Controversies Venice Biennale Ireland

The Irish question

The Manichean vision that allocates good and bad practice in the institution and market respectively is no more than a passé notion, in fact, a mere cliché.

Has the selection of the artist to represent Ireland at the Venice Biennale crossed an ethical line? We asked a commissioner, curator and artist their opinions.

Jenny Harper, director, the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetu, commissioner for New Zealand, 2009 and 2011: It is expensive and, as we know in New Zealand, often difficult for smaller countries to present at Venice.  Clearly many parties—public, private and commercial—need to support a given artist, but such a blurring of the lines in this government-to-government invitation is disappointing. I believe the commissioner should be independent of all funding parties and am unimpressed with Ireland’s decision in this case.

Lorenzo Fusi, curator, 2010 Liverpool Biennial: The Manichean vision that allocates good and bad practice in the institution and market respectively is no more than a passé notion, in fact, a mere cliché. I have met dealers and gallerists who hold a much stronger ethical sense than most museum curators/directors or art critics. The validation the market was seeking from the institution is no longer indispensable. The opposite is more often the case, since it is difficult for the public sector to survive without the support of the market. Many are the professionals who shift from one realm to the other and back: their roles are often interchangeable. That said, if one embraces the “dark side” (of business/commerce), I think it is only fair to resign from public appointments. But is operating behind the scenes any more ethically acceptable than a blatant declaration of intent?

Stefan Banz, artist, co-founder, Kunsthalle Luzern: It makes visible in a very direct way how the art world really works: it’s all about connections. Ultimately it comes down to the same thing. A committee appoints a curator and he knows that if he exhibits artist X from gallery Y, he will have a budget that is double the size of the one if he chose artist Z, who has no gallery connection. At the end of the day, the thing that counts is the quality of the pavilion.

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