International News Digest

VATICAN AT THE NEXT BIENNALE?

Could the Vatican get its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2009? If Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s new minister of culture, has his way, we may be seeing more than a new national pavilion for the sovereign state at the Bienniale’s next iteration. In an interview, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s Ute Diehl spoke with Ravasi, who regrets the Roman Catholic Church’s general disinterest in contemporary art. “The discussion with contemporary art has not even begun,” Ravasi told the paper. “I dream that the Holy City will find a place in Venice where it can begin a dialogue with contemporary art in front of an international public.”

Ravasi knows there are certain risks that come with a national pavilion—and the possibility that artists critical of the church, such as Maurizio Cattelan, might exhibit contentious works. “I realize what I’m getting into,” Ravasi told the paper. “One can imagine that at the same time that we are exhibiting, someplace nearby there will be a Madonna crying sperm, as there was recently in Bologna. Or a Last Supper scene with masturbating youths, as can be seen now in Vienna—by the way, a work that was drawn by a high-quality artist, Alfred Hrdlicka. There’s something for everyone today.”

Where would the Vatican have its pavilion? It seems that proposals and offers abound. According to Ravasi, the president of the Biennale, Paolo Baratta, is “very interested” in the Vatican’s participation, especially given that it would bring the event even greater international visibility. There is a potential site available in the Arsenale. But the Vatican has been approached by the architectural faculty of the University of Venice, which has proposed a series of sites on its campus, spread throughout the city. The patriarch of Venice is also intrigued and has proposed a series of churches where the Vatican might exhibit. Last but not least, the Fondazione Cini on the Maggiore Island has invited the Vatican. Ravasi himself prefers one of the many guild buildings. “They are richly decorated with frescoes,” says Ravasi. “Here would be the best possible place for the confrontation between cultural heritage and contemporary production that I prefer.”

What artist could represent the Vatican, since no one is born there? Ravasi has no concrete project, but he does not want the Vatican’s exhibition to be understood as an “anti-Biennale.” “I will maybe propose a theme and invite international artists to work with it. The theme could be a biblical text or a symbol, like ‘water’ or a general spiritual theme. Of course, there has to be a relation to Christianity.” While choosing the theme, Ravasi has no interest in running the competition, due to the rising conflicts of interest between cardinals and politicians. “Since I’ve had this Biennale idea,” confides Ravasi, “I’ve been flooded with requests. The artists are pushing—and always the worst sort: feeling and emotion aesthetics. I’ve even received some little sculptural models!”

Ravasi—whose favorite artists are Arnaldo Pomodoro and Jannis Kounellis—doesn’t “demonize” the art market and believes there will be one for Christian art. There are plans for an art prize at Venice, as well as for collaborations with contemporary artists in the Vatican Museums following the model of the Louvre. The Vatican’s Venice prize—like the existing Golden Lion—would be decided by “a commission of international art critics” with Ravasi. “The church wants to be recognized aesthetically outside its walls. The Vatican exhibition could have a model character for the Catholic world.”

TENSIONS RISE IN SOUTH TYROL

The controversy around Martin Kippenberger’s sculpture of a crucified frog at Bolzano’s Museion continues unabated. As Der Standard reports, Franz Pahl—an elected government representative for the South Tyrol regional government—is continuing a hunger strike to protest the work’s continued exhibition at the museum’s new facilities, which opened last May and which are a site for Manifesta 7. According to the newspaper, Pahl promises to end his strike only when the sculpture is removed.

The region’s head, Luis Durnwalder, insists that the controversy is being “misused” for political ends. Moreover, Durnwalder said that a hunger strike is “no solution,” although he believed that it is time to respond to the public’s protests against the Kippenberger. Durnwalder hopes to find “a useful solution” with the Museion, although Museion director Letizia Ragaglia has remained firm in her decision that the work will not be removed.

FRENCH ARTISTS CALL ALARM FOR PALAIS DE TOKYO

A group of French artists—including Annette Messager and Claude Lévêque—want the French government to make a firm decision regarding a planned addition to the premises of the Palais de Tokyo: a new extension of the Pompidou called the Centre Pompidou–Alma. As the Agence France-Presse reports, the new space for contemporary art—due to open 2010 in the unused spaces of the Palais de Tokyo, where the existing Site de Création Contemporaine opened in 2001—has not come closer to fruition. “Months have passed, and the minister of culture hasn’t taken any decision,” the artist Jean-Michel Othoniel told the AFP. “It’s a great project, yet nothing is happening, and this total silence is not reassuring.”

The project was officially launched in April 2007 by the previous minister of culture, Renaud Donnedieu de Vabres. The extension—which will cost an estimated sixty-three million dollars—will highlight the work of French artists and artists living in France. While it seems that preliminary studies are complete, no architectural competition has been announced to revamp the space. In an open letter to the newspaper Libération, a group of thirty artists—Jean-Michel Alberola, Christian Boltanski, Matali Crasset, Bertrand Lavier, Yan Pei-Ming, Alain Sechas, Xavier Veilhan, and Jacques Villéglé, among others—expressed their fear that the project will be delayed or compromised. Within the ministry of culture, the delegate for the arts, Olivier Kaeppelin, confirmed that the project is being examined—“like all major projects today”—within the context of an official policy for the “general revision of public policies.” In other words, financial means must be found before the expansion proceeds.

DOCUMENTA 12 CHEF GETS COOKED BY CRITICS

Ferran Adrià, the three-star chef of the restaurant El Bulli who participated in Documenta 12, is getting his own share of the negative criticism that plagued the one-hundred-day exhibition. As the BBC’s Steve Kingstone reports, a rival Catalan chef, Santi Santamaria, has published a new book, The Kitchen Laid Bare, which attacks Adrià for using synthetic additives—“gels, preservatives, and thickening agents”—instead of organic ingredients from Catalan producers. For Santamaria, such additives are akin to “an athlete who dopes.”

According to Kingstone, Santamaria equally deplores the overall transformation of the culinary arts into “a media spectacle.” The criticism seems to be part of a backlash against Adrià’s global success. “All of the new chefs want to be Ferran Adrià—he’s become a kind of god,” Ricard Martin, the food critic for Time Out Barcelona, told the BBC. “Two years ago, I was at the Pompidou Center in Paris, and they had a huge wall displaying the creative processes of El Bulli. It was faintly ridiculous, but there’s no doubt he’s a big international star.”

As for the star, Adrià is sticking to his methods and his international reputation. “In the past, there was no real dialogue between cookery and other disciplines—like art, design, science, and ecology,” Adrià told the BBC. “So what I’ve done is initiate that dialogue. But no one should ever dispute that I’m a chef.”

Jennifer Allen