Museo Fortuny's Eccentric "TRA" Show Sinks While the Future Generation Art Prize Exhibition Soars in VeniceSource: Author: June 4th, 2011

VENICE—Talk to anyone at the Biennale, and one of the first things you'll hear is a reference to the sheer volume of artwork on display. "I haven't seen that yet," or "I didn't get that far" are common refrains. Indeed, this year's Biennale offers more national pavilions and collateral events than Venice has ever seen before. But two of the numerous such collateral events — billionaire Victor Pinchuk's Future Generation Art Prize exhibition and strangely named TRA Edge of Becoming, both of which opened on June 3 — present sharply contrasting attitudes when it comes to the quantity of work they choose to display. While both shows take over magnificent, quintessentially Italian spaces — the Palazzo Popodopoli and the Museo Fortuny, respectively — the former succeeds by doing more with less, while the latter, firmly committed to the "more is more" philosophy, saw mixed results.

Now in its fourth iteration, TRA Edge of Becoming is a historically well-received collaboration between the Museo Fortuny and the Belgium-based Vervoordt Foundation. The exhibition is designed to create unlikely, enchanting, and edifying links between the Fortuny's collection of textiles, clothes, and stage designs, the Vervoordt Foundation's eclectic holdings of antique and contemporary art, and the two guest curators' selections. This year, the list of participating artists tops 300, including names that are as significant as they are disparate: think Auguste Rodin, Marina Abramovic, and Anish Kapoor (and that's just the As). Other artists, including Hiroshi Sugimoto and Massimo Bartolini, were specially commissioned for the show. When asked what united the numerous artists in the exhibition, participant Susan Kleinberg seemed stumped for a moment, and then said decisively: "The quality."

The result of such a broad pool of artwork is a crowded exhibition that works only when it embraces its inevitable kitschiness — what do you expect when you hang a Mark Rothko over a tapestry? — but fails when taking itself too seriously. Some pieces, like a still from Matthew Barney's "Cremaster V" and Doretta Dolron's "Xteriors XIII," work beautifully in context and are strong in their own right. Barney's photograph, for example, of himself dressed in sumptuous robes on the floor of a massive theater, is placed next to a large Fortuny stage maquette. The contrast is a testament to the enduring pomp and artificiality of the theater, and of Venice itself.