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World fair of the art nations
The Biennale Project

by Beat Wyss (Switzerland)

*Plan of the national pavilions 1995
First: A historical overlook

The matter is about the history of the Venice Biennale from its beginning until today. Since 1895, normally every two years, the international art exhibition takes place at the Giardini island of the Serenissima, where 28 nations perform their art exhibitions in pavilions, owned and ruled by the participating states. The success during the last decades let to an increasing participation of countries that do not dispose of a particular pavilion, and exhibit their artists in hired rooms within the town.

*Plan of the national pavilions 1934 *Plan of the national pavilions 1942

*Adolf Hitler`s visit of the Venice Biennale 1934 *The British pavilion, seized by the Italian army in 1942
The park of the Giardini is quasi predestined to stage European history, as it had been founded by Napoléon, the emperor in the spirit of French revolution who started to remodel Europe towards its modern shape. Within the stages of cultural settlement by exhibition buildings, their reallocations, their distruction, traces of world history become legible. The Biennale site represents a world en miniature, a political map of alliances, animosities, and idiosyncrasies among states that underwent dramatical developments during the last 114 years.

*The Belgian pavilion, 1907, by Léon Sneyers *the Hungarian pavilion, 1909, by Géza Rintel Mároti *the dutch pavilion, 1912, by Gustav Ferdinand Boberg
The exhibition design does not only record temporary changes of taste, but also breaks in the comprehension of political representation. Though Marco Mulazzani has published in 1996 the building history of the particular pavilions, its changing architectural semantic over the intervening decades has not been analyzed cohesively so far.

Belgium, an average colonial power at that time, was first to erect in 1907 a particular national pavilion; hitherto the last pavilion has been built in 1995 by South Corea, whose people suffered throughout the last century brutal forms of subjection by the regional power Japan, and the new super powers USA and Sovjet Union.

*Sovjet pavilion 1934: interior with the portrait of Trotzky, by G. Annenkow *Lenin in Smolsky, by Isaak Brodsky *Peasant woman, by Wera Muchina
Russia entered in 1914 the stage of the Biennale still under the patronship of the Czar, but after First World War, the Bolsheviki hissed the red flag with hammer and sicle above the national pavilion. The wherabout of the 121 art works, sent in by the Saint Petersburg Academy, is unknown until today.

*The artists of the Yugoslav pavilion, Biennale 1999
Other pavilions disappeared or became relocated after wars and revolutions like the one of Yugoslavia; some of them represent states that were transformed by the post colonial world order like Finland, Japan, Australia, and Egypt; there are some that were built after a new national foundation like the pavilions of Israel and Slovakia. And the globalization of the Biennale principle is steadily going on: Andorra, Gabun, Montenegro, Pakistan, the Monaco principality, South Africa and the United Arab Emirates will participate at the Venice show this summer 2009.

*Thomas Hirschhorn at the Artiglierie, Biennale 1999
The Giardini, this abbreviation of global cultural policy must also be interrogated about its blank spaces. There is not only the question about the some sixty national representations not disposing of a particular pavilion, but also about the non participating countries. Besides of the regions of poverty, there is an obvious underrepresentation of the Islamic world. Since ten years, the Arsenale, seat of the Italian navy, becomes used as exhibition space. Therefore a militarily prohibited aera opens up to become the scene of international contemporary art – indeed a particular manifestation of the pacific way of globalization by the art system.

*The Venice Biennale pavilion, 1895 *Exhibition hall with Giacomo Grosso’s: Supremo convegno
The stages of the Biennale history do not only follow the pace of world history but also the international development of modern art. A first overlook allows the distinction of the following periods:

1. A provincial campain in favour of local tourism: 1895-1907
The Esposizione Internazionale d'Arte della Città di Venezia was launched in the presence of the royal couple of Italy as an event of the Serenissima that, beyond the pitturesque Stones of Venice (to quote John Ruskin) couldn’t offer much of contemporary cultural life to its solvent and spoiled clientele. The Biennale of 1895 closed, by the way, with a considerable profit, donated by the Venice Council to the poor citizens of the commune.

*The Klimt exhibition at the 1910 Biennale
2. Cultural cabinet policy of Old Europe: 1907-1922
During the first Biennale exhibitions, the old European Entente powers indulged in their cultural and colonial sovereignty, in a style between academism, Impressionism, and Art Nouveau, by ignoring, and repelling the avant-gardes. During the 1910 exhibition that showed works by Klimt, Renoir and a retrospective of Courbet, the secretary general Fradeletto ordered the removal of a painting by Pablo Picasso from the Spanish pavilion. The turn of the century novelties were appreciated by the Venetian curators with a considerable delay, when, for instance, in 1920 a group of artists between Post-Impressionism and Die Brücke were exhibited. In that year, Switzerland, too, participated the first time, performing forty artists in the central pavilion: among others Cuno Amiet, Augusto Giacometti, Hermann Haller, Ferdinand Hodler and Albert Welti. So, the Swiss presented themselves according to the average line of a moderate modernity, so programmatic to the Venice Biennale. A show of “Negro sculpture” in 1922 gave way to turmoil.

*Interior of the Aeropittura exhibition, Biennale 1940
3. An affair of avant-garde and fascism, and the totalitarian state’s new media: 1924-1942
The Biennale ows, cynically said, a first shy opening towards contemporarity the mistress of the Duce, Margherita Sarfatti, the so called “vanguard muse of Fascism” (see Karin Wieland: Die Geiebte des Duce, 2004). By her influence, the Venice Biennale gained, since 1926, the function of an artistic figurehead of the regime.

By a royal decree, the control of the Biennale was passed over from the city of Venice to the state whose conductor, in the mean time, had ditched the semiofficial education minister Sarfatti. Instead of fine arts, the mass media of cinema gained the favours of cultural policy. The first Esposizione internazionale d'arte cinematografica took place in 1932; since 1935, the Venice film festivals recur every year. Concerning the Swiss pavilion, one finds a compromise after a long research: a rooflight hall in the newly erected, elongate wing, the Padiglione delle Arti Decorative Veneziane: Cuno Amiet, again, Hermann Haller, once more, represented the national art taste.

*Swiss pavilion, by Bruno Giacometti, 1952 *Swiss pavilion, 1935, Universelle et Internationale de Bruxelles
4. Restitution, Classic modernism in retrospect: 1948-1962
By a six years break, the first Biennale after World War Two took place in 1948. The post war art system went through an era of rehabilitating the great masters of the European avant-gardes in retrospect. In 1952 Switzerland opened up a freestanding, functionalist exhibition pavilion by Bruno Giacometti. His brother Alberto declined the federal invitation to represent his country that year with the mocking question, why the commission did not elect his collegue Hermann Haller, again. Instead of Giacometti, Switzerland revised modernism by artists like Max Gubler, Hans Fischer, and Jakob Probst. What else? In 1956, the Japanese pavilion was opened.

*Ann Hamilton’s installation μυειν at the American pavilion, Biennale 1999
5. Political crisis and change: 1964-1974
In 1964, the Pop artist Robert Rauschenberg won the Golden Lion of Venice, giving way to the American dominance upon the old continent. The protests of the “Achtundsechziger” movement led the Venice Biennale into a crisis. Since its foundation a conventional trade fair, the organizers yielded to the reproach of “market slavery”,

*Biennale 1968, report by Stern
and ceased the selling activities in 1970. In the same year, the first art fair at Basle, the Art Basel took place, founded by the art traders and gallerists Trudl Bruckner, Balz Hilt and Ernst Beyeler. Te director of the Basler Mustermesse, Ernst Barmettler, opened his fair halls to art. It was the Basle response to the Kunstmarkt Köln, opened in 1967, whose leftist tendency was critizised by the Swiss organizers. With the foundation of the art fair, the art system practised an institutional differentiation between exhibiting and selling.
In 1974, in order to protest against the military coup of Augusto Pinochet, the Venice Biennale had been dedicated to Chile, before it got cancelled at all.

The conclusion is sobering: The so called roaring sixties left for a trace only a blank space of iconoclasm in the art system.

*Mimmo Paladino, Italian Pavilion, 1988
6. Approach to the contemporary, and the scroll of the block system: 1976 – 1990
It would be just an other issue to discuss the leftist art policy that was in general far away from contemporary tendencies, as the comrades contented themselves to recur on the debates of the 1930ties, by putting emphasis on socialist realism. Really hip art established itself only since the seventies, where the actual era of art`s globalization arised. In 1978 Jean-Christophe Ammann was appointed the first time to the international committee; in that function, he organized with Achille Bonito Oliva, the theorist of the Italian Transavanguardia, the exhibition Dalla natura all’arte, dall’arte alla natura. The scroll of the Berlin wall seals the dismantlement of the block frontiers in Estern Europe by 1989. A new cultural geography emerged.

*Nelson Leirner at the Brasilian pavilion, Biennale 1999
9. The process of créolisation: 1990-2009
The western art system got rivalled by artists from beyond of the Euro-American aera. A pace making director of a global opening was Harald Szeemann, who created by dAPERtutto in 1999 und Plateau of Humankind  in 2001 two Venice Biennali.

*Wang Xingwei: Poor old Hamilton, 1996
Second: Questions and hypothesis

My method is based on sociology, developped out of Niklas Luhmann`s system theory and Pierre Bourdieu`s field theory. From the Frankfurt Schule, specially the „Aesthetische Theorie“ by Theodor Adorno, I take up the „Warencharakter“ (commodity character) of fine art, that dominant quality within international art exchange.

Against a fuzzy comprehension of „world art“, I propose the hypothesis that the western art system is a historically unique cultural achievement, based on the ideas of European enlightenment: the humanist concept of the self-determined individual; the economical practising of open markets; the civic (sic! not bourgeois) estimation of work; the freedom of public opinion.

*Columbian World Fair Chicago, 1893
The Venice Biennale bases on two traditions: once on the Salon, developed in Paris during the 17th and 18th centuries as a cyclically recurring event, an institution of public disputes about art and critics. The second, more recent tradition stems from the world fairs of the 19th century. The national pavilions on the exhibition sites, housing local trades, handicraft, technology, and artwork became the model for the Giardini exhibition site in Venice.

*Huang Yong Ping at the French pavilion, Biennale 1999
While the mostly ephemeral architectures of the world fairs had been usually dismantled at the end of the shows, the site of the Venice Biennale remained until today as a fossile idea of national competition out of the 19th century.

→2009 at the German Pavilion, Nicolaus Schafhausen performs the British Artist Liam Gillick

*Louisiana Purchase Exhibition, St. Louis, 1904: Cass Gilberts Festival Hall, by E.L. Masqueray,
The great industrial fairs of the penultimate century represent an early form of supranational power structures with imperial claims in politics and economy. The national participants of the Paris Exposition Universelle of 1889 outbid each others not only by the popular performance of accelerated means of transport and technical communication, but also by exhibiting to the masses of visitors, craving for sensation, an exotic human menagerie

*L’ Exposition Universelle de Paris 1900, frontispiece
by the import of subjects out of the colonies, instructed to perform their so called primitive life within artificial habitats. The word fairs show globalisation en miniature whose proceeding creates a paradox: It is exactly the technical progress and the homogenisation that cause the claim for cultural identity. Technological internationalism and cultural regionalism are twins.

The paradox sounds at first sight even more tricky, as both, industrial homogenization and cultural identity, are linked to the idea of competition. Well, the contest among the industrialized nations on technical progress is easily intelligible, as its drive stems from the inherent necessities of political and economical monopolisation. But what is it about a competition on identity? Is identity measurable and evaluable within a competition? “Identität ist die Identität der Identität mit dem Nichtidentischen“, says Georg Friedrich Hegel. The sentence out of the „Science of logic“ may help us to understand the paradox of globalization. As already mentioned, its dialectical process consists in the effect that a consciousness for cultural differences emerges just by industrial homogenization. That way, homogenization corresponds with identification: that levelling by appropriation, that use of force, by which the “non-equal” appears. So, the non-identical is fabricated by the process of identification. Identity is equal to non-identity, as it becomes identic with nothing else than with itself by identification.

*L’ Exposition Universelle de Paris 1900, frontispiece
The process of globalization and the process of identification follow the same dialectic. Let us translate it into political terms and differentiate the two reverse motions: the hegemonic- and the particular Identities. This distinction may help to clarify the concept of cultural identity. The Venice Biennale offers a variety of case studies.

*Exposition Universelle de Paris 1900, entrance to the palace of the humanities, the sciences, and the arts; first row of foreign pavilions along the Seine
There, cultural identity meant initially the right to use the European canon. Claiming for this privilege, the conservative political classes start their Venice Biennale competition. Not every cultural region, state, or social class is entitled to inscribe its own tradition into the ruling canon of old Europe. Hegemonic identity is the branding of the ruling ones which has, however, many aspects regarding the Venice Biennale.

*Ars Libera: Performance at the Biennale opening, 1895
The gentleman rider ambiance of the beginnings indulged in an epigone historicism in order to express social distinction and superiority. The first stage of internationalisation around 1907 continued that conservatism of the participating nations, and their attempt to pocket the art system in terms of governmental patronage.

*Press conference hall at the Biennale 1903 *Torino, Esposizione d’Arte Decorativa Moderna, 1902: dining room, by Joseph Olbrich *Interior of the Hamburg vestibule, by Peter Behrens
Art Nouveau was favoured, as it was conceived according to the supposedly medieval ideal of collective workshops. An architectural parallel to the early Venice Biennale is the Mathildenhöhe Darmstadt. The colony of artists and craftsmen was founded by the initiative of the archduke of Hessen who intended to gain a baronial monopoly upon the fabrication of luxury goods within his principality.

*Exposition Internationale des Arts et des Techniques appliqués à la Vie Moderne, 1937: Soviet Pavilion, by Boris Iofan, sculpture on its top by Mukhina *The New Trocadéro and the exhibition site *The German pavilion, by Albert Speer, sculpture by Arno Breker
By the decline of the monarchy, hegemonic identity had its continuation by the fascist state of Italy. Except in cinema, the exponents of the avant-garde had hardly an influence on the Biennale.

*Exposiciòn General d’España, Barcelona and Sevilla, 1929-1930: *Italian pavilion *German Pavilion, by Mies van der Rohe
By the way, the modernists, too, claimed for “internationalism”, regionalism was proscribed as “reactionary”. The avant-garde acted in a similar hegemonic way, as they considered their aesthetic and political models to be universally valid.

*Marina Abramovic: Balcan Baroque (1997), Biennale 1999
By the stage of decolonisation, a concept of culture emerges: at the same time post colonial, and post modern. The modernist internationalism underwent a criticism that focusses on local particularities and idiosyncrasies, suppressed by hitherto ruling ideologies of modernism. It let politically into conflicts like the Balcan war, artistically, and therefore pacifically, into the creolisation of the nineties (see Documenta 11, by Okwui Enwezor).

*Chen Zhen at the Artiglierie, Biennale 1999
The western Pop culture incorporates the stimulations from countries whose cultural manifestations interested until then only ethnology and anthropology. So, the actual art system is concerned with the phenomenon of particular identities, less competitive about dominance than competitive about specific peculiarity. The particular identity is a primarily aesthetic phenomenon: It appropriates forms of the powerless, the exotic, forms of “Otherness”. Therefore, an old pattern of cultural identity recurs, rooted in a concept of style that stems back to antiquity (for instance in harmonic keys: The Doric, Phrygian, Lydian, Mixolydian, and Locrian modus: terms denoting a local provenience). Since Vasari, style stands for a formal peculiarity of a region: la maniera toscana, fiamingha, tedesca, of interest for both, the art collector and the artist, as a manifestation of cultural distinction.

*George Adéagbo at the Campo dell’ Arsenale, Biennale 1999
It would certainly be naive, to see in this development just a linear cultural progress like it has been considered by Multiculturalism in the early 1990ies. There are some final questions to deal within the scope of the Biennale project:

First: Does the globalized art system create a new „World art“, or does it only globalize the rules of Western models? In other terms: Do the artists just cannibalize the dead inventory of ethnic traditions, or do they produce local emancipation of varieties by cultural mnemotechnics?

*Hung Tung-Lu at the Taiwan pavilion, Biennale 1999
Second: Does the worldwide globalization of art result from a smart marketing of hybrid folklore within the economic circle of fashion and entertainment; or does it contribute to international understanding like soccer? “Second order observation” is an eminent term in this context, applied the way like Luhmann (1995) discusses it in the context of esthetical perception.

*Wang Xingwei: Poor old Hamilton, 1996
Third: Does art become an ambassador of peace between different political traditions and cultural mentalities? Or does it become just a fetish of the globalized capitalism, a symbolic currency, parallel to monetary values whose possession demonstrates social distinction and superiority?

I cannot predict yet how the research will turn out. But I would favour an optimistic assumption: The regionalism, staged by art, might enable us to visualize national, local, and ethnical differences in order to discuss them open-mindedly by esthetical means.

PPT file: PPT for the project with photos
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