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‘Taking Venice’: The Strange Story of the U.S. Government and a Painter

‘Taking Venice’: The Strange Story of the U.S. Government and a Painter


Something about “Taking Venice,” Amei Wallach’s new documentary concerning the 1964 Venice Biennale (in theaters), feels virtually like science fiction, or perhaps fantasy. Imagine the U.S. authorities taking such a eager curiosity within the wonderful arts that there might or might not have been an try and rig a serious worldwide prize for an American artist. A painter, no much less!

History buffs already know that through the Cold War, American intelligence businesses had been closely concerned in literature, music and the wonderful arts, seeing them as a option to export smooth energy all over the world and show U.S. dominance over the Soviet Union. “Taking Venice” tells one slice of that story: a long-rumored conspiracy between the State Department and artwork sellers to make sure that the younger painter Robert Rauschenberg would win the grand prize on the occasion generally known as the “Olympics of artwork” — and a “fiesta of nationalism.”

So … did they conspire? “Taking Venice” doesn’t precisely reply that query, although varied individuals who had been concerned give their variations of the story. But that query is way from what makes the documentary so fascinating. Instead, it’s a story of Americans crashing what had been a European party in a second when American optimism was at its peak. Artists like Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, Frank Stella, John Chamberlain and Jasper Johns had been making work that exploded concepts about what a portray needs to be and do. As one knowledgeable notes, they dared to make artwork that steered the current was vital, not simply the previous.

And they’d assist from their authorities in ways in which had been bizarre and complex. In a 1963 speech a month earlier than his assassination, President John F. Kennedy declared, “I see little of extra significance to the way forward for our nation and our civilization than full recognition of the place of the artist.” Then once more, as a number of folks notice, the liberty of expression that American artwork was alleged to illustrate on the world stage — typically with out the artists’ full realization of the federal government’s involvement — was topic to its personal type of censorship. Government entities just like the House Un-American Activities Committee and intelligence businesses determined who was allowed to signify the nation and whose voices had been unwelcome.

Yet it’s nonetheless fascinating to think about a time, not all that way back, wherein portray, sculpture, jazz, literature and extra had been thought of keys to the exporting of American affect all over the world. It’s a cultural perspective that’s shifted tremendously within the years since, at the least on the broader scale, away from seeing artwork as embodying a tradition’s hopes and goals and towards one thing extra crass.

But with this yr’s version of the Biennale underway, the query of what it means to be an American artist (or an artist from any nation) remains to be one value wrestling with, and one thing “Taking Venice” explores, too. “Art will not be solely about artwork,” Christine Macel, the curator of the 2017 Biennale, says in the beginning of the movie. “It’s about energy and politics. When you might have the ability, you present it via artwork.”


Richard Shepard, the director of the black comedies “Dom Hemingway” and “The Matador,” is a lifelong cinephile with a voracious urge for food for films. “Film Geek” (in theaters), a feature-length video essay composed primarily of footage of movies that he noticed rising up within the Nineteen Seventies in New York City, delves deep into his obsession. In a voice-over, he recounts his childhood, when he was “hooked on films, to watching them, to creating them.” He is enthusiastic, and the film aspires to make that enthusiasm infectious. I admire Shepard’s affection: I additionally grew up loving films, and I discovered his wistful reminiscences of being awed by “Jaws” and “Star Wars” relatable. But Shepard’s degree of self-regard will be stultifying. For minutes at a time, he merely rattles off the titles of varied films that he noticed as a baby. “Film Geek” has been likened to Thom Andersen’s nice documentary from 2003, “Los Angeles Plays Itself,” and on the extent of montage, they share a superficial resemblance: Both are brisk and effectively edited. But “Los Angeles Plays Itself” can be a considerate and incisive work of movie criticism, whereas Shepard describes films in clichés. — CALUM MARSH

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