‘It’s important to leave something to the people of Venice’: Why artist Bosco Sodi lets locals bring his Biennale art home
When the Venice Biennale closes in November, the works of hundreds of artists will be packed up and sent back to countries around the world. But a small piece of the contemporary art circus that attracts so many jet-set art collectors to the Italian city will remain at the lagoon thanks to Bosco Sodi.
Indeed, the artist offers one of the works from his exhibition “Bosco Sodi: What Goes Around Comes Around”. Venetian residents will be able to take home the 195 small clay spheres that surround a giant in Noi Siamo Unoan interactive exhibition to be seen under a Murano glass chandelier at the Palazzo Vendramin Grimani.
“It’s very graceful, the biennial, in a way. People come, move around, then boom, everything disappears,” Sodi told Artnet News. “I think it’s important to leave something for the people of Venice.”
The artist sourced the clay for his sculptures in Oaxaca, a few miles from Casa Wabi, Sodi’s studio and a non-profit arts center that hosts artist residencies as well as children’s programs . (He baked the clay spheres in a makeshift oven on the beach of the waterfront property.)
As the show unfolds, visitors are invited to take a single sphere and roll it across the floor to create a space that changes slightly as each guest arrives. Each orb represents one of the world’s nation states, while the large one symbolizes humanity (the title means “We Are All One” in Italian.) The opportunity to bring one home will come last. day of the show.
The gesture is in keeping with the exhibition’s themes of world trade, inspired by Venice’s centuries of history as a great maritime power.
The artist created new works for the exhibition using cochineal, a red dye made from insects that he brought to Italy from his native Mexico. Sodi hadn’t done a project with cochineal in several years and needed to find a new supplier for the pigment, which pre-colonial Mexicans used to paint Mayan stelae and other monuments.
“It’s an insect that grows in the nopales cactus, and it’s a parasite,” he said of the insect. “They make a nest and the leaves are covered with white spots. Farmers scrape them off the leaves and put them in the sun to dry.
“What’s interesting is that depending on the batch, the color can completely change. It depends on the acidity of the insect. When the cochineal arrived here, it was adopted by all the classical painters of Europe. It does not fade. It completely changed the approach to red and color – and it came back to Mexico and there started to be classic paint.
Adding another layer to the cultural exchange, Sodi set up a makeshift studio on the first floor of the palace in preparation for the show. He combined the red pigment with sawdust, wood, clay, natural fibers and glue to create his textured canvases.
In his waterfront studio in Red Hook, Brooklyn, the floor is encrusted with excess material that dripped from the edges of each painting, the colors of different works overlapping like a kind of man-made sedimentary rock.
But in Venice, Sodi found excessive amounts of liquid seeping through the canvas, which was looser than he is used to working with.
“I was worried it would stain the marble floor, so I cleaned it with the rest of the canvas that was left and started playing with it,” Sodi said.
He formed the webs, now dyed dark red, into small bundles and left them to dry. The result was a group of simple but beautiful sculptures in the shape of roses – a shape that coincidentally echoed the rows of ornamental rosettes that adorn the ceiling of the room where they are now displayed in Venice.
There are also new works made during the confinement at Casi Wabi. While on a trip to the local fruit and vegetable market, Sodi was intrigued by the sackcloths used to transport food and began using them as makeshift canvases. He ransacked a stash full of materials left behind by former residents, finding tubes of oil paint and using them to mark the bags with simple red, black, and orange circles.
Housed in the courtyard of the palace are a set of sculptures made from volcanic rock, coated in a fiery red glaze that recalls their origins as molten lava. The series was born out of boredom ten years ago when Sodi was in Guadalajara making an edition of individually crafted ceramic carafes that he made for 1800 Tequila.
“I had nothing to do while waiting for them to dry. I said to the factory owner, ‘What happens if we put a stone in the oven and glaze it?’ “recalls Sodi.
At first, the factory owner feared that the rock would explode. Then, a vendor stopped by selling molcajetes, a Mexican mortar and pestle traditionally made from volcanic rock. If he used a rock that had already been fire tested, Sodi realized, the oven was unlikely to be in danger.
Soon he was leading an expedition to the Ceboruco volcano, about two and a half hours from the city, in search of raw materials for his experiment.
“We went Mexican style, not with a crane – with two donkeys and 10 guys,” Sodi said. “I call it rock hunting. I pick the stones I like, clean them and enamel them. I totally respect the shape of the rock.
The result is a fusion of art and geology. Sometimes the rocks would still shatter under the heat of the kiln, revealing the raw interior – an accident Sodi embraced.
Inside the palace, works have been installed in the historic setting. The Grimani family owned the house from 1517 to 1959, and the original interior remains largely intact, with neoclassical frescoes, damask wall coverings, ornate tapestries, and terrazzo floors.
There is even a collection of decorative fans, which Sodi has cheekily enriched with contemporary fans bought in Mexico and Venice which he painted in harmony with his other works in the exhibition.
Curated by Daniela Ferretti and Dakin Hart, the exhibition is the first exhibition of contemporary art at the palace, which opened to the public in 2021 and is managed by the Fondazione dell’Albero d’Oro.
On the ground floor are other clay works: another giant sphere, cracked towers of large cubes, and a pile of neatly stacked bricks. The sculptures sit just beyond the gates that open onto the Venetian canal, where deliveries would historically have been made to the house and its inhabitants.
“We wanted to present the works as if they were unique possessions from America – these red paintings that may have been found in the Amazon, these clay cubes that were part of a pyramid find,” said said Sodi.
But he also believes that these works have a universal quality.
“Clay has been part of human evolution. If you go to a museum in Rome, Egypt, Korea, India or Peru, the first figurines are all very similar, because that’s the essence of man,” Sodi said. “Clay is in our DNA.”
“Bosco Sodi: What Goes Around Comes Around” is presented at Palazzo Vendramin Grimani, San Polo, 2033, 30125 Venice, from April 23 to November 27, 2022.
Follow Artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay one step ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to receive breaking news, revealing interviews and incisive reviews that move the conversation forward.