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LETTERS FROM VENICE

Jan Avgikos

Expectations seemed at an all-time low for the Biennale’s century mark. Commissioner Jean Clair had perfunctorily canceled “Aperto,” the section of the exposition dedicated to new art, and the plans he announced for his major exhibition, “Identity and Alterity: Figures of the Body 1895–1995,” called for a return to the values of classical painting. Buoyed along by a lot of lofty rhetoric about the human condition, his program harked back to a position he had advanced in the 1982 Biennale when he served as curator for one of its two large international shows, “Art as Art.” As a leitmotiv for the 1995 Biennale, a boring rehash of a nonissue—abstraction versus figuration—seemed more regressive than relevant.

Of course the malaise that preceded this Biennale cannot be attributed to Clair’s program alone. Diminished expectations are par for the course for this exhibition, which most agree has

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