Controversy over the selection of Belgium’s representatives for Venice Bienniale

Wednesday, 22 August 2018 17:18
Controversy over the selection of Belgium’s representatives for Venice Bienniale © Belga
About 20 artists, art gallery proprietors and museum directors, both French-speaking and Flemish, have denounced the choice of the artists to represent Belgium at the Venice Bienniale in 2019.
The protest appeared in an open letter published on Wednesday in La Libre and De Morgen newspapers. The Belgian representation traditionally alternates between the Flemish and the French-speaking Communities.  

In July, the French Community’s Minister of Culture, Alda Greoli, confirmed the selection of two Flemish artists based in Brussels, Jos De Gruyter and Harald Thys, and their project, “Modo Cane” to represent the country next year in Venice.

Without questioning the work of the two artists, the signatories said they could not understand why the minister had decided to award them €450,000 in subsidies from the communiy, a decision which, they feared, would mean that Frenchpseaking artists would be absent from the Biennial for eight years.

"The minister’s choice could even be seen as an admission: that there are no French speaking artists capable of facing up to the challenge of the Venice Bienniale,” they wrote.

“Most countries leave the production of exhibitions in Venice to one of their institutions; Flanders does, too. Only the French Community insists on doing the opposite,” they argued. “Venice should be an opportunity to federate all stakeholders in the Community, not to exclude them as the choice of the minister would make one believe.”

Contesting the decision to organise a public market for an activity that has to do with the arts, they said the minister’s final choice amounted to “discrimination”, a “denial” and even “violence” against the Community's talents, and that it added to the “lack of support for creation and the absence of a real policy on the arts”.

Interviewed on Wednesday by Belga news agency, Minister Greoli said all the benchmarks had been “scrupulously” respected in selecting Belgium’s representative for the Bienniale from among the 13 projects presented. She also recalled that the call for applications was organised under a cooperation agreement between the Flemish Community and the French Community.

“The amount of money involved, the democratic requirement for transparent and equal treatment of candidates made it necessary to establish a public market clearly laying out the criteria for the required projects, the criteria based on which they were assessed, the manner in which the proposals were examined by a jury of independent experts etc.,” the minister countered.

Moreover, the seven-member jury that selected Modo Cane comprised "a majority of Francophones” (5 French-speakers and 2 Dutch-speakers), added Mrs. Greoli, who defended the selection, saying that it was an “artistically relevant project borne by artists living and working on the territory of the French Community."

"All benchmarks were scrupulously followed for all the projects in contention, far from any subjective consideration – other than the appreciation of the artistic quality, of course – and to act otherwise would have been contrary to good governance,” the minister concluded.

Maria Novak
The Brussels Times
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