The theme of the International Art Exhibition in Venice 2019 is (also) political

“May You Live in interesting times”. Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 58th edition of the International Art Exhibition, has drawn inspiration from the ancient Chinese saying for the title of the exhibition.

Ralph Rugoff e Paolo Baratta

16 July in Venice saw the presentation of the theme of the Art Exhibition which will open on 8 May 2019 in the presence of the President of the Biennial Paolo Baratta, and the curator, the New York-born Ralph Rugoff. “Art creates connections between that which is normally not connected, offering new prospectives and new visions. Everything is connected”. These are not only the words of the holistic detective Dirk Gently, a Netflix character created by the English writer Douglas Adams, but they are also those of the curator of the 58th edition of the International Art Exhibition in Venice for 2019, Ralph Rugoff, who in turn has drawn inspiration from Leonardo da Vinci and Vladimir Il’ič Lenin. The theme of this edition of the Exhibition is most certainly political and cultural, and the title is “May you live in interesting times”, an ancient Chinese saying which refers to a period of uncertainty, crisis and disorder. These are times in which the unexpected happens, continues the curator. “The United Kingdom has decided to leave the European Union, the Americans have elected a president that no-one would have imagined being elected, including the man himself. Various parts of Europe are witnessing a return to protofascist governments that has not been seen since 1930, and no-one could have imagined that this could be the future. Everyone thought that it was part of Europe’s past”. The press conference provided no specific details, but the direction that the curator has taken is clear, and his aim is that it plays a social role, touching the soul of the visitor in order to open their mind. “It is not politics in a political sense”, the art of the Biennial exhibition will not be giving space to often fake news from the social networks, “but it will speak up against the polarisation, reduction and the excessive simplification offered by communications from the political parties”.

Paolo Baratta e Ralph Rugoff
Paolo Baratta e Ralph Rugoff

The problem of “these interesting times”, according to the curator, is this: there is no dialogue between oppositions, each remains in their own “bubble of news” that they want to hear. “An exhibition provides the visitor with an entirely unexpected pleasure. Art embraces contradictions. For a neurologist, it is impossible to have two simultaneous thoughts, and this is what the artist asks of us. Art allows us to understand more than one perspective”, “Dialogue is possible with those who think differently”. It promises to be a political and cultural exhibition, in the ancient sense of enlightenment, which seems lost yet essential, the understanding of diversity. Do you remember that phrase printed on Coca Cola cans which was wrongly attributed to Voltaire in a biography dedicated to him, “I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it”? It was not said by Voltaire, but it is reasonable. When contrasting opinions are too distant from each other, when everything is black and white, and there are no grey areas, the risk is for one to lose respect for the opinions of others. There are grey areas, made of unexpected connections, which open one’s mind to that which is different. This appears to be the direction that the curator is taking for 2019. Is there any politician in particular that you would like to see visit the exhibition? “The Italian Prime Minister” is Ralph Rugoff’s diplomatic reply.

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