Gucci’s Pavilion at the Venice Biennale Is a New Take on Queer Art

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The Gucci-sponsored Italian pavilion at the 2019 Biennale brings together sculptures by Enrico David, installation works by Liliana Moro and a sound piece and wall painting by the late Chiara Fumai

Expect to get lost in Venice. The labyrinthine experience of the city is a perfect setting for the Italian Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale, curated by Milovan Farronato and supported by Gucci – Farronato and Alessandro Michele share a similar perspective on art and the world at large. The result is a maze-like exhibition, Neither Nor: The challenge to the Labyrinth, that successfully turns ideas around perspective, queerness and meaning upside down.

The London-based curator was inspired by writing of Italo Calvino and Jorge Luis Borges to create a three-person show structured within a white, abstracted maze. Sculptures by Enrico David, installation works by Liliana Moro and a sound piece and wall painting by the late Chiara Fumai can be viewed through multiple different pathways. There is no ‘right’ way to view the exhibition, which has two entrances and multiple nooks and crannies. “The labyrinth is our plinth,” Farronato explains. “There are three different paths with interconnections, different interpretations and perspectives. You should be free.” The curator’s aim was to suggest new ways to see reality, life and art.

The show presents a new take on what queerness can be. The heart of that is in the work of Enrico David. The Italian artist has been based in London for 30 years and was nominated for the Turner Prize in 2009. His work crosses everything from sculpture to painting, tapestry to set-like installations, drawings to ceramics. This is his largest presentation at the Biennale, following major retrospective shows in Chicago and Washington DC. David’s work touches on more classic queer aesthetics – at times it seems to touch on a symbolist body or late 19th-century decadence. Yet his genderless, often body-less figures presented in Venice are not obviously sexual; instead their languid, fluid, melting weirdness presents a fresh idea of the human. They feel sexy but you’re not sure why. As David explained: “It’s like watching the body and not understanding it in the same way that you would not understand language, or a meaning is not quite clear to you. I’m not sure what the body means as a metaphor.”

David’s work is presented in an abstract maze alongside work by two female artists that touch on things like feminism or the occult. The combination feels both timeless and fresh, ancient and forward-looking. “Enrico’s way of formalising is expressionist, while Liliana’s is minimalist, they are like inverted cones, but both end up defining themselves through their marked existentialist matrix,” Milovan explains. “With Chiara Fumai, they share the fact of being always ready to challenge their practices, by any artistic means, from drawing to painting, from sculpture to video, from installation to performance, never renouncing to a possibility of expression.” All three artists played with ideas around mystery, lack of clarity and something quasi-spiritual. The show, which is up until November, is a delightful paradox. A hall of mirrors that as Farronato puts it, “suggests a different perspective to see things.”

Following in the wake of The Artist is Present exhibition at the Yuz Museum in Shanghai, the result of a collaboration between Maurizio Cattelan and Alessandro Michele, the Italian Pavilion is a very refreshing representation of ‘Italianness’ and Gucci is a perfect supporter. The label has been notable for its support of Italian and international art and culture over the past two years, including The Artist is Present, a new book shot by Harmony Korine, an exhibition of Paolo di Paolo’s work at the MAXXI Museum in Rome, curated by Giovanna Calvenzi, the restoration of the Boboli Gardens in Florence, and the preservation of ancient sites including the Cloisters of Westminster Abbey in London and the archaeological parks of Pompeii, Herculaneum and Selinunte (the location of its Pre-Fall 2019 campaign).

The brand launched its involvement in Venice with a reception in the garden maze at the Fondazione Cini, where guests including Goshka Macuga and Jeremy Deller could wander through the shrub labyrinth, prosecco in hand. After a dinner beneath a giant facsimile of a Veronese painting, artists Prem Sahib and Haroon Mirza DJed at the smallest club in the world, Piccolo Mondo. Here, Gucci’s presence is subtle and behind the scenes; they sat back and let a refreshing, curious exhibition flourish.

Neither Nor: The challenge to the Labyrinth is at the Italian Pavilion at 2019 Venice Biennale until November 24, 2019.