, they feel so American.” Her accent and tone of an outsider’s curiosity suggested she was European, though I never got the chance to ask. I recalled her family entering the Pavilion a good deal earlier, perhaps twenty minutes or so, and it seemed as if they had seen the full exhibition and turned back around, a nagging concern keeping them from leaving the pieces.

Both of us faltered for a moment as she continued to clarify. “We first came into this pavilion thinking, ‘oh, United States…this whole Wild West imagery feels a bit cliche…’ but we’re not quite sure…does it feel different to you guys as Americans?” It was a striking question, one that I’d never truly considered before. Yet it is one that makes perfect sense to ask, especially in the context of the Biennale’s international audience. The two works indeed incite questions about the trope of the “wild west,” a concern that is somewhat alluded to in the text for New Voortrekker but not in the text for Hibernian Testosterone. Moreover, I had been rarely brought to consider the relationship between the two works in that room, and how they might appear to a visitor, especially following the staunch and monochromatic presence of Big Phrygian in the first gallery. What does it mean to engage with these works as a non-American? The brilliant craftsmanship of these works is often self-effacing, and here it makes sense that, especially as a non-American, their first instinct upon viewing these pieces was to recall Americana—tropes which feel increasingly troubled and far less flippant in the climate of America today (a skepticism which is fully in-line with both the sentiments of the visitors and the artist himself). Yet the two visitors had evidently caught on to something uncanny, something not quite right about their initial appearance, consequently feeling the need to vocalize their musings with us.

I began speaking a bit about how some visitors have drawn connections between Hibernian  Testosterone and the New Mexico paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe, but quickly realized that the question we were all struggling to decode had no clear answer. What was fascinating, too, was that the woman possessed one of the brochures but had not yet read any of the text. That this line of questioning emerged from just visual engagement with the objects (and presumably the tombstone labels) was fascinating to us, and it’s prompted me to consider more critically how the American Pavilion presents itself to non-Americans, and what my own relationship to “American-ness” constitutes.

Week 6

Emma Ike

My interactions with visitors at the pavilion have mostly been elliptical moments of engagement. Biennale-goers will frequently ask specific questions about the artist’s material, sometimes about a sculpture’s source of inspiration. On a quiet Friday however, I was approached by an elderly woman named Carol, who asked if I could give her a full tour of Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà. She and her husband, Ken, have been making visits to the Biennale for over ten years and with every trip, make a point to ask the gallery attendants for a walk-through, explaining that it had always been a more fruitful and pleasurable way for her to learn, as opposed to reading the brochure alone.

It was humbling to hear that these informal conversations around artworks with gallery guides had significantly shaped her experiences in the Giardini. Together, we looked closely at A Column for Sally Hemings, which caught both Carol’s and Ken’s attention. They had recently moved to Virginia, and were drawn to the sculpture’s evocation of the Jeffersonian architecture and racialized histories that extend back to Monticello. One of the driving questions was around material ephemerality—while the rusted shackle alluded to the past, the lifespan of the fluted wooden column spoke to real-time degradation and change. What is the significance of an artist choosing to use a material as vulnerable as wood?

As we moved on to conclude with Tabernacle, I realized that the artist himself was in the gallery, visiting the space in preparation for the next day’s private tour. Ken was able to thank Martin Puryear and ask him questions about the exhibition, while Carol turned to me and whispered, “we are curious at any age!” It all seemed serendipitous for the couple—they were eager to learn, and to thank the artist for creating the kind of artworks that Carol loved for being “layered with meaning”. After looking at Puryear’s sculpture with Carol and Ken, I meditated on the idea that a love of learning is perhaps one of the greatest gifts that artists can impart to their audiences.

 

Haley Kane

My favorite artmaking experience so far has hands-down been the printmaking lesson at La Pietá. The tactile quality of that lesson, I believe, kept the kids and the moms incredibly engaged throughout the entire hour and a half. Each part of the lesson — the symbol-making, the cutting and pasting, the printing itself — was spaced out evenly and the projects were different enough that not one person ever got bored or tired of what they were doing.

More specifically, my favorite experience within the printmaking lesson was being able to help Cristian, a young boy in one of the groups at La Pietá. Often times, Cristian works one-on-one with his mother. Around halfway through lessons done in this way, however, he tends to get frustrated. It’s difficult for his mother to produce her own work while also handling him. She begins the lesson with the intention of doing so, but Cristian often demands attention. Even still, her commitment to her work leaves him without a constant helper or guide, which leaves him incapacitated after a few minutes of free time.

This day, I was able to help Cristian one-on-one through every step of the lesson. With my conversational grasp of the language, I was able to utter basic commands that he understood and reacted to with a physical action. I was able to see the excitement in his eyes as he completed a task within the lesson. And I was able to see both his and his mother’s joy at producing a beautiful, well-crafted final print.

This particular experience in the classroom was thrilling. It made me want to return to La Pietá, day after day, and bring lessons to these mothers and children. It is something I will think back on for much time to come.

Nanase Shirokawa

The children and the mothers consistently awe and impress me with their innovative ideas and open minds. The printmaking lesson at La Pietà in particular was a fruitful day for both the mothers and the children. The ways in which they combined their individual shapes led to results that strongly recalled the forms and motifs characteristic of Martin’s works—clear contours, textural shifts from detailed crenellations to sweeping curves, and allusions that oscillate between familiar and abstract forms. The children’s faces showed wonder as they pulled their first prints, they eagerly desired to produce more versions in different colors and inking patterns.

Mohammed created a two-tone print of his own volition, carefully inking one side of his form white and the other blue, managing to maintain a clean boundary between the two colors without letting them blend into one another. It was fascinating to see how everyone took to the materials and interpreted the project on their own, and we had several conversations back and forth about what objects or forms their combined symbols resembled. The thrill and satisfaction that emerged as students progressed through the steps of the printing process were extremely rewarding to watch, and I was intrigued by how effective of an exercise in tactility it also ended up being through processes of cutting, pasting, inking, pressing, peeling, and so on. Cristian, one of the toddlers, expressed pure wonder in seeing his prints come to life, and his work actually reminded me a lot of the geometric forms and arrangements of Russian Constructivist works. The children and mothers consistently surprise me with how they innovate with the materials presented to them, often times without even being prompted. It is always exciting to ask them about the technical and creative processes they used to create their final products, and they always seem eager to discuss and bounce ideas back and forth.

Week 5

JP Peralta

A Hasty and Unsolicited Take on an Arbitrary Smattering of Collateral Exhibitions at the 2019 Venice Biennale by JP Peralta

Being in Venice during the Biennale Arte 2019 was one of the most unique experiences of my life. You can’t go anywhere in the city without stumbling into a church that’s been converted into a buzzing sound installation, or a vacated palace that is now home to a nest of oversized meerkats made from candy-apple red plastic. No matter where you go, art is in front of you and behind you and you’re getting yelled at for standing on it. That sort of constant immersion is transportive in the best ways. You see poetry in the overgrown plants. All the crumbling plaster on the walls becomes sculpture.  Each time someone slips on the marble-topped stairs becomes a performance piece. I looked at, listened to, and at times ran my fingers through more art than you could cram into a cruise ship and crash into the city. I have thus far had no platform to share my unasked-for opinions on some of the fine work at the world’s greatest art exhibition, but the time has come. What follows is the least-anticipated piece to ever be written about any Biennale: A Hasty and Unsolicited Take on an Arbitrary Smattering of Collateral Exhibitions at the 2019 Venice Biennale by JP Peralta.

I want to begin with a disclaimer. I am not an art critic. I am not even a journalist at all. I am a young Clevelander with a bachelor’s in Art History working in museum education who has way more opinions than he has any right to have, a priceless opportunity in a beautiful city, and Microsoft Word. To contextualize my art-viewing experience in Venice, you should know that I had two full days off each week to go around the city and see the exhibitions. One of those days was Monday, when a lot of exhibitions are closed. I also had about six hours a week that I was free to go about Venice and see whatever shows I could. I was not able to see everything the Biennale had to offer and with so little time and so much to see, I did not spend nearly as much time in each exhibition as it deserved. Good art writers will spend hours poring over every detail in every room of an exhibition. I spent about one hour in each show on average. Luckily, I have never claimed to be a good art writer. I just have Microsoft Word, remember? Anyway, let’s start with my favorite part of any travel experience: the lowlights.

1. Förg in Venice at Palazzo Contarini Polignac

“Förg in Venice” was the result of a collaboration between the Dallas Museum of Art and Günther Förg’s Estate. The works on paper and small sculptures that constituted the show were stunning on their own. Förg’s unearthly command of line and color are on full view in this retrospective exhibition. Pieces like Untitled (2007) are striking examples of exploratory, contemporary painting. His petal-like blotches of paint adhere to a discernible pattern of brushwork, but their seemingly-random placement on the canvas feels more like Förg has eliminated the barrier between thinking and making, leaving the viewer with an unaltered view into pure consciousness. Each painting on its own was an absolute joy to look at, I just found it hard to stay looking at any of them. The reason being that the intimate, domestic setting of Palazzo Contarini Polignac felt completely inappropriate for the work it housed. I found it difficult to even find some of Förg’s paintings because they had been completely swallowed-up by the space. The architectural decoration, ornate furniture, and expansive canal views in this fifteenth-century palace completely stole the show, which left me conflicted. You would think I’d just be glad to see great art in a beautiful space, but I saw a lot of that exact combination in Venice and nowhere else did I have this problem. It was a shame, and maybe not a pure “lowlight,” but I was disappointed, at least.

2. Renata Morales and Marina Abramović at Ca’Rezzonico

Let me start by saying that I feel bad for lumping Renata Morales’s immersive project Invasor (2019) in with the lowlights. I quite enjoyed both rooms of her installation. The junkyard stacks of gold-plated tires peppered with dinosaur figures and beheaded cherubs were refreshingly sardonic. The chunks of concrete piled into the center of the second room did feel like the rubble of a freshly-desiccated shrine, where the stone souls of girls were ascending from the dust like phantoms. Invasor was one of the few projects at the Biennale that gave me a true sense of discovery, and I loved that. My issue with this show came quite unexpectedly with the work of Marina Abramović. Now, I am a big fan of Abramović’s. The work she has done for art and for performance is peerless. She is one of the few geniuses of our time, so my expectations for her show in Venice were high. Perhaps too high, even. Her work, titled Rising (2019), was a tremendous disappointment.

To start, the VR was not good. Spotty motion tracking and flashing indicators on the screen ripped me out of whatever little immersion I scrounged to find. My in-game hand kept spazzing out, and at one point it was 30 yards away from the rest of my body, spinning around an invisible point in space, which I personally didn’t find very realistic. When I saw the in-game avatar for Abramović, trapped in a tank of water, instead of feeling a deep sense of dread as she seems to have intended, I had to stifle a laugh. Her avatar looked like a Madame Tussaud’s model that got left in the backseat of a hot car at a Best Buy, while some intern bought the VR headsets. I didn’t understand what my role in the artwork was at all, and the message I came away with was, “sea levels are rising. We have to care for the planet.” Which, as important and true of a message as that is, it was ineffective among the other, more compelling artworks about climate change at this year’s Biennale, such as Sun and Sea: Marina (2019) at the Lithuanian Pavilion. I was immensely disappointed with Rising, but between the two of us, Abramović has already made history with her countless, ground-breaking performances, while I have wasted enough of my life doing VR that I have a lot to compare this work to. So I think she still comes out on top.

But enough of the lowlights! I think it’s time to look at some of my favorite shows:

3. La Pelle at Palazzo Grassi

At an art event where so many exhibitions draw visitors with immersive, sensory installations, I did not have especially high hopes for a show exclusively made up of paintings. But I already had a ticket from a prior visit to the partner show in Punta Della Dogana’s Luogo e Segni (the best value ticket in the city), so I figured I would be losing money if I skipped La Pelle. But I was dead wrong. If I had skipped La Pelle, I would have been losing much more than money; I would have been robbing myself of one of the most visually arresting and engrossing shows I’ve ever been to. La Pelle is a retrospective exhibition of work by Belgian painter Luc Tuymans. Tuymans’s practice is defined by an at-times unwilling collaboration between painting and photography, in which he will paint and thus monumentalize photos that we might not otherwise give a second thought. Me (2011), for instance, is based on a photo that looks like it was accidentally taken with an idling webcam. Other paintings might be based on a polaroid but capture the visual corruption that many images experience as they are banished from real life onto VHS tapes, then blasted on the screen of CTR TV, and finally photographed off the CTR screen with a cheap polaroid. Tuyman’s paintings surround themselves with the same unnerving mystique as found footage videos. The stoic architecture of Palazzo Grassi is even a fabulous backdrop for the cold effect of Tuyman’s work. Throughout the show, he presents ghastly subject matter in a matter-of-fact way that only intensifies how disturbing each thing is, and this experience of facing the raw humanity implicit in so many horrors will stick with me for a long time.

4. JANNIS KOUNELLIS at Fondazione Prada

Fondazione Prada’s encyclopedic retrospective of pioneer Jannis Kounellis was breathtaking. The Greek-born Italian artist’s sculptures from every point in his career are installed across three entire floors of the palace’s dilapidated interior. As one of the founding members of what is now known as the Arte Povera movement, the materiality of Kounellis’s works is a real draw. Everything from his experiments in coffee grounds, to his burlap sack and bean sculptures, to his blue-gas flame installations are on view. Of particular note to me was his piece, Untitled (2004), made from 452 rolls of lead and fabric, stuffed into a doorway functioning as a single unit, integral to the building’s structure. One of the biggest successes of the show is the way it so clearly demonstrates Kounellis’s elevation of industrial materials to art media. Similar to La Pelle, the building served to reinforce the material nature of Kounellis’s artworks. Crumbling marble, chipped plaster, and hard-wrought beams fit perfectly alongside the rusted iron flowers and decaying bronze bells in the show. Every aspect of Prada’s exhibition this year was full of reverence for the artist’s memory, and the show served his practice well.

5. Human at San Giorgio Maggiore

When I first walked into San Giorgio and saw Sean Scully’s sculpture, Opulent Ascension (2019), I was floored. The brightly colored felt tower, measuring a mammoth thirty-three and a half feet tall, is placed directly at the center of the nave, beneath the dome. The saturated colors of the felt play off of the shallow range of cool grays, blue-greens, and natural whites of the surrounding marble architecture to create a truly otherworldly experience. The closer you get to the sculpture, the more appropriate it feels as a gateway to heaven, and the view after entering the sculpture feels completely divine. You have to crane your neck completely up to see the oculus of the dome, which acts like a tunnel to heaven, while the striated colors of the tower zoom you along. I spent what felt like an hour with Opulent Ascension, completely involved in the work. And that is just the first piece in the show. Human is a retrospective exhibition on the Irish-born American artist, Sean Scully, that features a few new works, among them Opulent Ascension. As I moved through the sacristy and cloisters of the abbey of San Giorgio Maggiore, I came to a special peace, along with the help of Scully’s emotionally-packed canvases. I think Scully achieved his goal in showing contemporary artworks for the enrichment of the Catholic faith. The meditative quality of his large-scale paintings and sculptures within the context of a more traditional religious setting did not feel at odds at all. I felt calmed, like each of his pieces was a nun with a quiet fortitude. Human was among my favorite shows in Venice, and likely among my favorites ever.

 

So that’s my Hasty and Unsolicited Take on an Arbitrary Smattering of Collateral Exhibitions at the 2019 Venice Biennale. These are not all the shows I saw, but they are the ones I was most excited to write about, for one reason or another. If you end up going to Venice, remember to wear sunscreen, stay hydrated, and don’t drink the canal water no matter what.  I promise it’s too salty. Trust me.

Louis Vaccara

Living in Venice

Living in Venice was a formative experience, especially since I was there during the Biennale Arte, which meant that the entire city was overtaken by contemporary art. Everywhere I went I would stumble upon a fabulous contemporary art exhibition. One day, I was walking to get a coffee and stumbled upon a sign that directed me to Ca’d’Oro, an old Venetian palace that exhibits a permanent collection of medieval and renaissance art along with visiting contemporary art exhibitions. I find the fusion of historical masterworks with “the now” to be particularly special to Venice. While most major cities, like New York, have contemporary art museums and historical collections like the Met and Frick, it is very rare to see the two combined. In Venice, however, collections like the Ca’d’Oro and the Fondazione Prada exhibit contemporary art installations alongside frescoes and old masterworks. The modern subjects of capitalism and industrialism that can be found in the Arte Povera installations of the Jannis Kounellis exhibition are juxtaposed with medieval images of monarchy and religion. These contrasting styles make Venice so unique to any other city in the world.

Another great aspect about living in Venice during the Biennale was of course the social scene. The Biennale attracts people from all around the world who are specifically interested in contemporary art. There are also, of course, all of the other interns that were working in the Biennale like us. Therefore, it was an amazing opportunity to make new friends and have interesting conversations with different types of people who have the same interests that I have. My fellow interns and I went to many Baccari on the canals with new friends that I met throughout the city. Baccari are the typical Venetian bars that offer a wide range of gastronomic but inexpensive finger foods and wines. I will definitely miss the bacala fish, which is a dish that can only be found in Venice.

Moreover, living in Venice is amazing, but also difficult. The city is extremely congested because of tourists. While there are only about 200,000 Venetians, the Venice is overwhelmed by 30,000,000 tourists a year. This makes walking anywhere very slow and inconvenient. While we were in Venice, there was a lot of controversy revolving around cruise ships. There are many people that want to ban the cruise ships from entering the lagoon, since they raise the water which is detrimental to Venice, for the city is constantly flooding. The cruise ships also of course bring thousands of tourists into the city for the day, without providing Venice with much revenue, since the tourists sleep and eat on the boat and therefore spend little to no money in the city. In the month that we were there, two cruise ships crashed into the city, severely damaging Venice. I think it’s very sad how the city’s beauty has made it so overwhelmed by tourists.

Amberrose Venus-Gordon

My Experience in Venice

Venice is a magnificent city that is known for its contemporary art festival, the Venice Biennale. People come from far and wide to marvel at the works that have received so much buzz throughout social media, news outlets, and other platforms. Venice is rich in artworks that are part of the classical era but it was apparent during my stay in Venice that they are featuring more work that is of the modern age—works that reflect the times.

I remembered that on my morning commute to the Giardini I would walk past the sculpture garden, Giardini Della Marinaressa, and I would catch glimpses of each of the works but I couldn’t stop to fully engage with the sculptures to the extent I would have liked, because I was heading to work. But one day, on my day off, I decided to go to the sculptures and invest some time with each. I had noticed that many of the sculptures were ambigious. They didn’t appear as if they were assigned a specific sex, and I don’t think that was the focal point of those artists. Also, many of the sculptures were massive, and painted with a brilliant color that one couldn’t ignore. As the sunlight struck each of these sculptures, it created a sense of luminosity. The brilliance of the light cast a halo around the sculptures. Many of these works are stylized, the proportions of these figures exaggerated to coincide with the scale of the work, while very few sculptures used some elements of realism.

One artist in particular, Carole Feuerman, made a hyperrealistic sculpture that imitated a young woman in swimwear kneeling on a ball that is sprinkled with drops of water. The woman that she depicts could be an athlete who is on the swim team.  As I looked closely, there were drops of water pressed against her skin that appeared to be moving down her body even though the figure is frozen in time. The drips of water on her skin seemed so real; her skin tone so naturalistic it appeared as if it were actual flesh. There were even little folds on her wrists as her hands were placing pressure on the ball beneath her. There were wrinkles of skin on her ankles as she flexed her feet; the water cap on the figure was loosely fitted on her head and had creases on it that appear down the middle of the cap. Feuerman pays close attention to the smallest of details, the entire sculpture is resolved and every aspect of the sculpture given the same amount of attention. She wants us to look closely at the sculpture and to spend time with it. The idea of having the entire composition dealt with reminds me of the Old Masters who ensured every part of their works of art was addressed. Feuerman was able to capture a moment in time, this sculpture recounts an event that could have actually taken place in reality.

The majority of the other sculptures by other artists swayed away from the idea of imitating life and decided to venture into creating forms that are not representative of a specific idea. Idan Zareski, one of the artists featured in the garden, did a series of enormous sculptures that all had stretched-out feet that were disproportionate to the figure’s body. Each of the figures was either sprawled out on the base that the sculpture rests upon or placed in an unusual position, and each of them was coated in a brilliant color. I was particularly drawn to the enormous blue figure that appears to have the face of a child who is pouting as if upset that they didn’t get their way. The arms of the figure are folded inward and rest upon its chest. The figure appears to be sulking about something and has not moved-on from that moment. The figure has a large head with small features, such as small ears and a little round nose. The gigantic feet of the figure take up so much space that they do not fit upon the pedestal the figure is sitting upon. When the sun hits the figure, there are shadows that are cast on the figure, while the face of the figure appears to be glossy. That could be a result of the artist using resin, which gives a shiny, finished quality to a work of art. The sculpture is not replicating a specific scene nor person but the viewer can relate to it in the sense that we have all been there—as people we have our moments when we feel defeated as a result of something that occurred in our life. I think making this sculpture in such a large scale adds to the idea that on this journey called life, we will feel weighed down by the enormous burdens that are placed upon us by society.

Tamara Yakubova

A Morning Commute Like No Other

Living in Venice has been an absolutely beautiful experience. Even a simple daily task like commuting to work was an experience I will always remember. Every morning, as I left my apartment, I would turn the corner and see the canal, and every morning I was in awe of this sight. I would then continue to cross my first mini-bridge of the day, which may be normal in Venice, but to me the concept of crossing bridges everywhere I went took some getting used to. It being Venice, all the bridges had a very charming and historic quality to them, as they were all made of stone and marble. I would then turn onto another canal and, as I turned the corner, a crooked bell tower would come into sight. I thought it was the funniest thing that this bell tower was never demolished and replaced with something new, but that is Italy for you. We all know the Leaning Tower of Pisa, but turns out I did not have to travel to see it as I had my own leaning tower merely a three-minute walk from my apartment.

As I continued walking to work, I would say good morning to some of the waiters I would pass every day. In fact, I had become friends with one of the waiters and would stop to have a quick chat with them before I continued down my path. In Italy, it is much more normal to engage in conversation casually, even if you are working. When living in New York, on the other hand, commuting is a much different experience. Everyone is always in a rush, walking with their headphones in and not paying attention to anyone around them. Although I love the rush of living in New York City, it was nice to escape that for a while and walk to work more calmly, really taking in the environment around me.

After walking through the narrow alleyways of Venice for a few more minutes, I would turn onto the main canal, which is filled with tourists and, because it has a lot of open space, the summer sun beams down on you. This was the part of my commute when I turned my New York walk back on and zoomed past the crowds of tourists. At the end of this power walk, I ended up at the entrance of Giardini.

Walking out of the Venice streets into the Giardini is like walking out of one fairytale land and straight into another. When I walked into the Giardini every morning, I saw the Central Pavilion across from me. From the roof of the Central Pavilion, mist is being sprayed out and filling the front of it. As I walked through this mist I got this feeling mystic and wonder, which gets me ready for all the new art I will experience that day. I can easily say that the Giardini is one of the most interesting places I have ever walked though. I mean imagine this, 30 small pavilions, each of which are a different architectural style, scattered in a garden located in a lagoon. Moreover, this garden is composed of two small islands with a narrow canal running between the two, which are connected by a small bridge. I don’t know about you, but this place sounds pretty surreal to me.

Being an architecture major, one of my biggest dislikes in the field is when every building or house in a particular area looks exactly the same. For example, if you enter any US suburb you will see identical homes that were mass-produced to be more affordable for new families. The Giardini is the exact opposite of this. It brings so much diversity in architectural design. My favorite pavilions in the Giardini are the Australian and the Nordic Pavilions. The Autrailian Pavilion is this black cube that hovers over the canal, making it a very unique building in Venice. The Nordic Pavilion has a lot of open space and considers the nature of the garden in its design, so there are three trees inside pavilion. This pavilion is a great example of architecture that leaves the nature around it untouched while still creating a structure. Seeing such a variety of architecture on my way to work was an architecture-lover’s dream. I have really enjoyed every minute of the six weeks I spent in Venice, especially the 20 minute commute I took on my way to work at the US Pavilion.

Burano

Venice may be one of the most popular tourist locations in the world, but the region of Veneto has so many more beautiful and rich locations worth the visit. Burano is an island within the lagoon of Veneto and are accessible by a quick vapperato ride from Venice. During my time in Venice I had the opportunity to visit Burano, which is known for its handmade lace and colorful homes.

The island of Burano brought me so much joy when I got to visit it; the small colorful houses in addition to the canals create a charming environment that is sure to put a smile on your face. The houses on this island are painted with bright and bold colors, such as pink, purple, green, blue, yellow, orange and so forth. Every single house on this island is painted a beautiful color, in fact being a house painter is a full-time job on this island. The paint jobs on these houses are regularly maintained, and as you walk though the island you see men walking around in construction clothing covered in splatters of colorful paint. The island of Burano is similar to Venice in that it also has canals; however, it is much more residential than Venice, so houses are no taller than three stories, making the community of Burano feel very homey and welcoming and relaxed. Oftentimes the homeowners would match their outdoor decorations to the color of their home, adding that extra touch of simplistic beauty to the island. Overall this island was one of my favorite places to visit while I was in Venice because it highlighted the simple things in life that can still bring a person so much happiness. The concept of painting a home in colorful paint is quite simple, yet seeing such colors on such a large scale just brightened my day. I am very used to seeing architecture made out of greys and earthy colors, but rarely do I see architecture made of bright colors. Which is a shame, because just as weather can affect a person’s mood, so can color. As a student who studies architecture and hope to pursue it as a career, visiting Burano has really inspired me to think more critically about an element as simple as color when creating designs in the future.

Week 4

JP Peralta

Martin Puryear’s Column for Sally Hemings and Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute) are two site-specific works at the Venice Biennale. Their relationship to the site dredges up the history of the building and of the United States to make meaning. Working with an assortment of woods and metals, fabric and rope, Puryear investigates the concept of liberty for an international audience.

The show, entitled Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá, begins from afar with the monumental Swallowed Sun, which looms in front of the building, hiding the pediment from visitors, where “STATI VNITI D’AMERICA” is proudly chiseled. Stiff rays reach out from a dense oval to create a distorted grid when viewed from the front. This part is the “Monstrance” in Monstrance and Volute, a reference to the tool in the Catholic Church used to display the host during Adoration. Many visitors note that the screen appears to bow in, like a dome, before they come nearer and the illusion is shattered. The screen is as tall as the building behind it and forces the viewer to walk around either side of it to enter the forecourt. In the forecourt, the viewer discovers the Volute” part of Monstrance and Volute: a curling black tendril, dressed in rope-bound fabric that sprouts from the back of the screen.

Inside the building, in the domed chamber, at the center of the starburst floor mosaic is A Column for Sally Hemings: a wooden column slathered in an uneven coat of white paint, which buckles under the weight of an iron shackle that plunges itself into the top. The title of the piece invokes the name of Sally Hemings, a black slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson, and the mother of six of his children. The column itself refers to the stately stone columns visible through the transom above the center doors, but instead of being executed in stone, Puryear’s column is made of wood. It looks like marble, but in actuality the column lacks the lavishness and imperviousness of marble, substituting instead wood’s propensity to rot and relative cheapness.

In these two objects, Puryear employs a diversity of scale as a testament to his ability to communicate through objects. The enormous Swallowed Sun imposes itself on the Giardini, like a warden. The black oval on the screen is like an eye, perhaps keeping track of which visitors come in and which pass by. Conversely, Sally Hemings is like a bust on a pedestal. Monumental in everything but scale, the stoic A Column for Sally Hemings heralds its message in a whisper, rather than a shout.

With these site-specific sculptures, Puryear demands that the audience reconsider an essential characteristic of the American identity: freedom. Normally associated with quilted landscapes and nuclear families, Puryear reminds us that the idyllic, American freedom cannot exist without its grotesque counterpart: restriction. Swallowed Sun addresses this dichotomy at the outset. The sculpture has two sides that cannot be viewed simultaneously. The viewer is either enclosed within the forecourt, or outside the pavilion in the stateless nether between the national pavilions. On the inside, the viewer is faced with the diabolical volute, which is itself a reference to the tail of the dragon in Carpaccio’s St. George and the Dragon. The rope bindings suggest that something sinister has been smuggled into the forecourt and could burst out of the fabric at any minute. Yet the people on the exterior remain unaware of the ugly truth of the volute. By framing the show with a passage between exterior and interior, Puryear fastens to the viewer an awareness of interiority and exteriority that he plays on throughout the show, in pieces like New Voortrekker and Aso Oke. In this way, he communicates the limits of “guaranteed” freedoms in modern society. In the A Column for Sally Hemmings, Puryear disinters the intentionally-buried history of one of Jefferson’s slaves. Any reference to slavery is bound to ignite conversations about “liberty in America,” especially a reference that is so tightly tethered to an American president. But Puryear does more than monumentalize an oft-forgotten figure—he mirrors the history of the building itself.

To fully understand the context of both of the site-specific works discussed here, we need to understand the site and the historical contexts of its construction. At the end of World War I, US President Woodrow Wilson was a driving force behind the formation of the League of Nations, a peaceable assembly of nations devoted to maintaining good international relations throughout the world. Despite President Wilson playing such a pivotal role in forming the shape of the League of Nations, the US did not join the League of Nations at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. One of the reasons that the US declined joining the League can be distilled to one catchy word: “isolationism.” The United States did not want to involve themselves in European affairs after suffering so many casualties in the First World War, primarily on European soil. Instead, the US chose to fend for itself in the recovering, post-war world, for better or for worse.

Eleven years later, in 1930, when the US built its national pavilion in the Giardini in Venice, the US had the wealth and power to rival the greatest empires of the time. The US pavilion was (and remains) the only privately-owned, privately-funded pavilion in the world, which was a testament to the private wealth in the US that persisted even during these fledgling years of what would come to be known as the Great Depression. The American pavilion was the tenth in the Giardini, preceded only by Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, France, Russia, Spain, and Czechoslovakia. The glistening group of cohorts in the Giardini separated themselves from the US in one major way: history. The other countries had what were considered rich histories of global dominion, and each was a major player in Western history. The US did not possess a history that anyone from the period cared about, so they had to assert their legitimacy somehow. The architecture thusly hails Monticello, Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, whose style stands as an example of Americanized Palladian architecture. The US pavilion usurps the artistic history of Venice to assert the veracity of the American identity.

This is one of the histories that Martin Puryear is referring to in making these works site-specific. He kidnaps the language of a building set on legitimizing a nation’s history and does exactly that; legitimizes the nation’s history. But not the history that Americans are taught at large. Rather, Puryear displays the ugly history of how America really amassed its wealth: slavery and nationalism. Liberty/Libertá is as much about captivity as it is about freedom. The two always exist together, the people held captive by the Constitution are just stashed away in archives and unsupported neighborhoods. By presenting works that communicate with the site, Puryear includes the site in the presentation, erasing any morsel of neutrality from the space. He strips away the seamless coat of white paint inside the white cube to reveal the inherently nationalistic undertones of the pavilion and the racist path that has lead us to where we are today.

Louis Vaccara

Two Pieces that I think are interesting to put in dialogue with one another are Tabernacle and New Voortrekker. What I appreciate about these two works is how they successfully communicate current issues of racial inequality and oppression with a historical contextualization. Tabernacle is clearly a reference to the American Civil War, as the exterior of the sculpture is shaped like a hat that was worn during the Civil War by both Union and Confederate soldiers. Likewise, the interior of the piece presents a cannon, an outdated weapon that has not been used since the time of the Civil War, and the cozy home antique interior with 19th century French quilting, which was also common during the time of the Civil War. Remarkably, the circular window of the statue, that allows viewers to peer inside its interior, could also be interpreted as the viewfinder of a modern day assault rifle. With that, we have the artist making a statement about the current issue of gun violence in America and its connection to post-Emancipation Proclamation racial tensions in the United States.

Moreover, New Voortrekker is a sculpture of a carriage that references the history of destructive European exploration, and specifically that of the Dutch in South Africa, as the Voortrekers were a Dutch population that ventured from the coast of South Africa to its interior in order to colonize more land. In doing so, the Voortrekkers displaced the indigenous people they encountered. Similarly, in the United States, white people moved from the East Coast into the rural interior of the country to take over more lands. Like the voortrekkers, American settlers killed the Native Americans in order to take control of their lands. The modern automobile that is pulling the antique carriage in the sculpture could very well be an allegory of human progress. I see the automobile being weighed down by the carriage, or, in other words, weighed down by the past. The car and carriage are on a plank that balances on a sphere and therefore the road to progress is unstable and is weighed down by issues of aggression and oppression from the past. Like Tabernacle, this piece makes people think about current political issues.

When engaging in conversations with viewers, I have heard people bring up themes of migration and the migrant crisis in Europe. Of course, another issue of migration is that of Mexican immigration into the U.S. and the severely unjust and inhumane policies toward Mexican migrants by the U.S. government. Under the current administration, children have been put into cages and have been separated from their families. There was also an instance in which I was speaking to someone about the Aso Oke piece and they said that it looked like a cage, which was interesting, since so much of the art references physical constraint and the lack of liberty, like the shackle in A Column for Sally Hemings.

Another thing that I find interesting is how in both Tabernacle and New Voortrekker, Martin makes viewers look at their own reflection. I find this to be both provocative and meaningful, as if the audience is meant to think of the pieces existentially and ask themselves whether or not they are the problem or the solution in regards to the contentious subjects of these works.

Amberrose Venus-Gordon

Many of Martin Puryear’s works focus on the idea of one’s identity and how we choose to distinguish ourselves from others. One of Martin’s works in particular stands as a cultural signifier—Aso Oke, 2019. It was modeled after headwear that is worn as part of a Nigerian man’s attire throughout West Africa. The left flap of the hat rests gently on the wearer’s ear. As one first looks at the work, it appears to be a cage, a place of containment. A young woman once told me how she could look within it but was not welcome to go inside it. She was at a standstill.

Many people have circled around this piece because they could not fathom the fact that it is cast in bronze. It leaves many viewers puzzled and wanting to know more about it. People have confronted me and said they believed the material listed on the plaque on the wall was incorrect, even though I had given an explanation as to how the work was constructed. This just further demonstrates that people believe what they want to believe, despite what is before them.

The act of weaving is present throughout this sculpture, which is an important part of African culture. Many African tribes would use materials nature provided to them to sustain a living. The lines of Puryear’s structure wrap around one another, almost like a cocoon, as they swirl and bend to each other’s whims. Even though the sculpture is stagnant, there is a sense of movement in how the lines twist and are suspended in the air, then come down to form the flap of the hat. The term oke in Yoruba culture means “top cloth” or “precious cloth” and is used as an indicator of one’s independence, after African nations were able to govern themselves. When a Nigerian man wears an aso oke hat, it is worn with pride; pride for one’s country and its inhabitants. There is a sense of community established by this hat. It is deeply rooted in the history of its people. This piece commands one’s attention, and one cannot simply go around it without acknowledging its presence.

Like Aso Oke, Big Phrygian, 2010-2014, is also modeled after a hat, in this case a Phrygian cap. This hat was worn by Dacian prisoners as a symbol of freedom and liberty during the French Revolution. It was also worn by enslaved Afro-Caribbean people in their fight for equality during French colonial reign. Many people, at first glance, are compelled to try to touch Big Phrygian. I think that may be because they think it is squishy and soft and want to see how it feels with their hands. Similar to Aso Oke, many people can’t believe the material it is made out of and want to find out for themselves. The idea that this form must be soft and fluffy may stem from the fact that it has rounded edges. There are no jagged lines; everything appears to be curved on all sides. This rounded form is also coated with a brilliant red which can compel one to touch it. Some people have told me that they view this sculpture as the most inviting of the entire exhibition because of its color. It draws one to it and is not a massive structure that is looming over one’s head. It is at their level. This hat embodies one’s freedom; it is an indicator of their strife and how far they have come since then. The idea of freedom is not something that is tangible, like a hat, but can only be felt through one’s actions.

Tamara Yakubova

When you walk into the last room of the United States Pavilion, you immediately see Tabernacle in front of you at the end of the room. Then you turn your head to the right to see Aso Oke and, behind it through the large windows, you see Swallowed Sun. The last room of the pavilion is so rich and invites so many conversations. It starts off with Aso Oke, which has a beautiful materiality. Then we get to the more politically-charged Tabernacle, which invites the viewer to have a conversation with themselves about the topics of both gun violence in the United States and the cultural appropriation that happens all over the world.

Aso Oke is a sculpture made entirely out of bronze, which surprises everyone that passes it. Its materiality is surprising because it is so detailed and has so many holes that it seems impossible to cast. However, Martin Puryear was able to make the sculpture out of bronze using the lost wax technique. Martin continues to manipulate the eye by painting the bronze in an earthy light brown color, again staying the visitor’s mind from thinking it is made from bronze. Since the sculpture is so large and made of bronze, it weighs about 2,000 pounds, or 1 ton. However with its airy, non-uniform grid pattern, and the light from the window shining through it, one would not think it is such a heavy object. Aso Oke is just one of the pieces in the United States Pavilion with which Martin surprises the visitors with materiality. Hibernian Testosterone, because of its paint color, would have a visitor think is made of something like cast plaster. The column of A Column for Sally Hemings is made of wood, while one would assume is it made of marble, seeing it from afar. Lastly, the top piece of Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt?

looks like it is made of a thin metal when it is in fact made of wood. Over and over again we see how skillful Martin Puryear is and how much he cares about the craftsmanship and materiality of his work.

Although Aso Oke required a very complicated technique to build, the interpretation I have of the piece is quite simple. Aso Oke is a hat worn by Nigerian men, and that is exactly as I see it. An object that is a marker of someone’s culture and ethnicity.

Alongside Aso Oke stands Tabernacle, which is probably the most layered piece in the US Pavilion this year. The piece itself is a large-scale forage hat worn by the soldiers during the United States Civil War. However, the hat is not simply a hat. This hat has three circular openings/windows. The second physical layer of the sculpture is a tuffet lining of the interior of the hat using a french colonial fabric. Furthermore, the bottom of hats do not have any fabric, allowing them to be placed on someone’s head; however, the bottom of this sculpture has a wooden floor, mimicking the style of a hardwood floor you would find in many homes. In addition to the windows, this very domestic fabric and hardwood floor turns the forage cap into a home-like environment. With all this being said, inside this domestic object, Martin Puryear puts a replica of a Civil War cannon. Pruyear puts this weapon inside what we have established as a representation of a home as a commentary on the right to bear arms and gun violence in the United States.

With that being said, Martin Puryear does not simply put a war cannon inside of this transformed forage hat. The inside of the cannon faces the main window, which has mullions that mimic the crosshairs you can find in a modern weapon. The crosshairs of this cannon are put on the viewer looking inside the sculpture. Moreover, the lip of the cannon is made of a wood that has a striated pattern, similar to the pattern in a human eye. And the bullet of the cannon itself is made of a chrome material, making it reflective and like the pupil of an eye. So now we have the eye in the cannon and the eye of the visitor looking directly at each other, with a window/crosshair in between the two. This aspect of the sculpture makes it more than just a commentary on gun violence. Instead it invites the viewer to look at themselves in the reflection of the cannon’s bullet, through a crosshair, inside a home, and ask themselves what they think. It is not an interactive work in the typical sense, but from being with it for over a month I have seen so many visitors interact with this piece without the need to touch it or go inside it.

 

Week 3

JP Peralta

Martin Puryear’s Column for Sally Hemmings and Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute) are two site-specific works at the Venice Biennale. Their relationship to the site dredges up the history of the building and of the United States to make meaning. Working with an assortment of woods and metals, fabric and rope, Puryear investigates the concept of liberty for an international audience.

The show, titled Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá, begins from afar with the monumental Swallowed Sun, which looms in front of the building, hiding the pediment from visitors, where “STATI VNITI D’AMERICA” is proudly chiseled. Stiff rays reach out from a dense oval to create a distorted grid when viewed from the front. This part is the “Monstrance” in Monstrance and Volute, a reference to the tool in the Catholic Church used to display the host during Adoration. Many visitors note that the screen appears to bow in, like a dome, before they come nearer and shatter the illusion. The screen is as tall as the building behind it and forces the viewer to walk around either side of it to enter the forecourt. In the forecourt, the viewer discovers the Volute” part of Monstrance and Volute—a curling black tendril, dressed in rope-bound fabric that sprouts from the back of the screen.

Inside the building, in the domed chamber, at the center of the starburst floor mosaic is Column for Sally Hemings; a wooden column slathered in an uneven coat of white paint, which buckles under the weight of an iron shackle that plunges itself into the top. The title of the piece invokes the name of Sally Hemings, a black slave owned by President Thomas Jefferson, and the mother of six of his children. The column itself refers to the stately stone columns visible through the transom above the center doors, but instead of being executed in stone, Puryear’s column is made of wood. It looks like marble, but in actuality the column lacks the lavishness and imperviousness of marble, substituting instead wood’s propensity to rot and relative cheapness.

In these two objects, Puryear employs a diversity of scale as a testament to his ability to communicate through objects. The enormous Swallowed Sun imposes itself on the Giardini, like a warden. The black oval on the screen is like an eye, perhaps keeping track of which visitors come in and which pass by. Conversely, Sally Hemings is like a bust on a pedestal. Monumental in everything but scale, the stoic Column for Sally Hemings heralds its message in a whisper, rather than a shout.

With these site-specific sculptures, Puryear demands that the audience reconsider an essential characteristic of the American identity: freedom. Normally associated with quilted landscapes and nuclear families, Puryear reminds us that the idyllic, American freedom cannot exist without its grotesque counterpart: restriction. Swallowed Sun addresses this dichotomy at the outset. The sculpture has two sides that cannot be viewed simultaneously. The viewer is either enclosed within the forecourt, or outside the pavilion in the stateless nether between the national pavilions. On the inside, the viewer is faced with the diabolical volute, which is itself a reference to the tail of the dragon in Carpaccio’s St. George and the Dragon. The rope bindings suggest that something sinister has been smuggled into the forecourt and could burst out of the fabric at any minute. Yet, the people on the exterior remain unaware of the ugly truth of the volute. By framing the show with a passage between exterior and interior, Puryear fastens to the viewer an awareness of interiority and exteriority that he plays on throughout the show, in pieces like New Voortrekker and Aso Oke. In this way, he communicates the limits of “guaranteed” freedoms in modern society. In Column for Sally Hemings, Puryear disinters the intentionally buried history of one of Jefferson’s slaves. Any reference to slavery is bound to ignite conversations about “liberty in America,” especially one that is so tightly tethered to an American president. But Puryear does more than monumentalize an oft-forgotten figure—he mirrors the history of the building itself.

To fully understand the context of both of the site-specific works discussed here, we need to understand the site and the historical contexts of its construction. At the end of World War I, U.S. President Woodrow Wilson was a driving force behind the formation of the League of Nations, a peaceable assembly of nations devoted to maintaining good international relations throughout the world. Despite President Wilson playing such a pivotal role in forming the shape of the League of Nations, the U.S. did not join the League of Nations at the signing of the Treaty of Versailles in 1919. One of the reasons that the U.S. declined to join the League can be distilled to one catchy word: “isolationism.” The United States did not want to involve themselves in European affairs after suffering so many casualties in the First World War, primarily on European soil. Instead, the U.S. chose to fend for itself in the recovering, post-war world, for better or for worse.

Eleven years later, in 1930, when the U.S. built its national pavilion in the Giardini in Venice, the U.S. had the wealth and power to rival the greatest empires of the time. The U.S. pavilion was (and remains) the only privately-owned, privately-funded pavilion in the world, which was a testament to the private wealth in the U.S. that persisted even during these fledgling years of what would come to be known as the Great Depression. The American pavilion was the tenth in the Giardini, preceded only by Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium, Great Britain, Hungary, France, Russia, Spain, and Czechoslovakia. The glistening group of cohorts in the Giardini separated themselves from the U.S. in one major way: history. The other countries had what were considered rich histories of global dominion, and each was a major player in Western history. The US did not possess a history that anyone from the period cared about, so they had to assert their legitimacy somehow. The architecture thusly hails Monticello: Thomas Jefferson’s home in Virginia, whose style stands as an example of Americanized Palladian architecture. The U.S. pavilion usurps the artistic history of Venice to assert the veracity of the American identity.

This is one of the histories that Martin Puryear is referring to in making these works site specific. He kidnaps the language of a building set on legitimizing a nation’s history and does exactly that—legitimizes the nation’s history. But not the history that Americans are taught at large. Rather, Puryear displays the ugly history of how America really amassed its wealth: slavery and nationalism. Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá is as much about captivity as it is about freedom. The two always exist together, the people held captive by the Constitution are just stashed away in archives and unsupported neighborhoods. By presenting works that communicate with the site, Puryear includes the site in the presentation, erasing any morsel of neutrality from the space. He strips away the seamless coat of white paint inside the white cube to reveal the inherently nationalistic undertones of the pavilion and the racist path that has lead us to where we are today.

Louis Vaccara

Two pieces that I think are interesting to put in dialogue with one another are Tabernacle (2019), and New Voortrekker, (2019). What I appreciate about these two works is how they successfully communicate current issues of racial inequality and oppression while providing historical contextualization. Tabernacle is clearly a reference to the American Civil War, since the exterior of the sculpture is shaped like a hat that was worn during the Civil War by both Union and Confederate soldiers. Likewise, the interior of the piece reveals a cannon, an outdated weapon, and a cozy home antique interior with 19th century French quilting, which was also common during the time of the Civil War. Remarkably, the circular window of the statue that allows viewers to peer inside its interior could also be interpreted as the viewfinder of a modern day assault rifle. With that, we have the artist making a statement about the current issue of gun violence in America and its connection to the post Emancipation Proclamation racial tensions in the United States.

New Voortrekker is a sculpture of a carriage that references the history of destructive European exploration, specifically that of the Dutch in South Africa. The voortrekers were a Dutch population that ventured from the coast of South Africa into its interior in order to colonize more land. In doing so, the Voortrekkers massacred the indigenous people they encountered. Similarly, in the United States, European colonizers moved from the East Coast into the rural interior of the country to take over more land. Like the voortrekkers, American settlers killed the Native Americans in order to take control of their lands. The modern automobile that is pulling the antique carriage in the sculpture could very well be an allegory for human progress. I see the automobile being weighed down by the carriage, or, in other words, weighed down by the past. The car and carriage are on a plank that balances on a sphere and, therefore, the road to progress is unstable and is weighed down by issues of aggression and oppression from the past.

Like Tabernacle, this piece makes people think about current political issues. When engaging in conversations with viewers, people bring up themes of migration and the migrant crisis in Europe. Of course, another issue of migration is that of Mexican immigration to the U.S. and the severely unjust and inhumane policies toward Mexican migrants by the U.S. government. Under the current administration, children have been put into cages and have been separated from their families. I also had an instance where I was speaking to someone about the Aso Oke piece and they said that it looked like a cage. This was interesting because so much of the exhibition’s art references physical constraint and the lack of liberty, like the shackle in A Column for Sally Hemings (2019).

In both Tabernacle and New Voortrekker, Martin makes viewers look at their own reflection in the piece. I find this to be both provocative and meaningful, as if the audience is meant to think of the pieces existentially and ask themselves whether or not they are the problem or the solution in regards to the contentious subjects of these works. There was one instance in which Tabernacle actually insinuated an argument between two strangers. One thought that it was inappropriate that the other one asked where Martin was from after hearing the Civil War and present day gun violence narratives about Tabernacle.

I also had conversations with the children when we visited the pavilion in which we talked about the choice of colors in New Voortrekker. Interestingly enough, the sculpture is entirely beige, the natural color of its wooden material, except for the carriage which has been painted grey. One student asked why the carriage was grey and the car was beige. We discussed these distinctive colors and came to the conclusion that it could very well be that the artist inverted the colors of the car and the carriage. Cars are often grey or silver and are made out of metal, whereas carriages were of course wooden. We discussed why the artist might have done this and then came to the realization that it could very well have been to juxtapose two forms of technology. Another student noted that cars are worse than carriages because they create pollution.

Amberrose Venus-Gordon

Many of Martin’s works focus on the idea of identity and how we choose to distinguish ourselves from others. One of Martin’s works in particular stands as a part of a cultural identity—Aso Oke (2019). It was modeled after an item of headwear bearing the same name as the title of the piece; the headwear was worn as a part of a Nigerian man’s attire throughout West Africa. The piece was cast in bronze with lines that intertwine with one another to form gaping holes within it. It has a left flap that leans on the side of the structure. At first glance, it resembles a cage, a place of containment. A young woman once told me she felt like she was not allowed to enter this structure because of its rigid lines. She could look within it but was not welcome to go inside it; she felt at a standstill.

Many people circle around this piece because they cannot fathom the fact that it is cast in bronze. This leaves many viewers puzzled and wanting to know more about this piece. Many people have confronted me and said that they believe the material listed on the label is incorrect, even though I provided them with an explanation as to how this was constructed. Many of those viewers brought their previous knowledge about materials and applied it to what they were looking at. I remember a few individuals stating that the curves and warping of the lines reminded them of the flexibility of bamboo, and they thought the bamboo was cast in bronze in order to preserve its form. I thought this was fascinating, considering that a lot of Martin’s work deals with the idea of permanence.

The lines of this structure wrap around one another almost like a cocoon as they swirl and bend to each other’s whims. Even though this sculpture is still, there is a sense of movement in how the lines twist and suspend in the air, then come down to form the flap of the hat. A mother holding her child said she felt a sense of a swaying motion from this structure. She assumed that the structure was lightweight and could be easily blown over by a burst of wind.

The act of weaving is present throughout this sculpture, which is an important part of African culture. The term oke in Yoruba culture means “top cloth” or “precious cloth” and it also used as an indicator of one’s independence after African nations were able to govern themselves. When a Nigerian man wears an aso oke hat, it is worn with pride, for one’s country and its inhabitants. There is a sense of community established by this hat; it is deeply rooted in the history of its people. This piece commands one’s attention, one can’t simply go around it without acknowledging its presence.

Tamara Yakubova

When you walk into the last room of the United States Pavilion, you immediately see Tabernacle in front of you, at the end of the room. Then, you turn your head to the right to see Aso Oke, and behind it, through the large windows, Swallowed Sun. The last room of the pavilion is so rich and invites so many conversations. It starts off with Aso Oke, which has a complex materiality, though my interpretation of it is simple. Then we get to the more politically-charged Tabernacle, which I consider to be an interactive piece as it invites the viewer to have a conversation about the topic of gun violence in the United States.

Aso Oke is a sculpture made entirely out of bronze, which surprises everyone that passes it. Its materiality is surprising because it is so detailed and has a lot of openings in it that it seem impossible to cast. However, Martin Puryear, with extraordinary skill, was able to make this sculpture out of bronze using the lost wax technique. Martin continues to manipulate the eye by painting the bronze in an earthy light brown color, again leading viewers’ minds astray from thinking it is made from bronze. Since the sculpture is so large and made of bronze, it weighs about 2,000 pounds or 1 ton. However, with its airy, non-uniform grid pattern and the light from the window shining through it, one might not believe it is such a heavy object. In fact, Aso Oke is the piece visitors attempt to touch most often. When asking visitors to not touch the artwork, I would often get responses along the lines of “I was just curious about what it is made of.” More interestingly, I would often see visitors attempt to touch the piece after they had read its plaque. While stopping them from touching it, they would respond, “I just wanted to make sure it is actually made of bronze.” Although the visitors were not allowed to touch the artwork, it was clear to me that Aso Oke made the visitors think about the materiality of the piece.

Aso Oke is just one of the pieces in the United States Pavilion with which Martin surprises the visitors with materiality. Hibernian Testosterone is made of aluminum, however its paint makes it resemble something like cast plaster. The column of A Column for Sally Hemings is made of wood, although one would assume it is made of marble when seeing it from afar. Lastly, the top piece of Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt? looks like it is made of a thin metal, but is in fact made of wood. Over and over again, we see how skillful Martin Puryear is and how much he cares about the craftsmanship and materiality in his work.

Although Aso Oke required a very complicated technique to build, the interpretation I have of the piece is quite simple. Aso Oke is a hat worn by Nigerian men, and that is exactly as I see it: an object that is a marker of someone’s culture and ethnicity.

Alongside Aso Oke stands Tabernacle, which is probably the most layered piece in the U.S. Pavilion this year. It introduces the important conversation of gun violence in the United States. The piece itself is a large-scale forage hat worn by the soldiers during the United States Civil War. This hat has three circular windows, which transform Tabernacle into a home. These make up the first physical layer of the sculpture. The second physical layer of the sculpture is a tufted lining of the interior of the hat using a French colonial fabric. The bottom of this sculpture has a wooden floor, mimicking the style of a hardwood floor you would find in many homes. The windows, the tufted walls made with domestic fabric, and hardwood floor turn the forage cap into a home-like environment. With all this being said, inside this domestic object Martin Puryear puts in a replica of a Civil War cannon. Martin Puryear puts this weapon inside what we have established as a representation of a home as a commentary on the right to bear arms and gun violence in the United States.

With that being said, Martin Puryear does not simply put a war cannon inside of this transformed forage hat. He makes the piece interactive, inviting the audience to question themselves on the subject rather than just telling the visitor what he believes. The inside of the cannon faces the main window with mullions which mimic the crosshair in a viewfinder of a modern weapon. Therefore, the crosshair of this cannon is on the viewer looking inside the sculpture. Moreover, the lip of the cannon is made of a wood that has a striated pattern, similar to the pattern in a human eye. And the bullet of the cannon itself is made of a chrome material, making it reflective and like the pupil of an eye. The eye in the cannon and the eye of the visitor look directly at each other, with a window/crosshair in between the two. This aspect of the sculpture makes it more than just a commentary on gun violence. It invites the viewer to look at themselves in the reflection of the cannon’s bullet through a crosshair, inside a home, and ask themselves what they think. It is not an interactive artwork in the typical sense but, from being with it for over a month, I have seen so many visitors interact with this piece without the need to touch it or go inside it.

 

Week 2

J.P. Peralta

Each visitor to the U.S. Pavilion brings something different, and each takes something different away. One of the most rewarding parts of this job is gaining a little bit of insight into how each visitor approaches a work and what they apply to it. In many cases, visitors just rush through the show without stopping. Their loss, I say. Puryear’s work in this exhibition seems to ceaselessly lend itself to new interpretations for anyone willing to look. And even those visitors who don’t take one of the brochures can go through the show and appreciate the quality of craft and surface. One work in particular, Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt?, tends to draw a number of ooh’s and ahh’s. If I had to pick one word that best describes this piece, I would say “unexpected.” The form is unexpected. In a show that has, up to that point, been somewhat representational, Puryear shatters the viewer’s comfort with a purely abstract piece. The material is unexpected. Most people don’t believe the gable is made of wood and instead of believing the wall label, they go in for a knock, which keeps us busy and gives us an in to talk about the divergent surfaces that Puryear employs in the piece. Finally, the surfaces themselves are unexpected. The splintered, dry, timbers that form a sort of neolithic pedestal are a far cry from the smooth, carefully finished surfaces on the pieces that precede Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt?.

All of these thoughts are drawn from interactions I’ve had with visitors: things they’ve said to me or to their friends that they are visiting with. One man in particular was reflecting on the idea of “religious extremism” as vaguely mentioned by Puryear, and he pointed out that the base of Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt? is not quite square. He made a point that, given the perfection on display elsewhere in the show, one can safely assume that Puryear deliberately intended the base to be a parellelogram. We went back and forth over why that might have been, and his wife ended up saying that it looks like if it were gently pushed, it could be reset to a perfect square. She then continued to say that, in connection with what Puryear has said about the piece, the foundation of this piece is old, aged, splintered, and almost-but-not-quite square, while the portion on top is beautiful, delicate, and fragile. The three of us decided that this was not unlike a lot of religious extremist movements, who may have their hearts in the right place, or are only a nudge from being “square.” Obviously, this is speaking in incredibly general terms, but I thought it was a fruitful conversation nonetheless. It was special to go back and forth discussing the angles, lines, shapes, and surfaces we saw in order to make a connection and try to reverse engineer Puryear’s thought process.

Two other interactions that I thought were very special were short but memorable. The first was with Dr. Emily Liebert, the Curator of Contemporary Art at the Cleveland Museum of Art. I have attended many gallery talks and lectures that Dr. Liebert has given over the past few years and we have run into one another many times at the Museum while working. We talked really briefly about Puryear’s work and about which pavilions to visit, but it felt cool seeing a bit of home here in Venice. The other interaction was similar, and only a few days later, only this time instead of running into a colleague from the Cleveland Museum of Art at the Pavilion, I ran into AJ Warnick—a Cleveland-based artist and professor at the Cleveland Institute of Art who was in Greece on a residency. Warnick exhibited at The Sculpture Center last fall where I was the Director’s Assistant—a job that Studio Institute landed me. We spoke for a little bit about Tabernacle and about the Belgian pavilion before he was on his way. The world is so small!

All this is said neglecting those people who come in and detest the show. They are few and far between (thankfully), because I think Puryear has done a very good job of making his sculpture accessible to anyone at any level. However, people still come away with anger. One such visitor came into the room with Hibernian Testosterone and said “this piece makes me so mad.” I asked if there was any particular reason and she looked at it again for a few moments and finally said “it’s looking at me.” We both looked at it for a minute before she laughed and said “but I like its horns.” I talked briefly about Puryear’s inspiration for the form and when I was done she looked at the piece and said, “it’s more interesting, but I still don’t like how it looks at me.” To each their own, I suppose.

Having spent a healthy amount of time at the U.S. Pavilion, I am consistently impressed by how easily transformed my understanding of each sculpture is. One conversation can totally alter what I see, or how I look, even where I stand when I look at a sculpture. Seeing new people’s reactions to each piece ignites in me a sense of discovery that I didn’t quite get because of my prior familiarity with the show when I first arrived. Children who are drawn to Big Phrygian remind me of the humor and lightness in the show, which I quickly forget about when I have to tell those same children not to knock on/push/try to chew on the art. Hibernian Testosterone always draws a laugh or quirky cock of the head, and Aso Oke never fails to puzzle and excite everyone who reads the medium off of the label. So far the best part of working at the Pavilion is by far the countless surprises that the visitors bring with them, and the eagerness with which they share.

Louis Vaccara

Gallery Guide Experience

Working at the U.S. Pavilion has afforded me the privilege of speaking with individuals from all around the world. While the vast majority of the 3,000 visitors the Pavilion hosts per day quickly pass through without making any inquiries, those who do inquire are more often than not very interesting people. I did not expect the visitors of the Pavilion to engage with one another the way they do. Usually, once I start answering questions or giving tours, other people will join in and it will spark a wonderful dialogue amongst the viewers.

In one situation, an American woman, probably in her mid-30s or 40s, did not know who Sally Hemings was. This lack of knowledge outraged another American woman who was shaking her head saying that this was the problem with the United States and this is exactly what the artist is trying to point out. In response, I started asking the women questions as to why the artist would be referencing Sally Hemings in this particular building. Eventually, I was able to explain Monticello to them and help them discover the critique Martin Puryear creates about the idealized Jeffersonian ideas of freedom and liberty in the United States. In this sense, I definitely would say that the guests left with a completely different understanding of the art, since some of them had no idea who Sally Hemings was.

Something else that I found to be very interesting was how people reacted to Hibernian Testosterone. In one case, when having a conversation about the environment and ecofeminism, which seems to be a theme in the piece, a man from China argued against the reality of climate change. I think this is particularly interesting given the current international arena revolving around climate change. The Chinese government has denounced the reality of climate change many times. I know that there has also been a lot of propaganda in China that denies climate change. In this sense, I was able to have a conversation about world politics based on the implications of a specific piece in the show. I think this is a great example of how politically-weighted art can transcend globally and spark contention.

Moreover, another thing that I found interesting when guiding individuals and groups during my time at the Pavilion was how children appreciated the art so much. For some reason, I was more concerned with the danger of children touching the sculptures and did not expect them to be so appreciative. I was pleasantly surprised when I gave tours to entire families and children under the age of ten listened the entire time and even asked insightful questions regarding material and the meaning behind color. This has made me very excited to bring the kids from La Pietà and San Donà to the pavilion next week. I think that with the right guidance, JP, Tamara, Amberrose and I can get them to engage in a very productive and exploratory dialogue about the works.

Another noteworthy conversation I had at the pavilion was with a woman from Germany in her mid-20s. After asking her a lot of questions about Tabernacle and providing her information about its Civil War context and commentary on the current issue of gun violence in America, she said that the reflection in the statue makes her feel that the artist is saying that the viewers or the public are perpetuating these very problems of violence and racial oppression.

Amberrose Venus-Gordon

When one enters a museum setting, they are entering the space with their own previous knowledge. They are not coming forth as a blank slate waiting to be drawn upon because, as people, we instinctively have our own biases. There are just things that we prefer over others whether that be a work of art, a political position, etc… Some people enter the space wanting to add to the knowledge they have established for themselves, to have an opposing argument, or to be told what they believe is correct.

I remember once, at the U.S. Pavilion, an older gentleman had approached A Column for Sally Hemings. His eyes carefully gazed upon the smooth curves of the column as he slowly walked about the sculpture. He marveled at its beauty and placed his hand gently underneath his chin as he established an interpretation befitting for this sculpture. He then made his way towards me with a cheerful smile, eager to share. After he introduced himself, he dived into his interpretation of the sculpture with no hesitation. He was confident in what he had to say which was great to see because, on many occasions in a museum setting, people are afraid to speak their truth because they are afraid they will be wrong. He had mentioned to me that A Column for Sally Hemings was of a woman who was absolutely perfect in every way and her beauty was radiant. He had told me the upper portion of the shackle that rest upon the stake is the head, the slender stake is the neck, and the column itself is the body and it is like the woman is wearing a gown.

I wanted him to further elaborate on this idea because I had thought it was an interesting viewpoint to take on this particular piece, given the history that can’t be ignored. He had simply said “all I see is the beauty of a woman when I look upon her.” I had then told him the facts that were provided with this sculpture but he was completely immune to it and thought his interpretation of the sculpture was correct and nothing I said would deter his stance. After he had left, I began to think about how Sally Hemings’s beauty was not widely accepted during that the era of slavery. It was seen but not acknowledged. Her appearance may have granted her certain privileges that a slave of a darker complexion might not have received, being that she was of a lighter skin complexion and had a looser hair texture, and didn’t have to work in the field and could live in the master’s house, etc… But she was still a slave and couldn’t go and come as she pleased.

The man that I spoke to had found beauty in a sculpture dedicated to a woman whose beauty was denied. He either chose to ignore the facts about this sculpture to form his own opinion, or just didn’t see how the provided information related to the sculpture. But I left that conversation thinking about how the standard of beauty has changed throughout the course of time, but there is still a wide range of women whose bodies don’t fit into that mold. Nor do they care to do so, because why should they pursue an image that they don’t identify with? There is still an ongoing fight for the acceptance of all types of women’s’ bodies and not limiting them to an impossible standard while other women fall to the wayside.

I did appreciate that this man had stopped to carefully observe the sculpture and then draw his own conclusion, because many people don’t take the time to actually look at what is before them. How can one make a statement like, “I don’t like this exhibition,” if they don’t stop to take it all in. I have also seen a woman quickly glance at Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt?, then look at the plaque on the wall to see if the title matches with the work, say “I don’t get it,” and storm off. But how can you get it if you are not even taking a few moments out of your day to understand it? One must be more open to what they are observing. A lot of people prefer an artwork to be direct. They look at it and quickly grasp the meaning behind it. With this particular piece of Martin’s, you have to go beyond the depth of your vision to find what you are seeking.

Tamara Yakubova

Over the course of the past three weeks, I have had some great conversations with visitors at the U.S. Pavilion. There are three types of conversations I enjoy having the most. The first of them being with Russian speakers, because it makes me feel more connected to the visitor. I also love having conversations with couples or groups as I usually enter mid-way though their conversation, and so they already have their own ideas that they have shared with each other. And, lastly, I really enjoy conversations with avid museum visitors as we often have a very layered conversation.

I am originally from Azerbaijan, however I did grow up in Moscow and am therefore fluent in Russian. With that being said, when a Russian speakers enter the Pavilion, they do not recognize that I can speak to them about the art. During my time in the Pavilion visitors often come to me to ask questions but, when it comes to the Russian speakers, I need to go to them and make it known that I am available to speak to them about the art in their native tongue. Often times, when Russian visitors come in, I give them a tour of the whole Pavilion, which is a great experience. When doing full tours, the visitors start getting more comfortable with you and the art as you pass each piece. As they get more comfortable they are likely to start voicing their own observations and ideas about the work. So, as I walk through the Pavilion, the interaction shifts from a guided tour to a conversation about art.

Another thing that I enjoy when speaking with Russian visitors is that they teach me just as much as I teach them. Although I speak Russian very well, I mostly speak it in a very informal setting. There are a lot of specific art terms and phrases that do not roll of my tongue naturally because I do not use them on a daily basis. Nevertheless, the visitors are very patient with me and are more than happy to fill in the blanks when I forget how to say a specific world. During my first full tour in Russian, I felt that my inability to speak with full fluidity was a barrier. However, after a few more tours, I realized that my tours with Russian speakers have more of a back and forth between me and the visitor than my tours with English speakers. Overall, my interactions with Russian speakers are very rewarding because I am probably one of the few people at the Biennale that can speak to them about the art without them having to pay for a private tour.

In addition to my conversations with Russian speakers, I also enjoy the conversation I have with couples or people who come in groups. I have most of these types of conversations when I am stationed in the last room of the Pavilion. People who come in groups have conversations among each other as they walk through the Pavilion so, when they arrive in the last room, they often want the input of someone who works here to round out the conversations they were having. Additionally, couples and visitors in groups often have direct and specific questions about a piece in the exhibition, so it is interesting to hear what the visitors are intrigued by ask follow up questions about. For example, I spoke to a couple in which one partner was from the United States while the other was from Germany. It was interesting to see that the one from the United States made more observations about the Tabernacle, while her partner was more intrigued by Aso Oke. Another interaction I remember is when, after viewing the whole exhibition, a couple from France came up to me and asked, “I know this is the United States Pavilion, but the piece in the first room is also a French object. Is my connection about this correct?” It was interesting to see that the couple was having a conversation about what they related to in the exhibition.

Lastly, I really enjoy the conversations I have had with art historians or avid museumgoers. Most people that come through the Pavilion usually ask, “can you please tell me about this work?” or “what is the meaning behind work?” Although these questions are completely valid and still lead to interesting conversations, art historians and avid museumgoers often challenge me with their questions. They challenge me to think beyond the formal introduction of each piece. I have enjoyed every conversation I have had in the Pavilion over the past three weeks. However, the conversations that stick with me the most have been ones in which I can speak about the art in Russian, when I enter a conversation that a group of visitors were already in the midst of, and lastly when an avid museumgoer would challenge me with the questions they brought to the tables.

Week 1

J.P. Peralta

My time in Venice has been amazing, despite almost feeling like a fever dream. I can’t believe how quickly everything has moved from the moment we touched down. All the food is to die for. As soon as we were settled in, we got to work straight away with the teachers at La Pietà.

I couldn’t be gladder with the way things are going with regards to teaching. The other three teachers here are so comfortable and do such an excellent job in the areas where I find myself lacking, such as organization and resource management. The students themselves are beyond a joy. At La Pietà, the students have become quite comfortable with us already and they make art about us when we give them chances to free draw. Each is in tune with the lesson that we teach and they all make great work and have so much fun doing it. The small students who drop in and out as we work have also taken to drawing and playing with materials, which makes me so happy. At San Donà, the students are very different but equally fun. The older boys there are at a tough spot in their lives and find it hard to make personal work. They don’t want to write about themselves because they’re still figuring that out, and that’s totally fine! They still appreciate us, they’re very polite, and they’re very excited to see us each week (though they show it in their own ways).

The pavilion itself has been a pleasure. I am constantly reminded of how fortunate I am to be here when guests come back to Martin’s work over and over, sometimes over multiple days. Martin’s work is so poised, graceful, and present that it is calming to be around it. It demands a quiet reverence from anyone who looks at it, in a way that I’ve never seen. I’ve learned so many new things about the work and found so many new interpretations from talking to people. A lot of people look at the “barrel” of Tabernacle as an eye, and the timbers on Cloister-Redoubt or Cloistered Doubt? as a funeral pyre. Perhaps the most fascinating interpretation that I’ve encountered was with a particularly engaged and interesting couple from New York. We were looking at Aso Oke, and I mentioned the significance of the hat to the Yoruba people. The man then informed me of the rich tradition of brass and bronze casting in Yoruba culture, something that I am almost certain Martin is making at least some reference to in this piece. The Yoruba brass and bronze heads are perfect casts from a technique that they developed, however no extant examples of the casting exist in Nigeria anymore. They’ve all been taken to European museums. This information has totally revolutionized the way I think about Aso Oke, because given Martin’s knowledge of West African craftsmanship, I would be shocked if his bronze headpiece was not referring to the bronze heads from the same culture.

Finally, something that has surprised me about Venice is how everything moves here, including time. Navigating the city is daunting, because it is literally a labyrinth. However, once you become acquainted with the different areas, it becomes a breeze. I already feel like I can confidently navigate all of San Marco and Castello which brings me to my second point: Venice is small. Incredibly small. Nothing is ever more than 35 minutes away by foot and you are constantly running into people who you see at the Biennale or who you know personally. It’s like a bizarre college campus made of twisting, tight corridors. Finally, time feels odd here. I can’t tell if it goes quickly or slowly, but it certainly doesn’t move consistently. That could be a matter of me being in a new place and adjusting to a new schedule, but I really cannot predict how long anything will take. Could be a 10 minute walk or a 30 minute walk on the same path with the same conditions. It is incredibly odd.

I love this city though. The Biennale is a special place and a special experience that I feel so lucky to be a part of. I’m only angry that I’m so young, because now I’m going to spend the rest of my life wanting to come back.

Louis Vaccara

Arriving in Venice was incredible. We met Gaia first and road with her in the boat taxi to our sun filled apartment which was delightful. A few hours later, when we first arrived at La Pietà the day that we landed, I was pleased to see the educators. We went through the different activities with them that we were to go through with the children.

On Wednesday June 5th, we went to San Doná for the first time. The train ride was not very long and it was very beautiful. When we arrived to the house in San Doná, I was surprised with how nice it was. It resembled an Italian villa in the countryside, although a little more minimal. I loved how it had a big garden for the kids to play in. Since we arrived very early, we got to have lunch with the children which was really fun. The girls we had lunch with were all very young and eager to talk to us. When the boys arrived to lunch, I noticed that they were older and much more shy. I had initially thought that because of this the boys would not want to participate in the arts lessons that we had prepared for them, but we were completely wrong. Like the girls, the boys were very eager to participate. I started out by teaching them the first activity where we tear blue paper into different shapes with our fingers and then glue them onto white paper to create a composition. I noticed that the older boys made figurative compositions while the younger girls made very abstract compositions. The energy was wonderful, and while the children did fight a bit, I think overall we successfully taught them the lessons.

Thursday was our orientation with Brooke at the U.S. Pavilion. Seeing Martin’s works for the first time was truly amazing and I loved how bright the U.S.  pavilion was in contrast with the neighboring pavilions that were dark and often showcased video work and sound installation. We also had the chance to watch Brooke give a tour to the Yale Art Gallery which reminded us about the proper way to speak about the works.

Working in the Pavilion this past week has been great because I love talking about the works with visitors in both English and Italian. Generally, no one touches the works which is great. Unfortunately however, the exits of the Pavilion are very confusing and there are no signs, so people often open the wrong doors and enter/exit in the wrong doors. The other interns from the Guggenheim are really great and I love working with them.

One thing that has surprised me about Venice is how confusing it is and how many dead end streets there are. Walking around is very tricky, especially at night. I guess one thing I have enjoyed has been the Venetians, though they are few, they are very nice. I was able to make some local friends by talking with people at the bacari, and the Venetians are very outgoing and well informed about politics and visual culture as well. I hope to make many more friends and have interesting conversations about the complex art scene that the city has to offer.

 

Amberrose Venus-Gordon

Venice is filled with history. As you walk upon the cobblestone and stumble upon a significant work of art and take in all it has to offer, passing by a church that has impacted the community surrounding it, with every twist and turn it leads one into a new dimension. I never know what I am going to see as I walk into a narrow alleyway, swaying from left to right to make room for others to pass by, hoping I am going the right way but secretly hoping I am not so I can indulge in all Venice has to offer. I am always surprised by the statues and structures that I encounter because it feels so surreal that I am seeing them in person. I can also identify the artist that created this statue for a square or for the church and the architect who laid the groundwork for this structure. All of my knowledge about art history takes hold as I gaze upon these works; I felt a sense of fulfillment. It is a reminder that this is the profession I am meant to pursue, silencing all the doubt within me. I enjoy taking long walks along the canals as the sun shines on my face, the wind gently blows against my hair, and the waves crash against the docks. The sense of inner peace I felt while doing this reminds me of my time in Trinidad when I was a child and I would take long walks on the beach clutching my grandparents’ hands as they lifted me up and swung me back and forth.

I feel like all the children needed was a little guidance and they were able to go forth and draw their interpretations from the lesson that was taught on Tuesday. They were easily able to make connections between the two lessons. There is this one little girl that seems to have previous knowledge about different types of artists from different time periods and she applied this knowledge to the lesson, which was “Contour Line Object Drawings.” The children drew from life, focusing on the contour lines of the forms that were placed in front of them. They first used white pencil on a dark paper and then, for the second part of the activity, they drew the still life using a black sharpie pen on a bristol square. I remember the little girl mentioning how she could clearly distinguish the positive and negative shapes within each of her drawings and how she had preferred the pastels because she liked the softness of the pencils and liked to create edges that were soft and loose while another child preferred the sharpie pen because he liked using the tip of the sharpie to create precise lines. I had observed how a lot of the children who took longer to complete their drawings were carefully observing the lines they saw on the forms and wanted to create an accurate drawing while the other students who worked a little faster did pay close attention to what they observed but their drawings were much more abstracted, though I could still tell what they were depicting.

Overall, this activity went well and the children were excited to present to us their drawings and to explain to us what they had learned. I felt like they were more open to sharing their opinions with us and I could tell they were becoming less timid with us. I also learned that I should let loose a little, in the sense that I am hesitant to say Italian phrases but the children don’t seem to mind when I say a phrase in Italian, even if I pronounce it wrong. They appreciate my effort. The children are so easy going and follow the directions to a “t.” They are also so intelligent. I feel like sometimes as adults we tend to silence a child’s creativity because it is too bizarre or it is out of the box, but we should allow them to express themselves any way they choose and we shouldn’t place a limit on their creativity. The atmosphere is light-hearted and everyone is learning and growing from one another.

At the Pavilion, the guests that came through the doors showed a lot of interest in Martin’s work and were genuinely puzzled by some of his works and wanted me to provide them with my own interpretations of his work. One woman said “I don’t get” about CloisterRedoubt or Cloistered Doubt? and just walked off. People are very honest with their opinions at the Pavilion. They don’t hold back. Whenever I am discussing a work with someone, I give them the facts first and then build from there. I prefer to feed them little crumbs and they usually go from there and form their own conclusion about the work. I provide my own interpretation of the work only when asked to because I prefer to hear what other people have to say, rather than them just taking my interpretation as a fact. Some people whom I interacted with also took a keen interest in who I am as a person and what I do. When I mention I am a painter their eyes light up and they ask what I depict in my paintings and hope I continue to pursue my career as an artist even after I graduate. One man had told me how he hopes to see my work at the American Pavilion in the future, which is great to hear coming from someone who barely knows you but has so much faith in you and what you do.

Tamara Yakubova

Towards the end of my second week in Venice, I have met college students from all over the world and had several great conversations about our cultural differences and perspectives. One of the most interesting conversations I had was with a product and visual design student who attends Università Iuav di Venezia, and grew up in a town just 60 miles out of the main Venice area. The conversation I had with this student helped me see Italian architecture from a local’s point of view rather than a tourist’s point of view. I learned that the characteristics of Venice that attract tourists to it are the same characteristics that cause Venitian design students to leave their city and settle elsewhere to pursue their passions.

Our conversation started with talking about Singapore and how advanced their architecture and urban landscaping is. This conversation about Singapore led into a discussion of the state of Italian architecture; and as we are both design students, I had mentioned to him that I loved that Venice does not destroy any of their old architecture. I had also mentioned that it was quite a unique experience to be able to study a city’s architectural history by simply walking its streets. With that being said, his perspective on Italian architecture was surprising to me at first, but made me realize that I was only looking at Italian architecture form a visitor’s perspective. He said that although yes, it is nice to be surrounded by such rich and beautiful architecture, Italy was unfortunately living in the past and not allowing the new generations of students to move their cities forward. Even shop, restaurant, or business owners are often unable to make physical changes to the spaces that they own and rent, which restricts their space from matching their mission statements and overall concepts for their businesses. I had never thought about architecture in such a way and, although I will always be a guest in this city, I am glad I have this new perspective about it.

My experience at the U.S. Pavilion on the other hand was all about the tourist’s perspective. I think my most interesting observation about the Biennale is the lack of young Italian visitors. The stigmatization that the Biennale is only for tourists or people who understand/appreciate art is stopping youth from feeling invited and welcomed at the pavilions. For this reason, I am extremely excited to bring the kids from both La Pietà and San Donà to Giardini. I want these kids to know that this art is accessible to everyone to interpret and enjoy. These kids are very aware of the Biennale being present in their city, however none of them have been there before and they were all quite surprised when we told them they all will get several chances to visit this summer. I think what I am most excited to see when they visit is to see all the prior knowledge they have acquired over past weeks about the work of Martin Pruyear come to fruition. I am also excited to see the different reactions they will have to the U.S. Pavilion versus to a pavilion they have no prior knowledge about.

The thing I appreciate most about these kids is the respect and patience they have. For example, the students at San Donà are some of the most polite kids I have ever met. They always clean up after themselves, are always so welcoming, and treat us family. The older students, although they may act too cool at times, always try their best. Another thing I really appreciate about the older kids is their ability to know when to help each other out. Since they live together and care for each other, I have realized on several occasions that they step in to help each other before any of us even get the chance to. Likewise, the children at La Pietà really put in the effort to get to know us and make jokes with us. They are constantly being creative and making their art personal. When I say personal I don’t mean they make just about themselves, but about the memories we have with them, the things they learn about us, and much more. We are in constant conversation about sports, American food, our likes and dislikes, which bring us closer together as a community. My overall take away from working with the kids from both San Donà and La Pietà is the sense of community that they have, and their ability to bring this trait into their artwork. With that being said, I think it will be great to have the kids work on a communal project towards the end of the program.