The jury of the 54th Venice Biennale has awarded the international exhibition's highest honor, the Golden Lion for best national pavilion, to Germany for its display of work by Christoph Schlingensief, the late artist, filmmaker, and theater experimentalist who passed away from cancer in August of 2010.
Organized by curator Susanne Gaensheimer, who completed the exhibition after the Schlingensief's death, the German pavilion has been transformed into a replica of the church where the artist spent his teenage years as an altar boy in order to present "Fluxus Oratorio," the second of his three-part final work, created after he had undergone surgery to remove a lung and presenting multimedia documents — from videos to x-rays — relating to his battle with terminal cancer. A side room also presents footage and a maquette made as part of Schlingensief's project to build an opera house in Burkina Faso, while another wing holds a theater screening a selection of films from throughout his career.
In accepting the prize, Gaensheimer spoke of the challenge she faced in assembling the pavilion without Schlingensief, a mercurial figure whose passing — just nine months after Gaensheimer asked him to represent his country in Venice — prompted an outpouring of tributes in his native country (as well as protests from Gerhard Richter and Georg Baselitz, who considered the selection a slight to German painters.) According to Gaensheimer, the school that Schlingensief was building in Burkina Faso is set to open in October, and will be managed by the late artist's wife.
Honorable mention for best pavilion went to the "conceptually elegant" Lithuanian pavilion, featuring artist Darius Mikšys's show "Behind the White Curtain."
The Silver Lion for most promising young artist was given to British artist Haroon Mirza for his piece in the Arsenale half of Bice Curiger's "ILLUMInations" exhibition, credited for his work's "refreshing views of weakness and power." Mirza created two sound-based installations, one in the Arsenale that was a sound-and-light based chamber — described by one observer as "like a totalitarian bug zapper" — and the other a sound and video piece in the Giardini. Dressed in a summery yellow polo shirt, Mirza joked after receiving the award that he was particularly delighted to receive a silver lion, which he called "the more unique lion."
Swedish-born, Berlin-based artist Klara Lidén received honorable mention for her piece, also in the Arsenale portion of "IllumiNATIONS." Her work in the Biennale, cited by the organizers for its "wit and rage as well as its ability to bring the logic of public intervention into the museum space," included some trash cans from around the world stolen off the streets.
The Golden Lion for best artwork in the main exhibition went to American artist Christian Marclay's "The Clock," the reliable crowd-pleasing mash-up of clock scenes from throughout cinematic history that has drawn crowds everywhere it has been shown since debuting at the Frieze Art Fair last year. Receiving the award, Marclay told the jury, "Thank you for giving 'The Clock' its fifteen minutes," modestly alluding to Andy Warhol's oft-quoted quip — though that notion of brief celebrity hardly seems to apply to a piece that has perhaps become the single most highly celebrated artwork of the 21st century.
In the ceremony, Franz West and Sturtevant also picked up their Golden Lions for lifetime achievement. Sporting a cane, the understated West said that he had meant to give a speech, but "I forgot my script on the way here." The sprightly, silver-haired Sturtevent, praised for being able to create "an extremely coherent oeuvre literally in the shadow of one of the greatest artists of the century" (another reference to Warhol), was also relatively brief: "I want to thank you all. I want to thank you for being here. Voilà!"
Youth, however, was the undoubted theme of this year's Biennale. "This is a place where young artists are welcome," Biennale president Paolo Baratta boasted in his opening comments, noting that there is a higher percentage of artists under 35 here than in most museums and private collections, and that this was a great achievement of the exhibition.
For a video of Germany's 2011 Venice Biennale Pavilion and of the ceremony announcing the Golden and Silver Lions, see below: