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“Dubious Display” Of Contemporary Art Stars Opens In Venice

Red-hot contemporary sculptor Jeff Koons among 19 artists featured in Italian museum’s latest exhibition, which runs through Dec. 31, 2012.

<--break->Koons' Hanging Heart features prominently in Venice exhibition
<--break->Koons' Hanging Heart features prominently in Venice exhibition
Rocco Moliterni

VENICE - With has short hair, grey suit and tie, Jeff Koons could be mistaken for a Wall Street trader. Indeed that's what he was before becoming an internationally-renowned artist. Watching him pose for a picture below his giant Hanging Heart sculpture – which sold at an auction in 2007 for a record $23 million, and now dominates the last room in Venice's Punta della Dogana Museum – it's easy, in fact, to doubt whether Koons really is an artist.

Having doubts here is normal. Indeed, the museum's curator, Caroline Bourgeois, titled the current exhibition "In Praise of Doubt." The display opened April 10 and features pieces from French fashion tycoon François Pinault's permanent collection.

The exhibition at Punta della Dogana Museum, which was brilliantly designed by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando, displays the works of 19 artists from the last 50 years. Among the doubts it raises is whether artists from several decades ago were better able to question art and the wider world than their contemporary heirs.

An example is Ed Kienholz's Roxys, designed in the 1960s. The artwork reenacts a brothel for soldiers during World War II. In more recent work, it is almost impossible to find this same uneasiness and torment, combined with a fierce criticism of machismo and war. The post-surrealist Belgian artist Marcel Broodthaers grapples with the theme of war too. His Décor (1975) is a comparison of conflicts from different ages. Broodthaers combines cannons, rifles, an ironic sun umbrella, and a puzzle of the Battle of Waterloo.

A piece by the octogenarian Elaine Sturtevant consists of a room with a vault made of jute bags over many reproductions of artwork by Marcel Duchamp. Her take on the dadaist and surrealist master is more articulate than a similarly themed piece by India's Subodh Gupta, whose Et tu Duchamp is just a black bronze sculpture of a bearded Mona Lisa. Still, Gupta's sculpture, which consists of pots and spoons, at least encompasses a certain depth that is noticeably lacking in the pots and spoons Jeff Koons has hanging form a child's lifejacket in one of his works.

Bruce Nauman's video Clown Torture, created in the 1980s, still makes an impact, as does a room dedicated to Donald Judd, a big name in1960s minimalism. Roni Horn's piece Well and Truly conveys a similar sense of gravity, though it is even more esoteric than the Judd exhibition.

Maurizio Cattelan's All (2008) is always upsetting. The line of corpses covered by marble blankets is all too reminiscent of the bodies of the migrants who drowned when a boat carrying them to Europe capsized last week south of Sicily. Blankets also play a key role in Thomas Schütte's Efficiency Men (2005), which features a disturbing parade of cloaked monsters. Another of Schütte's sculptures, Vater Staat, dominates the square opposite the nearby Chiesa della Salute.

The exhibition has its letdowns. Work by young artist Adel Abdessemed, so promising in past shows, here seems dull. Two years ago, in Turin, Abdessemed exhibited some very strong videos. Here his Taxidermy consists of the hearts of stuffed animals, and his sign Grève mondiale uses a neon light just for the sake of it. Thomas Houseago is another example. His sculptures were monumental in 2009, at the Belgian exhibition Beaufort03, and in 2010, at the fair Art Basel Miami Beach. In this exhibitoin they are simply lacking.

In the end, one is left with a lingering doubt about whether it is possible to combine the needs of a themed exhibition and the needs of a permanent collection as opulent and impressive as François Pinault's.

Read the original article in Italian.

Photo - Achimh

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