Monday, June 6, 2011

The American Pavillion at the Venice Biennale: Allora & Calzadilla

Allora & Calzadilla, Tank (minus the gymnasts who run for 45 minute intervals) at the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale, 2011. It was used in the Korean war and was shipped in from Manchester, England and arrived at the Pavilion on two flatbed boats.

Carol Vogel of the New York Times writes: "Allora & Calzadilla’s presence in Venice will represent a couple of firsts for America: the first artists working in Puerto Rico to show there (Ms. Allora, 37, was born in Philadelphia, and Mr. Calzadilla, 40, was born in Havana and moved to Puerto Rico with his family as a child) and the first time performance artists — and an artist collaborative — have been chosen to represent the United States there."

Lisa Freiman, senior curator at the Indianapolis Museum of Art had the winning proposal. In the video below, she discusses her choice (note the tanning bed that was shipped to Venice from of all tanning meccas, Indianapolis = facetious exclamation of surprise).

Adding to the internationalism: the airline seats were manufactured in Los Angeles; the organ came from Bonn; the bronze statue originated in Berkeley, CA; and the ATM was shipped from Milan.

Here is the floor plan for the six new projects that are incorporated into Gloria, the title of their exhibition:

Also from the above New York Times link: "Every two years museum curators from across the country detail their visions for the American pavilion in proposals that are reviewed by the Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, a group comprising curators, museum directors and artists who then submit their recommendations to the Fund for United States Artists at International Festivals and Exhibitions. While the process is secret — and nobody would talk about it — according to sources close to the State Department, Ms. Freiman’s 95-page application beat out many by curators who were promoting the work of more established artists, including Cindy Sherman, Shirin Neshat, Cathie Opie and Diana Thater...."

"...To perform the pieces they have gathered a cast that includes Dave Durante, a champion in all-around gymnastics; Dan O’Brien, the 1996 Olympic gold medalist in the decathlon; the gymnast Chellsie Memmel, a silver medalist at the 2008 Bejing Games; and Ms. Wilhelmi, among others." [The gymnasts will be living in Venice from June - November 27. The project cost more than $1 million which Lisa Freiman raised.]

Also from Vogel's article: "The work also harks back to ancient Greece and Rome, when the notion of the idealized body was evident in athletics and in art. The pavilion is a stately 1930 Palladian-style building, and in its grand entrance rotunda will be a Solaris tanning bed, its lights almost blinding visitors. Nestled in it, as though it were a body lying in state, will be a scaled-down bronze model of Thomas Crawford’s “Statue of Freedom,” also known as “Freedom Triumphant in War and Peace” — a classical female figure, her right hand resting on the hilt of a sword and her left holding a wreath of victory — which has stood atop the United States Capitol since 1863."

"But perhaps that work will be upstaged by the giant custom-designed pipe organ that incorporates the A.T.M. Visitors will be able to check their balance or get cash, and for every transaction different musical sounds will be heard emanating from the organ. 'Nothing will ever be repeated,' Mr. Calzadilla said. 'Sometimes the music will be atonal or cinematic, or like a horror movie or a gospel.'”

More on the ATM from a 3rd June New York Times review: "During the first three days of the Biennale’s V.I.P. preview earlier this week, more than 100,000 euros were withdrawn from the machine. That amount, Lisa Freiman, commissioner of the pavilion said, is three or four times the normal activity of an A.T.M. in Italy, according to BNL, the bank that operates it. When it gets low on cash, gun-toting guards can be seen coming to replenish it."

[All still images are from the NY Times.]


  1. As a former professional pipe organ designer, builder, and technician, I find Algorithm especially interesting on several levels. First, the layout of the instrument is very conventional, except of course the control mechanism is the ATM rather than the usual keys. That would be pretty easy to do, from a technical standpoint. The rest of the instrument is pretty much off-the-shelf, so to speak. I'm curious whether this was planned as a temporary object, in the spirit of an installation, or permanent, to be sold to a collector or museum. If the first, Klais could have given the artists a very substantial discount on the condition the instrument returns to the builders, who could thus get some return on the investment. What I see in the pictures suggests something in the range of a quarter million dollars under normal circumstances. But maybe, now that it's "historic" (it IS the Biennale, after all) it will live on in its current form. Another point for discussion is why a German organ builder and not American, when there are a couple dozen builders in the U.S. perfectly capable of doing this? I suspect shipping & installation would be one issue, since it's a helluva lot easier to get the instrument from Bonn to Venice than from, say, Ft. Worth or Duluth. Another could be availability of shop time. Organ builders often work on about a two to five year lead time from signing a contract to delivery, and it's first come first served. This project may have been formulated too late and too quickly to get on the typical builder's production schedule. Klais is a pretty big operation by organ builder standards and that may have provided them a little more flexibility in assigning shop space and labor.
    I would love to know more about the back story.

  2. I'm so excited to go to the Biennial vicariously through you. Expect lots of blog-stalking.

  3. I'll keep searching, Ron. Thanks for the interesting info. Cat - I'm still in shock that I'm going! Hope your Goodwill Opening goes well. I am sorry I will be in CA.


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