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At the Venice Biennale: Upside-Down Tanks, Pipe Organ ATMs and Stuffed Pigeons

Every couple of years, thousands of curators, artists, aficionados, collectors and socialites decamp en mass to Venice, Italy for the century-old tradition of enjoying a World's Fair approach to viewing art. Organized by nation, the Venice Biennale consists of dozens of pavilions scattered around the city that showcase works by representative artists. A sum total of 86 nations participate. This year, first-timers included Rwanda, Haiti and Iraq.

The art exhibition runs from Friday through November 27. Repping the U.S. is the conceptual art duo of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, who originally hail from Puerto Rico. (See this previous WNYC report for details on their background.)

In a show organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, the pair is showing an upside-down tank that serves as a treadmill (an athlete from USA Track & Field runs on it once an hour) and an ATM that's been hooked up to a pipe organ. Other visual hijinks include a statue on a tanning bed and gymnasts doing routines on airline seats. Subtle, it isn't. But then again, Americans aren't exactly known for being demure. Not that this matters in Venice, where the installations tend to be big and bigger. The French pavilion has a massive armature that shows a conveyor belt-sized filmstrip of baby faces, while the Brits have gone for a sprawling, disorienting warren of rooms intended to evoke a slum.

Things got off to a rocky start early in the week when the water taxi workers all went on strike -- forcing the glitterati to ditch the designer footwear in favor of comfy walking shoes. Thankfully, the vaporetti are once again running and the Perignon-sipping and air kissing has returned to normal levels. For the blow-by-blow, logon to ArtInfo or The Art Newspaper, both of which are posting regular reports, or follow ArtNet (@artnetdotcom) on Twitter.

Talk of the Show: 'Track & Field,' an overturned Centurion tank that's been converted into a treadmill used by athletes affiliated with USA Track & Field.
Talk of the Show: 'Track & Field,' an overturned Centurion tank that's been converted into a treadmill used by athletes affiliated with USA Track & Field.

In his review of the piece at New York Magazine's website, critic Jerry Saltz described it as the "health club from hell."

( Photo by Tascha Horowitz. Courtesy the Indianapolis Museum of Art )
Money Talks: Also part of Allora & Calzadilla's install is this automated teller, which is hooked up to a pipe organ. A unique tune is generated with each transaction.
Money Talks: Also part of Allora & Calzadilla's install is this automated teller, which is hooked up to a pipe organ. A unique tune is generated with each transaction. ( Photo by Andrew Bordwin. Courtesy the Indianapolis Museum of Art )
"Armed Freedom Lying on a Sunbed," another piece by the U.S. team. Surely, if you gaze at this work long enough, you'll come away looking sun-kissed.
"Armed Freedom Lying on a Sunbed," another piece by the U.S. team. Surely, if you gaze at this work long enough, you'll come away looking sun-kissed. ( Photo by Andrew Bordwin. Courtesy the Indianapolis Museum of Art )
If Delta were to offer buff athletes as part of their service, I might actually fly them. Here: Allora & Calzadilla's 'Body in Flight,' in which a gymnast performs on a reproduction airline seat.
If Delta were to offer buff athletes as part of their service, I might actually fly them. Here: Allora & Calzadilla's 'Body in Flight,' in which a gymnast performs on a reproduction airline seat. ( Courtesy the Indianapolis Museum of Art )
On to some other pavilions: Representing France is artist Christian Boltanski, who has crafted (or had his assistants craft) a mighty installation called 'Chance.'
On to some other pavilions: Representing France is artist Christian Boltanski, who has crafted (or had his assistants craft) a mighty installation called 'Chance.'

Art Observed has a comprehensive report on the giant, moving baby heads.

( g. sighele )
Italian art-prankster Maurizio Cattelan has stuffed taxidermied pigeons into just about every available crevice and rafter at the Palace of Exhibitions.
Italian art-prankster Maurizio Cattelan has stuffed taxidermied pigeons into just about every available crevice and rafter at the Palace of Exhibitions.

The New York Times helpfully digs up their source.

( g. sighele )
This meaty boot is by Italian designer and architect Gaetano Pesce.
This meaty boot is by Italian designer and architect Gaetano Pesce. ( g. sighele )
Monica Bonvicini's installation, '15 Steps to the Virgin,' at the group show ILLUMInations -- which brings together various artists from around the world.
Monica Bonvicini's installation, '15 Steps to the Virgin,' at the group show ILLUMInations -- which brings together various artists from around the world. ( g. sighele )
I have no idea what pavilion these are from, but I would reallyreallyreally like a set for my stoopside altar.
I have no idea what pavilion these are from, but I would reallyreallyreally like a set for my stoopside altar. ( g. sighele )
Outside the Canadian pavilion, Steven Shearer has poetry inspired by death metal. I love the phrase 'rot munching architects.' Sounds like the name of a band.
Outside the Canadian pavilion, Steven Shearer has poetry inspired by death metal. I love the phrase 'rot munching architects.' Sounds like the name of a band. ( g. sighele )
One artist filled the assigned space with dozens of earth-toned ceramic vases.
One artist filled the assigned space with dozens of earth-toned ceramic vases. ( g. sighele )
Visitors to the Biennale have been contending with Disneyland-length lines to get into the rides... er, exhibits.
Visitors to the Biennale have been contending with Disneyland-length lines to get into the rides... er, exhibits. ( g. sighele )
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