Blog > Fuck You Venice Biennale!

 

Fuck You Venice Biennale!

I don’t usually give this kind of title to my rare blog entries, but this case is special. The title expresses anger, but it also makes a reference to one work, by a Moldovan artist, which was presented a couple of years ago at the Venice Biennale. This was a play script called “Fuck You Europe!” written by Nicoleta Esinencu. The Venice Biennale liked it back then, because I would guess the play had expressed all the pessimism associated with the idea of a united Europe, and maybe, the Italians’ frustration with their role among their protestant-minded and more prosperous northern neighbors, who tend to set the rule of the game within this new politico-economic formation.

Countries or individuals usually say “fuck you!” when they feel frustrated with powers that are above them, with powers that they cannot control. I read some time ago on one of the social networks about a Russian guy who, having been screwed by his auto insurance company, decided to take revenge by driving around his little town in his car on which he had written in big letters: “FUCK YOU INSURANCE COMPANY [name]!” In writing this short entry I am driven by similar feelings. But let me explain what’s going on.

The young state of Moldova had never had a national pavilion at the prestigious Venice Biennale. The local ministers of culture did not accord this event too much attention, letting it to be run by those who pretended to know more about it. Four years ago – under a communist ministry of culture -- Moldova was represented by a painter whose name nobody had ever heard. Rumor had it that she was from the Moldovan immigrant community in Venice, and that her boyfriend (a rich Italian businessman) had decided to show his girlfriend to his countrymen, setting up a show for her within a so-called “Moldovan pavilion.” This year, the more “progressive” and liberal-minded culture ministry addressed the problem in a more radical way. A few days ago the compact contemporary art community was stirred by the news that Moldova will be presented again at the Venice Biennale. The problem again is that nobody within the art community has ever heard of those whom the Ministry has delegated to carry out this mission. From the media we’ve learned that the team of three are very “talented contemporary artists,” and that at least one of them also happens to be the offspring of a powerful local oligarch. We have also learned that the gifted team was chosen by a Russian curator who was flown from Saint Petersburg in order to exercise free judgment of taste, as if there were no curators of contemporary art in this country to carry out this task. The curator deployed her power of reasoning under the supervision of, or (as rumors go) in some tacit accord with, the Minister of Culture, and the team was chosen!

(Shame on you minister!)

What has angered the local contemporary art community is the fact that everything was done in such secrecy; and that nobody from the local art community was ever asked to give an opinion; and that nobody ever heard about this curator or of those whom she has chosen; and that those whom the Russian curator has chosen are the progeny of oligarchs; and finally that these people’s work looks so “uncontemporary” and so completely irrelevant to what is going on in Moldovan contemporary art and culture that it makes us all blush with red Moldovan shame. Of course, this may not be entirely the mistake of these innocent and talented children. They, like the minister of culture, are subject to forces that are far above them. The situation is ugly because it shows the current cultural “class” war and the relations that persist between contemporary art venues and the hand of the “free” market. This may be the case everywhere of course, but it is in countries like Moldova where the invisible hand of the market becomes visible; it is here that these relations take the clearest and, no doubt, the ugliest form.

The situation, on the whole, greatly resembles the Italian atmosphere; I am referring to the political scandal around Berlusconi’s involvement with teen prostitution. Don’t get me wrong, I do not want to suggest that the young and gifted Moldovan contemporary artists engage in sexual relations with any respected head of state – even though the latter might not be against it. No, the problem and its perversity is caused by the fact that these artists are “minors” with regard to certain cultural practices that have evolved in a country that they are now sent to represent. “They are going to show Italians Moldovan installations!” sounds like they are going to show their underwear to the prime minister. By the way, the Chisinau exhibition of the same group of artists has been “legitimated” by one of Berlusconi’s best buddies’ sons: by Mr. Gaddafi Junior, who attended the opening of the talented young crew.

Of course all this scandal around the “Moldovan Pavilion” is not entirely the fault of the Biennale, but since we are all looking for names to discharge our anger upon you will have to bear with us – Venice Biennale.

 


Gaddafi Jr. at an exhibition opening in Chisinau

 

This is why the local contemporary art community is very upset. There are artists in this country who are growing old, fat and tired, with no teeth or money, but who have exercised, nevertheless, enormous influence on the local art scene. There are curators in this country who have spent years writing interminable grant proposals hoping that some foreign cultural institution will finance at least a part of their research and event production costs so that they might address relevant cultural and political issues. But they have been totally ignored and abandoned by both the non-profit cultural foundations and by the all-for-profit oligarchs and their Ministers of Unculture. These artists and curators do not entertain any hope of seeing, representing their country in, or even of dying in Venice, as even Gustav von Aschenbach was able. The only way for a Moldovan contemporary artist to exhibit in Venice is to be born a son or a daughter of a freshly baked aristocrat, or to get a Romanian passport and go to Italy to wash the dishes, hoping that one day he or she will run into a wealthy art-loving local businessman or a curator from Russia, who just has been commissioned by the prestigious Biennale to represent some of the Russia’s former colonies.

It was Marx I believe who said, “they cannot represent themselves, therefore they must be represented.” This expression of power relations between classes, in which the exploited, the slave, or the colonized do not have a right, or simply cannot represent themselves, and therefore must rely on their masters to tell them who they are, is very suitable to describe the current situation in contemporary global art. Young countries (and Moldova is not the only one within the former eastern bloc) today are in a situation in which they are still represented by former colonial powers, and their venues of international art events turn gradually into platforms for delivering PR and advertising brands for glocal businesses. (This year the so-called “Moldovan pavilion” at the Venice Biennale will present the commercial brand MOE – and I don’t even want to find out what it sells).

Of course the fault is also ours, because we have been swinging for the last decades between communist and liberal oligarchies, between East and West, between Russia and Romania, completely baffled and incapable of making up our minds and of saying exactly what it is that we want. There are serious reasons for this, and we will have to look into them, taking as much time as is needed. But how could you, enlightened and over-confident Venice Biennale, how could you, after more than a hundred years of telling the world what is beautiful, true, and progressive, let yourself be used in such a way; how can we still keep faith in your ideals of progress and democracy when you let yourself be manipulated by provincial nouveaux riches and their daughters, ministers of culture and flying Russian curators?

Or maybe, it was always like this and we (the naïve and backward Moldovans) could just never figure it out. What if it was always a more or less “civilized” form of financial oligarchy that told “the people” what they must regard as beautiful or true? This cannot be true, tell me I am wrong, Venice Biennale!

Octavian Esanu, March/April, 2011

 

 

An update:

Apparently the Moldovan artists are not the only ones to fight the Ministry of Culture over a more democratic presentation of their country in Venice. Here are a few letters from Bulgaria and Georgia that reveal similar problems: the Ministries of Culture basically sell the rights to present art in Venice to local commercial structures. This goes on also within the European Union -- Unbelievable!

 

----- Forwarded Message-----
Date: Apr 8, 2011 at 6:55 PM
Subject: one question


Dear colleagues,

I need your help. Here, in Bulgaria, we (the art professionals) are in a big fight with the Ministry of Culture concerning our participation at the Venice Biennial. After 4 years of silence we noticed at the web-site of the Venice biennial that Bulgaria will participate with three artists. No concourse, no even official announcement. The information was kept secretly hidden to the very last moment. After we wrote an open letter to the Minister, we received a very arrogant explanation that a big company proposed them to sponsor the participation and they let them to chose the artists!

Although we are used to this ignorant attitude (or probably because of that) we are trying now to collect information about the procedures in your countries. What institution is responsible for that, what are the rules and regulations...

I will be very grateful if you provide me with such an information.

All the best,

Maria

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----- Forwarded Message-----
Date: Apr 10, 2011 at 2:24 PM
Subject: one question


Dear Vladimir, i can not read and understand Moldavian :)
can you please write this in english again?


Dear Maria, the situation in Georgia is not much better, there was an official open call for venice biennial from the ministry of culture, BUT suddenly we ware faced the fact, that though this open call, they have already decided to send georgian artist, which is now really in good relation with the ministry, and realizes two big projects in georgia. Everybody from cultural sector, art proffesionals in georgia is commenting on this situation, there are huge debated on Facebook and also live discussions, but they ignore us as well.

so i really understand your position and anger, though do not know how to help you because we are helpless as well.

best
nini

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Keywords: Fuck Venice Biennale; Gadaffi Jr.; Moldovan Contemporary Art; Bulgaria at Venice Biennale; Georgia at Venice Biennale; Berlusconi;