54. Exposition of Venice Biennale
(4 June – 27 November 2011)
Italian Artist at Work Around the Globe
By Vittorio Sgarbi
The sheer serendipity of the fact that the end of the first decade of the new millennium coincides so neatly with the 150th anniversary of the Unification of Italy made my new responsibility as curator of the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale patently clear.
This fortunate coincidence required not a single personal selection, however broad, but a sweeping, inclusive operation involving an index of Italian artists who are active abroad, right now, in different parts of the globe.
Clearly, to succeed in this task, I would have to extend my investigation into different areas of artistic expression. Given the universal and even cosmopolitan vocation of artistic research, it seemed opportune to promptly create a detailed map charting the quantity and variety of the work of Italian artists abroad. It occurred to me that the once obligatory stage in the career of any artist living at the beginning of the past century - known as the Grand Tour and involving visits to Venice, Florence, and Rome in particular - was not a purely one-way affair. For their part, Italian artists had likewise felt the need to go out and see the world, starting with the Futurists and the likes of Modigliani. Although at the time Paris was the most coveted destination, some artists took off for more exotic spots such as Bangkok (Galileo Chini), and Bali (Emilio Ambron). It seemed to me that now, one century after this artistic diaspora, it would be a valuable exercise to assess the extent of the dispersal of native Italian artists today, and the quotient of "exoticism" in their work.
We very quickly discovered them everywhere, and as a consequence immediately broadened the spectrum of the Italian Pavilion to include Italian artists at work all around the globe. Once they had been identified by the Italian Cultural Institutes throughout the world, it was logical to group these artists under the auspices of those same Institutes, thereby creating a network of centres that shared a single objective.
For some time this idea remained on a purely theoretical plane, but the occasion to put it into practice came when I accepted an invitation to open a very fine and well-staged exhibition of the work of Gaetano Pesce at the Cultural Institute in Los Angeles. Basically, the energetic director of the Institute, Francesca Valente, provided me with a practical demonstration of my plan.
The very evening of the exhibition's inauguration, we began our adventure by writing a letter to the Minister of Foreign Affairs, Franco Frattini, and the Director of the Ministry's Cultural Department, Vincenza Lo Monaco, in which I laid out the programme of this far-reaching project.
Their immediate support meant that a very precise and clear-cut operation could be put underway without further delay. Over a period of nine months we carried out a thorough investigation of this fascinating array of Italian artists at work abroad, whose varied locations and widely differing experiences were reflected in the sheer diversity of the work they produced. A commission formed by Vincenza Lo Monaco and Francesca Valente ( coordinator), with Peter Glidewell, Genny Di Bert, Massimo Mattioli, Giorgio di Genova and Gianluca Marziani, viewed the material sent by the individual Institutes after a series of video conferences in which I illustrated my project and our aims to the various Institutes' directors.
The response was diligent and motivated, and one of the considerations that cropped up was whether to aim for a special tribute to a single artist who was a long-time resident in a particular cultural context (for example, Valerio Adami in Paris), or instead to mount a broad exhibition showing the highly varied and rich situations and realities that were commonly experienced by these artists abroad.
It was decided to select a generous sample of 217 from the candidates, an unprecedented representation of a whole area of artistic production that had until now been either under-appreciated, or only sporadically recognised if at all. The results of this enterprise are expressed in two different ways: first, a series of exhibitions of the original works in the relative Institutes around the world; and second, the visual and symbolic presence of these artists in the Italian Pavilion here at the Biennale through video documentaries realised by the Institutes, which will be projected on a vast wall of the Arsenale in Venice.
In this way, the work of Italian artists around the world will be combined with the elite of designated artists present at the Italian Pavilion, offering a truly unprecedented panorama of Italian creativity. Recognised and much admired everywhere (and documented in the successful series of publications entitled L'opera del genio italiano all'estero ), that Italian creativity will be show case in Venice through the works of approximately 500 artists, accompanied by an unparalleled level of documentation. The vastness of this undertaking will enable visitors both to discover and confirm the claim, as they explore a varied trajectory that is at time mysterious, and at other uncharted or dispersed.