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Graphics in Section 2 of The Art Newspaper showing the statistics for “The Encyclopaedic Palace” by Massimiliano Gioni and other relevant pavilion data. (photo of The Art Newspaper)

A special report in the June 2013 edition of The Art Newspaper delves into the question of diversity, or lack thereof, of artists in the international art olympics that is the 55th Venice Biennale. The data suggests that the main Biennale exhibition may be becoming less diverse though the number of national pavilions are increasing (88 in 2013 vs. 64 in 2003). On the bright side, the regions that are poorly represented in the Biennale’s main exhibition, including Africa, Asia, and Latin America and the Caribbean, are benefiting from a pavilion presence at the event.

Does this data suggest a reaction against diversity? Perhaps, but curator Massimiliano Gioni has already gone on recording about the difficulty of pulling together a show of 155 artists from 38 countries in a 10,000-square meter space (~107,000 sq ft) on a budget of €1.8 million (~$2.4). He also is quoted in a Frieze interview of saying:

There was a period in the early 1990s when the idea of site-specificity was key to biennials. Later, the biennial became a kind of art-world Internet – an energetic festival of things from around the globe — and I felt that model also got a little tired. Even the common conception of a biennial as a showcase of current leading artists is quite a recent development. I think of biennials as the shows that cannot be done anywhere else so, in that sense, integrating more heterogeneous and historical material proves interesting.

In his defense, he offers the following statistics about his The Encyclopaedic Palace exhibition:

The show includes works by artists from 38 countries (compared to 22 countries in 2011 and 30 countries in 2009), with more Asian and South American artists than in 2011, and with artists from Nigeria, the Ivory Coast and Senegal. In terms of gender balance, the total number of women artists is higher than in either 2011 or 2009, and their works are installed in prominent locations.

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Hrag Vartanian

Hrag Vartanian is editor-in-chief and co-founder of Hyperallergic. You can follow him at @hragv.

3 replies on “How Diverse Is the Venice Biennale?”

  1. I’m not sure if “difficulty” in curatorial responsibility is much of a defense for selecting artists to show for a multi-million, globally-conscious clientele.

  2. another case of a yellow-legal-pad show — he wrote down the names of every major artist he liked, and came up with a show concept that incorporated them

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