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The 57th Venice Biennale: "Mediocrity suspended between poles of earnestness and silliness"


In the Sydney Morning Herald, John McDonald offers a scathing review of the 57th Venice Biennale, including several withering paragraphs on the Golden Lion–awarded Faust by Anne Imhof, at the German pavilion. Among other things, McDonald takes exception to the fact that visitors have to wait in line for up to an hour to see Faust, which he regards as an artificial way to inflate the importance of a work that, when you finally get to see it, is rather underwhelming. Interestingly, McDonald also spends several paragraphs discussing Damien Hirst’s Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable—not so much to denounce it as to suggest that Hirst’s extravagant and crassly commercial work helps make Faust and other works like it seem profound. Here’s an excerpt from McDonald’s review:

This year the Golden Lion for Best National Participation went to Germany, for Anne Imhof’s Faust, a work that was abhorrent in so many ways I’d need another column to cover all the angles. The queue was such that I felt lucky to have waited only 57 minutes. Upon entering, the art was largely invisible.

A false floor of glass had been placed over the real floor, creating a narrow enclosure in which a group of “dancers” undertook various banal actions during a five-hour period. Every new movement sent viewers stampeding to the relevant part of the room. For most of the time the majority of the audience could see nothing at all. I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who resented being treated like a laboratory rat, but the psychology of the queue ensures that after having waited for hours to get into the pavilion, viewers will linger in order to justify the time they wasted. In the process they waste even more time.

The first reviews of this excruciating, pretentious non-spectacle made it sound like a life-changing experience. This testifies to another psychological phenomenon: expose a group of arty people to something boring and incomprehensible and they’ll swear it was magnificent.

Even the press release for Faust is abhorrent: “Only by forming an association of bodies, only by occupying space can resistance take hold,” it croons. “Dualistic conceptions and the frontier between subject and object of capitalism disintegrate…” Und so weiter!

As the buzz of admiration went viral it became inevitable that Germany would pick up the gong, and Anne Imhof be anointed as the Next Big Thing. It was depressing to realise how many people have a masochistic desire to suffer for someone else’s art.

Image: Performers in Anne Imhof’s Faust. Via NY Times.


Similar sentiments but much more interesting (and amusing):


This is “earnest”, but pretty entertaining to anyone arriving in the city by boat