That showcase of international art, the Venice Biennale. may soon include a Scottish presence. Alice Bain hobnobs in the chic art world of linen suitsand strawberry champagne and wonders ifthis is really the place for Glasgow 1990.


Mother's Milk. Tony Cragg

While some were scratching mosquito bites at the Venice Biennale. a group of Scottish administrators and critics were itching to get stuck into the business oforganising a Scottish pavilion for 1990 that magic year which grandly pronounces Glasgow liuropean (‘ity of(‘ulture. The gates of the Biennale were hardly opened and the first ‘press preview' plastic glasses hardly filled. when ad hoc meetings were arranged. very important organisers sought out and venues eyed up for suitability.

With a European reputation flapping in the face of Glasgow’s future. organising a Scottish presence at the next Venice Biennale seems an attractive proposition. 'l’he tenacious Richard l)emarco was possibly the first to flirt with the idea in February this year. when he was flying the home flag for Scottish artists in a well-conceived exhibition in Sarajevo. Yugoslavia. Whether through grapevincs or individual aspirations. that idea has now percolated through to others in a big way. 'l'hcy're onto it now and international excitement at the Hotel Boston knocked spots off the Italian heat.

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'l‘essa Jackson. ex-curator of the (‘ollins Gallery. Glasgow and now new visual arts co-ordinator for Glasgow 1990. was staying at boat-ride away at the Lido. Her fever for the Scottish pavilion was at a less advanced stage and her primary concern to look for questions not answers. As the Australians this year have bttilt on the last available sight on Biennale ground. where would a Scottish pavilion be sited? Could the British pavilion (under the auspices of the British Council) house a Scottish show or should the Scottish presence be mounted outside the Biennale grounds in the city'.’ Who would take part'.’ A group show or an individual‘.’ Is a Scottish pavilion desirable for Glasgow 1990 anyway or is it a thing apart?

While Scotland prepared a future invasion of Venice. 'I'he Biennale hummed with the linen-suited style of the art world. Now in its 43rd year. this two-yearly event is an international show and show-down ofdealers. critics and curators. jostling amongst artists and exhibitions. 'I‘he Biennale is unique in the world. having its own park and permanent buildings. open only

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during the three months of the Biennale and then quiet for another year and nine months. Each pavilion. built throughout the history of the Biennale which began at the turn of the century. is owned and serviced by individual countries. In empire style the British exhibit stands behind classical columns at the top of the hill with France and Germany flanking. Australia. the newest resident in this Beverley Hills of art. sweeps white and modern towards a canal and while opening guests sipped peach and strawberry champagne. the builders were still rushing to complete the job. Because of bureaucratic hold-ups. the Australians had to get their act together in a total of 30 weeks from design. shipping the structure from Australia to building in Italy. But their national artist Arthur Boyd was up in the nick oftime.

Going to the Biennale in the first few days means being drenched in the atmosphere of the international art world. the art itselfacting as backdrop. Though I dutifully visited every pavilion. every corner that might have contained a revelation. there was little there that punched through the relentless crowd. There

were however. some moments of relief. An artist from Yugoslavia. Yanez Bernik. had a vivid sense of colour which wrapped his religious paintings in real mystery. the Hungarian pavilion. beautiful in itself. showed three very different artists. each with quality. Geza Samu‘s gentle wooden sculpture was particularly memorable little pointed trees grew antlers and a whole field of rushes was caught in the sun of the central hall of the building.

The Americans. fronted by preppie administrators from Philadelphia. coralled the prize artist this year. with an exhibition of recent work by one of their most famous post-war artists. Jasper Johns. Cool and controlled. Johns plays visual games magnificently as ever. New variations are being sought. but Johns is still rapt with the Stars and Stripes and his special form of colour cross-hatching which makes his painting style his own. In the running for the Gold Medal was sculptor 'l'ony (.‘ragg from Britain. Dense with ideas. his exhibition of new and past work denies easy access to understanding. but calls on the gravity ofthe art to claim attention. Outside. in the shade ofsome trees and for the most part unnoticed. a little steel sculpture of the continents by (.‘ragg. laid out the world reduced and rusted.

Outside the Biennale gates. Aperto 88. a large exhibition in an old rope factory. collects the work of younger artists. The building itself is stupendous. a long central walkway flanked by peeling brick columns reaching into a high. vaulted wooden roof. It has the kind ofdereliction which despite being chic. adds excitement and anticipation to modern art. Like finding treasure in a dusty attic.

Like the Biennale however. there were few jewels and lots of cool. ()ne of the first which struck me was a Japanese artist playing with time. Laying digital clocks about the floor of a dark space. all flickering between (l. l() of a second and 3 hours. he made the science of stars meet art. Another Japanese artist. Yasumasa Morimura photographed himself as sculpture. a tricky but moving spectacle while 'l‘ony Bevan from Britain. painted mainlining and alienation with gritty force. Barbara Bloom from the USA (who won the under 4(ls‘ prize) made a corridor which ran from flying saucers. to plates. to flying hats. See. she says. it‘s all the same but different. while lgor Kopistianski from the USSR painted darkly traditional landscapes and portraits. rolled them tip into columns and let them stand in strange formation.

You can visit the Biennale and the Aperto until the end ofSeptember this year - it’s one way to see a little ofwhat's going on everywhere. But for many. the Venice Biennale might also be used as a great excuse to revisit the masters of the past. The 20 minute trip to Padua to see the Giotto fresco cycle, a major punctuation mark in the history of art. certainly put the whole business firmly into perspective for me.

12'l‘he List 8— 21 July 1988