Passion Points: Arts/Culture
Every other year, the art world’s movers and shakers descend upon Venice. The historic cityscape acts as a backdrop for cutting-edge displays, offering a compelling dialogue between old and new. We spoke to Massimiliano Gioni, curator of the 55th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale de Venezia, who gave us some tips on how to navigate the wealth of the event, open until November 24th, 2013. There’s much to discuss this year, including the Rudolf Stingel solo show at Palazzo Grassi; Ai Weiwei’s Sacred installation in Sant’Antonin church; and Catalan artist Antoni Tàpies’ works at Palazzo Fortuny.
Many of the Biennale’s exhibition spaces, and of course Venice itself, were constructed in the Byzantine, Romanesque and Gothic styles. How do you see the show’s contemporary art juxtaposing the venues’ traditional design?
On many levels, Venice is the least contemporary city in the world, but it’s a place where many fantasies that are still relevant today have been invented. A certain idea of the East was created here in Venice, just as a very peculiar view of the past was re-imagined by many writers and artists who lived or frequented Venice. So I think it’s a city that naturally lends itself as a backdrop for daring flights of fantasy. Because it’s built on water, Venice appears to be a kind of mirage, and the combination of contemporary art and historical setting contributes to its magic.
What have been the most exciting/challenging parts about organizing the Biennale?
What makes Venice so beautiful (water) is also what makes the organization a challenge. But I had the honor of hanging a few pictures that had been shown in Venice in the 1940s and 50s, and when you see the little Biennale stickers on the back of the painting, you know that that work has become history.
What makes the Venice Biennale such an important cultural event?
Its history and its legacy are absolutely unique. It’s the only place where the art world has returned over and over again every two years for the past 110 years. Going through the list of artists who have exhibited here is mind-blowing. I don’t think you can really explain what it means for an artist to exhibit in the same rooms as where Gustav Klimt was showing in 1905.
What additions or innovations to this year’s show are you most looking forward to?
The national pavillions keep expanding, which I think is exciting. This year there will be a Nigerian pavillion and I am very curious about that. In my section of the exhibition, I tried to include many unusual works made by non-professional artists, and so I am very curious and a little nervous to see what people will think.
What are some of your favorite Venice secrets (eg. restaurant, shop, café, garden, sight, museum, etc.)?
I love walking around behind the Giardini: it feels like a different planet there. And I like the Gallerie dell’Accademia, with its Carlo Scarpa’s insertions. The Guggenheim foundation is still a very special place. And Gino Rossi was a great painter from Venice who ended up in a mental hospital: it’s always great to see his paintings.
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