With just over five months to go before the next Venice Biennale opens, Chile has announced artist Valeria Montti as its representative at the 2024 edition. But the process that preceded her selection spanned six months and involved multiple resignations, forcing the Chilean Pavilion to dramatically revise its plans.
Along the way, Chile also lost the space from its past editions, a structure near the water in the Arsenale, and was forced to relocate elsewhere.
A public call for proposals for the Chilean Pavilion launched on June 5, but its deadline was delayed to July 28 when its organizers found out the space they had long rented for €150,000 was no longer available. On October 5, the pavilion’s organizers announced that they were selected seven projects for an exhibition that was described as being located on “the first floor of the assigned space,” implying that the show would contain more than one floor.
That same day, the commissioner of the Chilean Pavilion, Florencia Loewenthal, issued a second communiqué stating that the show would still take place in the Arsenale and would have two floors, one of which would be dedicated to an exhibition commemorating the 50th anniversary of the 1973 Chilean coup d’état.
In that missive, Loewenthal said that the Venice Biennale had announced a restoration of areas of the Arsenale in June, forcing Chile to seek a new location. The Biennale di Venezia Press Office disputed this, telling ARTnews that the Chilean Pavilion’s organizers first inquired about the Arsenale space in May, even though plans for the restoration had been known since 2022, and that they had not sent an official request to participate until July.
Given the delays and the change of location, curator Gabriela Rangel and artist Patrick Hamilton, who had been in charge of one of the preselected projects for the pavilion, contacted the organizing committee to find out how to access the new location. Loewenthal told them that the new space was not managed by the Biennale, but by the Italian Navy, and that they were “negotiating the possibility of crossing from the Italian pavilion by boat with the Navy [so that the pavilion would] have two entrances and a greater flow of public.”
Hamilton and Rangel then issued an open letter in which they wrote of “organizational problems, unforeseen changes and a lack of transparency in the selection process of the Chilean Pavilion.” The artists León & Cociña, who were behind another considered project, also pulled out of the pavilion.
Once both resignations became publicly known, Alessandra Burotto, executive secretary of Visual Arts, the entity in charge of organizing the pavilion, issued a letter that sought to clarify matters. The new pavilion, she wrote, was located “in front of the Italian Pavilion,” when in reality it is almost more than a mile away from it, across a canal. She said it was the same space where Lithuania’s pavilion was held in 2019, the year it “had won the Golden Globe [sic].”
But, with controversy mounting in the Chilean art scene, Burotto resigned a week later.
In an interview with ARTnews, Hamilton said that Burotto’s statement was an attempt to “cover up problems with zero self-criticism, a demonstration of a complete lack of professionalism, and absolutely childish.” For Hamilton, the loss of Chile’s space “leaves the country’s visual arts without its single publicly funded international showcase.”
After Burotto’s resignation, Carolina Arredondo, the Chilean culture minister, held a meeting with the artists and curators of the five remaining projects. According to El Mostrador, the people behind four of the five projects requested that the show commemorating the 1973 coup d’état be eliminated, given that they were unaware of it when they applied. Nicolás Grum, another preselected artist, told ARTnews that his project would be “certainly unpresentable” alongside the coup d’état presentation, since he had no knowledge of it.
ARTnews has learned that the coup d’état presentation was ultimately scrapped. But even without it, the pavilion continued to face turbulence. Iván Flores, a jury member, was dismissed without justification. (He declined to comment for this article.) Flores filed a complaint, and an open internal disciplinary investigation is ongoing.
The selection of Valeria Montti’s project, curated by Andrea Pacheco and produced by Carola Chacón, has raised not a few eyebrows in the Chilean art scene, since she only had two solo shows on her career. Also, as certain Chilean publications have pointed out, Montti was born in Stockholm to exiled Chilean parents and is based in the Swedish capital. That means she is the first Chilean artist not born in the country to represent it at the Biennale.
Some have accused her project of conflicts of interest. Chacón works at the Chilean Museum of Contemporary Art, whose director, Daniel Cruz, is part of the Chilean Pavilion jury. Pacheco runs a Madrid residency program where another juror, Amanda de la Garza, was previously a guest curator. Some also noted that Montti was a resident at a space managed by Juan Castillo, another jury member.
The Secretariat of Visual Arts told ARTnews that both Castillo and Cruz disqualified themselves from voting. But de la Garza appears to have continued to remained in the decision-making process. Pacheco said de la Garza’s connection to Montti dates back to 2017 and that “it is quite possible that you will find coincidences, not professional ties, between juries and participants.”
Artists behind projects that were ultimately not chosen for the pavilion expressed dismay over the situation. “It does not seem to me that Chile’s official participation in an event like this should be done quickly,” said artist Nicolás Grum. “I believe that the competition process for the next biennial should be opened and awarded in 2024, so that the winning project has at least 15 months to develop.”