Dave’s Biennale I don’t know much about art

I don’t know much about art - in fact I don’t even know what I like.

Well, this is not strictly true. Having ticked over the thirty year mark as a practising visual artist with the keen interests of a dilettante I’ve picked up a fair bit, but I am aware that my knowledge is not that of a professional art historian or theorist.

I’m also aware of my prejudices, particularly relating to theory. I still subscribe to the Platonic concept that there exists in the abstract an absolute Truth and Beauty, and that our artworks aspire to that but must be imperfect reflections of it. I came to this view through rigorous studies in logical systems and physical theory so I can defend it, but I realise that it’s still a prejudice.

I was very excited about seeing the Biennale because I wanted to look at current photographic processes and how they relate to painting. This is for personal reasons - I exhibit both painting and photography, and I want photography generally to shake itself down and ask us more questions than it currently does. So it was the 2-D work that interested me most.

I hear your protests: “But Dave, what about sculpture?”

Too easy. To tell if a sculpture is good, tap it with a spoon and see if it makes a nice sound.

“And installations?”

Easy again. There are no good installations. (Joke. some of my favourite bits were installations. The above was not one of them.)

“Video art?”

WILL YOU TURN THAT THING DOWN? I like art to challenge my thinking, not damage my hearing. Damn that video art was NOISY. Duchamp changed the world by exhibiting a urinal, and that did not make a peep. Quiet contemplation people. Please.

Of course this is all a bit harsh and silly. Hang on, no it isn’t - I mean it. Now, let’s preface this with an “I loved the Biennale and I’m really glad I spent three days there,” and then cut to the BUT.

BUT: Okay, three days? (Most only spend one) And how many artists? Three days at eight viewing hours a day is twenty four solid hours. And this for 79 artists in the main rooms, and then 25 country pavilions, and then there’s the Giardini with 35 artists in the central pavilion, and then there are 30 country pavilions there as well. So this gives 1/10th of bugger all time to see each of them if you tried, which would be stupid. And I’m a one-hour-of-art-a-day kind of guy. MOMA? One hour. Pompidou? Maybe an hour and a half. Tate Modern... See where I’m going with this?

It might not to happen to everyone, but after a few hours of being in a human crush looking at noisy artworks, when I then walk in to a room full of a couple of hundred glass boxes with things written on them, and things inside them, and then there’s a legend on the wall telling you it’s a complex game and here are the rules for how you play, I don’t think “WOW” - I think “WELL YOU CAN FUCK RIGHT OFF THEN”.

Oh man - the crush! The noise! How can you move in to look at the delicate surface of an intimate work when a conga line of school kids smacks you out of the way. NOTE: those school kids do seem to have the best time though, by engineering opportunities for a quick grope in the dark exhibits and smoking cigs outside on break time. Art will hold happy associations for them no doubt.

So this does educate me in a way about what art needs to do to survive in this environment.

1: It needs to be big. The bigger the better and the taller the better, so if there are thirty people in front of you you can still see it.

2: It needs to be repetitive. You need to get the message from a). one work in the series, or b). one part of the whole work, because you won’t be seeing it all at once.

3: It needs to grab you fast. There’s a lot of competition out there, and if something bigger or shinier pops up, “poof!” You’ve lost your audience.

4: The message needs to be simple and easy to remember. “Ah, I get it, this time the woman is real and the man is the object” “OK, that’s made of steel, but the steel is folded like cloth.” And it needs to be easy to describe, so later, over a Campari: "Which were your favourites?" "I liked the black and white photos of the black woman." NOTE - I did not make that last one up. I heard it by eavesdropping on two mid-20s art students.


I loved the Biennale and there was some great stuff there. It wasn’t all great but so what. I didn’t see it all; I COULDN’T see it all. And I feel sympathy for the artists. It’s a tough gig out there. Thank you artists!

And the take home message for my own work? Well, I’m not in the Biennale and I won’t be, so I can play by different rules. Not worse rules, just different. It’s easy to look at this stuff and at first think “Wow! I could never afford to print, frame it and transport something on that scale.” But to do so would miss the point. Make your own work Dave. Follow your own path and enjoy it.

If you’d like to see what I thought of the photography in the Biennale you can view another essay here.