In a week when wacky artworks are as common as vaporetti, it takes a powerful image to turn heads in Venice. A couple of years ago, Ukrainian artist Illya Chichkan's effort would have garnered more attention. Today, his glossy faux advertisement, which plasters heavyweight boxing champion Wladimir Klitschko on to the façade of the Accademia museum, is too easily confused with the real billboards that have covered several of Venice's historic monuments ever since the council was forced to sell hoarding space in exchange for restoration sponsorship.

Chichkan won't fret that his critique of the art world's symbiotic relationship with commerce has been undermined by the very mechanism it set out to expose. It simply adds another layer to the post-modern irony that is this artist's calling card.

Born in 1967, Chichkan was part of the Ukrainian New Wave, a group of artists who challenged socialist realism with every contemporary weapon they could muster. At times, Chichkan confused irreverence with mundanity - writing out Ukranian curses in neon, for example, or crowning paintings of iconic figures with chimp faces. In 2005, however, he sent a giant football down the Grand Canal in a gondola and created a performance of such pointless, playful, post-Surrealist silliness it was a surprise hit.

Chichkan's main exhibit takes place in Palazzo Papadopoli, a Renaissance palace on the Grand Canal. On arrival, visitors must wade through ankle-deep sand and billowing dry ice to reach the frescoed staircase that leads to the piano nobile , which is shrouded in darkness. The presence of people in the rooms triggers both the kinetic lightbulbs fitted by Chichkan into the Murano chandeliers and the ululating soundtrack, a Mongolian folksong, deconstructed into three elements of wind instrument, voice and whistle. As the eerie glow intermittently illuminates the magnificent neo-Baroque decoration - Arcadian frescoes, huge, spotted mirrors, ornate stucco friezes - a mini-skirted, Ukrainian supermodel on golden rollerskates glides from one room to another.

Behind the installation lies a grandiose narrative concerning the voyage of the palace's ancestral owner across the Steppes to the coast of Japan but such interpretations are unnecessary for on a purely sensory level, the experience is a triumph.

Less successful are the installations by Japanese fashion designer Mihara Yasuhiro. Also triggered by sensors, these Duchampian contraptions include a creamy satin dress menaced by a red-swathed paint brush that always stops inches from its pristine bodice. Although possessing vintage charm, the lack of contemporary sensibility suggests their creator has confused postmodernity with nostalgia.

Chichkan's decision to choose a fashion designer as a collaborator would have felt more iconoclastic if Hussein Chalayan hadn't already represented Turkey two years ago. More provocative was the appointment of Klitschko as the pavilion's official curator, a gesture whose conceptual wit is heightened by the boxer's absence from the creative process.

Dipping into Pop, Surrealist, Dadaist and cinematic canons, Chichkan is difficult to pigeonhole. Such an elusive identity is appropriate for an artist who critiques the commodification of contemporary culture, yet whose pavilion is sponsored by Victor Pinchuk, the steel magnate. As the über-babe floats past on her gilded wheels, one can only wish this intriguing artist luck in finding his way in this brave new world.
By Rachel Spence

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