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Vatican to set up contemporary art pavilion at Venice Biennale
People wave flags during the inauguration mass of Pope Francis at St Peter's square on March 19, 2013 at the Vatican. World leaders flew in for Pope Francis's inauguration mass in St Peter's Square on Tuesday where Latin America's first pontiff will receive the formal symbols of papal power. AFP PHOTO / VINCENZO PINTO.

By: Farah Nayeri

VATICAN CITY (BLOOMBERG).- The Vatican will have its own contemporary-art pavilion at the 2013 Venice Art Biennale, a first in its 84-year history as an independent state, Biennale organizers said at a news briefing in London.

The artist(s) representing the Holy See will be announced in the next few weeks, said Biennale President Paolo Baratta. The Vatican is one of 10 new participant countries (out of a total of 88) in the Biennale, the sprawling international exhibition held in Venice every two years.

Another highlight this year: a global, themed exhibition titled “Encyclopedic Palace” with works by Richard Serra and Bruce Nauman and a show-within-a-show curated by Cindy Sherman.

Baratta was asked for details of the Vatican pavilion.

“The theme should be concerning the First Book of Genesis: from creation to the Tower of Babel,” Baratta told journalists at the Italian Cultural Institute in London yesterday.

“The curator of the pavilion will hold a press conference in the coming weeks,” he said. “The Holy See has been engaged in a few other tasks these days.”

Following the abdication of Pope Benedict XVI on Feb. 28, an Argentine-born pontiff, Pope Francis, was elected last week. The Catholic Church has faced reports of pedophilia and mismanagement. Some officials are seeking to project a more modern image and be more attuned to the everyday needs of the faithful.

Baratta said the Vatican pavilion would, by coincidence, be next to Argentina’s: in the Sale d’Armi section of the Arsenale, a complex of former barracks currently being revamped.

Cultural Courage
He said talks with Vatican cultural officials began long ago, and termed their pavilion opening an “act of courage.”

Attending the briefing was British Council Director of Visual Arts Andrea Rose, who chooses the U.K. pavilion artist every two years. She said Vatican cultural officials sought her advice on the Biennale during a visit to London last year.

“They said they wanted to put into public view the fact that there were other things beyond mere country boundaries, political state boundaries, that united people,” Rose said, given the Vatican’s wish to represent “the community of Catholics.”

When officials requested a list of artists, Rose asked if they had to be Catholic, and the answer was “absolutely not.” Nor was there a will to use Church properties in Venice as venues. “They said no, we don’t want to use any of them, because that’s too associated with religion: We want a white cube space.”

“What they primarily wanted to know was how much it costs, and I said, well, quite a lot, actually,” said Rose.



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