Welcome Cecilia. Not just a woman at the helm of the Venice Biennale: her appointment is so much more

Laura Valente, president of the Donnaregina Foundation of Naples, comments on the appointment of Cecilia Alemani as director of the Venice Biennale: not just a woman at the helm of the event, but much more.

After nearly a century and a half Venice dares the different thought of the first Italian woman at the helm of the Art Biennale. Of course, even though it is 2020 there are still too many ’firsts’ to celebrate when it comes to weighty appointments, in the cultural and institutional landscape. That is why the choice of Cecilia Alemani carries with it the aftertaste of milestones already achieved and still bumpy paths to goals that demand courage and vision. In the case of this independent and transversal curator, the reading imposes a multiple gaze. That she is a woman does justice to an embargo that is never official but orienting, which at the top of institutions still sees too few representatives (we would like to celebrate the first president of the Council, and maybe even that of the Republic, for example) but it would really be too trivial to derubricate Alemani with the rosette of pink quotas. Indeed. And this is where the other look comes in.

Cecilia Alemani. Ph. Credit Timothy Schenk
Cecilia Alemani. Ph. Credit Timothy Schenk

The newly-elected director’s career moves on an idea of public art geared toward the reclamation of disused urban areas, rethought and re-generated as so many reflections on the cities and societies around them. It is his vision that transformed New York’s old High Line into a place of contamination between works and the surrounding environment in which to explore a concept darte independent, disengaged from the market that, however, has not been denied in two years two billion dollars of investment and over seven million visitors. And also No Soul for Sale, the festival designed for nonprofit spaces and that thanks to collectives of artists from all over the world has become a way to celebrate the new strategies of co-existence and participation implemented by independent realities (London 2010). I am also thinking of the Hopscotch project, the great artistic invasion in the streets of Buenos Aires on the occasion of Art Basel Cities Week (2018), with which it unhinged the classic concept of the fair, right after signing for the 2017 Biennale one of the most cosmopolitan Italian Pavilions of the last editions. On that occasion, too, the importance of the exhibition space was in the foreground: reduced the number of artists, to appreciate the architectural details of that ancient coal warehouse built in the 1800s.

This will be, I think, one of the most interesting features of his direction: the constant dialogue between contemporary art and all that grows and transforms around it. It is the only possible approach for an institution that wants to keep up with modernity. And it is an absolute concept, not necessarily tied to a European, U.S. or Latin American identity, much less to a gender issue. Larte cannot ignore what is around it, Alemani reminds us. It cannot ignore, I would add, the neighborhoods of the center and the suburbs; it cannot ignore the web of social and cultural instances that each territory expresses, in more or less creative forms; it cannot ignore the dialectical but independent relationship with other cultural institutions and with politics. And it cannot fail to dialogue with the new communities that are increasingly animating and transforming our cities, changing the outlook on things and the very language of those who inhabit them. It is from this interweaving, from the reaction between these elements, that a contemporary and current art is born. Welcome Cecilia.

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