On Contemporary Art:
An Interview With Francesco Bonami, Curator Of The 50th Venice Biennale

by Anny Ballardini

Francesco Bonami possesses numerous qualifications and unquestionable success in the field of art: Manilow Senior Curator of the Contemporary Art Museum in Chicago, member of the Advisory Board for the next Carnegie International - 2004; member of the Permanent Board of Manifesta; he was member of the scientific committee in the first Triennial of Yokohama in 2001; and one of the curators of Aperto 93 at the Venice Biennale; has recently been appointed as the curator of the 50th Venice Biennale to be held in 2003.

Founded in 1893 as the Esposizione biennale artistica nazionale (biannual exhibition of Italian art), in 1894 a section was reserved to the show for foreign artists, the Venice Biennale at its 50th Edition in 2003, is the biggest international exhibition (from 1942 to ’48, following the outbreak of hostilities during WW2, the exhibit was suspended). Considered the highest achievement for living contemporary artists, quoting Francesco Bonami - “in the last ten years its importance has declined, and almost 70% whose work was shown in the last decade have disappeared”. It anyhow still represents a most successful aim for all those who are involved in an artistic research.

You started from a strictly artistic education. At the Academy of Florence I specialized in set designing, and I dedicated myself to painting, a self-taught artist as I am a self-taught curator.

In performing your function with the Biennale, that makes you responsible for choices which will influence the artistic market, and will form new trails on which the future history of art will develop. In your opinion, what is contemporary art? It is a continuous laboratory of research. It therefore escapes from final judgment, as opposed to ancient and modern art where a temporal dimension plays, allowing an evaluation. On the contrary, the comparison now is almost frustrating since the spectator is unsatisfied with this continuous experience.

Which criteria do you apply in your search for an artist? I look for those who leave open possibilities, and avoid those artists who - still valid - are defined, concluded, those who let you understand where they have arrived and whose work is predictable. I want to discover if there is a direction which is worth following. It is in this way that I chose the 63 Italian artists at the exhibit in Turin, Italy, for the Sandretto Re Rebaudengo Foundation. Certainly, they do not all have the same weight, but the criteria which guided me in the choice concerned quality of the work of art, a certain capacity that can also rise from failure, the possibility of catching a glimpse of a specific world, be it private or exterior. A work of art is a work of art only if it is itself.

How can you identify this “possibility”? You can perceive it from the openness of the work, from its intrinsic force.

Who is therefore the artist? The one who is a cannibal becomes an artist, the one who eats all the aspects of society, digests them and is able to give them back. The spectator looks at this transformed reality, and even if he cannot understand it thoroughly, he perceives the complexity of society and it seems to him that he is able to touch the world. The work of art becomes a window on the outside.

You are divided between two worlds, the American and the Italian. What is the difference between the art that distinguishes the two nations? The American artist looks at an object and observes it for such a long time that in the moment in which he reproduces it, a new completely transformed interpretation is born, which is not tied to a private identity. The Italian starts from universal conceptions until he reaches the object in question, from a grandiose ambition to the limited. The same happens if we compare the Italian artist to the European one.

Japan, what kind of influence does this nation exercise on the world of art? It gives us a rather important lesson with all its contradictions. >From an obsessive and oppressive tradition it is developing a tangible line of strength with its projection towards an imagined or imaginary future. We are witnessing a total transformation of identity inside a very ancient system. In Italy, from a mono-cultural society we are starting toward a multi-cultural one, and the artists are taking on this monstrous change by embracing it with fear but also with a certain courage. An extremely interesting and very traumatic transformation.

The 2003 Venice Biennale, of which you will be the curator and to which you have given the title: “Dream & Conflicts - the viewer's dictatorship,” is your next commitment, would you like to talk of it? With an exhibit like the Biennale we enter Kairos, the opportunity, opposed to Kronos, the museum institutions, that is the practice of lasting in time. For the first time in history in the choice of a curator, they applied a technical method and they reached me. A surprise for everybody, first for the fact that by following a method a result was given, and then, at a personal level, that they have chosen me who has no method. The Biennale has as a thesis: internationality, its antithesis is given by the national choice, from which there is a synthesis represented by an international artist who encloses a national entity still conserving an open and global vision. It is therefore the same nature of the Biennale to represent a clash, reflected in “Dreams and Conflicts”. The subtitle: “the viewer's dictatorship” is born from the change that works of art have gone through in the last ten years with videos and video-installations, the times of which oscillate from 140’ to 270’. The audience at Dokumenta, for example, commented that it took about 200-250 hours for the videos only, and at least other 100 to peek out to the other works of art. I try to give back to the audience a certain power and freedom, by taking in consideration not people in charge, but the average spectator who approaches art out of curiosity and not only of duty.

This article first appeared in the Italian publication l'Adige and is posted in English with the publisher's permission.

Anny Ballardini, Italo-American journalist, translator and artist, lives in Bolzano, Italy. After her effort of translating into Italian “swimming through water”, collection of 181 poems by George Wallace, soon on the market by La Finestra (introduction by Paolo Ruffilli; David Amram; Marco Albertazzi, editor; comment by Mary de Rachewiltz; note of the translator and interview by Ballardini with Wallace; pages 450), she has undertaken the task of letting the American audience get in contact with the poetry and essays by Arturo Onofri, work she is carrying out with assistance in revision from George Wallace.


Poetrybay seeks fine poetry, reviews, commentary and essays without restriction in form or content, and reserves first electronic copyright to all work published. All rights to published work revert to the author following publication. All Email submissions should be in body of email text.

To submit poems write to:

PO Box 114 
Northport NY 11768
or email us at

send comments to

first electronic copyright 2004 poetrybay. 
all rights revert to authors

website comments to