German artist Anne Imhof wins Venice Biennale award

Anne Imhof.
Anne Imhof.

ROME • German contemporary artist Anne Imhof won the Golden Lion for best National Participation at the Venice Biennale on Saturday for her provocative Faust, a dark reflection on modern society.

Black-clad performers in low-ceilinged glass cages writhe around under a transparent floor as visitors walk above them.

Jury president Manuel Borja-Villel praised the show, which takes up the entire German Pavilion and opened to the public on Saturday, as "a powerful and disturbing installation that poses urgent questions about our time".

Doberman dogs stand guard as the troupe crawls to musical beats amid scattered sex cuffs and chains, or industrial sinks and hoses, in a performance with a hint of sadomasochism and a sharp odour of hospital disinfectant.

Imhof, born in 1978 and based in Frankfurt, shot to fame in Germany in 2013 with her first solo exhibition, a live performance with donkeys and actors hemmed into an invisible enclosure.

Described by Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung daily as the "find of contemporary art", she has also exhibited in Paris and Montreal.

Ms Susanne Pfeffer, the pavilion's curator, said the work explored power, exclusion and contemporary life.

"The bodies are subjects in an eternal battle with their objectification. They seem to be always on the point of transforming into consumable images. They aspire to become digital merchandise," she noted.

Imhof's performances are notable not only for their length - each lasting several hours - but also their exploration of movement and the erasure of boundaries between the performers and the public.

The 57th Biennale art festival runs until Nov 26. Among those exhibiting are pioneering American fibre artist Sheila Hicks and Danish-Icelandic artist Olafur Eliasson, the man behind the vast sun at Britain's Tate Modern in 2003.


A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 16, 2017, with the headline 'German artist Anne Imhof wins Venice Biennale award'. Subscribe