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La Biennale in Venezia is opening tomorrow

Maurizio Cattelan The Others, 2011, taxidermized pigeons / photo credit: La Biennale

la Biennale di Venezia, 54th International Art Exhibition


ILLUMInazioni – ILLUMInations


Venice (Giardini and Arsenale), June 4th – November 27th 2011

Award Ceremony Saturday, June 4th at noon (Giardini)



The 54th International Art Exhibition, entitled ILLUMInations, directed by Bice Curiger and organised by la Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta, will be open to the public from Saturday, June 4th to November 27th, 2011 in the Giardini and at the Arsenale. 


The Exhibition, spreading over 10,000 square metres between the Central Pavilion in the Giardini and the Arsenale, comprises a single display featuring 83 artists from all over the world. There are 32 young artists born after 1975 and 32 female artists. Four participants have been asked to create the parapavilions, sculptural structures mounted in the Giardini and at the Arsenale to house works by other artists. Besides favouring new forms of cooperation, the parapavilions aim at infusing the exhibition with greater dynamism. Bice Curiger has additionally encouraged mutual exchanges between the artists of her exhibition and those hosted in the national participations by asking all of them five questions on the themes of identity and their sense of belonging: 1. is the artistic community a nation? 2. how many nations do you feel inside yourself? 3. where do you feel at home? 4. does the future speak English or another language? 5. if art was a nation what would be written in its constitution? The answers, published in the catalogue, voice the views of the artists and draw a map of our contemporary collective landscape. 


Three works by Tintoretto are part of ILLUMInations: The Last Supper (from san Giorgio Maggiore Basilica), The Stealing of the Body of St. Mark and The Creation of the Animals (housed in the Gallerie dell’Accademia). The three canvases, granted as a loan by the the board of Venetian museums, are on display in the main room of the Central Pavilion in the Giardini. 

“Tintoretto’s art – Bice Curiger highlights - is unorthodox and experimental, distinguished by dramatic lighting. The inclusion of these paintings in the Biennale is founded on the conviction that, with their visual and expressive directness, they still possess the power to engage a contemporary audience.”


As usual, the Exhibition will be paralleled by 89 national participations, a record for the Art Biennale (they were 77 in 2009), which will be housed in the Giardini, at the Arsenale and around the city centre. The Italian Pavilion at the Arsenale, organised by the Ministry of Cultural Heritage and Activities with the PaBAAC – General Direction for landscape, fine arts, architecture and contemporary Arts, is curated by Vittorio Sgarbi. 


The countries participating for the first time are Andorra, Saudi Arabia, Bangladesh, Haiti. Other countries will be participating this year after a long period of absence: India (1982), Congo (1968), Iraq (1990), Zimbabwe (1990), South Africa (1995), Costa Rica (1993, later with the IILA), Cuba (1995, later with the IILA). The 54th Exhibition also includes 37 Collateral Events organised by international institutions which will set up their shows in several places around the city. 

On the occasion of the 54th Exhibition the Venice Pavilion in the Giardini, curated by Renzo Dubbini, features the video artist Fabrizio Plessi with his work Mari Verticali.


According to president Paolo Baratta “the Biennale is like a wind machine. Every two years, it shakes the forest, unveils hidden truths, gives new strength and light to new sprouts, showing older trunks and persisting branches from a different perspective. The Biennale is a great pilgrimage, where in the works of artists and in the work of curators the voices of the world meet, to talk about their own and our future. Art here is meant as a continuous evolution.”


“After 116 years of life of the Biennale, the Shape of the Exhibition today is the one fully defined in 1999, confirmed and improved in the following years. I am telling you this – Baratta states - because it is in fact from that year that the exhibition designed by pavilions has been put together, in a clear and distinct manner, with the exhibition that the curator appointed by the Biennale must organize as an “international exhibition”, with specific task (he/she is not in charge of the selection of the Italian pavilion).”


 “The countries’ Pavilions – Baratta points out - are a very important characteristic of la Biennale di Venezia. It is an old formula envisaging the presence of states and yet more than ever lively and vital. Precious in a globalization time, as it gives us the primary reference backdrop where to observe or better highlight the individual geographies of artists, always new, always different. One may wonder to what extent these pavilions bring with them, however large the autonomy left to the curators, also the desire for representation expressed by the organizing country. We can certainly say that in their pavilions, countries unveil the role played by contemporary art, as messenger of their present and of their cultural heritage. Actually, from the pavilions other revelations emerge, on realities and riches much deeper than the traditional claims or usual official and stereotyped images.”


“ILLUMInations initiated new forms of collaboration among the artists - Bice Curiger explains. At a time when the ‘technology of border control’ is enjoying a dubious, if not macabre, commercial boom, any reference to nations also automatically implies borders. If one trusts in art it indeed has the capacity to stimulate our horizon with farsightedness and complexity beyond the stupefying redundancy usually attendant on current events. In an understated and sporadic way the theme of the outsider plays a not insignificant role in ILLUMInations. Has Tintoretto, although acknowledged as a great innovator, not to some degree been treated as an outsider in the history of art?”


 “ILLUMInations presents contemporary art – Curiger adds - characterized by gestures that explore notions of the collective, yet also speak of fragmentary identity, of temporary alliances, and objects inscribed with transience.”


The 54th Exhibition features 2 leading projects: Biennale sessions and Meetings on Art

Biennale sessions is a project addressing universities, academies of fine arts, research and educational institutions in the field of visual arts. The aim is to provide an exhibition tour for groups of at least 50 students and teachers who will find assistance for their trip and stay. The participants will also have the possibility of organising seminars in a space offered by la Biennale free of charge. Up to now, 17 universities out of which 9 Italian schools and 8 foreign schools have joined the project.

Meetings on Art comprises a number of meetings and seminars with artists, curators, philosophers and scholars which will take place in September and, more intensively, in October and November. They will expand on some of the thematic issues of the works on display: the references to Arthur Rimbaud and Walter Benjamin, Tintoretto’s febrile light, the concepts of nation, identity and community, the role of the curator and contemporary photography. 


The 54th Exhibition will also include articulated Educational activities addressing individuals or groups of students from schools, universities and academies of fine arts, as well as professionals, companies, amateurs and families. The educational staff will organize with Nicolás Paris – one of the artists of ILLUMInations – workshops that will use drawing as a tool of knowledge and learning (Room F of the Central Pavilion, reservation is required).


The award ceremony will take place on Saturday, June 4th in the Giardini at noon, featuring the awarding of the official prizes presented by the international jury composed by president Hassan Khan (Egypt) and by Carol Yinghua Lu (China), Letizia Ragaglia (Italy), Christine Macel (France) and John Waters (USA). The awards will be the following: Golden Lion for the best National Participation, Golden Lion for the best artist of ILLUMInations, Silver Lion for a promising young artist of ILLUMInations. The Golden Lions for Lifetime Achievement will be awarded to Sturtevant and Franz West


The 54th Exhibition presents three online competitions published on  HYPERLINK ""

ILLUMInations – Photography: the best photograph of the Exhibition (open only to accredited photographers)

ILLUMInations – Essay: the best critical essay on the Exhibition

ILLUMInations – Video: the best video on the theme of the Exhibition


The official catalogue published by Marsilio Editori – consists of a single volume of 600 pages devoted to the International Exhibition, Countries and Collateral Events. There will also be provided a short catalogue, featuring a large number of photos taken during the Exhibition as well as a short guide, a useful tool for the Exhibition tour featuring maps and practical information. The design is by the Swiss studio Gavillet & Rust and photographs are by Bruno Mancia and Franziska Bodmer.


iBiennale is the official application of la Biennale di Venezia, available for iPad and iPhone. It is produced in cooperation with LOG607 and Marsilio Editori and features a new design with new functions enhancing its value and potentials.


Ultrafragola Channels chronicles the preview days and the major appointments during the 54th Exhibition through several programmes, devoted to the Exhibition and comprising reports and video-interviews that can be watched online at,

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