The 54th Venice Biennale opened to the public this week after its VIP preview, which seamed with press, celebrities, and oligarchs amidst the upper echelons of the art world. Eighty-nine countries are represented in the 2011 Biennale, 12 more than in 2009, including several nations that have never before participated, like Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Rwanda, Bangladesh, Malaysia, and tiny Andorra. While artwork at the prestigious international art fair is still being digested (the Biennale is on view until November 27), the recent awards (Golden Lions for Christian Marclay and Christoph Schlingensief) coupled with last week’s avalanche of reviews from critics around the world have provided a preliminary glimpse of the mark the 54th Biennale will leave. Read on for eclectic survey of a few interesting artists thus far.
Artist Aidan Salakhova received national attention last weekend after the Azerbaijan government covered up her two large-scale sculptures. The works — which are now being referred to by press as “Vagina Art” — include Waiting Bride, a statue of a woman covered head-to-toe in a black hijab, and Black Stone, a marble, vagina-like sculpture. In Black Stone, the artist placed the Black Stone of Mecca, a sacred relic that Muslims kiss during the Haj to Mecca, within the yonic frame. Rob Sharp of The Independent reports that the work was covered after President Illham Aliyev toured the Azerbaijan pavilion and said that he found the sexually explicit nature of the works “offensive to Islam.” A Biennale official states that shortly after the President’s visit, “the culture minister asked for the woman in a black veil to be covered up. Now the pavilion is rushing to concoct a story to make it appear that there is no controversy, to save the country the embarrassment of going down in Biennale history as censoring their own pavilion the day before the opening.” Black Stone was also covered. Both the government and, interestingly, the artist herself, had disputed these claims, stating that the statues were damaged in their transport to Venice and would be fully revealed once they are restored. But then today, a spokesperson for the artist announced that the government of Azerbaijan has decided to remove the statues from its pavilion.