Venice Report: The Encyclopedic Palace

Split between the old Giardini and the newer Arsenale site at the Venice Biennale, The Encyclopedic Palace is based on the concept of self-taught artist Marino Auriti, who dreamed of devising a museum with the potential to house all of mankind’s greatest achievements in one cohesive space.

The Arsenale exhibit opens with Auriti’s model; the object in which the concept of the whole show is rooted. As a skyscraper compiled of seven tiers it is certainly a modern building, but it still carries an overall classical feel, with its courtyard entrance and domed turrets at each corner. This amalgamation of old and new is reflected in the works themselves as the pavilion is a collection of modern art all of which was created after the turn of the twentieth century. However, it manages to evoke a sense of timelessness, as though the exhibits have been collected from throughout history. It deals with all genres and forms of art, from anthropological to minimalist themes and sculpture and painting to video installations. Several of the works, whilst modern in execution, relate back to traditional themes or media. One particularly impressive example is the paintings of Turkish artist Yüksel Arslan, whose references to Aurignacian cave drawings, recalls the history of mankind as far back as 40,000 years ago, whilst also referencing his own childhood, thus creating a circular sense of time.

The exhibition is an enormous collection of over 150 works by more than 38 different artists. Well-known names such as Robert Crumb make an appearance alongside lesser-known artists, thus creating an eclectic mix of art from all backgrounds by which means the viewer is transported from the age of literature through to the digital world. A highlight of the pavilion is a small exhibition curated by Cindy Sherman, which focuses on form and the human body. Ukranian artist Sergey Zarva’s paintings, which innovatively use pages from the Soviet magazine Orohëk as a canvas, morphing the images of the happy peasants into monstrous creatures to portray the true horrors of the Soviet regime, are particularly striking.

The Encyclopedic Palace runs at the Venice Biennale until 24 November.

Rhiannon McGregor

1. Simon Denny, Installation view, Deep Sea Vaudeo, Galerie Buchholz, Cologne, 2009, Courtesy Galerie Buchholz, Berlin/Cologne.