Muntanyola Saura, Dafne: Simmel and the Arts: An ethnographic observation of the Biennale

Venice is to the Biennale what the Biennale is to Venice: an object of study and investigation. This is what the most interesting exhibited works of art show to the public: they take after their setting. Following Simmel (in Frisby and Featherstone, 1997) we claim that international art exhibitions are the result of the generalisation of the social template of the money economy. There is much that is common between international  ‘trade fairs’ at the turn of the past century and contemporary international art exhibitions such as the Venice Biennale. All are attempts to condense into a single time and space a ‘representative sample’ of contents. They exhibit a competitive element between the objects on display, and stress observation over purchase. Simmel isolates four aesthetic tendencies at work in  exhibition environments:  transience,  shop-window aesthetic, stylistic relativity and amusement. We present here a longitudinal audiovisual ethnographic observation of the Biennale 2013, 2015, 2017, 2019. As in Simmel (in Frisby, 1985: 57): For us the essence of aesthetic observation and interpretation lies in the fact that the typical is to be found in what is unique, the law-like in what is fortuitous, the essence and significance of things in the superficial and transitory. We thus present evidence of the visitants use of space, type of participation, multimodal communication patterns, use of the body and the aesthetics of the artistic displays. The findings how the key principles outlined by Simmel are still in play. However, the boundaries between the artists and the visitors, so clear in Simmel’s times, are blurred in the contemporary Biennale exhibitions.