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From the 1980s to the present, the Italian Pavilion in the Venice Art Biennale has experienced various vicissitudes. In the final phase of the twentieth century, entering the cycle of postmodernity, Italian representation was reduced to a minimum, even suppressed and then reinstated again, to make room for the large transnational exhibitions that have characterized the Biennale from then on. This precariousness is, at least in part, a mirror of the problems Italy has in thinking of itself as a country, compared with other more structured national identities. There is also to be put into account the duty of hospitality that Italy has towards other countries. Managing the Biennale in the best possible way, constantly renewing and updating it, may require some sacrifice, and the organizing country must be the first to shoulder that burden.

What has been said so far certainly explains much but not everything, all the more so since, in 2006, the venue of the Italian Pavilion ceased to be the original one, located in the Giardini, and moved to the Tese delle Vergini, in the Arsenale. A distinguished example of industrial archaeology, with an area of 1,200 square meters plus 900 outside, the Tese give ample guarantees in terms of receptivity and flexibility, even in the case where the artists present are many and very different from each other, and their works are not always small in size. This is precisely what one imagines when one wonders what curatorship is for; to choose artists, certainly, but above all to make them coexist, valuing differences.

And yet, in recent editions, the number of invited artists has dropped to an all-time low. There were three artists in 2017 (Giorgio Andreotta Calò, Roberto Cuoghi, Adelita Husni-Bey, curator Cecilia Alemani), three in 2019 (Enrico David, Chiara Fumai, Liliana Moro, curator Milovan Farronato), one in 2022 (Gian Maria Tosatti, curator Eugenio Viola). And only one will represent Italy in the edition scheduled for this 2024: Massimo Bartolini, curator Luca Cerizza. There is no question here of individual names and choices, but about the relationship between give and take, quality and quantity, space and time. The trend of the Italian Pavilion in recent years suggests a country in which art and artists are close to extinction, as if Covid had wiped them out, and it is no longer worth searching, discovering, questioning. And we know this is not the case.

The individual artist, chosen from a shortlist, is perfectly fine as a foreign country ambassador. If, on the other hand, it is the host country that perseveres on this path, then we are faced with a gimmick that disappoints and, what is worse, gives the art system of that country a faded and insubstantial image. Which is then the preferred image of those who, when dealing with art, do not think or speak but, simply, proclaim.

Homepage: RAI TV interval, 1970s.
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