People / Interview

Venice Biennale Director, Massimiliano Gioni

posted 08 Oct 2012

Venice Biennale Director, Massimiliano GioniMassilmiliano Gioni is in Gwangju for the second time, in time for the Biennale opening. Gioni was the director of the 2010 Gwangju Biennale. “10,000 Lives,” and this time, he is in Gwangju as the main judge of the Noon Award. Gioni, along with five other judges, has already selected one mid-career artist and one new artist from among all the artworks being showcased at the 2012 Gwangju Biennale. The days we spent busily curating exhibitions seem like just yesterday. Browsing this year‘s exhibition halls with him and observing the familiar sights and people moving about brwght back some fond memories. Gioni is now actively undertaking new projects and research at the forefront of the world art scene. We asked Gioni some questions about Korean and Asian art, the attitude that artists and curators need to possess, and plans for next year’s Venice Biennale.

Taeyoon Choi / artist
Massimiliano Gioni / Director of the 55th Venice Biennale Massimiliano Gioni studied Art History at the University of Bologna, Italy. From 2000-2002, he was the chief editor of the U.S. division of Flash Art International. Along with Maurizio Cattelan, he founded the Wrong Gallery in New York. He has been the Artistic Director of the Nicola Trussardi Foundation in Milan since 2003. Gioni worked as co-director of Manifesta in 2004, and of the Berlin Biennale in 2006. Later, he worked as the Special Project Director of New Museum in New York, where he is currently the Associate Director. Gioni curated the 2010 Gwangju Biennale, and he has now been appointed as the Director of 2013 Venice Biennale.

'Once More to Gwangju... And Sailing Towards Venice

Ahn Mee-hee (Ahn) : What did you think of this year’s Gwangju Biennale, which was curated by six directors?

Massimiliano Gioni (M) : The Gwangju Biennale Foundation moved boldly away from the single director system in 2010 to a multiple director system in 2012. The change was a fresh surprise to the audience. The last exhibition, titled "10,000 Lives," was an exhibition that strongly showcased the director’s chosen theme; in comparison, I think this year’s exhibition is like a polyphony, showing the different voices and perspectives of the six directors. This year’s Biennale showcased many artists from Asia, including central Asia, which differentiated it from other Biennales. It created a dramatic shift in paradigm, moving the focus away from the existing Western-centric selections and towards Asia.

Ydessa Hendeles_ Partners(The Teddy Bear Project)_ 2010_ Gwangju Biennale
Ydessa Hendeles_ Partners(The Teddy Bear Project)_ 2010_ Gwangju Biennale

Franco Vaccari_ Leave in the Walls a Photographic Trace of Yours Fleeting Visit _ 2010_ Gwangju Biennale
Franco Vaccari_ Leave in the Walls a Photographic Trace of Yours Fleeting Visit _ 2010_ Gwangju Biennale

Michael Joo_ Indivisible_ 2012_ Gwangju Biennale
Michael Joo_ Indivisible_ 2012_ Gwangju Biennale

Suh Do-ho_ In Between Hotel_ 2012_ Gwangju Biennale
Suh Do-ho_ In Between Hotel_ 2012_ Gwangju Biennale

Ahn : What do you think is needed to promote Korean art in the world?

M : Korean artists are active in the world art scene in a variety of ways, and are solidifying their position in the world. The many biennales taking place in Korea is one example of such activities. Commercial art galleries are also quite active worldwide. On the other hand, art museums in Korea are relatively weaker. Even if artists are actively presenting their works through galleries and biennales, without art museum ad a foundation, promoting them continuously will prove difficult. In the case of Korean modern art, it would be beneficial to establish a solid foundation of national and public art museums, which can then effectively and continuously promote art.

Ahn : What are the necessary qualities an artist and curator should have in order to win recognition on the world stage?

M : For the artist, I think it is important to travel around the world and see what’s happening in the world. But if he stops at traveling and collecting information, he will only imitate good works. In order to distinguish himself as an artist on the global stage, he must develop his own regional identity. He must be both global and local, but at the same time, he must add depth to his own efforts, thoughts, and research. Giorgio Morandi, an Italian artist who participated in the Kassel Documenta, became a world famous artist by repeatedly painting the same still objects throughout all of his life. One must endeavor to create art with depth. It goes without saying that if the art is good, it will be recognized around the world. It is absolutely necessary to develop one’s identity and depth. English proficiency is also a basic requirement in being able to express oneself on the world stage.

On the other hand, curators must be always interested in new platforms for new forms of criticism. In modern art, magazines are an important medium. A curator should make an efforts to make his voice heard by experts through various platforms, such as art magazines, web-based magazines, etc.

Ahn : How have you been passing your time since your appointment as the director of 2013 Venice Biennale?

M : I spend most of my time worrying! Due to time constraints, I can’t travel much, so I am concentrating on collecting data for research. I’m also trying to see as many works of art as possible. I already have 1,600 portfolios, and I still have to look through 800 more.

After the Berlin Biennale, I was getting used to having a set space for an exhibition at the New Museum in New York. After Gwangju, I was again appointed as curator, but of the Venice Biennale, and I am now rediscovering this Biennale space. Gwangju Biennale’s exhibition space was 24 meters in width, but the Venice Biennale’s is 18 meters. It’s a long and narrow space, so I’m finding a new challenge in how to use this space effectively and recover the lost 6 meters.

Ahn : Many people are curious about the Venice Biennale next year. Can you tell us a bit about it?

M : I was able to achieve exactly what I wanted at the 2012 Gwangju Biennale through the efforts of many people at the 2012 Gwangju Biennale. I hope Venice will be the same. In my exhibitions, it is important to know who the target audience is right from the planning stage. Berlin and Manifesta were mostly aimed at professionals; at Gwangju, it was the general public. Venice is targeted for both professionals and the public. The overall theme and the selection of works always go hand in hand. Right now, we are selecting the works to be exhibited. We are not perfectly set on the theme yet, but it will probably be related to the exhibitions I have done up now. In particular, I think we will see some links with the Gwangju Biennale. I’m still thinking about the title of the exhibition. 2010 Gwangju Biennale’s theme, "10,000 Lives," dealt with the restraints put on humankind by images, and the image being restrained by humankind. It explored the obsession we have with the image, and blurred the boundaries between art by including not only art pieces but also cultural artifacts and photographs. Next year’s Biennale will probably have a similar direction. We will exhibit not just works created by artists but also works from critics and thinkers, objects that were not intended as art but are recognized as artwork. If the Gwanju Biennale was about the relationship between human beings and images, the Venice Biennale will probably concern itself with finding the link between images and knowledge.

Many curators dream of curating the Venice Biennale. After the interview, I was suddenly curious about Gioni’s next steps. Gioni playfully said that he was able to curate both Gwangju and Venice thanks to Kassel Documenta not appointing him as the director in 2012. After Venice, he said, he will focus again on writing and curating for the New Musum Collection - an understatement and not exactly the answer one was expecting.

This young curator - Gioni has just turned forty - who has conquered Manifesta, Berlin, Gwangju, and now Venice, and is the Associate Director of one of the representative modern art museums in New York, is still wearing a plastic wristwatch of "that brand, that design." Perhaps uncharacteristically, this curator who creates a stir with every exhibition he curates, and shows an acute critical mind, buys the same watch each time runs out of life; it has been over ten years since he started wearing the same watch. The reason, Gioni says, is simply that he is used to it. Global curator Massimiliano Gioni has expanded the horizon of modern art criticism through ceaseless experimentation. Now, all we have to do is wait until next year to see what beautiful exhibition he will introduce to us.

Ahn Mi-hee / Gwangju Biennale Foundation, Policy Planning Department Head

Ahn Mi-hee received her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in studio art from Kyungpook National University in Daegu. After graduation, she went to New York to study contemporary art history at the Pratt Institute and museum studies at the New York University. Working as an independent curator in New York, she organized numerous exhibitions. She then worked as an exhibition adviser for the Queens Museum of Art in 2005 and a director of the Guest of Honor Project at ARCO in Spain in 2007. Since 2005, she has also led the exhibition team at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation and in the overseeing of exhibitions in the Gwangju Biennale with artistic directors Kim Hong-hee (2006), Okwui Enwezor (2008) and Massimiliano Gioni (2010). Ahn now heads the policy planning team at the Gwangju Biennale Foundation. 

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