As Juliana Engberg puts it in Kerry Gardner’s book, Australia at the Venice Biennale: ’To participate in the Venice Biennale is to have the opportunity to enter into a milieu of experimentation, contest of ideas, dialogue of forms and discovery of shared and divergent aesthetics – each pursuing a way to express the sentiments, contexts and issues of our time.’
The Venice Biennale, which gathers international stars and curatorial masterminds, not only provides a platform for critical expression and discussion, it is also a career accolade increasingly connected with profile and commercial representation.
In 2017 ArtsHub looked at past selections for the Australia Pavilion, identifying that the majority of artists are dominated with representation by two prominent Australian commercial galleries: Roslyn Oxley9 Gallery in Sydney and Anna Schwartz Gallery in Melbourne.
A few months later that year, the Australia Council announced a new open call format that was introduced for the 2019 iteration, advocated by La Biennale di Venezia as a way to uphold the non-commercial nature of the event.
The change also led to the replacement of the independent Commissioner for the Australia Pavilion, previously filled by an art philanthropists, to an independent selection panel chaired by artist and 2007 Australian representative at the Venice Biennale, Callum Morton.
However up until now, the open call has done little to tip the scales in terms of dominant representation, with both 2019’s Angelica Mestiti and this year’s Marco Fusinato hailing from the stable of Anna Schwartz Gallery.
Read: Set to repel audiences, Australia goes bold for Venice
And just how well is our national pavilion reflected in terms of diversity and inclusiveness?
How Venice Biennale is shifting the scales on gender
The 2019 Countess report shows that artists selected are overwhelmingly male – more than doubling the number of female artists, 25 to 12 (now 26 counting Fusinato) – and seven Indigenous artists have presented at the Australia Pavilion in Venice since 1954.
Encouragingly, women make up 60% of Australia Pavilion’s artist presentation in the last two decades with 90% of the curators being women. Taking note, this categorisation refers to sex and gender interchangeably, and doesn’t take into consideration folks who are non-binary, queer, trans etc.
But after a long few years of incubation and rethinking the role that art and artists play post-lockdowns, can we expect new and surprising voices to rise to the top of the pile, moving forward?
Within a broader context of the Venice Biennale, artists and curators presented at national pavilions are also vying for the top prize, the Golden Lion for Best National Pavilion.
Simone Leigh at the United States of America Pavilion, 59th Venice Biennale 2022. Photo: ArtsHub.
This year it was awarded to artist Sonia Boyce and curator Emma Ridgway at the Great Britain Pavilion, an audio spectacular centring the sing-song voices of Black women.
Meanwhile, Simone Leigh made history as the first Black woman to exhibit in the United State’s national pavilion, while also taking out the Golden Lion for her contribution the main curated exhibition The Milk of Dreams with her evocative and goddess-like clay sculptures.
With a global awakening against systematic racism and cries for decolonisation practices, it’s clear that the Venice Biennale values presentations which have social, cultural and political relevance, as well as bring to light national movements grounded in sophisticated artistic practices.
Thus while the 59th Venice Biennale is currently underway, the next big question is: who will be handed the baton to represent art from Australia and take the global stage in 2024?
Open call for the Australia Pavilion
The Australia Council recently opened Stage One proposals to all Australian artists (citizen or permanent resident) to present their work at the Australia Pavilion in 2024.
2024 iteration holds special significance, not only marking the Venice Biennale’s 60th edition (that’s over 127 years) but also 70 years of Australia’s representation at the international art event.
Artistic teams can comprise of multiple artists and curators or a single artist and curator, and will be judged by an independent panel of industry advisors who will be announced later in the year alongside the successful Stage Two proposals (ie. the shortlist).
Australia Council Chair Robert Morgan said: ‘The Venice Biennale is a crucial platform for Australian artists to present ambitious and ground-breaking contemporary art that represents the richness and diversity of Australia’s cultural expression.’
On the Australia Council’s website, it states the Council is looking for artistic concepts that are:
- creatively ambitious
- engaged with contemporary visual art discourse and global conversations
- responsive to the architecture of the Australia Pavilion, and
- considerate of the audiences who visit the Venice Biennale
Although the selection criteria does not mention level of establishment or profile, past stats show that institutional engagement and top commercial representation will have great weight in the selection.
The Australia Pavilion designed by Melbourne based architecture studio Denton Corker Marshall first opened as a permanent venue in 2015, and have since hosted both Australia’s participation in the Venice Biennale of Art and the Venice Biennale of Architecture.
Situated in the Biennale Gardens of the Giardini among 29 national pavilions, the architects described the venue as ’a white box within a black box,’ featuring ramp access to an open-plan gallery and a total of 240 square metres exhibition space.
Successful artist/s representing Australia will receive an $100,000 fellowship to develop and create their work, and the curator/s will receive an $50,000 fellowship to provide curatorial direction and work with the Australia Council as producer of the show.
The successful artistic team will be announced in early 2023.
Stage One EOIs close 3pm AEDT 11 October 2022. For the full guidelines and to apply visit the Australia Council website.
An information session will be held at 12.30pm AEDT on 26 September; to register.
In addition, sector development programs will be available for arts practitioners to learn from these major international events.
For the 59th Venice Biennale, two strands were offered: a hybrid online and in-person iteration of the Biennale Delegates Program and the Pavilion Invigilation Program (for Australian arts and cultural workers based in the EU and the UK).
2024 Venice sector opportunities are yet to be announced.
Past exhibitors at the Australia Pavilion in Venice
- 1988 Arthur Boyd (Curator: Graxia Gunn)
- 1990 Trevor Nickolls and Rover Thomas
- 1993 Jenny Watson (Curator: Judy Annear)
- 1995 Bill Henson (Curator: Isobel Crombie)
- 1997 Judy Watson, Yvonne Koolmatrie and Emily Kngwarreye (Curators: Hetti Perkins, Brenda L Croft and Victoria Lynn)
- 1999 Howard Arkley (Curator: Timothy Morrell)
- 2001 Lyndal Jones (Curator: John Barret-Lennard)
- 2003 Patricia Piccinini (Curator: Linda Michael)
- 2005 Ricky Swallow (Curator: Charlotte Day)
- 2007 Callum Morton, Susan Norrie and Daniel von Sturmer
- 2009 Shaun Gladwell, Vernon Ah Kee, Ken Yonetani, Claire Healy and Sean Cordeiro (Curator: Felicity Fenner)
- 2011 Hany Armanious (Curator: Anne Ellegood)
- 2013 Simryn Gill (Curator: Catherine de Zegher)
- 2015 Fiona Margaret Hall (Curator: Linda Michael)
- 2017 Tracey Moffatt (Curator: Natalie King)
Selected via open call
- 2019 Angelica Mesiti (Curator: Juliana Engberg)
- 2022 Marco Fusinato (Curator: Alexie Glass-Kantor)