Grandeurs and Glooms


Japan’s contribution to the 56th International Art Exhibition – La Biennale di Venezia. Exhibition by artist Chiharu Shiota entitled The Key in the Hand. Chiharu Shiota created a large-scale installation with the whole exhibition space filled with red yam. Attached to the end of each piece of yam, suspended from the ceiling, is a key. There are also two boats on the floor beneath the yam and the hanging keys.

Laura Cumming, “Review: 56th Venice Biennale,” The Guardian, May 10, 2015.

Laura Cumming is the Observer’s art critic and author of two books: A Face to the World: On Self-Portraits and The Vanishing Man: In Pursuit of Velazquez. Her history in writing shows itself in her review of the 56th Venice Biennale; taking readers through the eighty-eight national pavilions that cluster canals. Cumming focuses on the let down of what should have been a glamorous adventure. The review starts by telling of the beauty of the palazzo and the artwork of Julien that captures viewers – and now readers through Cumming’s words. Taking readers through the criticism of capitalism by Julien, the highlighted consumption by Anatsui, or the slap in the face by Lucas, Cumming’s maintains a clear and critical tone that recreates the scenes of the canal. The event “is nothing if not explicitly critical of capitalism, consumerism and filthy lucre while relying upon them all for its very lifeblood.”

While there are highlights from each pavilion, such as Shiota’s breathtaking “The Key in the Hand,” the event as a whole fell flat, according to Cumming. Cumming makes sure to pay credit where credit is due, to the individual artist as well as to them as a whole; instead of following suit with the previous years concerns of what consumers desire the artist produce works revolving around the state of the world. However, that did not stop the 56th year from being the one “with so little visual power, originality, wit or bravado. {…} Art worlders mutter that the soul has gone out of the event as the money pours in.” The awe that Cumming’s brings to readers in her description of the these artworks and the many different cultures that are presented next to each other, makes me disappointed to read of how it appears to have turned into yet another grand event taken over by money. When it becomes only about the rich or highly acclaimed, the event looses – as Cumming said – it’s soul.

-Danielle Riggs


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