Venice Curator Luca Berta Explains Latest Biennale Private Venue Restrictions – Interview

Venice art factory

In light of the changes introduced by Venice town council, it is becoming increasingly difficult for private exhibition spaces to be used for the many shows that pop up during the Venice Biennales.  Luca Berta, PhD, curator, writer and co-Director of Venice Art Factory, discusses these developments with Artlyst. 

AL: Can you give some background information about what you do at the Venice Art Factory?

LB: At Veniceartfactory, we take care of all the steps of exhibition productions in Venice. From finding the venue that perfectly matches with the exhibition project to the moment when shippers have picked up the last crate, and the venue is cleaned up at the end of the show. The project management also includes drafting the budget and the production diagram, selecting and coordinating all the different suppliers, advising on compliance with local rules, assisting with PRs and communication. In specific cases, we are also involved in the curation. We work with galleries, museums, foundations, institutions and artists from all over the world, coming to Venice to exhibit at the Biennale with national pavilions and official collateral events, but also as fringe projects.

AL: We’ve heard that there is a bit of an upheaval with Venice Town Council and the use of private rented spaces in Venice during the Biennales. Could you explain the changes that have taken place?

LB: The recent deliberation (dating back to October 2020) was issued by a manager of the Municipality of Venice, following a clarification request that a citizen presumably filed. It imposes two restrictions that were not in place before: temporary exhibitions hosted in buildings that are not permanent exhibition spaces can only last up to 180 days. Also, between the end of a temporary exhibition and the following one, a mandatory interval of 12 months must elapse.

It is important to note that these restrictions do not apply in two cases: if the space is registered as a permanent exhibition venue (the fact that the space is private or public is not relevant in this respect); and if the organiser of the exhibition is a non-profit cultural organisation belonging to the Italian register.

Now, we know that generally, the Biennale lasts more than 180 days (the 2022 Art Biennale will run from April 23 to November 27). All the official Biennale projects are not subject to those restrictions, the Biennale being an Italian cultural non-profit organisation. But any exhibition projects out of the official programme of the Biennale will have to face this new obstacle. And, as you might know, when you apply to take part in the official programme of the Biennale, you only receive the response a few months before the opening, when all the contracts for the venues and the suppliers are already signed. This means it will be important to always have a plan B.

On the other hand, this deliberation makes things difficult for the owners of the spaces. Sometimes it is just impossible, for architectural reasons or for the astronomical costs, to turn them into permanent exhibition venues. But the resources that the owners get from the exhibition projects help them cover the high maintenance expenditures of historical buildings in Venice. If they can only host exhibitions every two years, how will they generate an income in the meantime? Will they turn their spaces into more AIRBNBs? Or worse, just let them deteriorate?

Fortunately, I believe there are some solutions.

Venice Art Factory Project At 2019 Venice Biennale
ACP – Palazzo Franchetti Project at 2019 Venice Biennale, on which VeniceArtFactory collaborated Photo © Sara Faith Artlyst 2019

AL: Why do you think the Town Council is making it so difficult for independent artists and projects?

LB: From what I understand, there was not a specific political will behind the deliberation. It came from an internal check of the administration machine. Actually, the limit of 180 days for temporary projects refers to a national law. The 12-month interval between two projects is less clear in its origin and could be something that the Town Council might be able to amend. However, the outcome of this, as you say, will have an impact mostly on independent projects and artists. Before it was possible for a young artist, for instance, to find a private space available for a short period at a reasonable cost, and thus be able to show his/her work during the Biennale, meet fellow artists, curators, collectors, and to compare his/her project with the best in the world. But now landlords might refuse to rent out their spaces for a small project if, afterwards, they have to wait a whole year to host a new one. Preserving the accessibility of Venice to independent projects with smaller budgets is crucial to maintain its function as a place for research and discovery. As I said, I believe this is possible through a collaborative action. Partnering with Italian cultural foundations and non-profit organisations is feasible not only for international big players but also for independent artists. Italy has plenty of cultural associations made by creative and open-minded members. It is just a matter of connecting the right people and making an effort toward a collaborative approach.

AL: Do you think this is all about money?

LB: Actually, I believe that in the short term, these restrictions might lead to a loss of money also for the Municipality of Venice. If there are fewer projects, there will be less income to the landlords and fewer taxes to be paid. And in the end, this will bring no further benefit to the big players, who will just do their business as usual.

AL: How do you think this will affect the thriving International Emerging Art scene in Venice?

LB: All the mid/large exhibition projects will have little impact from this deliberation. For the emerging artists and initiatives, it is important to take action and establish cultural relationships with their Italian equivalents so that a collaborative project can bypass the restrictions. This could eventually lead to expanding collaborations even out of Venice.

AL: Will next year’s postponed Art Biennale be a very different experience as a consequence?

LB: I think visitors coming to the 2022 Biennale will see no difference in this respect. There will be some more paperwork to do, but this will happen behind the scenes. Of course, it will (hopefully) be the first post-pandemic Biennale, and it will be interesting to see how artists have responded to the changes in the working and exhibiting conditions they all faced. I expect it to be an edition focussed more on the artworks and less on the art system. Still, there will be a lot of will to gather together, meet people, make new encounters, which is exactly what the urban structure of Venice is made for.

AL: What future do you see for the Venice Art Factory considering the current changes?

LB: We will have to work harder to make connections, creating collaborations, and convincing landlords that using their spaces for cultural projects is still the best option. But fortunately, Venice is such a unique place that, no matter what flooding, pandemic or bureaucratic deliberation, art will always flow back into its streets and canals. Arts and culture must be at the forefront of the rebirth of the city. It is the only way to reshape the tourism flow and raise awareness about the incredible characteristics of this place – an old city that perhaps looks like what the cities of the future will be like.

AL: What projects are you currently working on?

LB: We are now working on some Collateral Events of the Architecture Biennale and on exhibition projects with Fondation Valmont and ACP – Palazzo Franchetti, which all open on May 22. And we are also launching the third edition of the Venice Design Biennial (May 20 – June 27), which we founded in 2016. This year’s theme is Design As Self-Portrait. We will have Italian and international designers on display in some breath-taking venues across the city, including a show of Venetian designers at the Archeological Museum in San Marco Square, with contemporary design pieces in between ancient sculptures; an installation at Oratorio dei Crociferi, the late Renaissance masterpiece of Jacopo Palma il Giovane; and a performance by the British fashion designer Jo Cope on the terrace of Fondaco dei Tedeschi.

About the Founders of Veniceartfactory 

Luca Berta, PhD, is a curator, writer and philosopher, author of scientific papers on international journals and several books about art, aesthetics and the philosophy of mind, among which “Dai Neuroni alle Parole” [“From Neurons to Words. How language has reshaped the sensory experience”], Mimesis, Milan 2010; and “In Bed with Mona Lisa. Contemporary Art for Commuters and Curious Minds”, Studio LT2-Central Books, London 2014 (written with Carlo Vanoni). He has taught Phenomenology of Contemporary Art at the IUSVE University in Venice.

Francesca Giubilei is an independent curator and conceiver of cultural initiatives. From 2008 to 2013 she was responsible for the development of cultural projects and exhibitions related to the promotion of contemporary art in glass. She currently directs SPARC* – Spazio Arte Contemporanea, a project space dedicated to experimentation and hybridisation of the arts in Venice.

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Words © Artlyst 2021 – Top photo: courtesy of Veniceartfactory


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