The Korean Pavilion of this year’s Venice Biennale is sparking enormous enthusiasm with its crowd-pulling neon installation, whose name is just as telling as the representation itself: Venetian Rhapsody, The Power of Bluff (2017) is an exploration of the employment of neon signages in the display of global capitalism.
Jointly created by artists Cody Choi and Lee Wan, the pavilion addresses world-wide political themes in a playful and colourful manner. This is made immediately evident through the flashing installation that crowns its roof: Choi’s artwork is an agglomeration of those decadent neon signage motifs we all have seen lighting the darker sides of town, whether in Las Vegas, Paris or Hong Kong.
Drawing on the strong association neon has with capitalism, consumerism and hedonistic pursuits of the gaming and sex industries, Choi has fashioned the Korean Pavilion as a downtown Motel promising “Pole dance, free video tv, free narcissistic people disorder, free peep show, major credit cards, free orgasm”.
Damien Hirst, Mickey from “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable”, 2017
The work is meant as a critique of the pervasive shallowness and commercialism that characterizes the art market today: an enduring concern, made particularly sharp due to the crucial role the Venice Biennale occupies in the contemporary art world - and very timely considering the alleged disaster that is Damien Hirst’s “Treasures from the Wreck of the Unbelievable” exhibition in Venice.
Now - in case you’re wondering - we’re certainly not ones to get offended about this placement of emphasis on neon’s culturally constructed association with capitalism and pleasure-seeking. Neon’s expressiveness stems much more from its cultural history than its aesthetic qualities and this is what makes it such a fascinating and powerful medium.