TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT September 1995

LETTERS FROM VENICE

Peter Plagens

Everybody I’ve ever talked to about the prizes they hand out at the Venice Biennale agrees on one thing: they ought to quit handing them out. Career awards for artists—$30,000 one-year Guggenheim fellowships, $350,000 five-year MacArthur “genius” grants, or those billion-yen pseudo-Nobels that some Japanese company has concocted to make the already rich and famous richer and more famous—retain some spurious dignity, mostly because they lump artists together with scientists and make rooftop performance pieces seem (momentarily) as socially meritorious as a vaccine for the common cold. But prizes at an art exhibition are inherently tacky, at least to Americans; they always smack of the blue ribbon the principal tacked onto the lower-right corner of your crayon drawing—irrelevant praise from a dubious source. Prizes turn the Venice Biennale into the espresso version of the Dutchess County

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