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View of “Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses). When La Biennale Meets History,” 2020.

View of “Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses). When La Biennale Meets History,” 2020.


“Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses)”

Venice Biennale
Giardini & Arsenale
August 29–December 8, 2020

If, in our contemporary moment, the word “muse” bears the gendered connotation of a passive source of inspiration for artistic genius, the term reacquires its original identification with active creativity in “Le muse inquiete (The Disquieted Muses). When La Biennale Meets History.” Here, the mythical daughters of Zeus and Mnemosyne become metaphors for the Art, Architecture, Cinema, Theater, Music, and Dance sections of the Venice Biennale, whose history is recounted through more than a thousand objects, obtained principally from the extensive Historical Archives of Contemporary Arts (ASAC).

Since the Biennale’s founding in 1895, the vitality of the various arts has been intertwined with the vicissitudes of international politics, as this exhibition, organized to mark the show’s 125th anniversary, makes plain. Footage of the first meeting between Mussolini and Hitler, which took place at the 1934 Biennale, is on view. So are documents pertaining to the Italian government’s denial of Bertolt Brecht’s visa in 1951; photographs by Ugo Mulas of student protests at the ’68 Biennale; neofascist leaflets given out during the performance of Luigi Nono’s socialist opera Intolleranza 1960 (Intolerance 1960), and records of diatribes levied against Pier Paolo Pasolini’s Teorema by the Catholic Church, which also attacked Jeff Koons’s Made in Heaven, featuring the porn star Cicciolina. Newspaper articles and official correspondence bear witness to the often-turbulent relationships between artists, curators, and Biennale officialdom. See, for example, Biennale Teatro director Carmelo Bene’s experimental 1989 press conference and his resignation letter from the following year, or the ruling of a 1951 lawsuit filed against the Biennale by Giorgio De Chirico, who successfully sued the exhibition for showing a group of his paintings (one of which he deemed “tremendous fake”) without his consent.

The greatest absence in “The Disquieted Muses” might be said to be physical works of art, which are mainly represented via discourse and documentation. Disrobed of their exalted aura, they slip behind the scenes and go back to being daughters of their time.

Translated from Italian by Marguerite Shore.