“Overwhelming, ecstatic, enlightening”: Don Viehman explores the Venice Biennale

Don Viehman,
Falling Triangles (cloisonné)

As you explore the Torpedo Factory during the holidays, you’ll marvel at the skill and creativity on display—but you may be surprised to learn that our artists feel the same sense of wonder when they seek out the work of others.

Case in point: jewelry maker and enamel artist Don Viehman, who recently attended the Venice Biennale, the wild, no-boundaries exhibition that draws nearly half a million people to Italy from June to November during odd-numbered years. When you talk to Viehman in his Torpedo Factory studio, it’s clear that he’s still processing his total immersion in art.

“To attend the Biennale was simultaneously overwhelming, confusing, joyously ecstatic, complicated, enlightening, and upsetting,” he says, praising the “emotionally penetrating, sensory filled and sensual, challengingly intellectual feast!”

For five-and-a-half days, Viehman and his wife wandered through Venice, exploring the two main Biennale sites but finding side exhibitions wherever they roamed.

“Each was filled, sometimes floor to ceiling, with carefully curated sculpture, wall pieces, manuscripts, video, painting, drawings, electronic effects, metal, stone, ceramics, glass, fabric, and wood,” he says. “And people! Sensory overload was easy. Additional sites were scattered across the city in palazzos and in large and small buildings, like the promised treasures of a treasure hunt beckoning us to find them.”

What does it mean to be an artist visiting the Biennale? Viehman found that this year’s theme, “The Encyclopedic Palace,” inspired a futile but fascinating effort to make sense of the dizzying scene.

Don Viehman,
Abstract with Peridot (cloisonné)

“As an artist, emotionally and intellectually, I wanted to understand what I experienced,” he explains. “I wanted to see and feel connections between the artists and their work, the work and the larger world, the past and the future. It was all there. Historical pieces mixed with the new art created expressly for the Biennale both by professionals and by ‘outsider’ artists. There was a leveling effect: nothing and no one seemed out of place, and the art was created by artists from all over the world. Distinctions were intentionally blurred between the concentration of a working artist and the obsessive, between an artist’s internal, personal, imaginative universe and the ‘real world.’ It was freeing to feel such boundaries being broken.”

Viehman didn’t spot a single piece of jewelry at the Biennale, but he’s certain that the sheer richness of the experience will change his own work in ways that will prove wonderfully unexpected—and humbling.

Don Viehman,
Green Curve with Peridot

“The total mixture left some commentators grasping to comprehend the complexity,” he says. “The art world is so vast, and artistic expressions are so diverse, that anyone who says he knows it or understands all of it is not seeing it.”

Eager to attend a future Biennale, Viehman advises art lovers who have their eye on 2015 not to expect a passive experience—or a solo affair.

“Always go to the Biennale with others,” he insists. “The work compels you to talk and discuss.”

Talk to Don Viehman about art, jewelry, and creativity at the Torpedo Factory in studio 205—and see more of his work at DonViehmanEnamels.com.

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