While I am currently not in Venice for the inauguration of the 54th Venice Biennial, I have been able to follow what is going on in various venues throughout the beautiful floating city constructed of canals and timeworn architecture, via other art blogs and editorial posts on the internet. Yesterday, NY Magazine art critic Jerry Saltz, published a review of Gloria the installation at the American Pavilion by artist duo Allora & Calzadilla. His piece titled The Ugly American, comments on the ostentatiousness of the work, but also how it encapsulates the vision of America as seen by many other countries throughout the globe.

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP/Getty Images
The piece shown above, features a runner who is replaced by another after keeping pace for approximately 15 minutes, not sure if this is due to heat exhaustion or the 1968 Americana quote by Andy Warhol “In the future, everyone will be world-famous for 15 minutes”. Having spent summer 2007 in Venice, my guess is the heat, but you never know the extent of symbolic time keeping. The weighted (excuse the pun) presence of a treadmill on top of an overturned tank carries didactic symbolism on multiple levels. It is audibly and physically present. The work re-invents the purpose of the tank which is now used as a base/engine fueling the treadmill and can be heard from a distance. However, as the installation is approached it is immediately, visually accessible in communicating an allegory that one can easily comprehend almost with the fluidity of a figurative painting.
In doing online research, it’s easy to see that Gloria is causing quite a stir and getting mixed reactions from viewers. Yet, in the context of contemporary art, the piece is aggressively bold and unapologetic which is also what makes it exciting. Kudos to Allora & Calzadilla who are gaining a reputation for art that forces one to re-interpret meaning/usage of objects, along with curator Lisa Frieman for commenting on the perception of American culture and politics both inside the confines of the U.S. pavilion and The Giardini of the Biennale.
From Jerry Saltz: “Allora and Calzadilla have found a way to encapsulate, possibly exorcise, summon, and certainly give visual form to the freaked-out way the world sees the United States. It’s about what people think before they set foot in the American pavilion (just as they, and we, come into the pavilions of Germany, France, Korea, and other countries with entirely different preconceived notions). It’s ever-present but always invisible content, left over from centuries or piled up in only decades. As I walked away from this infernal piece I said to the curator, “Now, that’s America. “
The only question I have, is one of internal inquiry. If the piece were to be shown in America, in the context of a gallery or in the public sphere, runner sans USA tank top, would it still feel as American?
Thanks to Antonello of Web Art Magazine and Hyperallergic for posting the video of Gloria, it’s nice to not only see but hear the installation.
More soon!