Venice the Menace

Venice Biennale

The New York Times called it “death in Venice,” Time magazine called it “a shambles.” But the rage that met the 1993 Venice Biennale reflected less on the show itself than on the concerted attack some American critics have mounted recently against a dominant mood of the contemporary. Coming as it does after the assault on the Whitney Biennial, the reception of the Venice show suggests a deeply threatened feeling. The Eurocentric fetishization of certain limited ideas of artistic and cultural quality is becoming endangered, and it was this, above all, that was significant about the ’93 Biennale.

The Venice Biennale was founded in 1895—at the height, in other words, of Europe’s expansionist colonial period. The Berlin conference at which the European powers partitioned Africa among themselves had fallen just a decade before. The Biennale offered a relatively harmless means for different

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