“The best thing I’ve seen so far is the focused survey of the work of Bruce Nauman in — ta-da! — the U.S. pavilion. There’s a gallery of Nauman’s bronze hand sculptures and another with hanging heads spewing water. A third, with a turning mobile of taxidermy forms alongside a video of a man skinning a fox, and a video of a man making a balloon toy and someone spilling coffee, forms intricate interweaving psychic grids of chaos, anxiety, reverie, and violence. The other good show was at the British Pavilion. There’s been a lot of complaining about the long lines and mandatory scheduling there, and most of the reports I got from people who did go said the 40-minute video by Steve McQueen, Giardini, was “disappointing” and not worth the wait. But I was surprised by how resonant and haunting the film is. There’s no story to speak of, just shots of the Giardini off season, between biennales. You see boarded-up buildings, close-ups of insects and plants, greyhounds foraging for food, piles of garbage. Even though McQueen’s sense of filmmaking is pretty pedestrian, it’s a real Venetian death trip.
“From there I saw as many of the pavilions as I could. My Worst in Show award was a three-way tie between Australia, Japan, and France. Australia’s Shaun Gladwell parked a burned-out Road Warrior–ish car outside the pavilion. Inside there’s a video of motorcycle rider stopping to contemplate a dead kangaroo in the middle of a desert. Protruding from the side of the pavilion is a motorcycle. In the Japanese pavilion, Miwa Yanagi exhibits a series of huge, god-awful photographs of grotesque naked women. In an accompanying text, a writer raves that these crappy pictures “will bring great joy not only to the Japanese Pavilion but to the Venice Biennale as a whole.”
Saltz: Highlights of the Venice Biennale; Plus, Worst in Show, New York Magazine.