A Death in Venice
In the Biennale’s Danish and Nordic pavilions, artists Elmgreen & Dragset created a surreal installation of modern homes for sale—complete with a murder victim.
The artist duo Elmgreen & Dragset originated one of the most winning ideas of the Venice Biennale: The Collectors. The talk of the town among critics and curators, the project has contributions by 24 international artists and artists groups, along with some classic pieces of Scandinavian modern furniture, and earned Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset a special mention from the Biennale jury of the 53rd International Art Exhibition. Presented in the Danish and Nordic pavilions, which represents a first-time collaboration between Denmark and Norway and the first joint venture of two national pavilions in the Biennale, the exhibition transforms the neighboring, Modernist-style buildings into domestic settings, where the spectator becomes a voyeur to the private lives of the inhabitants.
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The unfolding of a tale of turbulent relationships, obsessions, and death begins with an actual guided tour of a family home (Danish Pavilion) by Denise Foxwood, the fictional director of Vigilante, an exclusive real-estate firm, whose motto is “Discretion. Integrity. Efficiency.” — or D.I.E. Ms. Foxwood has a well-rehearsed rap about an estranged couple, their runaway teenage daughter, two adopted boys that had to be returned, a preserved maid and dog, and, of course, a collection of objects and art. She expresses the desire for a prompt sale of the property while pulling business cards from her bra.
The teenage daughter’s room has a goth, jungle gym type of bed that’s been sprayed black, an ax near the door for protection, and an escape hatch, which was used by the girl when she left, yet the deceiving display is actually an installation by Klara Liden. The dining room has a long, set table with chairs, which is split at the middle, signifying the couple’s indecisiveness at dividing their belongings. The furniture is an installation by Elmgreen & Dragset titled Table for Bergman (the Swedish director of dark dramas) and is accompanied by a stuffed dog by Maurizio Cattelan; a group of elegantly framed “begging signs” by Jani Leinonen; and a pair of nearly identical paintings, which reference Frank Stella’s abstractions of the late 1950s, by the artist Sturtevant. The room also contains the haunting sound of mumbling, moaning voices and the kitchen, which houses a collection of scattered Weimar-style porcelain dishes, looks like it was upset by ghosts, while the broken staircase in the study holds hints of a violent act.
The unfolding of a tale begins with an actual guided tour of a family home by Denise Foxwood, the fictional director of Vigilante, an exclusive real-estate firm, whose motto is “Discretion. Integrity. Efficiency.”—or D.I.E.
The neighbor’s house (Nordic Pavilion) is the bachelor pad of “Mr. B,” a man whose lifestyle is expressed in his collection of art and friends. It’s a stylish open home with sunken, platform seating areas, and freestanding appliances. A pair of headless, fragmented statues, modeled after Michelangelo’s David by Terence Koh, face one another on pedestals, while nearby a drawing of the statue of David by Tom of Finland accompanies six of Tom’s homoerotic portrayals of bikers and cops. A large Wolfgang Tillmans photograph of naked men, crashing on a bed together, is seemingly brought to life by three young men lounging around the space in the guise of male hustlers; and Nina Saunders’ furniture-like sculpture fits right in with iconic design pieces by Eero Saarinen, Poul Kjaerholm, and others.
Simon Fujiwara’s Desk Job—a handmade desk with photos, notes, and an unfinished text in a word processor—may hold a clue, as everything else in the house probably does, to the mysterious death of Mr. B, whose eerily realistic body lies face down in the swimming pool.