Francesco Bonami Named Curator of 2003 Venice Biennale

Francesco Bonami has been selected to curate the 50th Venice Biennale for 2003. Headed by the newly appointed president, Franco Bernabè, the Biennale’s administrative council met for the first time yesterday in Venice, apparently with a clear sense of what they wanted to do: the decision was taken in only one and a half hours.

The appointment puts an end to growing speculation about the future of the festival, which Italians have dubbed the “Soap-Biennale” in recent months. It comes in the wake of a controversial attempt by Vittorio Sgarbi, Italy’s outspoken undersecretary for culture, to appoint the Australian critic for Time magazine, Robert Hughes, as curator. Despite Hughes’s public refusal of the post earlier this month, Sgarbi and secretary of culture Giuliano Urbani continued to pressure Barnabè to select Hughes as curator as late as this week.

Bernabè, the former director of Telecom Italia appointed by Urbani last December, evidently has not succumbed to political pressure and has sought to protect the Biennale's autonomy. Despite steadily mounting criticism from cultural figures in Italy and abroad, President Silvio Berlusconi's increasingly heavy-handed attempts to control Italy’s cultural institutions has threatened to jeopardize the council's independence. Sgarbi, for his part, has called the decision “intolerable,” and declared “open war” on Bernabè.

The international art world, though, seems to have breathed a sigh of relief. Harald Szeemann, the curator of the 2001 Biennale, immediately endorsed the appointment of Bonami on Kataweb, a popular Italian website devoted to art: “It's a choice that follows the line I have traced in contemporary art,” he was quoted as saying. “It can be seen in his programs at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago and other exhibitions Bonami has worked on.“ Achille Bonito Oliva called Bonami ”a top choice, a sign of experimentation that should be part of the Biennale,“ adding, ”The new council of the Biennale has started off on the right foot."

A native of Florence, Bonami, 47, is currently a senior curator at Chicago’s Museum of Contemporary Art, but he has already signaled that he will accept the position. “I'm happy. It's a job I'll take.” A member of the board for the 2004 Carnegie International and Manifesta, he advised the first Yokohama Triennial in 2001. “Unfinished History” at the Walker Art Center, “Examining Pictures” at the Whitechapel Gallery, and last year’s exhibition "Uniform: Order and Disorder,” at P.S. 1 in New York, are among the many exhibitions Bonami has curated in recent years. He has also published monographs on Maurizio Cattelan and Gabriele Basilico.