Controversies Venice Biennale News Belgium

Belgian pavilion at Venice Biennale in limbo

Vincent Meessen's nomination to represent the country has been suspended over a lack of transparency

The Belgian State Council last week suspended the nomination of Vincent Meessen to represent the country at next year’s Venice Biennale, following a complaint of a lack of transparency in his selection.

In April, the Minister of Culture for the French-speaking half of the country, Fadila Laanan, announced that Meessen, a Brussels-based mutli-media artist and freelance curator, would represent Belgium in Venice. (The country’s French and Flemish communities traditionally take turns commissioning the biennale pavilion; in 2013, Berlinde De Bruyckere was selected.) But the painter Charles Szymkowicz, who was rejected by the biennale jury, filed a successful appeal with the State Council.

On 21 May, the Council decided that Meessen’s application did not meet the proper requirements, since it did not include a curriculum vitae demonstrating his qualifications to represent the country, such as his participation in at least two solo exhibitions at a major international museum during the past five years. The jury’s objectivity was further criticised as “predisposed to favour Mr Meessen” above the 13 other candidates, since four out of the seven jury members had a personal or professional connection to the artist.

Meessen countered these claims in a statement he released with the curator Katerina Gregos, who was helping to organise the biennale project. He cited his “inevitable” association to some of the jury members over the course of his career and said that “it is, in fact, Belgian representation being taken hostage here”.

This is not the first time Szymkowicz has complained about the selection procedure for biennale participation. After the Brussels-based artist Angel Vergara represented Belgium in 2011, in a project curated by the Antwerp-based artist Luc Tuymans, Szymkowicz successfully sued over the competition. The State Council retroactively and symbolically canceled Vergara’s nomination in 2013 and Laanan was reproached for a lack of “transparency”, as there was no open call for applications.

According to the newspaper La Libre Belgique, because a resolution to Szymkowicz’s newest complaint will come too late for the 2015 biennale, Laanan will probably have to begin the nomination process again, name a new jury and more clearly outline the criteria for selection.

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