One of the great joys of visiting the Venice Biennale is exploring the national pavilions and collateral events scattered across the city. The Biennale has grown into such a large international art fair that it long ago sprang out of its two main bases at Arsenale and Giardini and churches, warehouses, palazzi, libraries and other buildings across Venice, many often closed to the public, are, for a few months showcases of international art. Exploring these buildings and unknown areas of Venice is part of the fun.
Google maps can’t cope with Venice. It tries its best, but it is defeated by the idiosyncrasies of the Venetian street and canal layout. Thus it was that we found ourselves turning left down an alley at the end of which we could only see one thing – the Grand Canal. There happened to be a sign to the pavilion of the Islamic Republic of Iran, so why not explore? We continued onwards and came to the end of the alley onto a traghetto pier, with stunning views up and down the Canal, but the only way off being take a gondola ferry across the canal – or to swim!
Here we found an old 15th warehouse building, once used to store tobacco and silk and now the Foundaco Marcello, first used as an exhibition venue for the Hong Kong pavilion for the Biennale in 2005, and this year for Iran, in a splendid 350 sq m space with white-painted timber-trussed roof supported on simple stone columns.
The three Iranian artists Samira Alikhanzadeh, Ali Meer Azimi and Reza Lavassani provided three entirely different styles of work showing how Iranian contemporary art has entered the digital age and also interlinks with western art, while retaining its own identity. Never has so much been done with papier-mâché as Raza Lavassani has achieved with his immense banqueting table which has been three years in the making, while nearby the Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art has been showing the work of nine Iranian artists in the Conservatorio di Musica Benedetto Marcello, in parallel with its exhibition of Iranian artist Rayyane Tabet being held in London.