Reliving the Venice Biennale with MoMA PS1’s Rebecca Taylor

If you don’t follow MoMA PS1’s communications director Rebecca Taylor on Instagram yet, you’re missing out on a front row seat to the best the art world has to offer. Naturally, Taylor was in Venice for the 55th Venice Biennale, and we caught up with her after her return. Find out what pavilions she won’t soon forget, which artist induced her to “musical euphoria”, and of course where to snap the best ’grams in Venice.


Artsy: What do you think were the standout pavilions at this year’s Venice Biennale?

Rebecca Taylor: For me, the standout this year was Anri Sala in the French Pavilion. Ravel Ravel Unravel (2013), as the triptych of films was called, aptly describes the visitor's attempt to weave together the narrative of a DJ named Chloe which flanks a chamber of musical euphoria—Lortie and Bavouzet performing Ravel's Concerto (1930) with their left hands—only to have it all “unravel,” as beautifully and brilliantly as Rosemarie Trockel's 1986 red, white & blue “flag” the moment you begin to grasp its meaning. Not that it needs it, but the final film delivers an “ah-ha” moment as the camera relinquishes its tight crop on Chloe's face and allows you to see her location, the very pavilion in which you stand (which is actually the German Pavilion), as well as the physical manifestation of your metaphorical location (the French Pavilion) across the Giardini. Meta.

Artsy: What work(s) in “The Encyclopedic Palace” stayed with you after you left?

RT: Ragnar Kjartansson's S.S. Hangover (2013) in the Arsenale. One would have thought I'd be anesthetized to Kjartansson's “magic,” having—only days prior to arriving in Venice—spent six epic hours listening to The National perform “Sorrow” at MoMA PS1 in fulfillment of Ragnar's vision of “a pop song as sculpture,” but somehow the Icelandic artist still managed to wow me. The faint sound of a horn, then...is that a tuba? A few steps further, the sound amplifies and a boat on the canal, housing the brass band, comes into view. I must have watched that boat, the S.S. Hangover, make more than a dozen journeys between two landings in the Arsenale's historic shipyard, rescuing and abandoning its “sailors” in a rhythmic, looping fashion—a musician would be left temporarily to play in isolation, until the boat would return for them and deposit another musician in his place. It was nothing short of mesmerizing, and it has retained such effect in the theatre of my memory.

Artsy: What work or aspect of “The Encyclopedic Palace” surprised you?

RT: I was quite literally surprised by Tino Sehgal's piece—stumbling upon it unexpectedly and then struggling to confirm that it was indeed a piece by Tino since I could find no wall label or signage to corroborate my instinct. I watched as the mise-en-scène unfolded, having no idea at what stage I had encountered the piece (as they often have no end and no beginning, perpetually somewhere in the middle of a somewhat indecipherable narrative). The group casually congregated in the middle of the large gallery, oblivious to their surroundings, and particularly their audience, caring only for one another and the improvisational music they were generating—I, for one, was partial to the beat-box, though the chanting was quite soothing. Beyond my initial surprise, I was taken aback by my own displeasure. I was displeased, not at the quality of the piece, but at my own anxiety, and overwhelming sense of deprivation that I wasn't permitted to “participate” as I was accustomed to doing. After all, it was Tino who had offered me a life-changing conversation about the states of being with a brilliant philosophy professor in the rotunda of the Guggenheim, a sexual serenade of “Good Vibrations” in the throes of darkness at Documenta, and a confession of the moment I first experienced a sense of belonging in the Turbine Hall at the Tate. I longed to participate and have some mind-blowing conversation or soul-enriching self-discovery, but instead I was an outsider. This itself was an experience, more akin to a 19th-century flaneur than a 21st-century performance, a return to the idea of voyeurism, of watching a performance that didn't acknowledge itself to be one.

Artsy: What artists or works at the Venice Biennale do you think will instigate the most dialogue within the art world this year? And who from this Biennale do you feel will be remembered in Venice Biennale history?

RT: The younger generation made a strong case for the moving image: Ryan Trecartin and Ed Atkins, in particular. I imagine both will be at the center of art world dialogue this year and in those to come.

Artsy: What other exhibitions taking place in Venice would you recommend?

RT: “When Attitudes Become Form. Bern 1969/Venice 2013” at Prada Foundation, an exhibition which examines the feasibility of re-staging an exhibition, a logical extension of Walter Benjamin's infamous assessment of the reproduction art and Marina Abramovic's exploration of re-performing a performance (Guggenheim, 2005). The exhibition of an exhibition—Szeemann's curatorial brainchild seen first in Bern in 1969—succeeds brilliantly even in its imperfections, and was undoubtedly a highlight of Venice for me this year. Also worth a vaporetto ride: Rudolf Stingel at Palazzo Grassi and Prima Materia at Punta della Dogana (don't miss the Diana Thater installation accessed via the back staircase).

Artsy: Can you name any standout restaurants, cafes, or night spots that you discovered (or went back to) in Venice this year?

RT: My Venice “Bucket List” includes a Bellini at Cipriani's, lunch in the garden at Corte Sconta, happy hour on the roof of the Danieli (#instagramheaven), dinner at Osteria Oliva Nera, and late-night drinks on the terrace of the Bauer. Tried, true, fantastic. This year, a dance (or several) at the Bungalow 8 pop-up (in Palazzini Grassi) was another must.

Images courtesy Rebecca Taylor.

Catch more of what not to miss—visit the Best of the Biennale on Artsy.

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