The timid Fifth Moscow Biennale pussyfoots rather than pussyriots.
The Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art 2013 does not ruffle any feathers, nor will it invoke the rage of Putin’s Russia. Avoiding any overtly confrontational content, the exhibition won praise among the state’s media and politicians for the visually stunning and poetical works on display.
Moscow Biennale 2013 video courtesy The Calvert Journal.
The Fifth Moscow Biennale of Contemporary Art, titled More Light, took place from 20 September to 20 October 2013 in over fifty locations around Moscow. Curator Catherine de Zegher, who is currently Director of the Museum of Fine Arts Ghent, Belgium, chose the work of 72 artists and artist groups from forty countries. Artists included biennale regulars such as Eija-Liisa Ahtila, Simryn Gill, Song Dong and Sopheap Pich.
The Biennale’s main venue, the Manezh Central Exhibition Hall, features art by Jumaadi, Alfredo and Isabel Aquilizan, Valery Koshlyakov, Alia Syed and visionary architect Yona Friedman, whose massive fifteen by fifteen metre architectural structure, constructed from cardboard and metal mesh, was a collaboration between the ninety-year-old and a team of young architects from the Moscow School of Architecture (MARCH).
Mona Hatoum‘s Web, a large installation of hand-blown crystal that looks like a dew-covered spider’s web, captured the collaborative tone of the exhibition. The curatorial statement remarks that her work embodies our interdependency, as this “interconnective web we have all become caught in, exquisite but, perhaps, also displays a sombre side of our globalised society.”
The Calvert Journal provides comprehensive coverage and reviews of the Biennale, including photographs taken during the opening events, video and text interviews with the curator and selected artists, and other notable figures such as Joseph Backstein, Founder of the Moscow Biennale, and curator Hans Ulrich Obrist.
A piece in Russia Beyond the Headlines points out that Catherine de Zegher is the first woman curator for the Moscow Biennale, and that by gender, the artists in the exhibition were evenly distributed fifty-fifty.
Nothing negative, provocative, sensational — everything that one expects from actual art
The New York Times noted that while the biennale was “modern and energetic, flush with corporate sponsorship and eagerly attended, [it was] seemingly wary of political and bureaucratic land mines that can attract the wrath of the authorities in Vladimir V. Putin’s Russia.”
The report also quotes the state television channel Kultura, which commends the biennale for its “family values, positive mood, unlimited fantasy.” Kultura’s website states that the exhibition contained “Nothing negative, provocative, sensational — everything that one expects from actual art.”
Art critic John McDonald for the Sydney Morning Herald points out that organising biennales in cities like Moscow or Singapore requires compromise, but as “long as major public provocations are avoided there is ample scope to include works that are critical of existing social and political structures.”
Citing Panamarenko‘s translucent paper zeppelin which floats overhead as an example of critique, he claims the work “is an imposing metaphor for the inflated nature of human aspirations, and the fragile way they are maintained.”
McDonald also highlights Tom Molloy‘s Protest, stating that the eight-metre-long newspaper photo collage of demonstrations is attracting huge crowds. Protest‘s popularity maybe stem from the work’s inclusion of a picture of Vladimir Putin, painted like the Joker character in Batman, alongside a slogan that says “You’re not fooling anyone”.
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