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Venice Biennale awards German artists 2 Golden Lions

Last Updated May 13, 2017 at 1:20 pm PDT

US artist Carolee Schneemann, center, winner of the career Golden Lion award at the 57th Venice Biennale contemporary art show, holds her trophy in Venice, Italy, Saturday, May, 13, 2017. The Biennale made the awards Saturday as the oldest contemporary art fair opened its six-month stint. (Andrea Merola/ANSA via AP)

MILAN – Germany has swept the 57th Venice Biennale, winning top Golden Lion prizes for the best national pavilion and best artist in the main curated show on opening day of the six-month contemporary art fair, the world’s oldest.

Anne Imhof’s bold “Faust” exhibit mixing performance, sculpture and installation with touches of goth and S&M was cited by the jury as a “a powerful and disturbing installation that poses urgent questions of our time and pushes the spectator into an aware state of anxiety.”

In Imhof’s exhibition, black-clad contemporaries of the 39-year-old artist move above and below a raised glass floor, under which are placed scattered objects, including a black mattress with a strewn sheet, handcuffs and spoons. Dobermans pace threateningly in a fenced in area in front of the pavilion.

“My work stands for the grace of thoughts, for liberty, for the right to be different, for gender nonconformity, and the pride of being a woman in this world,” Imhof said at a ceremony in the Venice Giardini, where many of the national pavilions are located.

“The piece we developed for the German pavilion makes transparent the past but it speaks to the future,” she said.

The pavilion’s curator, Susanne Pfeffer, said that the work “is really about inclusion and exclusion. It is a crucial and existential question for a lot of human beings,” not only migrants but also the working poor struggling to get by.

Winning the Golden Lion in the main “Viva Arte Viva” exhibition was Franz Erhard Walter, a 77-year-old artist based in Fulda, Germany who is recognized as one of the most radical artists of the second half of 20th century whose work has influenced many young contemporary artists.

Walter exhibited works that combine textile, culture and performance, including a wall installation that invites the viewer to enter the work. The jury cited Walter for “the radical and complex nature of his work, which transcends our time and suggests the contemporary mutation of a transitory life.”

The 57th Venice Biennale is comprised of 86 national pavilions and the curated main show, titled “Arte Viva Arte” with works by 120 artists from 51 countries. It runs through Nov. 26 in the Giardini, the Arsenale and other scattered locations throughout the historic centre of Venice.