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A visual 'Dictatorship' along Venice's canals

June 18, 2003|Christopher Miles | Special to The Times

A show called "Individual Systems," meanwhile, brings together artists who have adopted unique programs of activity. Some are quite interesting, like Marko Peljhan, who brought his portable Makrolab to an island in the Venice Lagoon and transmits gathered and intercepted information -- from weather conditions to what's on TV -- to monitors in the Arsenale. But in too often valuing process over product, the show presents mostly works that seem like evidence of uninteresting obsessive tasks, or research findings of artists trapped in dull conceptual projects and couldn't get out.

Also considering individual and unique perspectives but to a much more successful end, "Clandestine" is the Arsenale's only show curated by Bonami, who wisely interprets his title broadly, focusing on artists who negotiate shifting boundaries, defy categorization and deliver the unexpected: in other words, interesting artists. Most of the show is pretty solid, especially the video work. Ghazel's video fantasies about transcending the cultural limitations of Iranian womanhood are poignant and "I Love Lucy" funny, and Mircea Cantor's documentary of a factory the artist commissioned to produce matches that light on both ends is proof that one-liners work when they're good ones. Dryden Goodwin's installation of floor- and ceiling-mounted video screens, which catches viewers between footage of churchgoers staring upward and abstracted images of a cathedral ceiling's cosmic geometry, is almost enough to make you get religion.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Thursday June 19, 2003 Home Edition Main News Part A Page 2 National Desk 0 inches; 31 words Type of Material: Correction
Art review -- In a review of the Venice Biennale in Wednesday's Calendar, artist Michelangelo Pistoletto was incorrectly referred to as an Arte Opera pioneer. He is an Arte Povera pioneer.

Bonami takes the same focus on solid art and artists rather than a corseting theme into "Delays and Revolutions," which he co-curated with Daniel Burnham for the large Italian Pavilion. It's an eclectic, international, generation-spanning show of mostly rewarding works that is bound together mainly by a concern for the timing of experience and interpretation of art, and the ways in which ideas can fade in or come back around. The show includes a darkened room full of endless questions, from the absurd to the neurotic to the profound, projected on the walls as scrawls in light by artists Peter Fischli and David Weiss, who took the Golden Lion Award for an individual work of art.

Maurizio Cattelan's remote-controlled animatronic boy Charlie grows on you but also becomes a little menacing as he roams the Giardini grounds on his tricycle. Carmit Gil's sleek minimalist sculpture is, in fact, an interpretation of a bus skeleton, and Ellen Gallagher derives punchy little abstractions from painting over the hairdos in ads for wigs targeting African American consumers. Matthew Barney's ornate glass tables containing drawings that echo preoccupations of his past works, meanwhile, are so stunning and intimately gripping that you're almost tempted to forgive Barney for the length of his three-hour film "Cremaster 3." Carol Rama's paintings incorporating dolls' eyes and hypodermics, though decades old, still pull you in and put you off center, and 20 vintage Richard Prince photos of Marlboro cowboys, which initially seem an odd inclusion, have more of a kick now than back in their day."Clandestine" and "Delays and Revolutions" make you wish Bonami had curated more of the biennial, and he did, though his third show -- the Biennale's only painting show -- is harder to find, tucked away in the Museo Correr, which brings one to another wish. While none of the Biennale exhibitions are going wanting for space, it would have been great had some growing room been afforded to what are the two most rewarding curated exhibitions. One of them is Bonami's painting show. The other, located in the Arsenale, is called "The Everyday Altered." The title says it all: Gabriel Orozco, an artist who made a fine contribution to Bonami and Birnbaum's show, here acts as curator, bringing together artists who share some of his affinities.

Captivating and funny

Damian Ortega's exploded view of a Volkswagen, made by suspending its components from wires, is the crowd pleaser of Orozco's show. But there are no disappointments in this collection of pieces that derive captivating, often funny results from simple means. Bonami's painting show includes interesting examples by the likes of Bridget Riley, Lucio Fontana, Kai Althoff, Lari Pittman, Marlene Dumas, Frank Auerbach, Chuck Close, Jenny Saville, Peter Doig and Vija Celmins, as well as an early Daniel Buren and a portrait of artists Gilbert & George that is one of Gerhard Richter's most lovely paintings ever.

It's a shame that a Biennale that squanders square footage on less-worthy shows and works didn't use some of that Arsenale real estate to expand Bonami's four-decade survey, and to give current painting a serious consideration the rest of the Biennale doesn't provide. And it would have been terrific to let Orozco's crowd spin a little more material magic, a fitting homage to the artists honored with lifetime awards at this Biennale: Rama, long an enthusiast of found objects and surrealist gestures, and Michelangelo Pistoletto, an Arte Opera pioneer.

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