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Post-war Period and the Contemporary Era
Wednesday, 09 February 2011 10:27

The post-traumatic shock of the first years following World War II was succeeded by the optimistic perspective of intellectual and material re-organisation. Soon art became the tool for personal and collective self-criticism and a means of extroversion for the progressive voices.

The countries systematically recorded, safeguarded and promoted their contemporary art production, individuals invested in the artistic product and the art market became more powerful. The result was that contemporary art creation was being evaluated according to the conditions formed within the international art system.

The policies of strengthening the national participations during the post-war period in Venice brought forward the issue of expanding and reconstructing the national pavilions: Israel (Z. Rechter, 1952), Switzerland (B. Giacometti, 1952), Egypt (1952), the Netherlands (complete reconstruction of the former pavilion, G. Th. Rietveld, 1953), Venezuela (C. Scarpa, 1954), Japan (T. Yoshizaka, 1954), Finland – its pavilion now belongs to Iceland – (A. Aalto, 1954), Canada (Group BBPR, Banfi-Belgiojoso-Peressutti-Rogers, 1958), Uruguay (1960), Nordic Countries (S. Fehn, 1962), Brazil (Α. Marchesin, 1964), Australia (Ph. Cox, 1987) and finally South Korea (S.C. Kim, F. Mancuso, 1995) were added to the countries that had their own national pavilions at the Giardini area.

On the artistic level, the first Biennale (1948) of the second post-war period went down in history as one of the most interesting editions of the institution, although it only had a few national participations due the consequences of the war. The most significant events of this Biennale included the organisation of the first solo exhibition of the then 65-year-old Picasso in Venice, curated by the Italian artist Renato Guttuso, the presentation in the empty Greek pavilion of Peggy Guggenheim’s collection (136 artworks by 73 artists), which included art movements from Cubism to Surrealism, curated by the Italian art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, the tribute to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists curated by the art historian Roberto Longhi, which took place in the spare space in the German pavilion and finally the award offered to the French Cubist Georges Braque.

In 1948, the 24th International Exhibition marked the beginning of the systematic presentation of the historic movements of Modernism and the international Avant Garde (except for Dadaism) in the form of an historic-artistic review, as well as a scientific documentation of the art of the preceding years. That year’s national participations were equally important and harmonised with the general spirit of the exhibition policies: Great Britain organised a retrospective of William Turner’s work and a solo exhibition for the sculptor Henry Moore, France presented solo exhibitions by Maillol, Braque and Chagall, Austria presented works by Schiele, Wotruba and Kokoschka (at the empty Yugoslav pavilion) and Belgium works by the Expressionists Ensor and Permeke.

The first post-war General Secretary, Rodolfo Pallucchini, who was in charge of all first five editions of the exhibition (1948-1956), was the person whose policies shaped the development and the course of the Biennale during the ’50s. In this direction, and in parallel with the organisation of tributes to historic movements, established artists were also being presented and awarded prizes: Dufy, Calder (1952) Ernst, Arp (1954) and Chadwick (1956).

In 1950 four parallel exhibitions were presented in the central pavilion, dedicated to the Blue Rider movement, to Fauvism, to Cubism and to Futurism, while on the national level the Mexican participation singled out works by José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfonso Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. In 1952 a comparative tribute was organised, combining the Italian Divisionist painters Previati, Segantini and Pellizza da Volpedo with the French Pointillists Pissarro, Signac and Seurat. During the same year, the American pavilion hosted Jackson Pollock’s first appearance in Venice with his action painting and dripping. 1956 was the year of de Chirico, who participated with 36 works in an historical solo exhibition at the central pavilion after a protracted lawsuit with the Biennale management. The decade ended exactly as it started, with a series of historical presentations, such as the exhibition dedicated to the Surrealist artists and the solo exhibitions dedicated to Courbet, Munch, Klee and Magritte.

 

The next decade started with conflicts and confrontations over the large number of participating artists and the strong influence that art theoreticians exercised on the artistic choices of the Biennale.

The Art Informel movement dominated the first two exhibitions of the ’60s and the Grand Prizes were awarded to Jean Fautrier, Hans Hartung and Emilio Vedova. 1964 was the year when the bomb of the New York School exploded: New Dada, Post-Painterly Abstraction and above all Pop Art reversed and for a long time determined the international artistic panorama. The Golden Lion at the 32nd edition of the International Exhibition was awarded to the herald of pop art, Robert Rauschenberg, the first American artist to receive the prize during the long history of the Biennale. At the same time, an outstanding exhibition on Greek post-war art was presented separately from and in parallel with the national participation, curated by the French art critic Pierre Restany, founder of New Realism. Entitled ‘Three Propositions for a New Greek Sculpture’, works by Vlassis Caniaris, Nikos Kessanlis and Daniil were presented in the foyer of the La Fenice opera house in Venice. Despite the harsh criticism expressed in Greece, history has vindicated the choices of the French theoretician, proving that Greece was leading the international Avant Garde at the time.

After the huge publicity and scandal caused by the American participation, the Biennale returned to ‘normality’. 1966 was the year of Visual-Kinetic art and the Giardini venues were dominated by the installations of the South American artist Julio le Parc (painting prize) and Jesús Raphael Soto. The paintings of Lucio Fontana were also awarded a prize, as well as the plasters by Alberto Viani, while the sculpture prize went to the Arte Povera ‘Prophet’, Mario Ceroli. In addition, among the retrospectives that year, two stood out, the one for Umberto Boccioni and the one for Giorgio Morandi, who died during the opening night of the International Exhibition.

The atmosphere during 1968 in France and the political and social upheavals that broke out in the country from May to June 1968 also had a catalytic influence on the 35th edition of the Biennale. The 1968 International Exhibition was characterised as the ultimate Biennale of protest: huge crowds of students, artists and the public organised marches, played a leading part in the closure of many pavilions and symbolically turned several exhibited artworks upside down. The protesters demanded that the police move away from the area surrounding the exhibition venues, that the artistic awards be abolished, that the ‘fascist’ legal framework that had governed the Biennale since the interwar period be altered, as well as that the institution become disconnected from the prevailing system in the international art market. On the artistic level, as a reverberation of these developments, an ambitious exhibition was presented at the central pavilion with works by Malevich, Duchamp, Calder, Rauschenberg and Gorky, which was also the last of the large tributes presented during the decade.

 

The protests of ’68 left indelible marks on the following decade: the radical public demonstrations and the influence of left ideologies favoured artistic activism. As a result, the centre of attention of the artistic events shifted from the Biennale’s predefined exhibition spaces towards the city of Venice itself. Moreover, the awards were abolished and so were the offices for sales of the Biennale artworks, while for a long period of time the large anniversary tributes to a single artist were cancelled, to be replaced by a series of thematic exhibitions which were more experimental and focused on the conceptual research of the triptych ‘art-society-nature’. In addition, the legislative framework of the 1973 Venice Biennale changed, thus the Board of Directors became larger and depended even less on the central government.

On the artistic level, the ’70s started with an interesting experimental exhibition presenting works by Malevich, Duchamp, Man Ray and Albers. In 1972, for the first time in the history of the institution, the Biennale suggested a common theme for all the parallel exhibitions and it was the first of the five times that Yannis Kounellis presented his work in Venice (1978, 1980, 1988, 1993). In 1974, the new President of the Biennale, Carlo Ripa di Meana, dedicated the whole edition of the Biennale to Chile, organising a series of parallel events (music, theatre, dance, happenings) outside the official venues as a protest against the Pinochet regime. Many well-known artists participated in these events, such as Roberto (Sebastián) Matta and the Venetian Emilio Vedova, who created murals along the streets of Venice.

During its two last editions of the decade, the Biennale returned to its familiar spaces of the Giardini: in 1976, with the environment being its central theme, and in 1978 under the title ‘From Nature to Art, from Art to Nature’, the organisers set up a series of theoretical and aesthetic searches which took as their motto Kandinsky’s quotation, ‘Great Abstraction, Great Realism’. In the central pavilion, the emerging theoretician Achille Bonito Oliva set up a thematic exhibition with works by Kandinsky, Mondrian, de Chirico, Boccioni, Rauschenberg, Braque, Duchamp and Picasso.

 

During the ’80s the Biennale was no longer ideologically under the influence of the various left movements against dictatorship, and it attempted a wide organisational reform: all artistic events returned to the traditional Biennale venues, the Grand Prizes were brought back, the sales department was finally shut down, the presentation of current historic-artistic phenomena was emphasised and it was dominated by thematic exhibitions with conceptual continuity, such as ‘Art as Art’ (1982), ‘Art in the Mirror’ (1984), ‘Art and Science’ (1986) and ‘The Place of the Artists’ (1988). The Architecture section was also established. The International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is considered to be the epitome of the most pioneering international architectural research and the national participations rival each other and contribute to an international dialogue.

During this period the Biennale assigned the organisation of its events to prestigious art theoreticians and curators: Harald Szeemann and Achille Bonito Oliva established the section entitled ‘Aperto’, an independent exhibition dedicated to international artistic creation by young artists. Architect Paolo Portoghesi expanded the venues of the Biennale for the first International Architecture Exhibition (1980) by using spaces at the Arsenale, the old dockyard, and set up a series of international thematic exhibitions on ‘post-modern circumstances’.

The Italian art historian Maurizio Calvesi introduced the prizes for the national participations and focused on art theory and contemporary artists. Established artists were presented and awarded prizes, such as Jasper Jones, Sol LeWitt and Balthus (Balthasar Klossowsky), as well as the five Italian protagonists of Transavanguardia (Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola de Maria and Mimmo Paladino).

 

During the ’90s, the organisers attempted to expand interest towards the countries of the so-called Third World as well. The international character of the Biennale had for many years been ‘restricted’, since it aimed at works and artists from Europe, North America and Japan. Ever since the International Exhibition of 1993, the Biennale started acquiring a veritably international dimension, addressing in a more direct way the various thematic challenges concerning globalisation and the characteristics of post-colonial identities. The new policies also became evident with the assigning of new venues in spaces and buildings in Venice for the national representations of countries that did not have a pavilion within the Giardini.

On the institutional level, the Biennale became a legal entity governed by private law in 1998, while private participations became restricted solely to sponsorships.

Although from the artistic point of view presentation of the work of upcoming artists (Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Giovanni Anselmo, Anish Kapoor, Pipilotti Rist, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, etc.) was significant, as were tributes to established artists such as Francis Bacon, Ronald Kitaj, Joseph Kosuth, John Cage, Peter Greenaway, Gerhard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, Ilya Kabakov, Antoni Tàpies, the Fluxus movement, etc., the real ‘stars’ of the events were undoubtedly the various art critics and curators who were appointed artistic directors of the Biennale. Personalities with high prestige in art theory and experts on the global art scene, they left their mark with their choices and decisions on the contemporary course of the Biennale.

In 1993, on the initiative of the Artistic Director Bonito Oliva and under the general title ‘The Cardinal points of Art’, a series of autonomous group exhibitions was organised with many participating artists, curated by independent art theoreticians (Helena Kontova, Francesco Bonami, Jeffrey Deitch, Nicolas Bourriaud, Matthew Slotover, Berta Sichel, Kong Changan, Robert Kicklas, Thomas Locher, Benjamin Weil, Mike Hubert, Antonio d’Avossa, Rosma Scuteri, etc.), which would radically change the traditional curatorial practice of the Biennale. In addition, the Italian curator focused on the promotion of contemporary art on an international level, encouraged international co-operations and favoured the international structure of national participations. The example of Germany was indicative; at this edition of the Biennale it presented the work of Nam June Paik (a Korean who lived in Germany) and that of Hans Haacke (a German who lives and works in the United States).

In 1995, the anniversary of 100 years since the institution was established, the art critic Jean Clair became the first international personality to be appointed Artistic Director of the Biennale. The French theoretician focused thematically on the human body and on the contribution of new media to the alteration of artistic conception. He reset the International Exhibition on the basis of historic criteria concerning the significant European movements of Avant Garde and Neo-Avant Garde and abolished the ‘Aperto’ section of the Biennale. In 1997, a new Artistic Director was appointed, Germano Celant. The well-known art theoretician of Arte Povera (1967) organised a large-scale exhibition under the title ‘Future, Present, Past’ which was an ideological reunion of three generations of artists from 1967 to 1997.

Finally, the art critic Harald Szeemann, Artistic Director of the Biennale at two consecutive editions (1999-2001), was the theoretician who dynamically ended the ’90s and laid the foundations for the course of the Biennale into the 21st century.

At the International Exhibition of 1999, entitled ‘dAPERTutto’, he did away with the dividing lines between the various artistic movements and abolished the discrimination between established and emerging artists. At the 49th edition of the Biennale in 2001 he proposed a new curatorial model and prophetically declared that ‘the choice of the artists is not determined by any set theme; it is rather the artists themselves who represent a dimension in their works’.

 

With his declaration, the Swiss art theoretician redefined the boundaries of the curatorial cognitive field concerning international exhibitions, placed again the artist as the basis of the exhibition design, and shaped the Biennale’s new exhibition strategy, characterising the organisers’ institutional position regarding the contemporary phenomenon of ‘polymorphous’ artistic movements and the huge numbers of artists worldwide.

During the past decade, the number of national participations continued to increase and the Biennale is expanding into various traditional buildings and churches in the historical centre of Venice. The model of parallel events used during the ’90s is now being widely used since the organisers of the Biennale are making efforts to describe and clearly present the contemporary art scene on a global level. Small autonomous exhibitions are being organised and theoretically supported by independent curators, while co-operation between artistic directors and international personalities continues as a result of the fact that the institution has now become definitively international. Over recent years, with the exception of the internationally acknowledged theoretician Francesco Bonami, who was appointed Artistic Director of the 50th edition of the International Exhibition in 2003, the rest of the directors were not Italian and came strictly from the international art community: the Spanish curators Maria De Coral and Rosa Martínez directed the 51st international exhibition in 2005, the American artist and theoretician Robert Storr was the Artistic Director of the 52nd International Exhibition in 2007, the Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum was appointed Director in 2009 for the 53rd edition and, recently, the Swiss curator Bice Curiger was appointed director of the 54th edition in 2011.

Due to the increased organisational, financial and artistic challenges brought about by globalisation politics, the legal status of the Biennale changed again in 2004, and it was transformed into a Foundation rather than a legal entity governed by private law. The newly established institution, although it still remains dependent on the central government as far as its administrative status is concerned, it nevertheless has more freedom and flexibility regarding private investments and the self-administration of its personal and real property.

As far as the artistic level is concerned, the last decade has been exclusively dedicated to the ‘present’ and to those artists who have shaped and are still shaping developments within the artistic production of our times. To give an indication we might mention here Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Lucas Samaras, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Félix González Torres, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Michelangelo Pistoletto, León Ferrari, Tobias Rehberger, Santiago Serra, Mona Hatoum, Sophie Calle, Liam Gillick, David Altmejd, Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin, etc.

The turn of the new millennium brings a new challenge for the Biennale: the future management of the national participations. On the one hand, the responsible parties on behalf of the Biennale continue to prompt the national pavilions to align with the central thematic and artistic axis of each edition and, on the other hand, the ‘suffering’ national identities and the paradox of preserving the ‘anachronistic’ national representations within the current globalised frame of contemporary artistic creation both force the organisers – probably for the first time in the history of the institution – to carefully manage a series of frequent protests by the international fine arts community for the abolition of national participations.The post-traumatic shock of the first years following World War II was succeeded by the optimistic perspective of intellectual and material re-organisation. Soon art became the tool for personal and collective self-criticism and a means of extroversion for the progressive voicesThe countries systematically recorded, safeguarded and promoted their contemporary art production, individuals invested in the artistic product and the art market became more powerful. The result was that contemporary art creation was being evaluated according to the conditions formed within the international art system.

The post-traumatic shock of the first years following World War II was succeeded by the optimistic perspective of intellectual and material re-organisation. Soon art became the tool for personal and collective self-criticism and a means of extroversion for the progressive voices.
The countries systematically recorded, safeguarded and promoted their contemporary art production, individuals invested in the artistic product and the art market became more powerful. The result was that contemporary art creation was being evaluated according to the conditions formed within the international art system.
The policies of strengthening the national participations during the post-war period in Venice brought forward the issue of expanding and reconstructing the national pavilions: Israel (Z. Rechter, 1952), Switzerland (B. Giacometti, 1952), Egypt (1952), the Netherlands (complete reconstruction of the former pavilion, G. Th. Rietveld, 1953), Venezuela (C. Scarpa, 1954), Japan (T. Yoshizaka, 1954), Finland – its pavilion now belongs to Iceland – (A. Aalto, 1954), Canada (Group BBPR, Banfi-Belgiojoso-Peressutti-Rogers, 1958), Uruguay (1960), Nordic Countries (S. Fehn, 1962), Brazil (Α. Marchesin, 1964), Australia (Ph. Cox, 1987) and finally South Korea (S.C. Kim, F. Mancuso, 1995) were added to the countries that had their own national pavilions at the Giardini area.
On the artistic level, the first Biennale (1948) of the second post-war period went down in history as one of the most interesting editions of the institution, although it only had a few national participations due the consequences of the war. The most significant events of this Biennale included the organisation of the first solo exhibition of the then 65-year-old Picasso in Venice, curated by the Italian artist Renato Guttuso, the presentation in the empty Greek pavilion of Peggy Guggenheim's collection (136 artworks by 73 artists), which included art movements from Cubism to Surrealism, curated by the Italian art historian Giulio Carlo Argan, the tribute to Impressionists and Post-Impressionists curated by the art historian Roberto Longhi, which took place in the spare space in the German pavilion and finally the award offered to the French Cubist Georges Braque.
In 1948, the 24th International Exhibition marked the beginning of the systematic presentation of the historic movements of Modernism and the international Avant Garde in the form of an historic-artistic review, as well as a scientific documentation of the art of the preceding years. That year's national participations were equally important and harmonised with the general spirit of the exhibition policies: Great Britain organised a retrospective of William Turner's work and a solo exhibition for the sculptor Henry Moore, France presented solo exhibitions by Maillol, Braque and Chagall, Austria presented works by Schiele, Wotruba and Kokoschka (at the empty Yugoslav pavilion) and Belgium works by the Expressionists Ensor and Permeke.
The first post-war General Secretary, Rodolfo Pallucchini, who was in charge of all first five editions of the exhibition (1948-1956), was the person whose policies shaped the development and the course of the Biennale during the '50s. In this direction, and in parallel with the organisation of tributes to historic movements, established artists were also being presented and awarded prizes: Dufy, Calder (1952) Ernst, Arp (1954) and Chadwick (1956).
In 1950 four parallel exhibitions were presented in the central pavilion, dedicated to the Blue Rider movement, to Fauvism, to Cubism and to Futurism, while on the national level the Mexican participation singled out works by José Clemente Orozco, Diego Rivera, David Alfonso Siqueiros and Rufino Tamayo. In 1952 a comparative tribute was organised, combining the Italian Divisionist painters Previati, Segantini and Pellizza da Volpedo with the French Pointillists Pissarro, Signac and Seurat. During the same year, the American pavilion hosted Jackson Pollock's first appearance in Venice with his action painting and dripping. In the 1954's edition Great Britain was represented by Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon and Ben Nicholson. 1956 was the year of de Chirico, who participated with 36 works in an historical solo exhibition at the central pavilion after a protracted lawsuit with the Biennale management. The decade ended exactly as it started, with a series of historical presentations, such as the exhibition dedicated to the Surrealist artists and the solo exhibitions dedicated to Courbet, Munch, Klee and Magritte.

The next decade started with conflicts and confrontations over the large number of participating artists and the strong influence that art theoreticians exercised on the artistic choices of the Biennale.
The Art Informel movement dominated the first two exhibitions of the '60s and the Grand Prizes were awarded to Jean Fautrier, Hans Hartung and Emilio Vedova. 1964 was the year when the bomb of the New York School exploded: New Dada, Post-Painterly Abstraction and above all Pop Art reversed and for a long time determined the international artistic panorama. The Golden Lion at the 32nd edition of the International Exhibition was awarded to the herald of pop art, Robert Rauschenberg, the first American artist to receive the prize during the long history of the Biennale. At the same time, an outstanding exhibition on Greek post-war art was presented separately from and in parallel with the national participation, curated by the French art critic Pierre Restany, founder of New Realism. Entitled 'Three Propositions for a New Greek Sculpture', works by Vlassis Caniaris, Nikos Kessanlis and Daniil were presented in the foyer of the La Fenice opera house in Venice. Despite the harsh criticism expressed in Greece, history has vindicated the choices of the French theoretician, proving that Greece was leading the international Avant Garde at the time.
After the huge publicity and scandal caused by the American participation, the Biennale returned to 'normality'. 1966 was the year of Visual-Kinetic art and the Giardini venues were dominated by the installations of the South American artist Julio le Parc (painting prize) and Jesús Raphael Soto. The paintings of Lucio Fontana were also awarded a prize, as well as the plasters by Alberto Viani, while the sculpture prize went to the Arte Povera 'Prophet', Mario Ceroli. In addition, among the retrospectives that year, two stood out, the one for Umberto Boccioni and the one for Giorgio Morandi, who died during the opening night of the International Exhibition.
The atmosphere during 1968 in France and the political and social upheavals that broke out in the country from May to June 1968 also had a catalytic influence on the 35th edition of the Biennale. The 1968 International Exhibition was characterised as the ultimate Biennale of protest: huge crowds of students, artists and the public organised marches, played a leading part in the closure of many pavilions and symbolically turned several exhibited artworks upside down. The protesters demanded that the police move away from the area surrounding the exhibition venues, that the artistic awards be abolished, that the 'fascist' legal framework that had governed the Biennale since the interwar period be altered, as well as that the institution become disconnected from the prevailing system in the international art market. On the artistic level, as a reverberation of these developments, an ambitious exhibition was presented at the central pavilion with works by Malevich, Duchamp, Calder, Rauschenberg and Gorky, which was also the last of the large tributes presented during the decade.

The protests of '68 left indelible marks on the following decade: the radical public demonstrations and the influence of left ideologies favoured artistic activism. As a result, the centre of attention of the artistic events shifted from the Biennale's predefined exhibition spaces towards the city of Venice itself. Moreover, the awards were abolished and so were the offices for sales of the Biennale artworks, while for a long period of time the large anniversary tributes to a single artist were cancelled, to be replaced by a series of thematic exhibitions which were more experimental and focused on the conceptual research of the triptych 'art-society-nature'. In addition, the legislative framework of the 1973 Venice Biennale changed, thus the Board of Directors became larger and depended even less on the central government.
On the artistic level, the '70s started with an interesting experimental exhibition presenting works by Malevich, Duchamp, Man Ray and Albers. In 1972, for the first time in the history of the institution, the Biennale suggested a common theme for all the parallel exhibitions and it was the first of the five times that Yannis Kounellis presented his work in Venice (1978, 1980, 1988, 1993). In 1974, the new President of the Biennale, Carlo Ripa di Meana, dedicated the whole edition of the Biennale to Chile, organising a series of parallel events (music, theatre, dance, happenings) outside the official venues as a protest against the Pinochet regime. Many well-known artists participated in these events, such as Roberto (Sebastián) Matta and the Venetian Emilio Vedova, who created murals along the streets of Venice.
During its two last editions of the decade, the Biennale returned to its familiar spaces of the Giardini: in 1976, with the environment being its central theme, and in 1978 under the title 'From Nature to Art, from Art to Nature', the organisers set up a series of theoretical and aesthetic searches which took as their motto Kandinsky's quotation, 'Great Abstraction, Great Realism'. In the central pavilion, the emerging theoretician Achille Bonito Oliva set up a thematic exhibition with works by Kandinsky, Mondrian, de Chirico, Boccioni, Rauschenberg, Braque, Duchamp and Picasso.

During the '80s the Biennale was no longer ideologically under the influence of the various left movements against dictatorship, and it attempted a wide organisational reform: all artistic events returned to the traditional Biennale venues, the Grand Prizes were brought back, the sales department was finally shut down, the presentation of current historic-artistic phenomena was emphasised and it was dominated by thematic exhibitions with conceptual continuity, such as 'Art as Art' (1982), 'Art in the Mirror' (1984), 'Art and Science' (1986) and 'The Place of the Artists' (1988). The Architecture section was also established. The International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale is considered to be the epitome of the most pioneering international architectural research and the national participations rival each other and contribute to an international dialogue.
During this period the Biennale assigned the organisation of its events to prestigious art theoreticians and curators: Harald Szeemann and Achille Bonito Oliva established the section entitled 'Aperto', an independent exhibition dedicated to international artistic creation by young artists. Architect Paolo Portoghesi expanded the venues of the Biennale for the first International Architecture Exhibition (1980) by using spaces at the Arsenale, the old dockyard, and set up a series of international thematic exhibitions on 'post-modern circumstances'.
The Italian art historian Maurizio Calvesi introduced the prizes for the national participations and focused on art theory and contemporary artists. Established artists were presented and awarded prizes, such as Jasper Jones, Sol LeWitt and Balthus (Balthasar Klossowsky), as well as the five Italian protagonists of Transavanguardia (Sandro Chia, Francesco Clemente, Enzo Cucchi, Nicola de Maria and Mimmo Paladino).

During the '90s, the organisers attempted to expand interest towards the countries of the so-called Third World as well. The international character of the Biennale had for many years been 'restricted', since it aimed at works and artists from Europe, North America and Japan. Ever since the International Exhibition of 1993, the Biennale started acquiring a veritably international dimension, addressing in a more direct way the various thematic challenges concerning globalisation and the characteristics of post-colonial identities. The new policies also became evident with the assigning of new venues in spaces and buildings in Venice for the national representations of countries that did not have a pavilion within the Giardini.
On the institutional level, the Biennale became a legal entity governed by private law in 1998, while private participations became restricted solely to sponsorships.
Although from the artistic point of view presentation of the work of upcoming artists (Damien Hirst, Jeff Koons, Giovanni Anselmo, Anish Kapoor, Pipilotti Rist, Matthew Barney, Maurizio Cattelan, etc.) was significant, as were tributes to established artists such as Francis Bacon, Ronald Kitaj, Joseph Kosuth, John Cage, Peter Greenaway, Gerhard Richter, Bruce Nauman, Marina Abramović, Louise Bourgeois, Ilya Kabakov, Antoni Tàpies, the Fluxus movement, etc., the real 'stars' of the events were undoubtedly the various art critics and curators who were appointed artistic directors of the Biennale. Personalities with high prestige in art theory and experts on the global art scene, they left their mark with their choices and decisions on the contemporary course of the Biennale.
In 1993, on the initiative of the Artistic Director Bonito Oliva and under the general title 'The Cardinal points of Art', a series of autonomous group exhibitions was organised with many participating artists, curated by independent art theoreticians (Helena Kontova, Francesco Bonami, Jeffrey Deitch, Nicolas Bourriaud, Matthew Slotover, Berta Sichel, Kong Changan, Robert Kicklas, Thomas Locher, Benjamin Weil, Mike Hubert, Antonio d'Avossa, Rosma Scuteri, etc.), which would radically change the traditional curatorial practice of the Biennale. In addition, the Italian curator focused on the promotion of contemporary art on an international level, encouraged international co-operations and favoured the international structure of national participations. The example of Germany was indicative; at this edition of the Biennale it presented the work of Nam June Paik (a Korean who lived in Germany) and that of Hans Haacke (a German who lives and works in the United States).
In 1995, the anniversary of 100 years since the institution was established, the art critic Jean Clair became the first international personality to be appointed Artistic Director of the Biennale. The French theoretician focused thematically on the human body and on the contribution of new media to the alteration of artistic conception. He reset the International Exhibition on the basis of historic criteria concerning the significant European movements of Avant Garde and Neo-Avant Garde and abolished the 'Aperto' section of the Biennale. In 1997, a new Artistic Director was appointed, Germano Celant. The well-known art theoretician of Arte Povera (1967) organised a large-scale exhibition under the title 'Future, Present, Past' which was an ideological reunion of three generations of artists from 1967 to 1997.
Finally, the art critic Harald Szeemann, Artistic Director of the Biennale at two consecutive editions (1999-2001), was the theoretician who dynamically ended the '90s and laid the foundations for the course of the Biennale into the 21st century.
At the International Exhibition of 1999, entitled 'dAPERTutto', he did away with the dividing lines between the various artistic movements and abolished the discrimination between established and emerging artists. At the 49th edition of the Biennale in 2001 he proposed a new curatorial model and prophetically declared that 'the choice of the artists is not determined by any set theme; it is rather the artists themselves who represent a dimension in their works'.

With his declaration, the Swiss art theoretician redefined the boundaries of the curatorial cognitive field concerning international exhibitions, placed again the artist as the basis of the exhibition design, and shaped the Biennale's new exhibition strategy, characterising the organisers' institutional position regarding the contemporary phenomenon of 'polymorphous' artistic movements and the huge numbers of artists worldwide.
During the past decade, the number of national participations continued to increase and the Biennale is expanding into various traditional buildings and churches in the historical centre of Venice. The model of parallel events used during the '90s is now being widely used since the organisers of the Biennale are making efforts to describe and clearly present the contemporary art scene on a global level. Small autonomous exhibitions are being organised and theoretically supported by independent curators, while co-operation between artistic directors and international personalities continues as a result of the fact that the institution has now become definitively international. Over recent years, with the exception of the internationally acknowledged theoretician Francesco Bonami, who was appointed Artistic Director of the 50th edition of the International Exhibition in 2003, the rest of the directors were not Italian and came strictly from the international art community: the Spanish curators Maria De Coral and Rosa Martínez directed the 51st international exhibition in 2005, the American artist and theoretician Robert Storr was the Artistic Director of the 52nd International Exhibition in 2007, the Swedish curator Daniel Birnbaum was appointed Director in 2009 for the 53rd edition and, recently, the Swiss curator Bice Curiger was appointed director of the 54th edition in 2011.
Due to the increased organisational, financial and artistic challenges brought about by globalisation politics, the legal status of the Biennale changed again in 2004, and it was transformed into a Foundation rather than a legal entity governed by private law. The newly established institution, although it still remains dependent on the public sector as far as its administrative status is concerned, it nevertheless has more freedom and flexibility regarding private investments and the self-administration of its personal and real property.
As far as the artistic level is concerned, the last decade has been exclusively dedicated to the 'present' and to those artists who have shaped and are still shaping developments within the artistic production of our times. To give an indication we might mention here Joseph Beuys, Cy Twombly, Louise Bourgeois, Lucas Samaras, Richard Serra, Ed Ruscha, Félix González Torres, Bruce Nauman, Yoko Ono, John Baldessari, Barbara Kruger, Michelangelo Pistoletto, León Ferrari, Tobias Rehberger, Santiago Serra, Mona Hatoum, Sophie Calle, Liam Gillick, David Altmejd, Gilbert & George, Tracey Emin, etc.
The turn of the new millennium brings a new challenge for the Biennale: the future management of the national participations. On the one hand, the responsible parties on behalf of the Biennale continue to prompt the national pavilions to align with the central thematic and artistic axis of each edition and, on the other hand, the 'suffering' national identities and the paradox of preserving the 'anachronistic' national representations within the current globalised frame of contemporary artistic creation both force the organisers – probably for the first time in the history of the institution – to carefully manage a series of frequent protests by the international fine arts community for the abolition of national participations.

Last Updated on Friday, 30 November 2012 07:46
 

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