An exhibition-research: la Biennale di Venezia (Paolo Baratta) #BiennaleVenezia

Paolo Baratta, President of la Biennale di Venezia
Since 1998, the Biennale of Art and Architecture are no longer mere exhibitions organized by national pavilions, but they are founded on two pillars: the exhibition by national pavilions, each with its own curator and project, along with the International Exhibition by the curator of la Biennale, appointed for this specific task. A dual exhibition model that we had tested for the first time in 1993 and then definitely set as the permanent standard for the Venice Exhibition in 1998.
To meet the strategic needs set by its attainment we enlarged our spaces by restoring the Arsenale.
All this gives rise to a plurality of voices, and has generated a new and very interesting story.
Over the years, in representing the contemporary, our curators have developed an insight of how important it is 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 there will be “no more shows without archives” and to organise, for every Biennale, a conference on the archives-exhibition relationship. At the same time, in contrast with the avant-garde period, attention has increasingly 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 should cause that hermeneutical tension, that desire to go beyond what is expected from art.
This interest in the relationships between artists, in time and space, and in the dialogue between artist and viewer, has inspired to varying degrees Exhibitions such as “Making Worlds” (Daniel Birnbaum, 2009) and “Illuminations” (Bice Curiger 2011). In emphasizing those relationships, interest in the world referred to by the artists has also grown.
The next Biennale is taking a decisive step in this direction, and will give 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 seems to push 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 will present works by contemporary artists, but also works from the past, different references, works that do not claim to be works of art, but which are part of the stimuli 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, Gioni seems to be saying, it is ordinary reality that lays on a lavishly decked table a plethora of images and visions for everyday use; they all strike us though we are not able to escape them, and the artist should, if anything, pass through them unharmed, as Moses did in the Red Sea.
And in that sense the curator develops his reflection on the fate of contemporary art and artists, who do not settle for limited horizons when they imagine, but conceive global realities, driven by aspirations for a comprehensive knowledge and sensibility. And I cannot help recalling Harald Szeemann’s ‘obsessions’ and the concept of failure that followed. Fertile failures for art, as Gioni says, it is a question for the artist of a powerful and all-encompassing motive.
Within la Biennale, the idea of an exhibition-research is considered profitable not only for the Art section but also for that of Architecture. For this reason, the Exhibitions of Gioni and Koolhaas represent important moments in the history of our Institution.
I would like to remind that 88 countries are participating in this Biennale, of which 10 are present for the first time: Angola, the Bahamas, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Ivory Coast, the 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, which are spaces that the Biennale is restoring in order to convert them into permanent pavilions.
For some time la Biennale has been developing educational activities and guided tours, conducted with a growing number of schools in the region and beyond. For the fourth consecutive year (we began with the Biennale Architettura 2010) the Biennale Sessions project is being renewed, an initiative to which we attach the 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 such entities 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 and assistance in organizing their journey and stay. We would like the visit to form part of the students’ curricular activities and for la Biennale to represent a place of research where people can observe, reflect and develop projects. During the Exhibition there will also be open seminars, Meetings on Art, in the summer months and then again in autumn.