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The Rake’s Progress: the Venice Biennale in gossip

16 May 2017

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

With the 57th Venice Biennale kicking off last week, all eyes were on La Serenissima. For Rachel MacLean, whose film Spite Your Face is currently playing at the Scottish pavilion, working in the city has prompted some unusual associations. ‘I think my first experience of Venice was [playing] Tomb Raider’, she told the Scotsman. ‘I still feel Venice looks a bit like Tomb Raider sometimes, which is probably not something I should admit to.’


Reviews of the Biennale itself have been mixed, but several national pavilions have received high praise. These include the Tunisian pavilion, which involves three kiosks set up around the city. Visitors are invited to fill in their details and provide their thumbprint on a visa form, before being issued with a ‘universal travel document’. Alas, not everyone is a fan. In The Times, Rachel Campbell-Johnston described an excruciating exchange: ‘“This is filthy. Give me a tissue!” demanded one dismayed grandee in front of me. She didn’t want the blue ink from her fingerprint to stain her Prada dress.’


Tidbits from the party circuit. The lavish opening party for the Russian pavilion was held at the Rialto fish market, where even the heady stench of the previous morning’s catch couldn’t keep the gatecrashers away. Elsewhere, feathers were ruffled at the Turkish bash when an audacious pigeon quite literally took the biscuit, swooping down and liberally helping itself to guests’ hors d’oeuvres.


Anne Imhof, whose performance piece Faust is currently on show at the German pavilion, is the artist of the moment. Last week, she was awarded both the Biennale’s Golden Lion and the Absolute Art Award – so you might have thought her name would be common currency amongst the Venice art crowd. Not a bit of it, apparently. When the Rake dropped into the Bauer hotel for a party celebrating her Absolut win, he was surprised to find that mention of Imhof’s name produced more than a few quizzical looks from fellow guests. Surely they weren’t just there for the cocktails?


Also at the Bauer, ArtNews’s Nate Freeman bumped into erstwhile grunge star Courtney Love, who loudly confessed that she had flown to Venice in order to ‘defend’ her pal Damien Hirst. With humanitarian causes a big theme at this year’s Biennale, it’s good to see that sympathy is being directed to the people who need it most.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.