I’m in Italy. The weather is perfect. The wine is flowing. The food is, well, so-so. But that may be because we’re in Venice. As far as I can tell, this isn’t a city known for its culinary delights. It’s known for its art.

That is, after all, why we’re here.

To catch you up, I’m traveling in Europe for the next few weeks with the man friend and two artists, and the latter couple is dead set on seeing the Venice Biennale. I agreed to devote my first few days to the Biennale because I am (a) curious whether the criticism of American curator Robert Storr is founded, and (b) eager to see the work by the one Chicagoan, Dzine.

Dzine’s work on display

By size alone, the Biennale is incredibly impressive, with two major sites on the edge of the city and dozens of satellite pavillions spread throughout. We spent most of our time at the Arsenale and in the Giardini della biennale, which are the two main shows. As for the things I am curious about, yes, the Biennale is uneven. My favorite piece was an expository installation on the history of the AK-47 by the Bulgarian artist Nedko Solakov; now I know what the AK-47 has in common with yogurt and the Cyrillic alphabet. (Hint: They were all discovered by Bulgarians or Russians.)

Some other great stuff, in case you’re curious: a frightening film by Paolo Canevari, of a young man playing soccer with a skull in a bombed-out Belgrade lawn; a series of drawings by U.S. artist Emily Prince, of American service men and women who’ve died in Iraq and Afghanistan; and some embroidered skeletons on chantung by the Italian-born artist Angelo Filomeno. The latter is the favorite of my artist friends, in case you’re curious.

Art or not art?

As for Dzine, it took an entire morning to hunt his work down. It wasn’t in the main pavilion; rather, it was housed with the Ukrainian art, even though he’s a Chicago graffiti artist of Puerto Rican descent. Go figure. Anyway, we finally find the Ukrainian pavilion and his major piece isn’t even there! A Biennale official tried to explain to me why, but I don’t speak Italian. So the only Dzine piece is this bike.

In the end, my favorite part of the Biennale was playing a game I made up. It’s called “Art or Not Art?” Trust me, there was a lot of “Not Art,” like a big, random basket. Guess what’s in it? Nothing!