Le lait des rêves aurait-il tourné ?
About the exhibition "The Milk of Dreams" at the Arsenale in Venice until November 27.
Richard Leydier, the editor of the contemporary art magazine Art Press, is perplexed. In the summer issue, he wonders whether the Venice Biennale has decided to take the same artists and start again. If there would not be an unpleasant feeling of déjà vu on the lagoon. "Anselm Kiefer in the Doge's Palace after the ephemeral Grand Palais? Anish Kapoor at the Accademia? Are we back for more? Are we? I hope not." So because he doesn't want to stay holed up in his sadly disillusioned feelings, because he tells himself that, perhaps, "it's just the air of the times playing with your nerves and pouring its stale stream into the canals of the Serenissima," the journalist made himself particularly attentive to the opening of the exhibition "The Milk of Dreams" organized by Cecilia Alemani, artistic director of the 59th Venice Biennale. "The feeling you get from the preamble usually sets the tone." And it starts badly. In the end, what irritates him the most is this diffuse impression that someone wants to take him by the hand to tell him what to think.
First of all, so few men are represented that Richard Leydier says to himself that "while we're at it, we might as well be coherent and go all out with an exclusively female cast. Secondly, Simone Leight's sculpture in the center of the first room of the Arsenal only evokes the qualifier "heavy". It must be said that the Chicago artist born in 1968 to Jamaican parents, who represents the United States in the American pavilion, with works by the Cuban Belkis Ayon on the wall, precedes the "large terracotta sculptures" of Gabriel Chaile, the only Argentine artist invited to participate in the central exhibition. "We can not probably do more big hooves in terms of Africanist claim," says Richard Leydier. Not more moved by the elephant of the German sculptor Katharina Fritsch.
Provocative as one pleases, Richard Leydier even wonders if all this is not finally outlawed, so much is now erected in artistic correctness racism and discrimination ... that is to say the fact of characterizing people according to their origins or their sex, whether negatively or positively.
In the "great jumble" that the rest of the exhibition at the Arsenal represents for him, he seems to regret that he only finds historical figures, such as the painter and sculptor Louise Nevelson (1899-1988), or the very popular visual artist Niki de Saint-Phalle (1930-2002). And themes that he thought "exhausted for a long time", as the "post-human", which simply replaces the new man by the new woman. In short, "already check". But Richard Leydier has already seen so many things, since he is an art critic and exhibition curator...
Certainly, this year's exhibition shows a "concern for the future of humanity" he notes. But he thinks of the 1992 exhibition, "Post Human", by Jeffrey Deitch, or "Corps mutant", an exhibition in which ORLAN participated in 2000, at the art gallery Enrico Navarra in Paris... and which did the same. Just like the sculptures of Marguerite Humeau, the artist born in 1986 in France and living in London, to whom the Palais de Tokyo offered her first solo exhibition in 2016, or those of the Madrid artist Teresa Solar.... "We won't even talk about the rather grotesque costumes made during the 1920s by the German dancer Lavinia Schulz and her husband Walter Holdt," adds the hard-toothed critic. In the end, he will often have had occasion to think of David Cronenberg's "eXistenZ" as he wandered through the Arsenal. "It was 1999 and it seems we're still there.
You'll still have to digest a feisty paragraph about the ubiquity of vernacular forms having made him feel at times like he wasn't at the Venice Biennale but rather at an arts and crafts show... to get to the funniest line in this article, "But I'm a little harsh, there's some good stuff in this show too." What's funny, of course, is the "a little"...
And to finally list the famous "good things according to Richard Leydier". The video installation of Marianna Simnett, grating and funny, finds grace in his eyes. Some paintings too. Like those of Louise Bonnet, "whose art is always very sexual" (is this a criterion of quality?). Or of Felipe Baeza, representing hybrid beings, completed of collage and engraving. Those of Jessie Homer French, too, who assumes the side "regional narrative painter" of his small paintings. And even if he still feels "some hints of a hippie culture and good feelings in this exhibition", even if it "replay the well-known work of Paul Gauguin in a sixties counter-culture style", it seems that Emma Talbot's large hanging, "Where Do We Come From? What Are We ? Where Are We Going?" doesn't seem to displease her too much either. And we can imagine that when Richard Leydier finds it "chilling" that Barbara Kruger "comes to formally embody what she intends to denounce" with her large installation that cannot be missed at the exit of the Arsenal, it is a compliment.
However, you will have to visit the international pavilion in the Giardini to see the most successful sequence of this Biennale according to Richard Leydier, confronting the glass sculptures of Andra Ursuta and the minimalist woolen paintings of Rosemarie Trockel. Although he also finds the room devoted to Paula Rego very beautiful, without being able to stop himself from reproaching the Portuguese artist for playing a little Goya... Fortunately, Hannah Levy is there, with her "strange and sadistic" sculptures, whose giant hooks or stilettos on which they perch console the journalist from "the ambient heaviness". Let's hear it...