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The 2022 Venice Biennale: Dreamy or Lofty?

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

The essence of being human on earth: how can a topic so broad possibly be brought together and look good?

Kristin Fiorvanti (left) and Roberto Jamora (right), artist and professor at Virginia Commonwealth University, meet across the ocean for a selfie by the Venetian port

Though predominately female, the biennale's 2022 show Milk of Dreams is a culmination of diversity. At first glance, the topic itself seemed dangerously safe and lofty, but after the international turmoil of the past few years, appropriate. In the light of the pandemic, environmental concern, and globalization, The Milk of Dreams, for the most part, fit the part. When my art professor from VCU emailed me with an invitation, I am sure I replied with "any excuse to see Venice!" Walking the pavilion with an MFA I had only met over Zoom was quite the "pinch me, am I living in a Hallmark film?" moment.

This being the largest exhibition I have experienced, I am immediately and continually astonished by the curation. It is the major topic of discourse when I discover a friend has also visited the exhibition. After a year in lockdown, this sort of overwhelming experience was probably expected by the curators as an unmissable one. Even buying a train ticket, Trenitalia prompts its clients to respond to a questionnaire regarding the event. "Check this box if you intend on frequenting the 2022 Venice Biennale." This says a lot about the current state of Venice as a trademarked tourist wonderland with bad food, but that is a discussion for another post.

What is childishly admirable about the theme is that it fiddles with dreams. It leaves baby artists like myself in heartfelt anticipation at the entrance. In many works, the role of the artist then becomes the maker of what is tangible. Lorenzo Quinn exercises this concept in jaw-dropping sculptures, blank like a canvas, and larger than some surrounding buildings. The town is littered with work; there is something exhibiting at every turn, and certainly convincing to stay a while longer if you care to see it all. With a city already as dreamy as Venice, it is a feat of the artists and curators to make something dreamier inside. This is what makes the theme a dangerous one to try and conquer, and the show all the more amusing.

photo by me (Kristin Fiorvanti)

In a round-about way, through mazes of dirt, warnings of butterflies and hot, falling metal, it highlights what we have in common. It is truly complex, contrasting, and in the wake of war in Ukraine, a stark reminder of what a pedestal looks like. Larger-than-life sculptures like those of American artist, Simone Leigh, remind the viewer of how small and yet capable we are, while juxtaposed to naturally transformed indoor spaces call the eye to environmental outbreaks.

From space to space, the grandeur Arsenale shifts from hyper-fem, fairytale ceramics to dripping, red, terracotta nightmares, with a lot of spirit in between. The bringing together of such diversity surmises the complexity of our current human condition, on a plane between here and... not. It is whimsical, jarring, and often times unreal --much like the experience of a dream.

Like many say upon arriving in Venice, "pinch me!"


Stay creative, friends.
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