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Vatican to Set Up Contemporary Art Pavilion in Venice

Paolo Baratta and Massimiliano Gioni
Venice Biennale President Paolo Baratta with exhibition curator Massimiliano Gioni on the Grand Canal in Venice. Gioni is curating the 2013 Art Biennale's thematic exhibition, "The Encyclopedic Palace." Photographer: Giorgio Zucchiatti/La Biennale di Venezia via Bloomberg

The Vatican will have its own contemporary-art pavilion at the 2013 Venice Art Biennale, a first in its 84-year history as an independent state, Biennale organizers said at a news briefing in London.

The artist(s) representing the Holy See will be announced in the next few weeks, said Biennale President Paolo Baratta. The Vatican is one of 10 new participant countries (out of a total of 88) in the Biennale, the sprawling international exhibition held in Venice every two years.

Another highlight this year: a global, themed exhibition titled “Encyclopedic Palace” with works by Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman and a show-within-a-show curated by Cindy Sherman.

Baratta was asked for details of the Vatican pavilion.

“The theme should be concerning the First Book of Genesis: from creation to the Tower of Babel,” Baratta told journalists at the Italian Cultural Institute in London yesterday.

“The curator of the pavilion will hold a press conference in the coming weeks,” he said. “The Holy See has been engaged in a few other tasks these days.”

Following the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28, an Argentine-born pontiff, Pope Francis, was elected last week. The Catholic Church has faced reports of pedophilia and mismanagement. Some officials are seeking to project a more modern image and be more attuned to the everyday needs of the faithful.

Baratta said the Vatican pavilion would, by coincidence, be next to Argentina’s: in the Sale d’Armi section of the Arsenale, a complex of former barracks currently being revamped.

Cultural Courage

He said talks with Vatican cultural officials began long ago, and termed their pavilion opening an “act of courage.”

Attending the briefing was British Council Director of Visual Arts Andrea Rose, who chooses the U.K. pavilion artist every two years. She said Vatican cultural officials sought her advice on the Biennale during a visit to London last year.

“They said they wanted to put into public view the fact that there were other things beyond mere country boundaries, political state boundaries, that united people,” Rose said, given the Vatican’s wish to represent “the community of Catholics.”

When officials requested a list of artists, Rose asked if they had to be Catholic, and the answer was “absolutely not.” Nor was there a will to use Church properties in Venice as venues. “They said no, we don’t want to use any of them, because that’s too associated with religion: We want a white cube space.”

“What they primarily wanted to know was how much it costs, and I said, well, quite a lot, actually,” said Rose.

Bloomberg is sponsoring artist Sarah Sze at the 2013 Venice Biennale’s U.S. Pavilion by supporting digital and Web-based interaction with her work, as well as public education projects.

Muse highlights include: Mark Beech on music, Lance Esplund on art exhibitions, James Russell on architecture and Scott Reyburn on the art market.

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