Fifteen years ago...
Speech by the President of la Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta
at the meeting with participating Countries
in anticipation of the 56th International Art Exhibition
Venice, Ca’ Giustinian, 22 October 2014
The first International Art Exhibition of the reformed Biennale di Venezia took place in 1999 and it was in that year, at the very beginning of a new chapter in its history, that it found itself having to respond to the many adverse comments it received. Many thought that an exhibition through pavilions was obsolete or at the very least an outdated concept in what was the much heralded era of globalization.
We accepted the criticisms, but not the solutions that some put forward, so we did not throw out the use of pavilions for the Biennale, determining instead to enhance it by arranging a large, stand-alone International Exhibition at the same time. We arranged additional large spaces and appointed a curator for this ambitious project of ours. A main International Exhibition replaced the international sections, which used to be added to the exhibition organized by the curator of the Italian Pavilion. An international curator for our International Exhibition and no more committees or commissions.
It was a brand-new challenge and a huge commitment to accepting the much greater and more direct responsibility that came along with that of each national pavilion.
The new model worked, and this dynamic, new two-pronged event led to an increase in the number of countries wanting to participate. The concept was clearer and the responsibility for showing the evolution of art around the world was better shared between the participating countries and ourselves.
Well – it’s been 15 years since that reform, and the start of this new chapter, and it is thanks to that calculated choice that today, a curator of the ilk of Okwui Enwezor – like his most recent predecessors – can present not just a ‘section’, but an entire International Exhibition inspired by the ambition to offer the world a global sounding board.
It was also when the Arsenale became an addition to the Giardini venue, and 15 years on, the number of participating countries, exhibiting in the two venues, is equal: 28 national participations at the Giardini and the same at the Arsenale, on the occasion of the 14th International Architecture Exhibition.
Since the Biennale took on this greater and more precise responsibility, the dialogue with the pavilions and participating countries has evolved. The pluralism of voices that now exists is unique to the Biennale di Venezia and the communion between the Biennale and the national exhibitions is destined to become even more profound. There is a shared objective that is to make the Biennale a place for dialogue about the evolution of art in all its many forms with reference to the Biennale itself and in relation to man and to history.
Another of the Biennale’s responsibilities is to explore how art is evolving in the continents less well represented in the national pavilions, and to let the world know about it.
The Biennale is an Art Exhibition and not an art fair, and as such requires more than an unbiased up-dating of a roster of artists, young or not so young, famous or otherwise. Art and today’s reality present us with far more complex tasks.
In the past, we have defined the Biennale in various ways. Today, faced with the dangers of slipping towards a more orthodox popularity, conventionality and security, we have named it “The Machine of Desire” to keep the desire for art high and in turn to want art and accept it is a necessity. In other words, to recognise as both a primary and primordial necessity man’s need to give some perceptible form to utopias, obsessions, anxieties, desires and to the ultra-sensitive world.
The motives that inspire an artist and also, therefore, the subjects of his dialogue with those of us looking at or listening to his work, come from deep within himself and might be far removed from any historic events.
Or, alternatively, those motives might be influenced or even dominated by external impulses and states of mind generated by the history and the tensions it creates.
As to the artist’s “expanded eye” that sees more than we do, we, for our part, need to have a corresponding desire to see more through the work he has created.
To see more – beyond the visual information that besets us every day or that resulting from science, philosophy or economy – see more, but always through a work of art.
At the same time, what we experience through art must have a life of its own, and not merely substitute other forms of communication or information. A piece of art must add its revelations to what other forms of knowledge give us. It must speak to the emotion.
Whatever the original reason behind an artist’s creation – intimate, private, public, existential, visionary or prophetic – when it comes down to it, a work of art must have an independent, dynamic capacity of its own - this is the precondition for any aesthetic judgement which we cannot avoid to express.
It is for all these reasons that a Biennale is a complex affair. None of the aspects mentioned can be overlooked and whatever the curator’s initial concept – philosophical, political or anthropological – his selection really must include pieces that are necessary and fundamental to our perception.
The introduction of the “Biennale College” is proof of our increasing commitment to new generations of artists. The current Architecture Exhibition has enjoyed the addition of the Dance, Theatre, Music and Cinema sectors. The next Art Biennale contain various forms of art but as an integral part of the exhibition.
In conclusion, it is not the first time that an exhibition faces a world filled with uncertainty and turmoil whilst the “garden of the world” appears to us as a “garden of disorder”, and it is also not the first time that faced with a complicated reality, an exhibition responds with the enthusiasm and dynamism evident in the one we are in the throes of organizing.
In previous biennales, specific reference was invariably made to enlightenment, utopias, anxieties and obsessions, symbolized by Tintoretto, the Encyclopedic Palace, Jung’s Red Book. It seems that this time, all three elements – enlightenment, anxieties and utopias – feature as dynamic elements, and past and present history is there in the background. To these three elements Enwezor addresses his optical chamber through which he highlights them, he mirrors them, he filters them, he overlaps them, he turns them upside down, he recomposes them, while the world looks at art hoping for a wave of generosity.