The main show is a woolly walk through hand-wringing hippydom and flowerpot trainers. But elsewhere, the biennale bares its teeth in works of danger and daring
An upbeat shout-out for the enduring power and vitality of art, Viva Arte Viva provides the title of both the 57th Venice Biennale and its main exhibition. Filling the central pavilion in the Giardini, and running the length of the Arsenale in the medieval dockyard, Viva Arte Viva begins with photographs of Austrian sculptor Franz West, having a nice lie down in 1973, and Zagreb conceptualist Mladen Stilinović taking a nap in 1978. Meanwhile, tousled hair peeks from under a blanket in a real bed, in a 1996 mock-up of a bedroom by Yelena Voroyeva and Viktor Vorobyev.
Curated by Christine Macel of the Pompidou centre, Viva Arte Viva begins in casual, insouciant style, but soon drifts off into a solipsistic trance of its own creation. Has Macel also been sleeping? It is now 2017. History is a nightmare and what would any of us do for a good night’s kip? All the doubts and quibbles I have had over previous biennales are nothing compared with the qualms I feel wandering the nine sections of Macel’s exhibition, including a Pavilion of Joys and Fears, a Pavilion of the Shamans, a Pavilion of the Dionysian (a celebration, we are told, of the female body and sexuality) and a Pavilion of Colours. The rubrics themselves feel as dated as much of the art.