Wiener Secession Meets Venice at the Biennale 2011

The many ways in which contemporary artists seek dialogue with their audiences

The Austrian Pavilion, a pioneering landmark in design by modern architect Josef Hoffmann | Photo: Philip Ellison

Salzburg-born Markus Schinwald has been chosen to represent Austria at the 54th Venice Biennale, with the planned opening of the Austrian Pavilion set for Jun. 2. As is traditional, Austria, with a €400,000 budget for the conception, organization, and implementation of the exhibition, will be represented in 2011 by a single artist, exhibiting at the Pavilion.

Flanked by Austrian Eve Schlegel, Commissioner of the Austrian Pavilion at Biennale di Venezia 2011, Education, Culture, and Arts Minister Claudia Schmied,  described Schinwald is “an outstanding artist of the younger generation,” at the press conference Jan. 26.

The Venice Biennale, established in 1895, has long been regarded as one of the world’s most important contemporary visual art events in the world. Originally an International Art Exhibition, the Biennale has over the years given birth to a variety of complementary festivals: Music, Cinema, and Theatre (the Venice Film Festival in 1932 was the first film festival ever). In 1980 an Architecture Exhibition was added, and in 1999, Dance made its debut. Today the Biennale attracts some 370,000 visitors.

The general theme and title of the 54th Biennale, chosen by festival director Bice Curiger, ILLUMInations (Latin for “light” juxtaposed with nations) suggests the many ways in which contemporary artists seek dialogue with their audiences, challenging the conventions through which art is viewed while evoking the many points of origin from which artists and audiences converge.

Schinwald’s Venice project will examine the Austrian Pavilion itself, a unique structure designed by the great Josef Hoffmann, one of the founders of the Wiener Secession and the Wiener Werkstätte and completed in in 1934. The austere white cube, still very modern in feel, was the first Venice pavilion designed by a leading architect of the early modern. The pavilion is acknowledged as a pioneering landmark in modern architecture.

Schinwald turns the viewer into a performer, the pavilion into a closed stage. By dissecting the interior space along vertical axes, Schinwald makes the human body its structural frame of reference. In the context of the festival theme, Schinwald will work with the pavilion’s physical form and history, using the dimensions of space, time, light and shadow, contrasting these with his vision of  the human body with all its deficiencies, to introduce “an element of disturbance between the visible and the concealed.”

Austria’s participation is complemented by the video platform Approaching Venice, whose launch was also announced. Eva Schlegel, initiator of the platform, invited personalities from the fields of art and architecture to participate, yielding nine interviews with leading artists, museum directors, curators, architects and critics,  engaging them in reflecting on the impact of the Biennale on the art world.

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