Roughly a month ago the Pantone Color Institute® announced a new shade - Minion Yellow. You don't need to be a cartoon connoisseur to guess the colour was inspired by the infamous little cute creatures (that from June will also grace a capsule collection by different fashion designers/brands) in the Universal Pictures and Illumination Entertainment's Despicable Me films and the yet to be released Minions prequel.
"Just as the sun's rays enliven us, Pantone Minion Yellow is a color that heightens awareness and creates clarity, lighting the way to the intelligence, originality and the resourcefulness of an open mind - this is the color of hope, joy and optimism," stated in an official press release Leatrice Eiseman, Executive Director of the Pantone Color Institute.
Eiseman's statement about this extroverted, playful and warmth shade may come to mind to many visitors of the 56th International Art Exhibition as soon as they step into the British Pavilion.
(Young) British Artist Sarah Lucas painted indeed the entire pavilion in a shade of vibrant custard-yellow to evoke the colour of the sunlight and put everybody in an uplifting good mood.
The British General Elections took place during the Venice Biennale Press Preview days and the results saw the Scottish National Party (SNP) securing 56 out of 59 seats, but the main themes and shade of the pavilion doesn't have anything to do with politics or with the SNP's yellow tide.
While pointing back at previous works such as "Two Fried Eggs and a Kebab" (1992; View this photo) and "Self-portrait with Fried Eggs" (1996; View this photo
), the iconic image of Lucas photographed with a pair of fried eggs slapped on her breasts, this colour has got more to do with the fact that Lucas wanted the show to have the appearance of a sea of custard, of Crème Anglais and therefore of a delicious dessert (if you don't believe her, well, the catalogue of the show also includes a recipe to make the perfect Île flottante).
The gigantic yellow abstract sculptures on the portico of the pavilion and in the first room - maybe a body stretched in a rather unusual position, a fetishistic praying mantis-like erection or an ambiguous representation of a totemic phallus with dangling sagging balls (or are those breasts?) - are called "Gold Cup Maradona" and "Deep Cream Maradona".
The rest of the space is populated by nine rough casts of the bottom halves of women - Lucas' muses - who take the role of meringues in this yellow space.
To make these sculptures Lucas cast some of her longtime friends, including gallerist Sadie Coles and chef Margot Henderson.
This intimate process led to the creation of a series of pieces spread on an office desk, leaning on a table, hugging a toilet seat, sitting on a chair, or lying on a chest freezer (that, Lucas explained to a press officer from her team, contains blokes...).
Are these forms waiting for or recovering from sex? Is the artist commenting upon the objectification of the female form in the male art history? We don't really know and the artist doesn't tell us, so the dilemma remains.
A further dilemma is represented by the cigarettes that poke out of orifices (navels, bums, vaginas...) of the scuptures in a cheeky and irreverent way, hinting maybe at perversion, titillation and pleasure, while reminding art connoisseurs of a cast of Lucas' bottom half with a cigarette in her vagina that went lost in the fire in the Momart storage facility in 2004.
Further works include sculptures of black bronze cats - Lucas' "Tit Cats" (though one figure represents an octopus standing on a Spam tin plinth...) - derived from models made with tights. The sculptures are characterised by deflated and drooping breast-like formations and sit on random pieces of furniture or on breeze-block supports.
The pavilion also includes a spot painting made with tabloid pictures of topless young women. According to Lucas, this "British emblem" (think about Damien Hirst making spot paintings...) acts as a substitute for the Union Jack while providing the tops to her bottoms of women.
Toilets, chairs and a random washing machine vomiting a yolk yellow plastic spot ("Washing Machine Fried Egg") represent domestic simulacra, strengthening the impression Lucas is humorously and disturbingly taking the piss out of visitors and farting via her cigarettes in the face of the wealthy and pretentious art collectors and gallerists populating the biennale.
In a way you wish this is Lucas' main aim and objective, otherwise the show would look rather shallow and weak compared to other pavilions that seemed to have stronger and more socially relevant messages.
The title of the show will also induce some some linguistic confusion in the Italian speaking visitors: while the word "daddio" may be a reference to "daddy-o", in Italian "addio" means "goodbye", while "da Dio" means "like God/at God's". Besides, the expression "da Dio" (like God) is often used by uneducated young Italians (imagine the Italian equivalent of chavs) in sentences such as "Sto da Dio" (I feel like God).
So there will be a few Italians interpreting the title of the pavilion as "I scream goodbye" or "Ice cream at God's" or "I scream like a God".
In a nutshell the exclusively bespoke Kvadrat bags for the pavilion screaming "DADDIO" may look slightly risible if you wear them in any other place in Italy apart from the Arsenale/Giardini in Venice.
Maybe they should have added another award to the Biennale - The Saussure Award for the best Signifier/Signified Pavilion, or maybe they could have opted for a simpler and trendier title such as "Despicable Me".
Yet, while colour-wise the pavilion will inspire many fashionistas (do you prefer Pantone's "Minion Yellow" or Sarah Lucas' "Deep Cream"?) in many ways the show doesn't add anything new to the British artist's practice, even though it shifts the attention towards women artists.
There were actually quite a few visitors who noticed a strong presence of inspiring women: while wandering around the Arsenale I bumped into a distinguished elderly Italian man (a critic? an artist? or maybe a gallerist?) walking with two sticks accompanied by a friend. As he read the name of an artist off the wall label and realised it was a woman he commented, "So, I see, women are producing refreshing art, while male artists have turned into a bunch of c*nts!". Somehow you know that Lucas would have loved his comment.
Sarah Lucas's British Council commission is at the Venice Biennale, until 22 November 2015.
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