The Disquietes Muses. When La Biennale di Venezia meets history

Is it possible to summarize more than 100 years of history of the Venice Biennale in a single exhibition? This year La Biennale responds to the objective logistical difficulties caused by the Coronavirus pandemic by organizing an exhibition in which it tells about itself through extraordinary works, memories and documents. An exhibition that is also a love letter to the Biennale itself and to Art in general.

The selection and organization of the exhibition

biennale libertà al cile
I murales di Libertà al Cile a Le muse inquiete. La Biennale di fronte alla storia, Padiglione Centrale, Giardini della Biennale, 2020
Foto di Marco Cappelletti
Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

The selection of works and artefacts present in the Central Pavilion and in the Book Pavilion at the Garden of the exhibition “The Disquieted Muses. When La Biennale di Venezia meets history” was curated by all six directors of the Biennale’s artistic sectors – Cecilia Alemani (Visual Arts), Alberto Barbera (Cinema), Marie Chouinard (Dance), Ivan Fedele (Music), Antonio Latella (Theater) and Hashim Sarkis (Architecture) – drawing from the Historical Archives of the Biennale, Istituto Luce-Cinecittà and Rai Teche, but also from several Italian museum and entities such as the National Gallery of Modern Art in Rome, Ugo Mulas Archive, Cameraphoto Venice Art Archive, Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Experimental Center of Cinematography in Rome, and from the archive of the Tate Modern in London.
Among the great amount of testimonies, paintings, rare films, music and drawings, the directors have built a path to make the visitor live those great moments of the Biennale in which art is intertwined with events and world history. A meta-exhibition that is also a turnaround map on changes in art, but above all on how much art has influenced not only the culture but also history of peoples. Here are just some of the most important steps of this intersection between the Venice Biennale and History highlighted by “the disquieted muses”: censorship and propaganda during the Italian fascist twenty years; the visit of Goebbels in 1938; the arrival of Picasso in 1948; the first time of Peggy Guggenheim in Venice with one of her pavilions set up by Carlo Scarpa with Mondrian, Rothko and Pollock; the dispute of 1968 captured by the photos of Ugo Mulas; the 70s between the voices of the Western alternative theater of the Living Theater and the dissent beyond the curtain articulated by the music of Shostakovich and Prokofiev; the post-modern of the 80s and the globalization of the late 90s.

The designer duo Formafantasma – Andrea Trimarchi and Simone Farresin – was called to articulate all this material: they chose to develop the exhibition in six rooms following a chronological trend with the historical installations of the Biennale. At the heart of the two’s thinking, the intention to create a relaxing setting for visitors – with many small works and documents – and totally sustainable – display cases and panels can in fact be easily disassembled and reused for future events.

The six rooms of the exhibition

Years of Fascism 1928-1945
  • General Secretary Antonio Maraini: The Biennale as an autonomous entity.
    International opening (foreign exhibitions, new national pavilions such as the USA) and fascism in the exhibition. Focus on the Futurists 1926-1942. War Biennials (1940-1942) and the use of the national pavilions in those years.
  • “Degenerate” musicians (Krenek, Hindemith, Stravinskij, Bartók) performing in Venice until 1938.
  • 1934 The Merchant of Venice by Max Reinhardt
  • 1934 An Andersen Tale by Jia Ruskaja
The cold war – the new world orders 1948-1964
  • Biennale visual arts 1948 – The Biennale of the reconstruction (Picasso, the New Front of the Arts, Impressionism Exhibition, Peggy Guggenheim)
  • Mostra Impressionismo, Peggy Guggenheim)
  • Mostra del Cinema: the “non-prizes” to Luchino Visconti
  • Russian musicians: Dmitry Shostakovich, The Lady Macbeth of the Mcensk district, and Sergej Prokofev, The angel of fire
  • Bertolt Brecht, Mother Courage and her children, cancelled twice in 1951 and 1961
  • The Wonderful Mandarin (1955) and New York City Ballet (1956)
  • Robert Rauschenberg wins the award in 1964
The 68
  • biennale sala del sessantotto
    Veduta della sala del Sessantotto a Le muse inquiete. La Biennale di fronte alla storia, Padiglione Centrale, Giardini della Biennale, 2020
    Foto di Marco Cappelletti
    Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

    The protest of the students at the opening of the exhibition and the protest of the artists for the militarization of the inauguration

  • The contestation of the festival and the counter-festival in Campo Santa Margherita in 1972
  • Focus on dance and body: Merce Cunningham, Alvin Ailey, Alwin Nikolais
The Biennials by Carlo Ripa di Meana 1974-78
  • The statute changes, the structure changes: an interdisciplinary program spreading across the city. Great experts’ sections: Vittorio Gregotti, Luca Ronconi, Germano Celant, Harald Szeemann.
  • 1974 Freedom for Chile – Libertad para Chile
  • 1975 An International Laboratory: The Living Theater, Grotowsky, Meredith Monk, International Academy of Dance and the International Meetings of Dance
  • 1975 About Molino Stucky
  • 1976 Environment / art by Germano Celant
  • 1977 Cultural dissent in the Soviet Union and in the countries of Eastern Europe.
  • Sofija Gubajdulina
The Postmodern and the first Architecture Biennale
  • Strada Novissima by Paolo Portoghesi at the Arsenale
  • Teatro del Mondo by Aldo Rossi
  • Aperto 80, curated by Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann
1990s and the beginning of globalization
  • 1996 Focus on national pavilions: Hans Haacke, Richard Hamilton, Kabakov
  • 1997 Biennale by Germano Celant with focus on Marina Abramovic
  • 1999 Biennale by Harald Szeemann dAPERTutto and birth of the Dance sector with
    Carolyn Carlson

Cover image:

The Disquieted Muses. When La Biennale di Venezia meets history, view from Central Pavilion and in the Book Pavilion at the Garden of the exhibition, 2020
Picture by Marco Cappelletti
Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia

Target Point, Italian Ideas