Among the weirdest cities in the World, Venice, Italy must rank among the top five. I don’t mean this in a BAD way actually, but the place is completely so unlike anyplace else in the world that it cannot be called anything else.
Other cities have canals. You’ve got Amsterdam and Stockholm, both of which are strewn with canals close to the water’s edge, but they have streets, and trams and other forms of mass transportation, which make those towns seem relatively normal. Also, while they have museums, they are not, of themselves museums. Venice, having lost its independence and its livelihood over two centuries ago, is.
The “serene republic” lasted a thousand years and a century before being actually invaded for the first time by Napoleon Bonaparte in 1797. The reason for this was because of its intense weirdness. It’s a bunch of islands in the middle of a lagoon, connected by a series of bridges. Here, it developed a unique culture and set for the to build an empire which ruled over the islands of what are now Croatia and Greece, trading with the Byzantine and later, various Moslem empires in the east to become the cultural portal of the western world during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. Even as new trade routes made Venice less lucrative, the serene Republic continued to thrive, attracting artists and architects, poets and visionaries. But that’s all gone now…
When the French finally destroyed the old Republic, they destroyed its reason for being, stole it’s art, and chiseled out many of it’s ancient symbols from the walls. When the Napoleonic wars were over in 1815, it was decided to give the city to the Austrians, After a couple of decades of poverty and the revenge of it’s ancient enemies, the Venetians decided to make the place over into a tourist trap.
Which is what it has been ever since.
If you get off in either the Point de Roma, where there’s a bus station an a few cars, or the train station on the next island over, you will notice a change once you get to the Vaperetto, or waterbus, station. With a few exceptions, All the buildings are really old. Not that they actually all are, but the weirdness of the place much be preserved. The Medieval and Renaissance architectural designs are faithfully recreated on the facades of many a new Palazzo. Tourism is all that the city has left, and the glory of this ancient Disneyland must be preserved. When the great bell tower, which is right in the middle of St. Mark’s square mysteriously and suddenly disintegrated 998 years after it was built, it was replaced by an exact replica (well, not exactly exact, there’s an elevator now) and with a few exceptions like the train station, this dictum of architectural ultraconservatism has been scrupulously followed.
Which brings us to the Gardens of the Biennale, where the Biennial art fair has been taking place every other year since 1895 as a way, naturally, to attract tourists. As a park on the eastern edge of town, the various countries that have participated over the years have been allowed to set up permanent pavilions where hundred of temporary exhibitions take place. This goes for the off years as well, why waste valuable space, right? But the big show is in odd years.
The Gardens aren’t the only place for exhibits, there’s a place called the Arsenal, where they have some too, and finally, on the Lido, which is a large island nearby with some pretty nice beaches, is where the film festival takes place every August and September. More on that later…
The Biennale’s theme for this year is; “Think With Your Senses, Feel with Your Mind.” Which is another way of saying “This is all bullshit! Give us your eight euros and deal with it.” Granted, not all of the works shown this year’s suck. There are some excellent works to seen, particularly Austria’s Herbert Brandl, who’s an abstract expressionist, or Svetlana Ostopovici, who’s more realistic, then there’s lots of other stuff both interesting and “interesting.” Then there’s lots of what I like to call “con art” in which some talent-less jerks with sharp tongues con certain curators into putting the most godawful crap up, from anti-Semitic graffiti to give-away posters by California artist Felix Gonzalez Torrez, one of which symbolizes the end of art by having a black rectangular frame of nothing.
Much of the work shown is heavily influenced by advertising and comics, which is where, after all most of the money for creativity is coming for nowadays, but for the most part, there’s nothing really new here, just inarticulate recycling of concepts that have been floating around for the better part of half a century. Granted, I didn’t have the time to give everything more than a cursory look. The Biennale, like the city that surrounds it, requires far more than the day or two most people give it.
Due to the big show, the Biennale’s film department has been rather tardy with the printing of the posters and programs for their big film festival, which is supposed to start in only two weeks. The oldest of Europe’s many film festivals, Venice’s dates back to 1935, and, with the natural break for World War II, had been giving out it’s prestigious “Golden Lion” awards ever since. Taking place on the Lido, where there are fewer architectural restrictions and an actual beach for beautiful women to parade around in their bikinis. This year, as in most, there’s an eclectic selection of Hollywood, Independent, and European government sponsored films which are going to start generating buzz for various awards like the Oscars and the Golden Globes.
If you only have a day or two, just go to St. Mark’s square and hang out for a while, and go left towards the Rialto bridge in the direction of the train station. Then head west along the Grand canal, stopping at various churches to look at the art, which, as every good agnostic or atheist knows, is the only saving grace the Catholic church has ever had. You will also notice that there are no streets, just sidewalks and canals, and a very strange and beautiful landscape.