This is not the first time the Holy See participates in an international art exhibition, but it is the first time it joins the community of 88 nations that bring their finest artists to the Venice Biennale.
The Vatican pavilion is named “In the Beginning”, and its is centered on the biblical text of Genesis. In the presentation of the exhibition, the Pontifical Council of Culture expressed: “Genesis is not only fundamental to the culture and tradition of the Church, but it has also inspired an endless stream of works that mark the history of art.”
The first eleven chapters of the first book of the Bible are the inspiration for the display. It begins with the creation and the emergence of knowledge, evil and hope, and extends through the devastation represented by the flood. These ideas are showcased on three thematic cores: “Creation”, “Uncreation” (rather “destruction”) and the New Humanity or the “Re-creation”
To expose the contemporary interpretation of the Bible through art, the Vatican invited photographer Josef Koudelka, painter Lawrence Carroll and Studio Azzurro. “It is not liturgical art, although I do not exclude that one day it may be, but we have not asked the artists to display crucifixes or virgins”, explained Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture.
The Holy See chose Studio Azzurro for the first thematic intervention, “Creation”. The Milanese artists presented an interactive audiovisual installation, in which man is placed at the center, (formally and conceptually), stimulating the viewer with movement.
“Uncreation” deals with the paroxysms of original sin and “man’s decision to oppose God’s will through ethical and material destruction”. Czech photographer Josef Koudelka shows stark black and white photos of a vulnerable, helpless Chaos (the tile of one of his series). His images are visually striking and emotionally charged. He chose 18 of his famous panoramic photographs to show the desolation caused on Earth by humanity.
The narrative for the last section, “Recreation” begins after the great flood. It introduces the possibility of salvation and renewal, represented by the presence of Noah, Abraham and his descendants. The Austrian-born American artist, Lawrence Carroll was commissioned to create the installation Another Life, where he makes use of waste and recycled materials.
The three cores of the exhibition are relevant on their own merits, and may be appreciated independently.
Lawrence Carroll has perhaps the most appealing display of the pavilion. It consists of five panels: a floor and four walls decorated with oil paintings, wax and other materials. His technique of freezing painting speaks clearly of ephemera, and brings us back to existentialist thought. The works will have to be frozen and defrosted periodically, which will cause it to look different every minute. It is an extraordinary visual experience.
Cardinal Ravasi discussed the importance of the Vatican’s presence in the Biennale in the following terms: “contemporary art is of great interest to the Pontifical Council for Culture because it constitutes one of the most significant expressions of the culture of these decades”. He and, Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums and Commissioner of the Vatican Pavilion, were in charge of communicating to the press the details of the Holy See’s participation in the Venice Biennale 2013.
The Pontifical Council for Culture has announced that the cost of the pavilion was 750,000 euros, and that the funds were raised entirely by private sponsors and donors, especially for this project.
The 2013 Venice Biennial will be opened to the public until November 24th. The title chosen for this edition was “The Encyclopedic Palace”. The event features works by more than 150 artists from 88 countries, 10 of them will participate for the first time. ■