Magazine article Artforum International

World of Interiors

Magazine article Artforum International

World of Interiors

Article excerpt

CURATOR MASSIMILIANO GIONI'S choice of Il palazzo enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace) as the lodestar for his Biennale exhibition is beguiling and provocative in equal measure. As conceived by Marino Auriti, a self-taught, first-generation Italian-American artist, this imaginary museum was as ambitious as it was unbridled. Aspiring to house the breadth of human knowledge, Auriti designed a thirty-six-story tower that would have risen nearly half a mile into the sky while covering sixteen city blocks in the US capital. But, since he lacked academic or professional credentials of any kind, the former garage mechanic, who sought to patent his project in 1955, would never have secured the sanction of officialdom for a plan well-nigh impossible to construct. From the outset, this quintessential outsider assumed the role of a visionary.

The wooden scale model of Il Palazzo has been installed at the threshold of the Arsenale, one of the two venues hosting the Biennale exhibition. Given that Auriti supplied no concrete guidelines to suggest how the contents of his tower might be identified, assembled, ordered, classified, and presented, Gioni has found inspiration elsewhere--in the lofty triumvirate of Andre Breton, Carl Jung, and Rudolf Steiner. Embodiments of the crucial roles assigned to imagination, dream, fantasy, and cosmological speculation in Gioni's exhibition, they dominate the entrance galleries to the Central Pavilion, the Biennale's second site. Branching out from there are galleries devoted to the works of pedigreed mystics, occultists, and visionaries such as Aleister Crowley, Hilma af Klimt, Emma Kunz, and Roger Caillois, the last represented by his remarkable collection of geological samples. A miscellany of diverse artifacts orbits this nexus: anonymous Tantric paintings; sketches made by tribal societies in Melanesia collected by the Viennese photographer and ethnologist Hugo Bernatzik; ecstatic drawings created by sundry Shakers as gifts for fellow believers; small carvings of animals both fabulous and familiar made by folk sculptor Levi Fisher Ames, who embellished his menagerie with outlandish narratives during his tent shows in turn-of-the-century rural Wisconsin. Also included are contributions from several autodidacts who obsessively designed architectural models, and with whom Auriti might have felt a close kinship: Augustin Lesage, Achilles Rizzoli, and an obscure Austrian insurance clerk (whose dollhouse-size dwellings were discovered in a junk shop by artist Oliver Croy and are here presented as a work, The 387 Houses of Peter Fritz (1916-1992), Insurance Clerk from Vienna, 1993-2008, by Croy and curator Oliver Elser). Rubbing shoulders with objects that would conventionally be regarded as marginal or otherwise ancillary to mainstream contemporary art are works by some of that world's most renowned figures--Tacita Dean, Maria Lassnig, Tino Sehgal, Richard Serra, and Dorothea Tanning--and by many others less well known.

The labyrinthine layout of this historic building contributes significantly to Gionf's aim of establishing networks of relations among artifacts whose common characteristic is "the representation of the invisible": "The Encyclopedic Palace is a show about seeing with the eyes shut," he writes. While this stance, emblematized in the closed eyelids of Breton's cast, serves well those whose vision is manifestly inner-directed, at times it produces strained readings. Consider the suggestive pairing of Serra's two-part forged sculpture dedicated to Pier Paolo Pasolini with Thierry De Cordier's series of heaving marine-scapes: Are connections to be discerned in recondite correspondences--by reference to what Jung termed primordial or first images, over and above modes of visceral and phenomenological apprehension? While Gioni's curatorial strategy productively upends the hierarchies that conventionally classify artists as professionals or mavericks or outliers, it divests the works of all traces of the material and intellectual conditions that originally imbued them with meaning and value. …

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