Nice Art, Where’s My Tote?

The Venice Biennale is, at heart, a fabulous event about tote bags. We were lucky enough to attend what they call the “vernissage” of this year’s Biennale. There was some pretty good art on display (notably New Zealand’s pavilion, actually, with Michael Parekowhai’s work outshining pretty much everything else I saw). But, ultimately, it all boiled down to totes. Anyone who denies that is just lying to your face, or they just don’t get it.

Any pavilion worth its salt (not including the New Zealand one, shame on their name) provided visitors with a representative fabric tote bag. Some might call it a trivial afterthought, some a cherry on top, but I regard those totes as the pièce de résistance. Yes there’s the fabulous art work – but then there’s the tote. And after all, which one do you get to keep? Which one gives a stylish assist with the groceries? (Hint: it’s not the artwork.)

There were a few highly collectable totes. To the left here you can see the Australian tote for the Hany Armanious show – gold lamé with fairly nice typography. The French tote had a pleasingly disturbing mixed up image of a baby and the word “perdu” on one side, and a whole baby with “gagné” on the other. The Lyon Biennale was handing out a black tote with nice typography saying “A Terribly Beauty Is Born” (poetic). There was a bold red “Free Ai Wei Wei” tote at the entrance to the main area. The UAE had an impressive and colourful graphic on theirs.

Arguably the most sought after (by us) tote was this very refined one in light cream with a block of yellow at the bottom. It was stylish and unadorned with text of any kind. We searched for it everywhere, looking longingly at others who flaunted theirs. Eventually, to our chagrin and pleasure, my mother asked someone which pavilion it was from – Turkey. We rushed hence, flew past the sundry bits and bobs of art in our way, to find… they were out of totes.

It wasn’t that great of a tote, really. It was a bit too big, a bit too plain. Perhaps the UAE tote was the best, really. In the end.

14 June 2011
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