Foreword by the President of la Biennale di Venezia, Paolo Baratta
The 56th International Art Exhibition of la Biennale di Venezia will open on May 9th, a month earlier than recent editions. With its inauguration, we celebrate the 120th anniversary of the first Exhibition (1895).
The curator’s International Exhibition will expand from the Central Pavilion at the Giardini (3,000 sq.m.) to the Arsenale (8,000 sq.m.) and, in addition, to external areas.
The extensive array of foreign participant countries (89, compared to 58 in 1997) will virtually gather around our curator’s great International Exhibition; 29 of them will be in the historic pavilions in the Giardini, 29 in the spaces dedicated to the various national participations within the Arsenale (where restoration work continues on 16th century buildings) and the rest in other buildings in Venice, accompanied by 44 Collateral Events, presented by non-profit organisations and admitted by our curator.
The press dossier provides further useful information, and also includes our warm thanks to a variety of public bodies, our partner Swatch, sponsors, and the many people who will have so enthusiastically and with such dedication worked towards the realisation of the exhibition and its operation in the six and a half months to November 22, 2015. In particular, our thanks go to Okwui, to his assistants, and all the professional figures within the Biennale.
Having expressed my thanks, I would also like to briefly introduce the Exhibition from my privileged vantage point within the Biennale.
This is our 56th edition. The Biennale is now 120 years old, and year after year it moves forward and builds on its own history, which is formed of many memories but, in particular, a long succession of different perspectives from which to observe the phenomenon of contemporary artistic creation.
Let us cite just two examples:
Bice Curiger brought us the theme of perception, of ILLUMInation or light as an autonomous and revitalizing element, together with the notion of the relationship between artist and viewer: focusing on an artistic concept that emphasizes intuitive knowledge and enlightened thinking, as a means to hone and develop our perceptual capacity and consequently our ability to dialogue with art.
Massimiliano Gioni was interested in observing the phenomenon of artistic creation from within, and turned his attention to the inner impulses that drive mankind and the artist to create images and bring representations to life; works that are necessary to the artist and to create a dialogue with others. He investigated the utopias and anxieties that lead mankind to the inescapable need to create. The Exhibition opened with a utopian Encyclopedic Palace and Jung’s Red Book.
The world before us today exhibits deep divisions and wounds, pronounced inequalities and uncertainties as to the future. Despite the great progress made in knowledge and technology, we are currently negotiating an “age of anxiety”. And once more, the Biennale observes the relationship between art and the development of the human, social, and political world, as external forces and phenomena loom large over it.
Our aim is to investigate how the tensions of the outside world act on the sensitivities and the vital and expressive energies of artists, on their desires and their inner song. One of the reasons the Biennale invited Okwui Enwezor as curator was for his special sensitivity in this regard.
Curiger, Gioni, Enwezor, a trilogy in a sense: three chapters in a research process engaged by la Biennale di Venezia to explore the benchmarks that can help us formulate aesthetic judgments on contemporary art, a “critical” question following the demise of the avant-gardes and “non-art”.
Okwui does not claim to pass judgement or prognosticate; his wish is to bring together arts and artists from throughout the world and from different disciplines, to instate a Parliament of Forms, as it were.
A global exhibition where we may question or at least listen to artists.
136 artists have been summoned, of which 88 for the first time. They come from 53 countries, and many of them from geographical areas that we paradoxically insist on defining as peripheral. Of works on display, 159 are expressly realized for this year edition. All of this will help us uncover the latest tendencies regarding the geography and routes taken by contemporary art, thanks to a special project focusing on the Curricula of the artists operating around the world.
A Parliament for a Biennale of varying and intense vitality, therefore.
We know that evoking the dramatic facts and occurrences that characterise the present also means admitting history. The present, after all, demands to be understood through the signs, symbols, and recollections that history accords us and from which we draw a sense of desperation but also of illumination. It also means evoking fragments of our recent and remote past, which must not be forgotten.
The Biennale unquestionably provides a very special stage for this exercise; everything here is exhibited against the backdrop of the Biennale’s 120-year history. Fragments of the past of various kinds may be found in every corner, given also the fact that the Biennale is active in Art, Architecture, Dance, Theatre, Music, and Cinema; they are also treasured in its Archivio Storico, in the images this conserves, in its catalogues, and in its buildings. For this precise reason, even the international pavilions, built at different times and thanks to different initiatives, constitute a very different venue to that of a traditional exposition. To borrow the words of Walter Benjamin, the Biennale hosts “dialectical images”.
And while on the subject of Benjamin, Okwui recalls his description of Paul Klee’s Angelus Novus in his programme, do you remember? “His face is turned toward the past. Where a chain of events appears before us, he sees a single catastrophe. […] The angel would like to stay, awaken the dead […]. But a storm is blowing from Paradise and has got caught in his wings […]. This storm drives him irresistibly into the future.”
I feel compelled to evoke this image briefly and imagine the expression of Klee’s angel on those entering the Biennale who, surprised and fearful, observe all the specks and shards of the past deposited in this place where memory, time, and space combine. But I am consoled by the fact that every two years a new storm of energy drives us “irresistibly into the future”.
And once again, I am glad that I did not listen to the regrettable considerations made in 1998 claiming that the exhibition with foreign pavilions was outmoded and should be done away with, perhaps in favour of a white cube, an aseptic space in which to erase history, exercise our abstract presumptions, or offer hospitality for the dictatorship of the market.
It is our multi-faceted, complex reality that helps us avoid perils such as these.
The great mountain of the fragments of our history grows year by year. Opposite stands the even greater mountain of all that was not shown in past Biennales.
In this regard, we often hear mention of Aby Warburg and his interpretative practices. In order to better understand a work, he would place many other works that had some bearing on it next to and around it. “Mnemosyne”is the name he used to refer to this quest: Mnemosyne, the goddess of memory (and we might well say that the Biennale is one of the favourite residences of Mnemosyne).
In every Biennale, the presence of our curator, alongside the different voices of the curators of the various pavilions, contributes to the emergence of an important value, the pluralism of voices. “Parliament of Forms”. And what should a parliament be if not a plurality of voices?
Finally, in the more intimate Biennales as in the ones that more dramatically draw in history, what is important is that the Exhibition must always be seen as a venue for free and independent dialogue.
Paolo Baratta, President of la Biennale di Venezia