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  • Ray Monde

Death in Venice. How I died from overwrought, self-indulgent art.

If you’ve read Death in Venice by Thomas Mann, you’ll know the protagonist Gustav von Aschenbach dies a self-indulgent painted-fool blinded by his passions.

Walking the canals of Venice, I can’t help but think so many of the exhibits at La Biennale reflect a similar foolishness.

Tangles of wire cabling and crushed plasterboard are not art, even if you fill an enormous room full of it. Stapling a plank to a wall is not art even if you imbue it with a story. Making an object 1000x times it’s normal size Is. Not. art.


Don’t get me wrong, I understand the idea of ready-mades and the challenging realms of Duchamp. I understand art is a powerful force which kicks you to rethink ideas you held true.

But, there is so much of the Emporer’s new clothes going on at Venice this year. I’ve said it before, but unless the art pulls an emotive response from you, touches you where only emotion can, then it’s wasting my time. Wasting everyone’s time. So much of the art of Venice filled my mouth with feathery dust, powdery fluff of nonsense which in the end made me angry.


It was endless shit, room after room of tired nonsense, tinsel and string that debases artists, makes people feel tired and leaves you feeling like a dessicated cicada shell, crimped to a tree in the blazing summer heat.

I’m angry because there’s so many artists out there trying really hard, pushing the edges of what art is, taking on new media – 3D printing, digital, video – and living a hard-scrabble hungry life when other spruikers put their snake oil on display for universal fawning.

If one is critical, like I am, it means ‘I don’t get it’ or ‘I’m envious of their success’. This criticism takes our power away for critical thought. If I had my way, I’d take a gurney and blast out the exhibition halls. Narrow down the Venice Biennale to half its size – and then you’d have delicious art, that challenges, amazes and enthrals, rather than makes you feel you’re crawling through the fluff, dead skin and hair caught at the back of your sofa.

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