Just a few months ago, Kochi played host to the maiden edition of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale, the first art event of the kind in India.
When the 55 edition of the world’s oldest Biennale at Venice opened its doors to invited guests before the public opening on June 1 this year, artists Riyas Komu and Bose Krishnamachari were at the venue.
They have visited three previous editions of the Venice Biennale and Mr. Komu was featured at the 2007 edition of the event. This time around, however, the artists were visiting as president and secretary of the Kochi-Muziris Biennale Foundation, which organised the youngest Biennale in the world.
“It will take 10 days to see the Venice Biennale properly,” says Mr. Krishnamachari. With just four days at his disposal, the artists had to make a quick tour of the 55 Venice Biennale.
For Mr. Krishnamachari and Mr. Komu, the Venice Biennale is a chance to meet artists, art collectors and curators from all over the world and to view their works.
“I have visited every edition of the Venice Biennale since 2006 and they have all been very different, including the latest iteration curated by the very young and talented Massimiliano Gioni,” says Mr. Komu. The Biennale is curated by a different person every edition, making them unique each time. “Of the national pavilions, I was greatly impressed by Mohammed Kazem’s large video project in the UAE pavilion,” says Mr. Komu. “It was a fantastic show. A large concave dome was fitted with projectors beaming images of the sea all around. It was beautiful. He broke down all borders in his work,” Mr. Krishnamachari chips in.
The artist also felt that works at the Venice Biennale showed the resurgence of a 60s art movement called Arte Povera, which means poor art.
“Arte Povera uses cheap materials available everywhere. It is being reinvented all the time and at the Venice Biennale. Arte Povera is never dead,” says Mr. Krishnamachari. The Kochi-Muziris Biennale also featured works that fall into the movement. Artist Dylan Martorell’s work exhibited here used locally found materials and even items usually thrown away.
Four Indian artists are featured at the 55 Venice Biennale, including paintings by Prabhavati Meppayil that are part of the main curated exhibition. This time, however, India did not host a pavilion at the prestigious art event.
“Even small countries like Angola had put up excellent pavilions. But India did not have one. That’s a real shame,” says Mr. Krishnamachari.
“There are many reasons for this, including mainly a lack of support from the highest levels of the Indian government. As a co-founder and organiser of India’s first Biennale, I am aware of the difficulties to initiate and host such large scale not-for-profit exhibitions,” says Mr. Komu. “I know that some people in the government are keen to see a permanent pavilion for India in Venice and I hope this will happen very soon,” he says.
While going through the exhibits, the duo were also meeting artists and collectors and spreading the word about India’s fledgling Biennale. “Many top people of the art world came up to us and said they were looking forward to the next edition.” The artists hope to apply the lessons they learnt at Venice for the next edition of the Biennale here.
“Money is a huge problem for us. But we can learn from Venice how architectural care and art can work together,” says Mr. Krishnamachari. “Venice is built entirely on reclaimed land. There is water everywhere. But they have maintained their old structures well. Kochi can learn to take care of architecture from Venice,” he says.
The artists feel that art administrators and curators in India should also visit other Biennales to get an idea of how to organise modern contemporary art events. “You learn so much at these events. I always enjoy going to a show. I have a greediness to know things. You become humble when you see more and more,” says Mr. Krishnamachari.