What should we expect from the 60th Venice Art Biennale? 

Adriano Pedrosa’s pluralist Biennale encourages the public to reflect on the human condition of the foreigner through the gaze and experiences of the Global South

The 60th Venice Art Biennale Stranieri Ovunque – Foreigners Everywhere is just around the corner. Curated by Adriano Pedrosa – the Artistic Director of the Museu de Arte de São Paulo Assis Chateaubriand -, the exhibition will address extremely pressing issues observed from the south of the world, where the curator was born and currently resides. Pedrosa is in fact the first Latin American curator – more specifically Brazilian – as well as the first who is openly queer. On the occasion of the Press Conference, he declared: «On a personal level I feel very involved in the themes, concepts and motifs of the exhibition. Throughout my life I have lived abroad and have been lucky enough to travel a lot, however I have often experienced the treatment of a third world foreigner, which I am, even though I have never been a refugee and indeed own one of the most prestigious passports in the Global South. I also identify as queer, the first openly queer curator in the history of the Biennale […]. Brazil is also the homeland of many exoduses, a land of foreigners so to speak. In addition to the Portuguese who invaded and colonized it, it is the country that hosts the largest African, Japanese, Lebanese, as well as Italian diasporas».

Foreigners Everywhere, which will see the participation of over 300 artists – plus 90 national pavilions in the Giardini della Biennale – is inspired by a famous series of works by the feminist and conceptual artistic collective Claire Fontaine.  The works consist of a series of neon sculptures in various colours that feature the words “Foreigners Everywhere” in 53 different languages (to date), including some indigenous and extinct idioms).  In a world full of multifaceted crises, language also hides risks and pitfalls by expressing disparities conditioned by identity, citizenship, race, gender, sexuality and wealth. In this panorama, the expression “Foreigners Everywhere” has more than one meaning: «First of all, wherever you go you meet foreigners, then regardless of your position, deep down you are always a sort of foreigner. Then, in Venice, a city whose original population was made up of refugees from Roman urban centers and which was the largest center of international exchange and commerce in the Mediterranean, capital of the Republic of Venice, dominated by Napoleon, then conquered by Austria and which today has only 50,000 residents, but in one day it can reach 165,000 visitors, “Foreigners Everywhere!” almost sounds like a slogan. Finally, it takes on a critical significance in Europe and the Mediterranean, where forced migration reached its peak in 2022 with 108.4 million people according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees», explains Pedrosa.

Adriano Pedrosa, ph. Andrea Avezzù

The protagonists of this edition will be artists who are or have been themselves foreigners, refugees, immigrants, exiles, indigenous people – the so-called foreigners in their own homeland – but also outsiders, queer, “weirdos”, self-taught artists, those who don’t fit the canons or don’t respect the classic ideal of the artist. Pedrosa reminds us in fact that the Italian “straniero”, the Portuguese “estrangeiro”, the French “étranger”, and the Spanish “extranjero”, are all etymologically connected to the “strano”, the “estranho”, the “étranger”, the “extraño”, respectively, which is precisely the stranger. The Nucleo Contemporaneo in the Corderie dell’Arsenale will host a special section dedicated to the Disobedience Archive, a project by the Milanese curator Marco Scotini, who since 2005 has been developing a video archive focused on the relationships between artistic practices and activism. The Disobedience Archive section is divided into two parts, specially conceived for the exhibition, that focus on films and videos that are related to diaspora and gender disobedience and will include works by 39 artists and collectives created between 1975 and 2023.

On the other hand, the Nucleo Storico will be composed of three sections in which 20th century works created by artists from Asia, Africa, Latin America and the Middle East will be exhibited. A sort of curatorial experiment that aims to question the boundaries and definitions of modernism through the languages and artistic practices of the South of the world, intertwined over the centuries with colonialism and local and indigenous references. The first section will be dedicated to portraits with 112 artists from New Zealand, Brazil, Bolivia, Chile, China, Iran, Iraq, Jamaica and many others. The selection demonstrates how the human figure has been explored in different ways by artists from the Global South, triggering a reflection on the crisis of the representation of the human figure that characterized much of the art created in the 20th century in those territories. The room devoted to abstractionism will include works by 37 artists presented together for the first time in the 21st century, including Etel Adnan, Samia Halaby, Fanny Sanin, representatives of the Casablanca School and others. In addition to trying to repay – at least in part – a historical debt the West owes to these artists, this selection will act as a compendium of a certain type of abstraction that distances itself from the European abstract and constructivist geometric tradition, with its orthogonal rigidity and primary color palette, to favor more organic, curvilinear shapes and bright colors. Finally, a room will be dedicated to the Italian artistic diaspora in the world during the 20th century: Italian artists who left Italy and integrated mainly in Africa, Asia, Latin America, but also some artists who moved to Europe and the United States United, who played a significant role in modernist narratives outside of Italy. Lidy Prati, Nenne Sanguineti, Gianni Bertini, just to mention a few.

Foreigners Everywhere (English), 2005 © Studio Claire Fontaine / Courtesy Claire Fontaine and Galerie Neu, Berlin

According to Pedrosa, the two elements that emerged from the research that preceded the exhibition and which act as a leitmotif are the fascination with textiles and the art of weaving, and the blood ties that unite many of the artists on display – especially indigenous ones – and promote the intergenerational transmission of knowledge, techniques and traditions. By favoring artists who have never participated in the Venetian showcase – although some may have previously exhibited in the national pavilions -, the Biennale reconfirms itself as an interesting platform for exchange, debate and critical reflection on contemporary issues, addressed from new points of view. The exhibition will be accompanied by performances and installations that will invade the external spaces of the Arsenale and by a catalogue edited by Pedrosa, a polyphonic publication that sees the contribution of over 100 artists and interviews with international personalities of the caliber of Anna Maria Maiolino, Nil Yalter and Claire Fontaine.

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Agnese Torres
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