If this isn’t the Biennale end-all!

By anne
June 11, 2007 - 04:33.

Y’know that get-to-know-you exercise where you list five people, living or dead, with whom you’d most like to have dinner? The politically correct (or, perhaps, parent-pleasing) answer should include Mother Teresa or Jesus or Gandhi, but with practically all of their books made into movies, I feel I’ve gotten to know them already. My picks, therefore, would be artists and cultural icons. And I’d want to pull up extra chairs.

Of my top five “dream dinner” guests, three are at this very moment enjoying their morning cappuccinos in Venice, Italy, at La Biennale—the most famous multidisciplinary arts exhibition in the world (since 1895) and one of my dream vacation destinations. While I adore the Twin Cities art scene and our lovely summer weather (Venice stinks in hot weather because of the canals), I am kicking myself for not booking a trip.

So—here are my top five: American artist Jenny Holzer, rock/pop legend Elton John, and French artist Sophie Calle, all at Biennale, plus American sculptor Ruth Duckworth and—if you know me at all, you saw this coming—Sarah Jessica Parker (whose hubby Matthew Broderick is welcome, too).

Rationale: Jenny Holzer may have been the first artist who really stunned me. Absolutely blew me away. I saw her work at Walker Art Center 10 or maybe 15 years ago, and I remember that exhibit as if it were yesterday. Huge neon tickers raced around corners near the gallery ceilings, flashing social commentary of such wisdom and irony that I finally understood the cliché, “I’ve gotta laugh or I’ll cry.” At Biennale, she is showing silk screen paintings based on classified military documents and the Guantánamo Bay detainment center. Yikes. I’d want to look at those through splayed fingers, then make a prayer pitstop at Isola San Michele, Venice’s most famous cemetery, established by Napoleon. Ms. Holzer gets my vote for “most admired” because she makes art based on a rare combination of compassion and courage. I must meet her.

Elton John: Do I need to explain why I’d want him at the table? Can I still recite the lyrics of everything from Candle in the Wind to Captain Fantastic and the Brown Dirt Cowboy? (Yes, I can.) Have I spent more than $500 to see him in concert? (Yes, I have.) I’ve even bought a limited-edition, slipcovered catalog of Elton John’s art collection, for which he built a house I’d pay almost anything to live in. In fact, forget dinner. I just want to put my hand in the hand of the man who pounds the keys!

Et pourquois Sophie Calle? Ten years older than I, and infinitely more infamous, Ms. Calle has turned the heartbreaks of her life into art projects that help to put it all into perspective. For example, an especially dramatic breakup 20 years ago lent itself to a book and an exhibit called Exquisite Pain. According to a 2004 interview in London’s The Guardian, “The book, composed of photographs, reproduced love letters, air tickets and passages from remembered conversations, takes the reader through the 92 days leading up to her abandonment, and the three months of recovery that followed.” To the former host of a radio show called Singles Party, producing a critically acclaimed work of art that makes you money sounds like the best balm for a breakup, bar none.

Today’s New York Times reports that at Biennale, it’s classic Calle: “an autobiographical installation…of paintings and videos, asking 107 women to interpret a breakup letter from a man she had been involved with. Actresses acted the letter, a singer sang it, a criminologist analyzed it, an editor annotated it, a photographer shot it, and a crossword puzzle specialist created a crossword puzzle of it. There was even a parrot who ate the letter.” Perfect. Sophie Calle, to me, would be the ultimate companion for a girls’ night out.

Modernist sculptor Ruth Duckworth may be in her 80s, but I think she’d fit right in with the girls. And she lives in Chicago, so I’m thinking I might pick her up en route to meet Sophie in Paris. I learned of her art—and her attitude—at last year’s Arty Party at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. They’d called my group for a tour of the new Michael Graves wing, and I was hurrying to catch up with the guide, but saw the Duckworth exhibit on the way and literally screeched to a halt. I never did take that tour. Instead, I wandered gleefully through delicate porcelain creations that gave way to huge clay “mama pots” (so named for the magnetic force that pulls you toward their roundness, as into the arms of someone wonderful and motherly and plump) and a sweetly anthropomorphic snail figure that could have been created only by an artist who is deeply connected to all living things. In fact, at dinner, out of respect, I would select the vegetarian entrée in lieu of escargots.

I left Sarah Jessica Parker for last because her presence at my dream dinner needs the least explanation. Heck, everyone I know wants to meet her, if only to chat about shoes. But frankly, I’d avoid talking footwear with SJP. She gets enough of that. I’d want to know what book she’s reading, and how her new affordable clothing line, Bitten, is doing (as well as her Lovely perfume), and whether she and Matthew ever get a moment’s peace away from all the paparazzi. Of course I’d have to know if Sarah misses being Carrie Bradshaw, and when the movie’s coming out. And then art. We would talk about art. I’ll bet SJP likes Jenny Holzer, too.

Assuming my top five are free for dinner, I’d better decide on a restaurant. Le Cirque, perhaps? Oh, and if one or two of my faves have to cancel, I’d have k. d. lang and Theodore Geisel, aka Dr. Seuss (may he rest in peace), waiting in the wings. Please pass the butter, mon cheri!

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