Thursday, June 2, 2011

Not Exactly Physical Comedy: Allora & Calzadilla at the Venice Biennale

[post 147]

The Venice Biennale is a bi-annual world fair of art, complete with national pavilions, long lines, and manufactured hoopla.  The U.S. pavilion went up in 1930 and has usually housed big-name artists, starting with Edward Hopper that initial year.  But this time around, instead of sending an established solo artist, our government has chosen to have us represented by two less known collaborative artists who are centered not stateside but rather in Puerto Rico — Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla. And for apparently the first time ever, the visual artists are also performance artists.  I haven't seen their work, but what interests me about them is their whimsical humor and physicality, in this case involving a troupe of former Olympic gymnasts in their piece.

Here's the beginning of the preview that appeared in the NY Times a couple of weeks ago:

On a nondescript street in Long Island City, Queens, is a mysterious gold-painted door with a drawing of a colorful tent and a sign that reads “Circus Warehouse.” Inside is a cavernous space with a flying trapeze, gymnastic rings and ropes, ballet bars and piles of thick practice mats. It was here on a recent spring morning that about a dozen people were gathered around two pairs of strangely familiar objects: identical models of airline business-class seats, impeccably fashioned in wood.... The group watched as Sadie Wilhelmi, a young professional dancer and gymnast, bent her body in graceful movements over a seat: wrapping herself around the tray table, draping her body along the edge of the seats, limbs splayed, forming a perfect split, and finally alighting on the divider, a leg gracefully extending high in the air — Brancusi’s “Bird in Space” sculpture come to life. The routine lasted 17 minutes, far longer than the three-minute routines typical of professional gymnasts.

Sounds promising! You can read the whole article here.

The exhibit has since opened in Venice and the first two reviews I've read were thumbs up. The critic for The Daily Beast wrote that Allora & Calzadilla were "presenting some of the best art I've seen at any Biennale."

Click here for the entire Daily Beast review.

The reviewer for the London Guardian was likewise enthusiastic: "This year, the spectacle that is wowing the crowds is the huge upturned tank outside the American pavilion."

Click here for the entire Guardian review.

I haven't yet seen any video from Venice of the gymnasts in action, but I'm hoping some will surface soon. (If anyone finds a clip, now or down the road, please let me know.) Meanwhile, I thought you might find this video of an Allora and Calzadilla piano piece interesting.

You can find variations of this on YouTube.

I know it's not the same thing, but it did remind me of this Hanlon Brothers bit from the 19th century:

So in conclusion: not exactly physical comedy, not exactly sure what it all looks like, but intriguing nonetheless.

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