la Biennale di Venezia
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What have we done?!

Paolo Baratta, President of the Venice Biennale

The Exhibition is heading towards its conclusion with a grand finale: we are proud to present Meetings on Art - a rich and varied program of talks that will begin on October 1st.
In addition to exploring the themes raised in the Exhibition, we have decided to put ourselves on the line in the last meeting, scheduled for November 26th - 27th, entitled What have we done?! by summoning all the curators of past editions of the Art Biennale and their illustrious colleagues to discuss what has been done and what might be done in the future.
The Biennale has gone through many phases in the past 116 years since its foundation, and the role of its curators has varied accordingly. The new course – which began in 1999 when the newly-nominated President chose Harald Szeemann as curator – was in this sense distinguished by a profound transformation of the Form of the Exhibition, which for the first time ever became an international exhibition, clearly distinct from national participations, autonomous and uninvolved in the selection for the Italian pavilion.
The three pillars that still characterize the Art Biennale today were thus being delineated.
The curator of the International Exhibition is specifically asked to organize an exhibition “without borders”. The Biennale does not nominate committees or commissions, or different curators for different areas, but entrusts the responsibility to one single curator.
Between the choices by the curators of the national pavilions and the choices by the curator of the Biennale, between the curator’s international exhibition and the international exhibition of the pavilions, shared or diversified choices may thus be freely made. The dialectic between these different choices represents a significant element of its international nature: an exhibition with many eyes, with many points of view. The curator requires an expert eye, an independent spirit, generosity towards the artists, a rigorous capacity for selection, and unremitting loyalty to that mysterious goddess known as quality. An open view of the world.
The second pillar involves the Countries. The national Pavilions are a very important element of la Biennale di Venezia. An ancient formula based on the participation of the Nations, it is more lively and vital than ever. This is a precious element in an era of globalization, because it provides the living tissue that makes it possible to observe and highlight the autonomous geographies of the artists, ever new, ever varied. One might wonder to what extent these pavilions carry with them, despite the ample autonomy left to the curators, the desires for representation of the countries that organize them. Each has its own history and its own style. We can safely say that in these pavilions, the countries reveal the role they attribute to contemporary art as a messenger of their present state and their cultural richness. But the pavilions also reveal a deeper reality and richness than what is usually shown in or expected of official images and stereotypes.
The third pilaster is the public, to whom the Meetings on Art are expressly dedicated and which are intended to confirm the role of la Biennale di Venezia as an institution open to knowledge and to the spirit of exploration, worthy of a pilgrimage. At a time when art has long ceased to emphasize the provocation of anti-art, we are seeking to forge a dialogue between the work of the artist and our eyes and our spirit, we want to understand and to feel that extra something that art generously offers and whispers to us, we seek illumination as visitors, as art-lovers, as individuals and as members of the community of man.
To conclude the 54th International Art Exhibition, we have therefore called upon curators and critics from all over the world to open a panel discussion on what has been achieved by the Biennale – for which some of them have served as curator – over the past ten years, on the new role of the curator, on his training, on his relationship with the institutions (Biennale, museums, galleries) and with the public.
The Biennale is a great pilgrimage in which the works of the artists and the work of the curators become a meeting point for the voices of the world that speak to us about our own and their future. Art is therefore understood as an activity that is constantly evolving.
If a museum is qualified primarily by the works it houses, an institution such as the Biennale is qualified by its “modus operandi”, by the procedures it follows, by the very nature of the subjects that participate in it, by its choices of methods and the principles and rules that inspire its organization, by the spaces it exhibits in, etc.: in short, by the Form of the Institution that is reflected in the Form of the Exhibition that is held there every two years. And it is this Form that will determine whether or not we achieve our main objective: winning the respect of the world.
What will we do in the future?