When people talk about Venice they inevitably comment on its amazing beauty. They may also describe its pungent smells that become trapped within the maze of small canals at the heart of the city and go onto describe the pitfalls of attempting to navigate your way through these small canals, which can often end in dead ends and disorientation. A similar kind of disorientation can occur when trying to navigate the Arsenale or the Italian Pavilion, as both are immense in terms of scale and content, and require at least two trips. Whilst visiting the Italian Pavilion my disorientation was broken by the refreshing smell of oil paint when walking through one of the many rooms in the Italian pavilion. The smell emanated from the eight paintings by the young German artist Matthias Weischer. The thickly applied oil paint was still fresh and in the process of making the long transition towards becoming dry and solid. The Venetian summer temperature had heightened the chemical exchange occurring between the oil paint and the surrounding air, the result was the strong but sweet smell of oil paint, which added to the viewing experience and contrasted with the other artworks occupying the pavilion.

Over the last ten years Weischer has emerged alongside a number of other young painters based in Leipzig. Many of these artists studied at the Leipzig Academy of Visual Arts under the tutelage of figurative painters Sighard Gille and Arno Rink, who were prominent during the 60’s and 70’s. Since German reunification in 1989-90 a steady flow of artists has moved to Leipzig from the West, attracted by the prospect of learning from the figurative tradition set by their predecessors and also lured by low cost of living and cheap studio rents.

Weischer paints empty interiors of buildings, vacant except for the few trace objects that hint of previous inhabitants. Weischer uses colours that are bright but appear to have been mixed with large amounts of white to create a faded colour similar to that of a photograph taken decades previously. The colour also conjures up nostalgia of garish 70s interiors whose luminosity has faded over the years due to neglect. Although his images seem at first to be near empty, he leaves the viewer to fill these spaces, providing visual triggers to create feelings, associations or puns on past experience. Although these paintings are figurative in their beginning they are also fused with abstract images and devices, which add to their surreal quality. Much of the imagery appears to have been collaged together from different periods in time. When viewing these paintings there isn’t an overwhelming feeling that you are intruding on someone’s space or memory, each space is presented as cold, objective and dispassionate. There doesn’t appear to be any ownership to the interiors and they are presented as staged compositions, functioning as sound bites from the past. Individually each object is painted with seriousness and integrity, but when Weischer composes each one together they highlight each others failings and absurdity.

Weischer’s work has experienced rising levels of recognition by the dealers and the auctions houses around the world, his paintings can now expect to fetch around £200,000 at auction, compared to £20,000 a few years previous. Cynics would perhaps say that Weischer’s inclusion in the Italian Pavilion was due to his quick ascension through the art world ranks, however when reading the director’s introduction the decision appears to be thematic rather than one based on art world standing or recent market success. In the Italian Pavilion catalogue, Maria de Corral the curator of the pavilion explains her reasons for selecting the artists and their works. Below is an extract from Maria de Corral’s introduction, many of the points she raises relate closely to Matthias Weischer’s work.
‘I am interested in the ideas that emerge like a mix of ruins, fragments, tests and sketches; the works that allow the observer to recreate his/her own aesthetic experience; the slow time of lived experience. I am attracted by artists who offer us a vision more than a point of view;’
(De Corral, 2005)

The Italian Pavilion is a huge curatorial undertaking, but it is to De Corral’s credit that she has not only established a dialogue amongst artists within their own medium but also with from other disciplines. The common thread is of human experience and how these artists interpret the world around them, and in particular the way they interact with the space they inhabit. Although the size of the Italian Pavilion is potentially a curator’s nightmare, it also allows experimentation and the opportunity to compare and contrast the work of artists who would not normally be associated or exhibited together. For example where would you normally find heavy weights such as Francis Bacon and Philip Guston shown alongside early career artists such as Weischer. Initially their work seem unrelated, but presented together it is possible to recognise threads which link their works together. Mirosalow Balka, Chen Chieh-Jen, Leandro Erlich, Dan Graham Maider Lopez, Bruce Nauman and Rachel Whiteread are some of the artists who are also represented in the Italian Pavilion. All of these artists have widely divergent agendas and reasons for making work, but conversely it is also possible to see and establish underlying links between these artists work and Weischer’s. In particular it is interesting to compare how Weischer approaches the interior through painting and how Maider Lopez approaches the interior using installation.

The success of the Italian Pavilion seems to be in the ability of it’s curator to select artists who have a common theme even if at times that is tenuous. Although this sounds obvious and like curatorial basics the scale of the Italian Pavilion makes it an immense task and one which has fallen short in previous Biennale’s. Maria de Corral shows a willingness to include artists that wouldn’t normally appear together and also include painting, which has also been lacking from minds of other curators before her. Whilst the majority of artists in the pavilion do complement each other, more importantly they raise questions and provide a discordant mix, which challenges each others work and the viewer’s perceptions. This pavilion raises questions from the past and also the future and allows interplay between each room and a dialogue between artists whose practice would normally be considered at the opposite ends of the spectrum.

Micheal Robbs


Image: Automat, oil on canvas, 280 x 360 cm, 2004, courtesy of Ovitz Family collection and Galerie EIGEN +ART.