Can the Venice Biennale with an exhibition tell the story of the world through the exhibition of your personal history? The answer is yes. And this is the case of "The Disquieted Muses: when La Biennale di Venezia meets history", the exhibition with which the Venetian cultural foundation celebrates its 125th birthday.

A journey through history with which the Biennale celebrates itself through the narration of how its six disciplines, art - architecture - cinema - theater - dance - music, all declinations of the broader and universal concept of art, have woven a strong bond with the events of the history of the world of the twentieth century, becoming not silent witnesses of events that have marked epochs, dialoguing for the first time between them and giving an important demonstration of how the arts "continue even in moments of greatest adversity". [cit. Cecilia Alemani, curator of the exhibition].

An exhibition that was born in a highly unstable historical moment for the whole world, characterized in the last period by a pandemic that has forced the postponement of the International Architecture and Art Exhibitions, which, thanks to a look at the past, wants to be "an indispensable engine of investigation into the present and the future, and a strategic tool for development, including economic development for contemporary society", as stated Roberto Cicutto, newly elected President of the Venice Biennale.

But let's look back for a moment also ....

The history of the Venice Biennale, 125 years long

It is 1985 when the "First International Art Exhibition of the city of Venice", the "great mother" of all the Biennials, which from that moment on will go through the entire twentieth century until today, becoming the beating heart for the promotion of new artistic trends, organizing events with an international scope according to the unique winning multidisciplinary model, giving voice to important and radical transformations in art and architecture, cinema and theater, dance and music. Fixed presence in the lagoon and world scenario, it has known only 3 stop moments in its history: during the two world conflicts and this year when the pandemic from Covid 19 forced the postponement of the Architecture Exhibition to the coming year. 

A long love story between La Biennale and Venice, born almost by chance, when in 1983 the city administration decided to celebrate with an exhibition the silver wedding of King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Savoy. Fundamental in this process of genesis and planning were the ideas of the then mayor Riccardo Selvatico who proposed to transform the stimulating meetings of the artists at the Caffè Florian into a prestigious and international exhibition. However, it took 2 years for the exhibition to see the light, during which the Palazzo delle Esposizioni at the Giardini Pubblici di Castello, today's Central Pavilion, was built and became the heart of the first and subsequent exhibitions. So on April 22nd 1895, in the presence of the sovereigns and a very enthusiastic population, the "First International Art Exhibition of the city of Venice" was inaugurated. From that moment on it was organized every two years, and for this reason the name of the exhibition changed to La Biennale, which became synonymous with a great international event, regardless of the timing of the organization. A key figure in the development of the subsequent exhibitions on Antonio Fradeletto, the general secretary who managed to grow the foundation exponentially: it was he, inspired by the Paris Expo at the beginning of the twentieth century, who proposed the creation of a permanent exhibition space for each country participating in the exhibition. This is how the International Participations Pavilions were born, which slowly sprang up around the Central Pavilion and saw at work great names in the architecture of the time, such as Carlo Scarpa (Venezuela Pavilion), Alvar Aalto (Finland Pavilion), Sverre Fehn (Nordic Countries Pavilion), Josef Hoffmann (Austria Pavilion), James Stirling (Book Pavilion), Bruno Giacometti (Switzerland Pavilion), Gerrit Rietveld (Holland Pavilion), B.B.P.R. (Canadian Pavilion): it is thanks to these architectures different from each other, which are art themselves, perfectly integrated in the greenery and in the very difficult lagoon context, that a sort of open-air exhibition is created where architecture before being container is contained itself, capable of making the Biennale Gardens an extremely interesting and stimulating place, regardless of the exhibitions.   

In 1930 art was flanked by music, with the birth of the first International Music Festival - La Biennale di Venezia, which has always played a primary role in the contemporary and international music scene.

Only two years later, thanks to the far-sighted idea of the then president of the Biennale, Count Giuseppe Volpi della Misurata, the First International Film Festival of Venice was inaugurated, the first exhibition of cinema in the world! The edition took place entirely on the glamorous terrace of the Hotel Excelsior on the Lido where, at 9.15 p.m. on August 6, 1932, the first film was shown: Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, by director Rouben Mamoulian. Since then, the exhibition has received unanimous acclaim from critics and audiences, which increased its prestige, to the point that since 1935 its organization became annual, and in that year was established the actors' performance award, called the Coppa Volpi in tribute to the Count, while it will be necessary to wait until 1949 for the first and coveted Golden Lion for Best Film.

Since then, the Venice Film Festival has become an unmissable event for filmmakers and enthusiasts, opening the new film season and presenting premieres of works of world prestige that very often become the history of world cinema, and bringing filmmakers and actors of international standing to the red carpet of the Lido, adding to the wonder of the fifth art the charm of glamour and elegance that has always distinguished Venice

In 1934, the first International Festival of the Theatre - La Biennale di Venezia was held, while it was a long time before architecture became part of the disciplines of the Venetian foundation, precisely in 1980 when the architect Paolo Portoghesi was entrusted with the direction of the first International Architecture Exhibition of the Venice Biennale. The exhibition, which bore the title of "The Presence of the Past", was conceived "with architecture and not on architecture", as its curator declared and saw the participation of archistars of the caliber of Frank O. Gehry, Arata Isozaki, Rem Koolhaas, Christian de Portzamparc: not bad for an exhibition in experimental form! The heart of this first Architecture Biennale was the exhibition Strada Novissima that Portoghesi wanted to set up at the Corderie del'Arsenale: it was the first time that the spaces of the ancient squero della Serenissima were used as a museum, but since then they became the second exhibition venue of all the Biennials that followed. This exhibition opened a lively debate on the role of architecture as a social function, making it one of the most prestigious exhibitions in the sector, able to open the way to new trends and with courage to overturn languages often anchored to an obsolete cultural heritage that is not adapted to the times we live in, to shift the axis of priorities in terms of construction, to deal with hot and delicate issues such as eco-sustainability and the revaluation of the peripheries and the most difficult areas of the planet.

The declination of the universal term of art was completed in 1999 with the birth of the International Festival of Contemporary Dance - La Biennale di Venezia.

In all these years, La Biennale di Venezia has passed through various legal forms: it was founded as an Autonomous State Body, later to become a Cultural Society, and since 2004 it has been a Cultural Foundation, based in the splendid Palazzo del Canal Grande Cà Giustinian, over the film producer Roberto Cicutto, who succeeded the economist and manager Paolo Baratta in February of this year.

It is the strong avant-garde ability to look into new trends in art, whatever its form, to act as a beacon in the world of the arts, to propose new perspectives and angles for works and authors of all ages and genres, which have made the Biennale one of the most important and influential exhibitions in the world. In this 125 year long history there has not been an artist, master, historian, theorist who has not expressed his voice at exhibitions, creating the pluralism of voices that has always been a characteristic element of the Venice Biennale.

Happy Birthday! Long live La Biennale di Venezia!

The Disquieted Muses: when La Biennale di Venezia meets history. The exibition

The exhibition The Disquieted Muses: when La Biennale di Venezia meets history will be inaugurated at the Central Pavilion of the Biennale Gardens on August 29, 2020. A choral exhibition that has seen the collaboration, for the very first time, of all the curators of the six disciplines that constitute the main areas of research and that make the events of the Biennale incredibly extraordinary: Cecilia Alemani - art, Hashim Sarkis - architecture, Alberto Barbera - cinema, Antonio Latella - theater, Marie Chouinard - dance, Ivan Fedel - music.

It is at the intersection of these declensions of the most universal concept of art that the name is inspired: muses, like the divinities of the religion of Ancient Greece who symbolized the supreme ideal of Art that invested the fundamental role of the representation of the eternal magnificence of the divine on earth. The adjective disquieted is inspired instead by Giorgio de Chirico's famous work The Disquieting Muses, exhibited for the first time at the Biennale in 1948: in the painting the artist places immovable, inanimate and disturbing female figures that allude to the muses of classical mythology, in a large square that resembles a stage, with scenic scenes represented by architecture of yesterday and today. An unequivocal bridge between past and present, in which the arts not only "go on stage" but constitute a link between yesterday and today: they come from the past to inspire and dialogue with the present, they look to the past to build the world of today.

And this is precisely the meaning of the exhibition, which with anthological character tells the moments in the past of the Biennale that have strongly intertwined the history of the world, showing how art is far from being ephemeral, but rather the scene of important political and cultural changes, which have marked entire eras. Through the interweaving of the six disciplines, the exhibition recounts the moments that marked the twentieth century and of which the arts of the Biennale itself have been witnesses, becoming, often against their will, the strategic theater of diplomatic operations and political alliances, protests and generational clashes and upheavals of custom and culture.

How can we forget the editions of the 1930s, characterized by the intrusions and pressure of the Italian and German governments during the Fascist and Nazi periods, which in the 1938 Festival wanted to win the films Olympia by Leni Riefenstahl and Luciano Serra pilot by Goffredo Alessandrini, of clear political propaganda. These were the years that saw the firm opposition of the French Minister Jean Zay, who deserted the exhibition since then, creating a new festival, the Cannes Film Festival. In the Sixties and Seventies La Biennale witnessed "a wave of social and political upheavals that redesigned the relations between mass and individual and the dynamics of power between East, West and the global South": in 1977 one of the most controversial exhibitions, which went down in history as "The Biennial of Dissent", under the direction of Carlo Ripa di Meana who entitled the exhibition "The new Soviet art: an unofficial perspective", entirely dedicated to the political and cultural conflict that was affecting Eastern Europe at that time. Hard and bitter were the criticisms, both from the Italian government, led by Bettino Craxi, and from the Russian ambassador who, with an official note, asked for the cancellation of the exhibition. The Eighties and Nineties, characterized by the fall of the Berlin Wall and the great blocs of the Cold War and the advent of globalization, led the Biennale to adopt new languages, cornerstones of "an expansion of global borders, opening to new geopolitical influences", up to a complete "metamorphosis of taste and common sense of decency, between scandals, censorship and new cartographies of desire" up to new creative idioms.

A museum itinerary that succeeds in making dialogue and subject to a lively comparison of events and episodes of recent history thanks to careful research work for which the six directors have drawn from the Biennale Archives (ASAC) historical documents, rare films and unpublished works.

The sections of the Exhibition and its directors

Six art disciplines of the Biennale, six directors and six sections of this incredible exhibition.

Each section is dedicated to a particular historical moment, each one analyzed by a specific discipline and curated by the respective director. 

 "Years of Fascism 1928-1945" with Albero Barbera, director of the Mostra del cinema, for whom cinema is "the mirror of the twentieth century, the most reliable witness of the last century, the imperturbable eye capable of recording the festive, tragic, daily or epochal events, fixing them forever on the photosensitive emulsion". Barbera's analysis dwells precisely on the interactions that politics and the historical scenario of those years had on the Exhibition, becoming more and more invasive and pressing, as in 1938 at the hands of the Italian fascist and German Nazi governments, which stifled the freedom of choice and judgment of that edition.

• The Cold War - the new world orders 1948-1964" recounted by the director of the Music Biennale, Ivan Fedele, for whom "the worlds of creativity give us back the shared experiences of the whole of humanity, the conciliatory ones like the conflictual ones, filtered by the urgent uniqueness of artists who believe in the prophetic role of their thinking and acting. Crossed destinies, new routes to trace". These were the years of Renato Guttuso and Peggy Guggenheim, who was invited in 1948 to exhibit her personal collection at the Biennale and then moved to her house-museum on the Grand Canal. But above all, these were the years in which the artists' works served to filter the political ideas at the basis of the clash between the West and the Soviet regime, which took the contrast between abstractionism and figurative art as a pretext.

• "Il 68" is curated by Marie Chouinard, director of the Biennale Danza, who manages to tell us how 68, the year of the great protests that saw the students in particular, was a real watershed for the twentieth century, giving life to the performance as an artistic exhibition that was intertwined with the great social upheavals. The choice to include dance among the disciplines that characterize this exhibition may undoubtedly seem singular, since it became part of the family of the Biennale only in 1999 at the behest of the then President Paolo Baratta. Before that time dance performances were always and only related to the Biennial of music or theater. And the director Chouinard puts just the accent on this aspect of dance flexibility, able to adapt and communicate with apparently different languages.

• "Le Biennali di Carlo Ripa di Meana 1974-1978" by Antonio Latella, director of the Biennale Teatro who speaks of his work for the exhibition "Investigating the history of the twentieth century of the Biennale Teatro, we discover frequent moments of rupture, where the stakes are the very concept of spectacle or representation; the chronicle takes over, the facts censor or obfuscate the artistic sublimation. From Max Reinhardt to Carmelo Bene, from Brecht to the experience at the Ronconi Biennale, since its inauguration the Biennale Teatro has recounted attempts to escape, exile, utopias of unhinging conventions, clashing with government vetoes, protests, misunderstandings. A narration from the past that should, perhaps, interrogate what we think of ourselves today". These are the years of Carlo Ripa di Meana, of the Biennale of dissent, of the theatre director Luca Ronconi who wanted to eliminate the separation between stage and hall, between actor and spectator who will become an active subject in the representation, and these are the years of the question "Is the Biennale an anti-fascist manifestation?

• "Postmodernism and the first Architecture Biennale" curated by Hashim Sarkis, director of the Architecture Biennale, who describes his choices for the exhibition as follows: "Architecture at the Biennale may not have officially begun in 1980, but from the beginning it has been present as a container for the arts and as the expressive surface of its pavilions. Through their physical presence, the pavilions competed as representatives of empires and nations, with styles and scales that characterized the Gardens for decades before the arrival of architecture as a protagonist. Ironically, architecture acquired its ability to disturb the muse when it lost its true location and supports and "descended" to be with the other arts, becoming a content and not just a container. The Biennale has forced architecture to play, to experiment, to be simultaneously structure, content, representation and experience, opening a whole range of possibilities for the sector. The Biennale has given life to architecture by distorting it". Historically, these are the years of the Teatro del Mondo by Aldo Rossi and Paolo Portoghese, who opened the Corderie dell'Arsenale at the Biennale with his Strada Novissima,

• "The 90s and the beginning of Globalization" curated by Cecilia Alemani, director of the Art Biennale, tells the story of the Biennale that opens to new cultures influenced by great epochal changes, such as the end of the Cold War and the fall of the Berlin Wall, as expressed by the director for whom the exhibition "conceived in a moment of emergency like the present one - which looks at the history of the Biennale to understand how during the 20th century history and the many cultural and social transformations have affected the Venetian institution and how the Biennale has been able to welcome and amplify the signals of the present even in its most dramatic moments".

After the two world wars that forced all the events of the foundation to a forced stop, in 1920 and 1948, like a phoenix La Biennale rose from the ashes of a dark period and stood as a beacon of restart and rebirth, of hope and trust. In this 2020 where the pandemic has made us all vulnerable, uniting us all in a common struggle, the absence of the Architecture Exhibition has discovered us even more fragile, confronting us with changes that we will not forget. But this absence gives us the true meaning of the exhibition: once again La Biennale is intertwined with an epochal historical event, and even in the difficulties there is art, it is present. Today is making the history of tomorrow! And these Disquieted Muses must be a springboard for our departure, so that we can get up stronger than before.

On the other hand, it's only goodbye...

Useful info for your visit

The Disquieted Muses. when La Biennale di Venezia meets history

Central Pavilion, Giardini della Biennale

29 August > 8 December 2020 in the following hours:

  • Summer period (29 August > 5 October): open 11 am to 7 pm
  • Winter period (6 October > 8 December): open 10 am to 6 pm

Closed on Mondays, except 31 August, 7 September, 2 November, 7 December.

It is obligatory to book online (link below), where you will have to choose the day and time for your visit. It will not be allowed to enter at a different time from the one chosen at the time of booking. Entrance will be allowed every 30 minutes or so, for a maximum capacity of 200 people.

WARNING: in line with the hygienic-sanitary protocols foreseen for cultural activities, it is recommended to show up wearing masks. During the visit it is mandatory to wear the mask at all times and correctly and to maintain a safe distance of at least one meter from other visitors inside the Central Pavilion.