Vatican commissions modern art for Venice Biennale
VATICAN CITY — For most people, the relationship between contemporary art and the Vatican — home of some of the world's greatest old masterpieces — is like oil and water — they just don't mix.
The Vatican's “culture minister,” Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, wants to change that perception and so for the first time the Holy See will have its own pavilion this year at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale, a sacred cow of modern art.
But don't expect anything that looks remotely religious or liturgical at the world-class exhibition, which started in 1895 and takes place every two years in the gardens and in a converted industrial area on the Venice lagoon.
“We are not sending any altar pieces,” joked Ravasi, whose formal title is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.
Instead, Ravasi's department and the Vatican Museums have awarded three contemporary art commissions, handing them out with a theme and permission to let the artists' imaginations run free — with no strings, moral or otherwise, attached.
“They were not given specific themes such as Mary or Jesus but asked to reflect on the first 11 chapters of Genesis because they are essentially a portrait of humanity,” Ravasi said in his Vatican office.
Genesis recounts the creation of man and woman, the fall from grace and expulsion from Eden, the killing by Cain of his brother Abel, the Great Flood and the chance for humanity to start anew when the waters receded and the rainbow appeared.
The three commissions were given to Italy's Studio Azzurro cooperative, Australian-born American painter Lawrence Carroll and famed Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, each produced works on the themes of “creation,” “uncreation” and “re-creation.”
“These are sentiments that can be shared not only by believers, Roman Catholics, but by members of other faiths and non-believers,” said Antonio Paolucci, director of the Vatican Museums.
“There is no person who in his or her lifetime has not experienced high times, times of falling, depression, defeat, and times of having to get back up and start hoping again,” he said. “These three elements are universal.”
The works have no outwardly religious content. Indeed, they would look more at home in a white-walled gallery in New York's Soho than even the most modern of Catholic churches.
One of the works inspired by the theme of creation is a multi-media work that shows a tangle of outreached hands on video screens while the viewer hears the sounds of children and animals.
Koudelka's 18 photos, some of them as large as 8.5 feet by 3.3 feet shows the destruction brought about by war and environmental neglect.
Koudelka became famous in photography after taking pictures of the Soviet invasion of then-Czechoslovakia in 1968. The negatives were smuggled out to the West and became symbols of resistance. He later fled to the West and joined Magnum Photos.
One of Carroll's works in the re-creation section is a large panel with electrical wires and light bulb sockets, some of them empty and some with light bulbs in them.
“It's vital that we have a dialogue between people and cultures and religions. I think it's great that the Vatican is doing this,” Carroll said.
Asked how he felt about being put alongside the some of the great artists the Church has commissioned over the centuries, he said “I'm delighted.”
While there are some modern works of religious art in the Vatican Museum, the Vatican is mostly known for its Renaissance masterpieces such as Michelangelo's Sistine Chapel and ancient Egyptian and Roman treasures.
Ravasi said he hoped the Vatican's new initiative would be a “seed” for the Church's future collaboration with contemporary artists, reminiscent of the times when it commissioned works from masters such as Michelangelo, Raphael and Giotto.
Ravasi's department in the Vatican has been holding gatherings called “The Courtyard of the Gentiles” to promote dialogue among believers, non-believers, atheists and secular humanists. He said he sees the Church's reaching out to contemporary artists as an extension of this dialogue.
“Art and faith, art and religion, can be very productive,” he said.
The cost of the Vatican pavilion at the Biennale, which opens on June 1 and lasts six months, is about $973,700 and is entirely covered by Italian corporate sponsors.
Show commenting policy
TribLive commenting policy
You are solely responsible for your comments and by using TribLive.com you agree to our Terms of Service.
We moderate comments. Our goal is to provide substantive commentary for a general readership. By screening submissions, we provide a space where readers can share intelligent and informed commentary that enhances the quality of our news and information.
While most comments will be posted if they are on-topic and not abusive, moderating decisions are subjective. We will make them as carefully and consistently as we can. Because of the volume of reader comments, we cannot review individual moderation decisions with readers.
We value thoughtful comments representing a range of views that make their point quickly and politely. We make an effort to protect discussions from repeated comments either by the same reader or different readers.
We follow the same standards for taste as the daily newspaper. A few things we won't tolerate: personal attacks, obscenity, vulgarity, profanity (including expletives and letters followed by dashes), commercial promotion, impersonations, incoherence, proselytizing and SHOUTING. Don't include URLs to Web sites.
We do not edit comments. They are either approved or deleted. We reserve the right to edit a comment that is quoted or excerpted in an article. In this case, we may fix spelling and punctuation.
We welcome strong opinions and criticism of our work, but we don't want comments to become bogged down with discussions of our policies and we will moderate accordingly.
We appreciate it when readers and people quoted in articles or blog posts point out errors of fact or emphasis and will investigate all assertions. But these suggestions should be sent via e-mail. To avoid distracting other readers, we won't publish comments that suggest a correction. Instead, corrections will be made in a blog post or in an article.
- Red Army’s light show signals fear Hong Kong may lose its open society
- Shelling adds to mounting civilian toll in Ukraine
- PLO offers truce as at least 100 killed in Gaza
- Ebola claims hero doctor in Sierra Leone
- Libya torn by worst fighting since 2011 revolution
- Karzai’s kin killed in suicide bombing
- Reports include ‘aliens’ as origin of Russian holes
- Real-life ‘Ratatouille’ invade garden of Louvre
- Gaza’s only power plant taken out; utility official says attack ‘catastrophic’ for 1.8 million
- ‘Clear-cut’ path made to jetliner