2015 Venice Biennale

Beyond the Biennale: Shows Around Venice

Mario Merz, Spirale di cera, 1970–81 in ‘Mario Merz: Unreal City’ at Gallerie dell'Accademia, through September 20, 2015.

Mario Merz, Spirale di cera, 1970–81 in ‘Mario Merz: Unreal City’ at Gallerie dell’Accademia, through September 20, 2015.

“TV is triage these days,” New Yorker critic Emily Nussbaum wrote recently, of the unwatchable number of television shows on the air right now, and you could say the same of viewing art exhibitions in Venice during the biennale. There is the sprawling main show, of course, and more than 80 national pavilions. There are also 44 officially-recognized collateral events scattered around the city. But that’s only part of what’s on view in the Most Serene Republic. The city’s museums and private collections have also mounted major exhibitions, many of them very fine.

In previous days I have highlighted a few, like the handsome show Danh Vo has organized at billionaire Francois Pinault’s Punta della Dogana, and the “War Paintings” of Jenny Holzer at Museo Correr. There are many more. Ca’Pesaro, the city’s museum of international modern art, has a Cy Twombly show, sponsored by Gagosian Gallery, with contributions from his foundation, rich with works on paper and a few nice sculptures. And Pinault’s other museum, the Palazzo Grassi, has a retrospective of the French Pop practitioner Martial Raysse, which stretches up to his uncomfortably kitsch present work.

The Prada Foundation has earned almost uniformly strong marks for its large new museum in Milan, but it has not cut back on its efforts here in Venice. Its show, ‘Portable Classic,’ is fascinating. It examines the history of collecting reproductions—often in miniature—of iconic sculptures in the ancient and modern world, presenting numerous examples of the same work side by side. A lineup of a number of Farnese Hercules, from tallest to shortest, is alone worth the trip.

Meanwhie, the Palazzo Fortuny has “Proportio,” a jam-packed show of works that relate to the ideal of the golden portion, curated by Axel Vervoordt and Daniela Ferretti, the grand Gallerie dell’Accademia has a survey of sculptures by the Arte Povera maestro Mario Merz titled “Unreal City,” and at the Palazzo Ducale—Doge’s Apartment one can find “Henri Rosseau: Archaic Candor,” a very smart look at the career of the difficult-to-categorize artist, who lived from 1844 to 1910. Surrounding his work with pieces by artists he admired (like Gérôme), contemporaries with overlapping styles (from James Ensor to American self-taught artists), and those who followed in his footsteps (Frida Kahlo), it provides a fresh look at a figure whose role in the birth of modern art is sometimes understated.

Below, a look at a few of those shows.

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