Holy See to announce Venice Biennale artists today

View of the Arsenale and Sale d’Armi, where the Holy See will have a pavilion at the Biennale this year

This year, as has been widely publicised, the Vatican is to have a pavilion at the Venice Biennale, joining several countries including Angola, Bahrain, Bahamas, Kosovo, Maldives exhibiting for the first time. However, while listings of the artists representing most of the national pavilions were posted sometime ago,  the Vatican one has remained empty. All that has been clarified is that it will have a space in the  Sale d’Armi, a newly developed exhibition space.

After a period of silence, perhaps on account of the resignation of Pope Benedict XVI and election of Pope Francis, Cardinal Ravasi of the Pontifical Council of Culture, one of the main  initiators of the project, announced that details would finally be released on Tuesday 14th May, today. The exhibition opens on 1st June, with previews at the end of May.

The position of the Vatican is slightly different from other nations, who normally select artists from their countries to represent their national pavilions. Jeremy Deller is representing Great Britain for example.  Ravasi has previously suggested that there are many artists who could feature naming Anish Kapoor, Bill Viola and Jannis Kounellis on account of the spiritual dimension of their art, even though none are Catholic, perhaps bearing in mind explicit Christian themes such as Anish Kapoor’s Descent into Limbo at Documenta 1992, the Passions by Bill Viola, as well as the broader spiritual vision of each.

Speaking back in 2011, Ravasi suggested  that 10 artists could be approached with a view to submitting work on the theme of creation in the first 11 chapters of Genesis, from ‘Darkness upon the face of the deep’ to the fall of the Tower of Babel, possibly in view of the 500th anniversary of the unveiling and completion of Michelangelo’s Sistine Chapel  fresco cycle last November. Ravasi considers that artists have become severed from the great themes of their predecessors: “They’ve lost the great stories, the great narratives,” he said

Such a scheme might fit within this year’s Biennale theme ‘The Encyclopedic Palace’ which draws inspiration from the utopian Marino Auriti who filed a fantasy design with the U.S. Patent office in 1955, depicting his Palazzo Enciclopedico (The Encyclopedic Palace), an imaginary museum that was meant to house all worldly knowledge,  a 136-story building to be built in Washington, in that would stand 700 meters tall and take up over 16 blocks…..

Certainly , the prospect of the Vatican’s presence was warmly spoken about by the chair, Paolo Baratta, in an article in Time magazine back in 2011: ‘It takes some courage’ he said, ‘The choice to come to the Biennale is the choice of being within the waves of the world. It’s saying, ‘I want to be on a boat in the open ocean,’ not ‘I want to build a monument to the relationship between the church and contemporary art.’  . The presence of the Holy See is singled out on the home page of the Biennale website.

The participation has been a few years in the making.  The Vatican considered contributing a pavilion to the Venice Biennale in 2009 and ’11, but then decided to aim for ’13. it will be interesting to see what the Holy See has planned.


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