Russian Pavilion and Paul McCarthy

Written by Jennifer Lenn

Dear Blog,
       Words cannot even begin to describe how overwhelming the Biennale in Venice was. Hopefully through some of my text and photographs I will be able to give you a small glimpse of the talent and thought that went into this incredible exhibit. Let me first give you some sort of perspective by telling you that this exhibition did not exist simply within one building, in fact, it included multiple buildings within itself. We walked through a very large building that seemed never-ending but it was difficult to notice just how long I had been walking because my mind was so preoccupied by the art work. Honestly, it is difficult to remember exactly the sequence in which I saw everything because the places have run together in my head. Certain places do stand out, however.  The pavilions in particular were very interesting to me and each stood out in its own way. The Russian pavilion was of particular interest to me because of the inside. 

       The inside of the Russian pavilion had walls that were completely covered in barcodes which you were supposed to scan with an iPad that was handed to you as you walked in. Each bar code represented a different project or architect. Once you scanned it with your iPad it brought up a summary that you could read about that certain project or architect. This stood out to me not only because of the innovative way to view projects but also because it just so happened to exist in the Russian pavilion. When I saw the use of the iPad i was immediately reminded of my little brother because I knew it was something that he would have enjoyed. Given that my brother was adopted from Russia, I thought that this was really interesting. 


        One thing that I found somewhat contradictory in this pavilion was a sign that was meant to direct the viewer by labeling two different rooms. One was labeled  "architecture" and one was labeled "function". I found this questionable because in my mind the two should be one, not separate.  

       Aside from particular buildings that intrigued me, the art work grabbed my attention the most. Particularly that of Paul McCarthy. Most would say that his work is grotesque, provocative and even perverted but this is what stood out to me. A lot of art work, both sculptural and two dimensional convey messages through "beautiful" picturesque scenes. Artists try to grab the attention of the viewer using incredibly rich colors or images that cause the viewer to stop, turn their head and drool in amazement. Paul McCarthy uses a very different approach to get his message across through his art work. He juxtaposes characters and commonly known figures of different worlds, classes, and societies to provoke an analysis of fundamental beliefs and American myths. For example he may mix the character of a political figure with that of a fantasy character as a satirical way to analyze a cultural norm. In some pieces he often gives very innocent and pure characters pieces or elements that are incredibly provocative or daunting. 

       At first his work was very grotesque to me and there was a certain invisible form of tension that existed between myself and the other people to walked so timidly through his exhibit. There were even several times when I simply left his exhibit to avoid the awkward tension of the other viewers. As soon as I would leave, however, I had a sudden desire to return to his exhibit to learn more about what exactly was going through this guys head. Once I returned the first time I was again forced away by my own discomfort amongst his work. Again, I returned. Finally I stopped to read the brochure about his works and I was fascinated by his method. Suddenly I felt comfortable and at ease as I browsed and photographed his heinous sculptures. Once I was informed about his work I felt more comfortable viewing it because I was actually reading something rather than seeing it for face value. Paul McCarthy's way of grabbing my attention fascinated me. Not many artists nor architects or buildings themselves, for that matter, can make me return three times in a row to truly discover the meaning that lies beneath it. 

       So many artists (this includes architects) try so hard to impress people by creating the "most beautiful" or the "largest" of its kind, so many mistake "grandeur" for "perfection". This misconception leads to a plethora of work that is merely a compilation of "big, beautiful" things and all that is evoked within the viewer is a mundane gasp with a jaw dropping "Wow, how beautiful". So how successful does it make a piece of art when every reaction from a viewer is the same as their last reaction to the previous painting? Perhaps it depends on what message the artist is trying to convey but, personally, I would venture to say that Paul McCarthy is quite the successful artist because he is able to evoke emotion and cause action among his viewers. This, to me, is success.   

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