Expectations run high with the 2013 Venice Biennale, which will include many “firsts” in the Biennale’s 110-year history. Possibly the strangest revelation yet, is that the Biennale will include a contemporary art pavilion by the Vatican. This will be the Papal State’s first time participating in the world’s most closely watched international art exhibition.
Venice Biennale organizers made the announcement at a London press conference this week, and noted that the pavilion’s curator and artist list will be revealed shortly. The Vatican, while not a country per se, will be held in the same regard as the other countries who curate pavilions at the Venice exhibition every two years. They are but one of nine new entries added to this year’s list of exhibitors: the Bahamas, Côte d’Ivoire, the Kingdom of Bahrain, Kuwait, the Maldives, Nigeria, Paraguay, and the Republic of Kosovo, complete the roster.
While untested, the Church’s inclusion should not come as a complete surprise. In 2008, it began considering participation in the Biennale. At the time, the Vatican’s minister of culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, told Artforum that participating in the 2009 Venice Biennale was a definite possibility. The Cardinal, while admonishing the Church’s “general disinterest in contemporary art”, revealed to Artforum that he is, indeed a fan. His favorite artists include Arnaldo Pomodoro and Jannis Kounellis, and does not “demonize” the art market as he believes Christian art can have an art market, too. Ravasi still serves as the Vatican’s minister of culture.
Although the Vatican’s participation in the 2009 Venice Biennale never came to fruition, its officials have remained in consultation with outside cultural agencies. In 2012, Vatican cultural officials sought advice on the Biennale from British Council Director of Visual Arts Andrea Rose.
In conversation with Bloomberg, Rose reveals that their main questions focused on financial matters, not artistic ones:
“What they primarily wanted to know was how much it costs, and I said, well, quite a lot, actually.”
It has not been revealed just how much hosting a pavilion will cost the Vatican.