2 April 2003

The 50th International Art Exhibition, Venice

Dreams and Conflicts - The Viewer’s Dictatorship
Curated by Francesco Bonami

Venice, Giardini della Biennale – Arsenale
Vernissage: 12-14 June
Official Opening: 14 June
Open to the public: 15 June to 2 November 2003


At 36 years of age, Melbourne-based artist Patricia Piccinini, five times named by this publication as one of Australia’s 50 most collectable artists, has achieved another career milestone with her selection as Australia’s representative at the world’s most prestigious art fair, the Venice Biennale.

While Piccinini will join an elite club of antipodean luminaries that includes Sidney Nolan, Arthur Boyd, Howard Arkley and Bill Henson, she will be attending an event rejected by Robert Hughes last year when he was offered the coveted director’s role. Such is its stature, Venice will again attract 250,000 patrons to the Biennale, but after a restructure of the event’s management, indifferent reviews for the 49th stanza in 2001, and intrigue in the upper reaches of the Italian government (which almost single-handedly funds the exhibition), all eyes are on newly appointed curator/director, superstar critic, Francesco Bonami, who returns from a brilliant American career to take the reins.

The world’s oldest survey of modern art began in 1895, and this year again consists of three distinct sections: (1) Bonami’s curated international survey of an estimated 130 emerging and established artists; (2) the international exposition of 30 national pavilions; and (3) the scores of satellite exhibitions, both official and unofficial, scattered throughout the city.

The epicentre, though, is the eastern end of the Grand Canal, where Bonami’s survey is laid out across an 14,800 sq.m. area within the 500-year-old shipyards and warehouses of the Arsenale and the beautiful leafy grounds of the Giardini di Castello, where the permanent national pavilions are. The Australian pavilion, designed by Peter Cox and owned and maintained by the Australia Council for the Arts, will be the context for Piccinini’s exhibition.

We Are Family, says Piccinini,“will explore the changing relationship between what is considered natural and what is considered artificial” - which promises to continue her deeply disturbing sculptural simulations of genetically-modified human life.

After a string of important international shows over the past two years, Venice should cement Piccinini’s reputation as the most exciting and challenging Australian artist to emerge in a generation.
The hottest ticket as usual will be the Vernissage - or preview period – the international artworld’s most powerful networking opportunity as 10,000 invited VIPs, museum directors, art dealers, collectors, curators and artists join 10,000 accredited critics and media for three days of serious celebration of art. In 2001 there were no less than 4,766 accredited journalists in attendance, including 63 TV crews. More than 5500 reviews were published worldwide.

While Venice is one of the world’s great destinations, there appear to be no guided tours or travel packages to its Biennale that originate from Australia. The Art Gallery of New South Wales, however, organises a tour of collectors to attend through its Contemporary Collection Benefactors program. The only proviso is you must be a CCB member - not a bad idea anyway, considering its core mission is to raise funds to buy works for the gallery’s permanent collection of contemporary Australian art.

IF you’re planning to visit the Biennale for the opening or its first month and haven’t booked your accommodation yet, then you’re too late – all the best accommodation for this festival is typically booked out six months ahead. This can however be a blessing in disguise as the visitor is forced to stay outside the heavily-touristed city in the Veneto region, where the accommodation is much better value and the distractions from art range from breathtaking Alpine ambience to the historical gravitas of towns like Padova.

First published in Australian Art Collector, Issue 24, April-June 2003

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