Thursday, August 27, 2009

Nationalism and art

Installation View:
Liam Gillick
How are you going to behave?
A kitchen cat speaks

La Biennale di Venezia 2009
53. Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte
German Pavilion
Courtesy Liam Gillick

The Venice Biennale is one of the world's most important contemporary art exhibitions. It features nationally selected artists who use their country's pavillion to exhibit their work and generally the artists are chosen by some sort of national process. In Australia they are selected by the Australia Council for the Arts, the Federal arts funding and policy body.

So it was quite a departure from tradition when the German pavilion at this year's Biennale featured a British artist, Liam Gillick (born 1964). What a daring move! This is a clear break with the nationalist tradition of the Venice Biennale. And the Germans were not alone in taking this new direction. The Curator of the Hong Kong pavilion was a German, Tobias Berger.

The pavillions in Venice are themselves part of the artistic experience and today many works are site-specific. So Gillick spent a lot of time coming to terms with the history as well as the architecture of the German Pavillion. It was originally built in 1909 and has seen many transformations reflecting Germany's troubled political history.

Nationalism and art have never really been happy bed fellows and it will be interesting to see whether other nations follow the German example at Venice in 2011. Somehow, I doubt few will.

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