The ultimate collector’s dream is not only to have a one-of-a-kind collection, but also to collect one of everything – a comprehensive compilation of everything the collector’s heart desires. Taken to an extreme, however, collecting for the sake of collecting can quickly turn into a nightmare. Such was the case at the 55th Venice Biennale entitled “The Encyclopedic Palace.” With an ambitious title borrowed from the work of artist Maurini Auriti, the 2013 edition of “the” Biennale alluded to Auriti’s dream “to hold all the works of man in whatever field, discoveries made and those which may follow.” In the end, it seemed like Auriti was trying a little too hard. After an inspiring collection of country pavilions, the overwhelming and disparate selection of art and artifacts in the main hall was a disappointment. Akin to the “uncertainty and collective acts” shared by artist Koki Tanaka at the Japan pavilion, the Biennale itself was an endless loop of memories and routines with few moments of inspiration or hope.
So why this belated critique of the 2013 Venice Biennale? The answer can be found in Yokohama. After a disillusioning experience in Venice, I became skeptical about the repetitive and exaggerated nature of biennials, triennials and the like. Thankfully, the Yokohama Trienniale has re-awakened me to the dream of a fresh and well curated collection. To begin with, artistic director Yasumasa Morimura does away with the idea of an “all encompassing” collection. He reminds us that the ability to let go and forget (discard) is a conscious choice, whether it regards the thoughtful editing of a curator or our own individual acts of dismissal of memories and routines. To drive this idea home, Morimura invited British artist Michael Landy and his 7 meter tall “Art Bin” into the center of the main hall of the Yokohama Art Museum in which artists and visitors could discard of artworks thereby sending them off into a “see of oblivion.”
The natural and easy flow from one section of the Triennale to the next is perhaps as quintessential as any experience in Japan which appears effortless on the surface but is actually the result of detailed preparation and hard work, with little left to chance. From “Unmonumental Monuments” and “Listening to Silence and Whispers” to “Laboring in Solitude” and “A drifting Journey,” the Yokohama Triennale is quietly provocative. The section entitled “Fahrenheit 451” presents New York artist Taryn Simon’s piece “Living Man Declared Dead and Other Chapters I-XVIII” including works censored by Chinese authorities last year. Still, some may criticize the Yokohama exhibition as being “too clean” or Morimura for “playing it safe”. What it lacks in drama, however, the Triennale makes up for in a compelling and well developed narrative, which is easily accessible in wall texts, a mobile app and the official guide book. Compared to Venice – the professional level of english language “outline” at the Yokohama Triennale is unrivaled, and that’s no easy accomplishment in an otherwise language-challenged Japan.
There’s no question that the contemporary art world is much more diverse (and controversial) than the well-curated exhibition in Yokohama. That being said, there’s much to enjoy about an exhibition which doesn’t prompt the question “Is that Art,” but is – to borrow the words of Mark Twain – “like a good story well told.” It’s like waking from a dream that you won’t want to forget. Last chance to see it: the Yokohama Triennale runs through Monday, November 3rd.
Unlike the “uncertainty and collective acts” shared by artist Koki Tanaka out of at the Japan pavilion, the encyclopedic palace felt disconnected