Paolo Baratta, President of la Biennale di Venezia
Since 1998, the Biennale of Art and Architecture editions of la Biennale are no longer mere exhibitions organized by national pavilions, but are structured by two main pillars: an exhibition composed by national pavilions, each with its own curator and project, and an International Exhibition organized by la Biennale di Venezia which appoints a curator for this specific task. A dual exhibition model that we put through its paces for the first time in 1993 and definitely set as the permanent standard for the 1998 edition. To strategically meet new ensuing needs, we expanded by restoring the Arsenale. All this has given rise to a plurality of voices, and generated a new and very interesting story.
Over the years, in representing the contemporary, our curators have shown an increasing desire to place artists in a historical perspective or in a context of mutual affinities, by highlighting ties and relations both with the past and with other artists of the present. This trend has led us, among other things, to decide that there will be "no more exhibitions without archives" and to organize, for every Biennale, a conference on the relationship between the exhibition and the archive. At the same time, in contrast with the avant-garde period, attention has increasingly been focused on the intensity of the relationship between the work of art and the viewer who, though shaken by artistic gestures and provocations, ultimately seeks in art the emotion of dialoguing with the work, which ought to cause hermeneutical tension, a desire to go beyond. This is what is expected from art.
This interest in the temporal and spatial the relationships among artists and in the dialogue between artist and viewer has inspired to varying degrees inspired past exhibitions such as "Making Worlds" (Daniel Birnbaum, 2009) and "Illuminations" (Bice Curiger 2011). In emphasizing these relationships, interest in the world referred to by the artists has also grown.
The current Biennale takes a decisive step in this direction, and gives life to a great exhibition-research. With Il Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), Massimiliano Gioni, much more than presenting us with a list of contemporary artists, wishes to reflect on their creative urges and pushes the question even further: what is the artists' world? The prospective interest goes so far as to search for relations with different worlds; thus the Exhibition presents works by contemporary artists, but also historical works, different references, and works that do not claim to be works of art but which are nonetheless compose the stimuli that allow us to imagine and dream beyond reality, dream another reality. That is, the visions that in the classical period helped arouse the artists’ “aspirations”, and in modern times are the “obsessions” of the same; and to give tangible form to both, down to the present time when there is a real reversal. Today, as Gioni’s exhibition suggest, reality lays on a lavishly decked out table a plethora of images and visions for everyday use; all these images strike us and, though we are unable to escape them, it is perhaps the artist who, if anyone, might pass through them unharmed, as Moses did in the Red Sea.
And in that sense the curator proposes a reflection on the fate of contemporary art and artists, who do not settle for limited horizons when they imagine, but conceive of global realities, driven by aspirations for a comprehensive knowledge, sensibility and utopias. And I cannot help but recall Harald Szeemann's “obsessions” and their accompanying sense of failure that followed. Fertile failures for art; as Gioni says, for the artist it is questions of a powerful and all-encompassing motive.
Within la Biennale, the idea of an exhibition-research is considered fruitful not only for the Art section but also for Architecture. For this reason, the Exhibitions of Gioni and Koolhaas represent important moments in the history of our Institution.
I would like to point out that there are 88 participating countries in this edition of la Biennale, 10 of which are making their very first appearance: Angola, Bahamas, Kingdom of Bahrain, Republic of Ivory Coast, Republic of Kosovo, Kuwait, the Maldives, Paraguay, Tuvalu, and last but not least, the Holy See.
The Holy See is participating for the first time with an exhibition in the Sale d'Armi, a series of spaces la Biennale has restored and converted into permanent pavilions.
For some time now, la Biennale has been developing educational activities and guided tours, which are conducted with a growing number of schools in the region and beyond. For the fourth consecutive year (the programs began with the 2010 Biennale Architettura), we will be renewing the Biennale Sessions project, an initiative we believe to be of greatest importance and that is aimed at institutions engaged in research and training in the arts or related fields, universities, academies of fine arts, and educational and research institutions. The aim is to facilitate three-day visits, organized by these institutions for groups of at least 50 students and teachers, with food at favourable prices, the possibility to organize seminars at the Exhibition’s venues – free of charge, with assistance in organizing their journey and stay. We hope that the visit can form part of the students' curricular activities and that la Biennale can be seen as a place of research where people can observe, reflect and develop ideas. During the Exhibition there will also be open seminars, Meetings on Art, first in the summer months and then again in autumn.
I would like to thank the Italian Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities, which, despite the difficult moment for public funding, has confirmed its decisive support, local institutions that in different ways support La Biennale, the City of Venice and the Regione del Veneto.
I wish to extend my gratitude to the authorities involved in caring for the structures in which our many events take place, from the Marina Militare to Venice’s Soprintendenze.
I would like to express my deepest gratitude to Swatch, partner of the exhibition, ENEL, the main sponsor, and all the other companies that have supported our event.
I also wish to thank all the international public institutions and the many donors who have been of great importance in the realization of the 55th Biennale. My thanks also go to Massimiliano Gioni’s team and la Biennale’s staff for making the exhibition possible.