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Presentation of Meetings on Art

Bice Curiger, Director of the 54th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale

The purpose of Meetings on Art is to open opportunities for debates focused on the themes, the questions and the answers suggested to the many visitors of the Biennale by the works displayed in the ILLUMInations exhibition.
The common denominator in these meetings is the will to create a positive tension, a fertile dialectic between elements that are considered opposites, or even clashing, in the habitual debates on art: the legacy of the past represented by Tintoretto and contemporary production; the role of the curator and that of the historian in the world of art today; globalization and national identity; the role of a curator in an Art Biennale and his role in a museum.

To do so we have chosen to involve personalities with different backgrounds and cultures, who are active in the academic world, in contemporary creation and in philosophical and cultural debates. Contemporary art is no longer an isolated sphere that requires protection from the dangers of the outside world. Its role in the everyday discourse is no longer in question, and for this reason, the “pathos” with which the post-World War II curators defended their field of action now appears obsolete and anachronistic. The contemporary can now open up to address history and tradition, without any sort of inferiority complex, or conversely, any claim to greater “relevance” than ancient art. This is what underlies the discussion surrounding the decision to display a master of the past such as Tintoretto at the heart of the most important contemporary art event, and the meaning that this decision wishes to express. If the intent was to erase the boundary between current creation and tradition, the effects of this operation are in no way to be taken for granted and must be evaluated in depth.

Another boundary yet to explore is the complex relationship between state-nations and communities, in the ethnological and cultural sense. We might wonder why it is that in a world increasingly characterized by internationalized communication systems and economic globalization, the nation remains such a powerful source of identity. The concept of community may also be applied to the circle of contemporary artists. For them, being “settled” or “nomadic” represents two conditions and two extreme responses to a social and political phenomenon that is threatens to reduce art and culture to a useless, homogenized pulp.

The last sessions of the Meetings on Art will focus on the function of the curator, an elusive figure, halfway between self-taught and academic. We will attempt to identify the points of reference for a profession that cannot rely on a well-defined tradition or a written and shared history. The discussion will concentrate in particular on the dialectic that exists between the museum as an institution and the Venice biennials. Whereas a museum tends to promote its works and its artists to excess, and this drains them of their positive energy, the danger of biennials is that the works be exploited to illustrate theories. In addition, both realities – the museum and the biennials – must respond to the same crucial challenge with different means and resources: balancing large numbers with a high-level cultural project and avoid the risk of populist and rather than simply popular art. If one believes in art and in its cognitive and emotional potential, then one must wonder, in the end, what are the foundations that support this “faith” in a world open to influences, impulses and ideas that come from cultures and realities that are so distant from each other. Meetings on Art is an attempt to provide possible answers to a question that is crucial for the present, and for our future as well.