Venice Biennale 2015

Venice.  La Serenissima. A city so beautiful that adding art to it may seem superfluous. But here comes the Venice Biennale. Lots to see on such a stunning backdrop;  quite a competition for your attention. However, the Venice Biennale is now at it’s 56th show and has therefore had about 112 years of practice of attention grabbing art.

So here is my view:

1)  The Pavilions in the  Giardini

Many nations have pavilions that they pay for and then select curators or artists to fill with works, some are themed and some are Art!

But the British are coming, the British are coming.

Well the English are, as I have rather gone off the Scots since the election.

In the British pavilion Sarah Lucas turned up the volume in many senses. Her pavilion was a huge colour field in yellow and at the inauguration, instead of another bunch of long, boring speeches, she had two brilliant musicians pump up the volume and rock it. Fab.


Sarah Lucas  Venice 2015

The USA pavilion had the fantastic Joan Jonas, I am a big fan and it was great to see a long line of people waiting to get in to such a totally and completely conceived and realised show,


Image result for joan jonas venice 2015

Joan Jonas Venice 2015

The Belgian pavilion had some great stuff; one of my favourite pavilions. Merged art and ideas.

The Danish pavilion was spare and lovely.

There is also a Giardini group show which had some great works including the excellent Jeremy Deller being very political.

2 In the Arsanale

Then over to the Arsanale. This is a huge place with many artists being chosen from around the world by the curator of the event, which changes each time.

The theme of the show this time was based on Paul Klee’s Angel of History painting and Gershom Sholem’s poem (who they managed to call Gerhardt Sholem !). But this theme been done before in 2006 at the Arnolfini’s opening show, which is a bit naughty.

But some brilliant work:

Adel Abdessad with a fabulous performance piece and the result of the work.

Daniel Boyd aboriginal painting

Sonia Boyd with a film of a performance at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London which was so alive, current, engaging and modern but with undercurrents of identity and politics. Great stuff.

Theaster Gates film of the destruction of a church in Chicago. You needed to know the context to see it and then you can see the layers.

Steve McQueen’s film-great stuff. Great art.

Hiwa K from Iraq

Chris Ofili, wonderful paintings, especially the Green one. I walked in and almost out at first as they were very overwhelming. But when the room emptied I went back and fell in love. Not at all my taste, but I ended up just wanting to live in the room!  Total convert. Loved them.


Chris Ofili Venice 2015- this image doesn’t do it justice!

Christian Bottomski film of wheat sheaves and bells on the sea shore, really simple and really everything

Jumana Emil Abboudthe drawings, beautiful

Chantal Akerman film, which was fantastic as film and as installation. It made you walk among the screens and it was all sped up with a sort of road movie feel, but with no people, just landscape.  I loved it.

Some duds and lack of credits including a work called the Botany of Desire. Now I know the book of that title and the book is much better than the art work of the same name.

3 Then into the best in showsssss!

My favourites were not in the official biennale. They were in other galleries, or Palazzos, which are pretty amazing places to show art.

‘Slip of the Tongue’  with some brilliant pieces by Nairy Baghramian, Nancy Spero, Henrik Olesons (nails) and Petrit Halilay. Curated by Dan Vo who did the Danish pavilion too.

Jimmie Durham: this was almost best in show as I was totally absorbed and could have stayed all day/week. It is in a beautiful setting which helps, but he really used that and there is a wonderful book that accompanies the work- worth reading. The show is at the Fondazione Furla which is worth going to anyway, but with his work there, spend the day. Perfect use of some Morano glass.Really wonderful work

jimmie durham

Jimmie Durham

We were about to go back to visit the Jimmie Durham as it was so wonderful, but it was closed on the Monday so we went to the Fortuny Museum instead to see a show there, Pro Portio. What a place and what a show . Some amazing works including Marina Abramovich (sound work), Sol le Witt, Agnes Martin, Carl Andre and Fred Sandback, juxtaposed with the odd Botticelli and Durher anatomy books! Wow, The Italians are not precious about their wonderful art collections. Totally wonderful show and place. Brilliant curation. I could live there too! So it ended getting my Best in Show (a bit like Crufts I guess). I loved all the juxtapositions of ancient and modern at both this and the Jimmie Durham shows.

Ellsworth Kelly Red, Yellow, Blue, 1963 Olio su tela, 231 x 231 cm Collection, Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Sant Paul-de-Vence Cliché Claude Germain, ©Ellsworth kelly

Ellsworth Kelly “Red, Yellow, Blue”, 1963, Collection, Fondation Marguerite et Aimé Maeght, Sant Paul-de-Vence Cliché Claude Germain, ©Ellsworth kelly-  at the Pro Portio show 2015 Venice


Sandro Botticelli (Firenze, 1444-1510) "Ritratto di donna", 1485, Tempera su legno 61,3 x 40,5 cm Private Collection, Bruxelles

Sandro Botticelli, “Ritratto di donna”, 1485, Private Collection, Bruxelles – also at Pro Portio Show 2015 Venice!

Also, I should mention the ‘Venetian Blind’s, a series of concerts by bands led by artists in the amazing Palazzo Grassi  with free cocktails to cheer the spirits. Martin Creed played- I shall ignore the Scottish bit and claim him for good old Blighty! Fab.



Art in Hospitals- curing the spirit


                                                 Le Jardin hospitalier (2015)  by Jyll Bradley

                                               Hôpital Roger Salengro, CHRU, Lille, France

                                                                                  photo credit Maryline Migot.


I know that the main function of a hospital is to repair the damage. Usually they are good at repairing physical damage and sometimes they can point people to the place to help repair their mental health, even if they cannot repair it then and there. Hospitals tend to deal with acute problems, patching you up and sending you out. They cannot repair your life.

Hospitals want to be holistic, but seldom are. They cannot be all things to all people. But what they are is a place that anyone, the stranger, the excluded, can come in at any time of day or night. The door is always open. The word ‘hospital’ has the same root as hospitality. It is meant to be a place of care.

UK hospitals are usually extremely ugly. As I said in another blog, we do civilised care, but not cultural care. We don’t care beautifully. We don’t care for ourselves and others with due diligence, with real care and empathy, with respect and dignity. We treat our ill as bodies. You come in and surrender your bodies to the staff. We shove you into cramped cubicles, we put you in beds with scant curtains between them, we degrade the space and your space, your body, to a non-functional body in a bare, ugly, functional space.

In the UK, particularly in Accident and Emergency (A&E) or urgent care settings, people often behave badly towards staff. This is for a number of reasons such as being frightened about their health, scared that they or a relative are going to die or, the most common reason, being high on alcohol or drugs. But people also behave badly in ugly places. Beautiful places lift the spirit and speak to a higher emotion than the instant physical fear.

So then we put ‘Art’ into hospitals. Childish, primary colours, bright and ‘cheerful’ that are so depressing and sentimental, infantilising and childish. We say we could not spend money on good art as the priority is to spend money on medicines and technology. Why is it either/or? Why not both. Beautiful places make you feel better and behave better and painting a wall in an ugly colour costs the same as in a beautiful colour.

In France they take a different view. On a corridor that is used by 3000 people walking along it each day, a depressing, soulless, windowless place to literally lose yourself and your directions, in a hospital with very depressed staff going up and down this corridor, they took a huge budget (in fact about double what it would cost to refurbish with horrible paint, lights and flooring) and commissioned art.

They got smart. They chose an art production company: artconnexion that really get art, rather than slickness or merely production. Artconnexion were very brave, they chose a British Artist, Jyll Bradley, who makes architectural structures and installations.This is not sentimental or infantilising. The hospital staff, doctors, nurses, administrators, porters, chefs and patients also got brave. They went with it.  The result is mind blowing.

This is not sentimental. This is not false cheer. This is visceral. This is the blood and guts and care and beauty that is us. This is nature and nurture.

Jyll Bradley has made other work, architectural art installations, particularly site specific work,  and interacts with the place in all its aspects discovering things that are unknown or forgotten. The corridor reflects the history of Lille, the town where the hospital is, with its large botanic and herbal medicinal history. A corridor with no windows and an artist who understands and works with light, that basic need for plants to grow and therefore for us to thrive. Back-lit images like stained glass windows, but also like windows onto a world, the world of the gardener, who tends the plants, revealing parts of the plant: the flower, the bulb, like an operating table; the water and earth that feeds the plants like a nurse tending a patient; where you enter, remove your outer clothes and put on your apron to avoid the visceral mud, blood, cells, getting onto your outer clothes. This cross-reference. This beauty. Put together with extreme care. The installation. The wall colours. The flooring. Extreme care. In a place that cares about its corridors,  where the artist has made a corridor look like a walk through a forest, that has ‘la source’,  an area where you can sit and read, which looks like you are in a tree-house, a wood, back in nature, that brings such care to place,  nurture. How much more so that you will be cared for as the patient, the family, the staff?

Care, being careful, really caring rather than careless; providing beauty, showing how much they care about you that they create a beautiful space for you, the visitor, the stranger to enter, to use your eyes, the windows onto your soul, to see such beauty. A healing place where you are nurtured back to health.