Italian Pavilion: Vittorio Sgarbi’s sprawling, sexed-up show
Culture minister in no hurry to visit nation’s contribution to Venice 2011
By Cristina Ruiz. Web only
Published online: 03 June 2011
VENICE. The Italian minister of culture, Giancarlo Galan, visited the Russian, US and Israeli pavilions on his first trip to the Venice Biennale earlier this week. He did not, however, visit Italy's own exhibition “L'Arte non è Cosa Nostra” (Art is Not a Mafia) in the Arsenale, which has been curated this year by Italian polemicist, politician and art historian Vittorio Sgarbi. When asked if he intended to see Sgarbi's show, the minister evaded the question, saying: “I've heard of it, it sounds interesting.”
Galan later told a reporter for the Italian newspaper La Repubblica about a “disagreement” with Sgarbi, due to the art historian's unsuccessful application for the position of superintendent of the museums of Venice. Just over a month ago, the minister hired Giovanna Damiani for the job instead. “She's doing excellent work, I don't regret my choice,” Galan said, while acknowledging that his decision had led to some animosity with Sgarbi.
Sgarbi, an outspoken critic of contemporary art, was a surprise choice to organise Italy's contribution to the most prestigious contemporary art show in the world. When he announced his decision to include 200 artists selected by 200 intellectuals, the pundits said it couldn't be done. In fact, Scarbi has displayed the 200 he said he would, and then added another 60 for good measure.
The resulting display has the sprawling randomness of a flea market. There are works featuring sex, religion, violence, nudity, as well as a giant pomegranate and a polar bear. Also on show are multi-coloured mummies in flagrante, and a beaten-up doll next to a sign that declares “I'm a warrior not a doll”. In the middle of it all there are occasional gems such as Giovanni Iudice's depiction of refugees, Humanity, 2010, but unfortunately these get lost in the visual mess. Many are wondering if Sgarbi's exhibition is an ironic gesture—or an attempt to undermine Italian contemporary art.
One thing is certain: when Italy reintroduced its own pavilion in 2007, featuring work by Francesco Vezzoli and Giuseppe Penone, the French billionaire collector François Pinault bought the entire exhibition; he will be shopping elsewhere this year.
UPDATE: On Saturday 4 June, the Italian minister of culture Giancarlo Galan visited the Italian pavilion. He told reporters his intention was to support "the hard-working staff" who put the massive exhibition together.
Despite their differences (or perhaps because of them) Sgarbi was on hand to guide the minister through the labyrinthine show. When Galan tried to leave half an hour later, Sgarbi pulled him back in, saying: "There's a bit you still haven't seen." After over an hour visiting the exhibition, the minister finally made it out. "They're waiting for me at the Haiti pavilion," he said, before departing on a water taxi.
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