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Thursday, 3 October 2013

San Rocco Again

Picasso sits in one of the red canvas director's chairs that line the perimiter of the room, at the end of the upper floor of the Scuola Grande di San Rocco. Above his right shoulder is Tintoretto's depiction of the Temptation of Christ, and beside him, the chapel that holds the magnificent Crucifixion. A mirror rests on his knee – he has been examining the ceiling paintings – and beside him sit two men who look astonishingly like twins.

They are Tintoretto himself, and Emilio Vedova, the Italian expressionist painter. I have chosen to stand, the better to hear the conversation among them, and hopeful that I may have something worthwhile to add. The four of us chat quietly. This appears to be a mutual admiration society. Respect is exchanged in every word.

Just around the corner, Velazquez once again tries to take in the magnificent Crucifixion. He is somewhat annoyed by the apparently unstoppable droning of a tour guide who addresses a small group of French tourists.

Vedova, referring to his visit to the Giardini and the Biennale:
I enjoyed the English artist's work. Jeremy Deller ... That was his name, yes? The bit about William Morris returning from the dead as a colossus, to chuck that idiotic yacht into the lagoon was very funny. And did you not find the clarity, the resolution of images in those films of his quite startling?

Ah, yes. What amazing choices are now available to artists. In my day, one was a polymath, a Renaissance Man they now say, if you practiced painting, sculpture and architecture. Today, a young artist can work in all of those areas plus performance, installation, video, photography. The variety must sometimes become distracting. 

I enjoyed the British pavilion too, although in other instances I do sometimes have a problem appreciating all the variety when it shows up in one artist's work. Rather than trying to say SOMEthing, it seems that the artist is trying to say EVERYthing. It reminds me of some very enthusiastic but unfocussed high school students I once taught: "and this colour means love, and this shape means eternity, and this emptiness means death ... " The result just feels too broad for my taste, and perhaps unkindly? I often see it as immature. Then again, just as Leonardo dabbled so brilliantly, some artists today are able to do so successfully. But the work of the Dutch artist, Mark Manders, I loved. So clean and so powerful ... great stuff I thought. And wonderful juxtapositions of such varied sculptural materials.

When the immediate impact of art is weak, diffuse, the artist has not succeeded in moving from the vague impulse at the start, to the specific punch at the end. There is a place for subtlety, but too much can be tedious.

What are you saying, Pablo? Did you enjoy the Biennale, or did you not?

Picasso, raises his eyebrows, shrugs and extends a hand as if to say "Is this this really worth commenting on?"
So much energy. So much crap. Too much to wade through to find the few gems that may be hidden in the mess.

Velazquez, returning from the side chapel:
Pablo! You sound like a reactionary curmudgeon. You of all people should appreciate that these artists are searching for new ways of expressing themselves.

There's nothing new here – at least nothing that demands my attention. Refinements, perhaps; but new? No. Film, photography, performance, collage, assemblage, painting, sculpture ... what is new? These are all disciplines whose limitations have been reached. Aside from some 'fun-house' computer-generated stuff, it makes you want to sigh, scratch your head and walk away. Where is the punch?