Venice Biennale Italy

Italian Pavilion: Vittorio Sgarbi’s sprawling, sexed-up show

Culture minister in no hurry to visit nation’s contribution to Venice 2011

Sgarbi at the Italian Pavilion

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.

A warrior-doll and copulating yarn mummies populate Sgarbi's Italian Pavilion
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21 Sep 12
15:18 CET


In response to Elisa's comment, I think it is important to note that the idea that the art of the past was as controversial in its own time as our art is in ours is somewhat inaccurate. Before the Twentieth Century, artists seldom set out to shock the public. Instead, they sought to win fame by making superbly beautiful things.

28 Jul 11
15:9 CET


I agree with all of the above. He's reached his goal: making a mockery of the biennale as well as of art. He loves to hate contemporary art but he tends to forget that all artworks in their period would have been considered contemporary, innovative and/or provocative and most likely there would have been someone just like him saying it was all rubbish (hopefully not yelling it like he does).

13 Jun 11
11:6 CET


we, in italy, not all, are very dissapointed for the multiple flops that sgarbi has in his curriculum! and really, we could live without him and his way of yelling !

12 Jun 11
15:19 CET


Sgarbi, who is usually more interested in provoking than in being ironic, has often undermined contemporary art. His curatorial choice is arrogant and actually emphasise the very Italian "Cosa Nostra" methodology, because of which you can achieve your art to be exhibited in Venice Biennale, only if a "Padrino" backs you. It doesn't matter how hard you have worked so far or how smart you have been in the art market: if a well-known politician, actor, philosopher likes your work (for personal reason rather than for a curatorial consistency) you can take part to the big Italian Circus. It's a pity to recognise, again in the Italian way of administrate Culture, a wasted potential.

6 Jun 11
4:14 CET


Agree 100%

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