The Biennale is like a wind machine. Every two years, it shakes the forest, unveils hidden truths, gives new strength and light to new sprouts, showing older trunks and persisting branches from a different perspective (this year trunks are really old considering the intention expressed by the curator to open with Tintoretto).
The Biennale is a great pilgrimage, where in the works of artists and in the work of curators the voices of the world meet, to talk about their own and our future.
Art here is meant as a continuous evolution.
If a museum mainly qualifies itself for the works it owns (even though not exclusively, as museum directors today are asked to be also managers and impresarios), an institution like the Biennale qualifies itself more for its “modus operandi”, for the methods it implements, for the nature of the subjects who participate, for the choices made on method and principles and for the rules that inspire its organization, for the spaces it has available etc.: in short, for the Shape of the Institution that is reflected in the Shape given to the Exhibition held every two years. It is on the quality of this Shape that the achievement of our main objective depends: being held in high esteem by the world.
After 116 years of life of the Biennale, the Shape of the Exhibition today is the one fully defined in 1999, confirmed and improved in the following years. I am telling you this, because it is in fact from that year that the exhibition designed by pavilions has been put together, in a clear and distinct manner, with the exhibition that the curator appointed by the Biennale must organize as an “international exhibition”, with specific task (he/she is not in charge of the selection of the Italian pavilion).
Therefore now the Biennale Exhibition is founded on the following pillars.
1) First pillar: the Pavilions of participating Countries.
There are 28 settled country pavilions built inside the Giardini, used by the 30 official countries considered permanent participants. However, considered equally as participants, are countries that request to be invited to every Exhibition; out of them, some find a space inside the Arsenale, others find their spaces in different places in Venice. Participating countries this year, which confirmed their presence, are therefore 87 (they were 77 in the last Biennale).
Among them, some are here for the first time: the Principality of Andorra, Saudi Arabia, the People’s Republic of Bangladesh, and Haiti. Others have come back after some past participation: India (1982), Democratic Republic of the Congo (1968), Iraq (1990), the Republic of Zimbabwe (1990), South Africa (1995), Costa Rica (1993, afterwards with IILA), Cuba (1995, afterwards with IILA).
I remind you that for every Biennale, the states’ administrations managing pavilions (or the administrations entrusted by their states of pavilion’s management) appoint a commissioner and a curator.
In the fall preceding the Exhibition, a general meeting is held where the curator appointed by the Biennale illustrates his/her project design for “his/her” international exhibition. It is an informative meeting, and the curators from the various countries are not bound to it, and may implement their choices freely.
The countries’ Pavilions are a very important characteristic of la Biennale di Venezia. It is an old formula envisaging the presence of states and yet more than ever lively and vital. Precious in a globalization time, as it gives us the primary reference backdrop where to observe or better highlight the individual geographies of artists, always new, always different.
One may wonder to what extent these pavilions bring with them, however large the autonomy left to the curators, also the desire for representation expressed by the organizing country. Each of them has its story and its style. We can certainly say that in their pavilions, countries unveil the role played by contemporary art, as messenger of their present and of their cultural heritage. Actually, from the pavilions other revelations emerge, on realities and riches much deeper than the traditional claims or usual official and stereotyped images.
2) Second pillar: The International Exhibition organized by the Biennale’s curator.
Placed at the centre, in parallel to the series of countries’ Pavilions, the curator’s International Exhibition this year will be organized by Bice Curiger, who chose as title ILLUMInations (with 82 participating artists). The curator has been expressly requested to create a “boundless” exhibition. La Biennale has not appointed neither committees, commissions, nor different curators for different areas: it relies on the responsibility of one single curator (supported by his/her advisors and the Biennale’s structures for the implementation).
The choices made by the National pavilions’ curators and those of the Biennale’s curator turn out to be either shared or diverging. The dialectic relationship among these different choices represents a qualifying element of its international focus: an exhibition characterized by many eyes, many points of view.
3) Third pillar: The spaces available for the design of the great International Exhibition of the Biennale’s curator.
They had to be fit for the purpose. And for this reason, in 1998 we equipped the Biennale with the extraordinary spaces made up, on one side, of the central Pavilion and the Arsenale, on the other.
Spaces are critical elements of the Exhibition, which in such spaces and their special layout finds the most suitable way to create its own language. It is worth noting that since we realized such spaces and arranged the new exhibition plan, the number of countries asking to participate in the Biennale has considerably increased. They were 61 in 1999, now they are 87.
In recent years, we built and later on extended the new Italian Pavilion at the Arsenale, this year entrusted to Prof. Vittorio Sgarbi, who has been appointed the curator by the Italian Minister for culture.
4) An additional component: Collateral events
Non-profit organizations may submit projects for small exhibitions, to be held in the city of Venice, usually all along the six months of the exhibition. The Biennale’s curator, here again in full autonomy, judges their quality and admissibility as “collateral” events. Those admitted will be titled with the Biennale’s logo; they shall be included into a special section of the catalogue and advertised by the Biennale. This way, subjects, able to express quality choices, are offered a way to be present. In some cases, this opportunity has been caught by ethnic minorities, which choose the Biennale d’Arte to make their presence be heard and show their cultural identity. We have always attributed a great relevance to this opportunity (this year we received 83 requests, and the curator’s selection admitted around 50% of them).
5) A crucial element is the city of Venice, hosting this large number of vibrant energies on its territory for six months.
6) An increasingly important pillar of our construction is the attention paid to the public.
For a long time, the Biennale has developed educational activities and guided tours. Such activities are performed in particular with a growing number of schools of the region.
Nevertheless, this year we introduced a new field of action. After the successful experience we had with the Architecture Exhibition, we launched the “Biennale Sessions“ programme.
The programme is addressed to institutions, operating in the field of research and education in the domain of arts or similar like universities, academies of fine arts, research and training institutions. The aim is to grant special conditions to three-day visits organized for groups of at least 50 people, students and teachers, offering them meals at reasonable prices, the possibility to organize seminars in venues we offer them free of charge, assistance to the organization of the travel and subsistence. We would like that these institutions all over the world considered the Biennale d’Arte as a place to carry out, even if for a limited period of time, a work session with students, researchers and teachers.
In the past few days, we sent more than 2,300 letters to just as many institutions in the world and we are awaiting their replies.
During the Exhibition, open seminars will be held. “Meetings on Art” shall be organized in June and early in autumn.
With this pillar we want to confirm the role played by la Biennale di Venezia as an institution that is worth a pilgrimage, open to knowledge and to the spirit of research.
I already spoke about the role of the curator and the responsibility given to him/her.
The curator must possess an expert eye, independent mind, generosity towards artists, a strict selection ability, and great fidelity to that mysterious goddess that is quality.
A free look on the world.
These are the gifts which are recognized to Bice Curiger all over the world.
With Her we went back to Zurich. We started with Szeemann, precisely in 1999.
Some friends describe these 12 years of the Biennale like “the happy travel from Harald’s beard to Bice’s cherry red lipstick”.
We agree with Bice. In an age in which art has long since ceased the emphasis on the provocation of anti-art, we seek the ways of the dialogue between the artist’s work and our vision and our spirit, we want to understand and feel the “beyond” that art generously offers and whispers to us, we wish “illumination” as visitors, as art lovers, as individuals and as members of the human community.
And so, let there be “Illumination”!
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