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Exhibition building in Venice: mirror of world politics

Photo: Robert Messer / dpa

The Venice Biennale is actually considered a great festival of art.

In peaceful times it was often enough.

A special attraction for many visitors is the competition between nations, even though it no longer seems up to date.

In its own way, this international show – often referred to as the Art Olympics – is always a reflection of world politics, but this year there is a great risk in it.

Almost two months before the start of the 60th edition of the Biennale, an open letter is now circulating, in which around 8,700 signatories have so far called for the exclusion of Israel.

Otherwise the biennale would offer “a platform for a genocidal apartheid state.”

The initiator of the letter is a specially founded group called “Art Not Genocide Alliance”, or Anga for short.

She accuses the management of the biennale of having remained silent about "Israel's atrocities against the Palestinians," even though they spoke out against Russia's invasion of Ukraine two years ago.

"We are horrified by this double standard." South Africa is cited as another example, which was not welcome in Venice during the apartheid years.

About Israel's participation in Venice this year it is said: "Any work that officially represents the State of Israel is a support of its genocidal policies." Among the slogans that appear in the letter is this: "No murder in Venice." Who that Collective Anga founded will not be revealed.

One of the best-known signatories is the US photographer Nan Goldin, who has Jewish roots and has recently regularly taken a position against Israel.

Mostly solidarity exclusively with Palestine

The problem is complex, it is increasingly dominating the cultural world and at the same time it is older than the recent escalation of the Middle East conflict after October 7, 2023. By the Documenta 2022 in Kassel at the latest, the cultural sector had largely revealed itself to be openly critical of Israel and even anti-Semitic.

This attitude is now being demonstrated more and more clearly, most recently at the Berlinale in Berlin.

Most of the time, solidarity is only called for with Palestine, while the Hamas massacre in Israel and the terror of this organization in general are almost always ignored.

When the Art Biennale starts on April 20th, the crises of the time will definitely be reflected in a different way.

Russia, for example, is not taking part for the second time.

And it remains to be seen what art will be on display where Italy's far-right government can exert its influence.

In any case, Prime Minister Meloni appointed a right-wing populist journalist to be the director of this edition - which didn't stop any of the usual participating countries from agreeing anyway.

A total of 90 countries are taking part this year, quite a few of them in the historical arsenal of the lagoon city.

Since its founding in 1895, the main venue for every biennale has been a park on the outskirts of the city; one of the 28 country pavilions there belongs to Israel.

The country is represented by US-born, Tel Aviv-based multimedia artist Ruth Patir.

According to her gallery, it is always important to her to “pursue gender paradigms and explore the aesthetics of power.”

The artist and her curators told the magazine “Artnews” last year with regard to Venice that there must continue to be a “space for art, for freedom of expression and creativity.

This is exactly what gives us hope these days.

It is precisely the humanistic values ​​that we are fighting for, otherwise we could just as easily claim that the extremists have won."

Harassed artist

These statements are now also being criticized by Anga activists.

Patir probably didn't feel pressured just since the letter.

There had been headwinds within the art world for some time, and at the beginning of February the magazine “Artforum” seemed surprised that “Israel will be taking part in the Biennale this year despite the ongoing conflict with Palestine.”

That is “remarkable.”

The common motto of all country contributions and the complementary overview show is “Foreigners Everywhere”.

As always, other exhibitions can be viewed in the area around the festival, which are advertised as accompanying events to the Biennale.

Palestinian artists will also be represented in one – as Anga admitted in a postscript.

At first the opposite impression was created.

For a while, the entire major event was decried as a party mile for art and cocktail-loving billionaires who drove up in their yachts.

The 60th Venice Biennale will certainly go down in history in its own way, and not because of the party or even because of the art on display.

Hopefully not because of riots.

In the very detailed open letter, one term, as is so often the case these days, does not appear: Hamas.