Wednesday, May 3, 2017

What is the Venice Art Biennale?

Rialto Bridge, Venice.   Photo: Graham Hay 2010

You have a choice today:

A fun, information packed 5 minute video


the politics:

​The Australia Council describes The Art Biennale as "the world’s oldest and most prestigious biennale of international contemporary art" 

The organising body, the Venice Biennale, describes it as:

 "Since 1998 ... the Art Biennale ... rest instead on three pillars:

  · The exhibitions by National Pavilions, each with its own curator and project 

  · The International Exhibition by the Biennale curator, chosen specifically for this task

  · Collateral Events, approved by the Biennale curator"                                                                                                                                                                     

But this is only a formal, self-defining, and limited description of the whole Biennale event:
The National Pavilions are dominated by national PR themes and the use of "Art Gladiators" from each country in the global one-upmanship or attempt to shape   international perceptions.  These agendas may drown out the artist's voice by over-framing the artwork.

  List of 2017 artists

The International Exhibition, is the invited Curator's  "message to, or survey of the art world".  Christine Macel, Chief Curator at the Musée National d’Art Moderne – Centre Pompidou in Paris has this task in 2017.  A potent mix of global politics, personalities, and the balance of conservative and radical forces, in a form nonthreatening to Italian politicians and organisations funding the whole project.

The Collateral Events are global and Italian organisations, individuals and government funded exhibitions which apply to the invited Curator, to be included in the formal program.

Given it may take years to create an exhibition and resource it, and approval is announced only a month before the Biennale opens, this is an arbitrary honour.  Some exhibitions are regular on every two years during the Biennale period, but  randomly are in, or out of, the Collateral Event list. 

Entry to the formal program is used by the formal Biennale organisation to attempt to control independent organisations and artists who threaten to upstage or drown it out. There is also a financial aspect to approval:  rumour has it that the Biennale organisation became concerned with the roughly 50,000 people who went only to the free Collateral Events, and so deprived it of $2,250,000 entry fees (based upon 30 eur/Aus$A45 48 hr pass).  So it has been steadily reducing the number of Collateral Events.  

Despite this, many non-Collateral Events are flourishing.  They can present artwork and themes not constrained or "over-framed" by nationalistic stories, or dominating art institutions in Italy, or other countries.  This is the story you are unlikely to read about or hear from the mass media or in 140 character tweets.


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