Rauschenberg a pawn in Cold War politics, asserts new doc TAKING VENICE

Dance · Visual arts

A new documentary that addresses a seminal moment in which the art world came mano-a-mano with political intrigue is director Amei Wallach’s TAKING VENICE , from Zeitgeist Films, which opens tonight at the Laemmle Royal theatre in West Los Angeles, followed by a Q/A with the director.

The doc examines the rumors that the 1964 Venice Biennale, the sui generis of international art fairs, was rigged – by the U.S. Government and a team of highly placed insiders – so that their chosen artist, Robert Rauschenberg, could win the grand prize.

The machinations begin with an ambitious curator gaining a foothold in influencing the participants in the U.S. Pavilion of the Biennale in the context of the Cold War. Together with art dealer, Leo Castelli, they embark on a daring plan to make Rauschenberg the winner of the Grand Prize. 

Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking “combines” merged painting and sculpture with found objects and pop culture images in new ways that had not been seen before. In a coup d’art, the American team pulls out the plum for the artist, bumping up against the hegemony of Ye Olde European Art Establishment. USA! USA!

Dance fans will enjoy seeing footage of the early European performances of Merce Cunningham Dance Company as part of the Biennale. Rauschenberg, of course, was the dance company’s visual-arts advisor and took a stab at donning black tights as well.

Essential viewing for those fascinated by mid-Century visual and performing arts.

TAKING VENICE, with director Q/A | Laemmle Royal Theatre | May 24, 7:20 pm, running thereafter

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