Aug 15, 2012
The title of VBB is apropos—a tongue-in-cheek reference to the Venice Biennale in Italy, the oldest international biennial in the world—and VBB was indeed a savvy satire of the global biennial phenomenon that gently questioned the economies of culture. Biennials and art fairs have long been utilized as civic strategies to drive cultural tourism, and as international biennial curator and critic Ivo Mesquita remarks, “There’s nothing new in this system, which seems to reproduce endlessly. On the contrary, it seems to validate economy more than arts and culture.” Rather, Mesquita posits, “it would be better for artists and exhibition curators to design and carry out projects…taking into account the challenges of a world of fluid identities and trespassed borders—one in which local and global are inexorably linked, where politics is cultural…and where such unresolved contradictions provide the dynamic space of creative inventiveness.” VBB embraced this dissolution of boundaries and network of political, economic, and cultural linkages through its amorphous structure—it layered over and blended with the local culture in a way that was not at all oppositional or interventionist, but rather embedded and respectful of the informal and formal relations of the boardwalk itself. In this way, it created a semi-autonomous space for creative production that could not be instrumentalized (in that moment) by a typical art world economy, but instead promoted a more democratic cross-current of exchanges that conformed to the culture of the boardwalk. Both high-level collector and weekend tourist could haggle over the same art performances, trinkets, and art objects following precisely the same social codes. All the artists arrived bleary-eyed at 5:30am each morning to claim their vendor stalls.
Of course, it would be naïve to believe that the nicely produced map/brochure, Hammer web and media presence, and inclusion in the VBB would translate into cultural capital that could be equally cashed in by every artist on the boardwalk. For many, their lives will continue as usual, with their participation in VBB perhaps yielding a positive uptick in sales for a few days, some good connections (and others that are fairly meaningless), maybe some flack from their neighbors and fellow regulars who remain unsure of the Hammer’s motives. It’s hard to say. For some of the “white cube” artists, participation in this event will increase their artistic capital and result in potentially lucrative connections, especially for recently graduated MFAs for whom this is their first museum-sponsored exhibition. Or maybe not so much—it’s hard to say.
It was also hard to put my finger on exactly what I took away from VBB, but as I reluctantly returned my bike, collected some trinkets that had piled up in my basket, and headed back to my car, I reveled in the memories of a great ride on the beach, some fascinating artwork, a two-headed turtle, Jimi Hendrix on roller skates, a dog in a bikini, and some good conversations. Which is quite a bit more than your typical art opening. As Ali described, “It’s exhilarating to have the conversation of art amongst all the noise.”
-Sue Bell Yank, Assistant Director, Academic Programs
Filed under: Venice Beach Biennial