Tim Tate's Top 10 Moments from the Venice Biennale

Tim Tate's Top 10 Moments from the Venice Biennale

Published on Friday, May 31, 2019.
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Martin Puryear Liberty Libertà

"Martin Puryear: Liberty Libertà"

All photos by Tim Tate

[Editor's note: Glass/mixed-media sculptor Tim Tate recently returned home from Italy, where his work is on display in “Glasstress.” After visiting the show, he headed to the Venice Biennale, and now he’s generously shared his top 10 favorite highlights from his trip with us.] 

It is difficult to contain my excitement. I am a glass/mixed-media sculptor participating in one of the best glass shows on earth: “Glasstress.” 

“Glasstress” is the brainchild of the great glass visionary, Adriano Berengo. Like Peggy Guggenheim years before, he brought in some of the finest artists in the world and let them work with glass as a sculptural medium. He also brought in glass artists who stretched the medium in new directions, such as Lino Tagliapietra, Karen Lamonte, and now, me! 

After this show, I headed to the Venice Biennale with my friend and dealer. The Biennale is a worldwide art show that happens every two years. It is not unlike a World’s Fair. Each country has their own pavilion or space, and each picks one or more artists to represent that country. For 2019, the US chose the great American artist Martin Puryear to explore some of this country’s contemporary issues. 

Just to put you all on notice, let me share the opening dinner for the artists on day one. It was in a 600-year-old church on the island of Murano. This set the pace for the whole week.

Murano dinner

This was the best five-day art experience of my life, and I’m sharing the highlights and my top 10 favorite works at these fairs – chronologically. 

1 – Ai Weiwei at “Glasstress”

Ai Weiwei at Glasstress

Holy moly… as if his white-finger chandelier with surveillance cams and Twitter birds wasn’t enough, ask them to let you peek into the back room, where they are assembling a new black-skull chandelier. But shhh! It's our secret. 

Ai Weiwei at Glasstress

2 – Monica Bonvicini, In My Hand 
Another piece from “Glasstress.” It’s a miracle that all my images weren’t from there. I will leave it at two before I move on. What a beautiful casting. This may be the smallest piece on my list, but it spoke to me.

Monica Bonvicini, In My Hand

3 – United States Pavilion / “Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà”
If you love material art, then you love Martin Puryear. And if you are from Washington, DC, like I am, you revere him. At the Venice Biennale, he definitely did not disappoint. This year he solely and spectacularly represented the United States in an amazing in journey through racial unrest in our country, as only he can. In “Liberty/Libertà,” you begin by stepping through an almost spiderweb entrance that appears to be the structure of the dome of Jefferson’s Monticello, yet flattened and partially obscuring the black spiral protruding out the back. You know you are in for a ride. The first piece inside was A Column for Sally Hemings, a shackle driven into a pristine white-marble base. The last piece was a modified confederate hat with unexploded weapons inside, as if to say there is still time for it all to blow up. So powerful!

“Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertà”

4 – Russian Pavilion / Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai
From the parable of the prodigal son to the inner workings of the winter palace, there is something for everyone in this dark, moody red-lit ride. Especially great use of neon and paintings. 

Alexander Shishkin-Hokusai

5 – Main Pavilion / Alexandra Birken, Angie 2019, polyester, 5 x 5 ft.
Sometimes there is so much “art noise” all around you, that it takes a quiet work to center you. I love this fiber piece.

Alexandra Birken, Angie 2019

6 – Hong Kong / "Shirley Tse: Stakeholders" 
More interesting wood. Shirley Tse’s endless chain of turned wood – meandering through three rooms and illustrating her personal history – culminates presumably in Venice with a turned-wooden goblet.

Shirley Tse: Stakeholders

7 – Arsenale / Tavares Strachan, Adult Panchen Lama
I love the way the entire circulatory system veritably throbs. I’ve seen versions of this, but none as spectacular as this one. 

Tavares Strachan, Adult Pachen Lama

8 – Arsenale / Andra Ursuta / Brooklyn
It seems unbelievable that an artist so proficient in glass and working in Brooklyn is known so little outside the glass world. This is the perfect example of how separated the glass world and the fine art world can be. 

Andra Ursuta

9 –  Nigeria / Otobong Nkanga, Veins Aligned
Who doesn’t love a 50-foot glass river ending in a huge spectacular portrait? Get to the Arsenale and track this one down.

Otobong Nkanga, Veins Aligned

10 – Mark Justiniani / Philippines
One of the best pieces in the Arsenale in Venice was a piece using endless mirrors. It took our breath away. Walk into the Philippine pavilion, remove your shoes, and climb onto the artworks – sleek islands filled with mirrors that create an infinity effect. Stare down, and you’ll find an endless abyss, punctuated by objects that are specific to the Philippines, ranging from plants and spices to a stack of documents. As an artist who works in endless mirrors, I gotta step up my game!

Mark Justiniani

Mark Justiniani

That’s my top 10. I’m sure when you go that you will have your own list. I’m home now, trying hard to process this whole experience. To be in such a great show – followed by Venice and the Biennale – is the dream of a lifetime. Thanks to everyone who helped me get there!