The pre-History of a Pavilion:
Venezia, Catalunya. 2009

The Institut Ramon Llull's mission is to promote Catalan language and culture internationally, in all of its variations and methods of expression.

Josep Bargalló

Josep Bargalló

Early in 2007, the Creation Area of the Institut Ramon Llull considered the possibility of having a presence of its own at the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition 2009. The Biennale is without a doubt the major international contemporary art show. It deserves this title because of its historical, hundred-year-old track record, but also because, in spite of the appearance of other exhibitions with the same aim, it is still today one of the most important centres of attention for critics –especially in Europe and North America-, the focus of attraction for a host of visitors during the months, from June to November every two years, while the exhibition is on.

It is true that over the past decades a large number of Catalan artists –and also critics and curators- have taken part on various occasions in some of the Biennale’s pavilions, mostly in the Spanish Pavilion, but also, and very significantly, in those of other States and in the “International Exhibition”. Well-established artists and emerging artists with a sure future. However the aim of the Ramon Llull Institute was not, and is not, only to present Catalan artists –from Catalonia this year, and from Catalonia and the Balearic Islands in future years- although it is this too, but essentially to open a permanent observatory on the state of the visual arts in our country, to introduce innovative ideas, not to present the artists in isolation, but to show, at the same time, the context of their creation.

Following a number of preliminary approaches, during the various events at the beginning of June to mark the opening of the Biennale in 2007 the Creation Area of the Institut Ramon Llull unofficially put forward the idea of Catalonia’s taking part with its own pavilion, which those in charge of organising the exhibition confirmed was possible. In fact, the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition consists of three sections: the so-called National Pavilions, comprising the states having permanent pavilions in the giardini and the states presenting their shows in various spaces in the historical centre of Venice; the International Exhibition, formed by a selection of works by artists of different origins and nationalities chosen by the curator (artistic director) appointed each time by the Biennale, which is staged in two spaces: the arsenale and the Italia Pavilion; and the Eventi collateralli, made up of exhibitions organised by non-profit international institutions of acknowledged prestige in the sphere of art and culture which are situated, like many other pavilions, in various spaces in Venice’s historic centre, among which, in recent years, pavilions of territories with their own identity, such as Scotland, Wales, Northern Ireland and Taiwan, organised by public institutions of these countries, have made their appearance.

In order to participate in the Eventi collateralli, the candidate institutions must submit a project which the organisers of the Biennale may include in the official programme or decide not to include. Following up the steps already taken, the Director of the Institut Ramon Llull suggested to the mayor of Venice, Massimo Cacciari, the possibility of the Catalan pavilion’s being located in one of the rooms in the Palazzo Fortuny, which belongs to the city council and with whose director conversations had already been held. On 18 August the mayor gave us his official reply: “Sarei davvero felice che alla prossima Biennale potesse esservi un padiglione catalano. Appoggerò senz’altro la sua richiesta presso la Direzione dei Musei Civici per l’uso di Palazzo Fortuny”. Use of the Palazzo Fortuny –of interest in its own right, certainly, but also for its significance in terms of the historical relationship, as far as art is concerned, between Catalonia and Venice- soon had to be ruled out. There was no clear start date, still less a completion date, for the extremely complex restoration work that needed to be carried out on it, and the Director of the Musei Civici, the municipal museums, was unable to give us an assurance that the rooms we needed would be useable by June 2009.

On 12 December, still back in 2007, the Director of the Institut Ramon Llull had a meeting in the town hall with the mayor of Venice at which he was offered one of the Magazzini del Sale as Catalonia’s pavilion at the Biennale. This space is famous for the Aperto’80 exhibition organised by the curators Achille Bonito Oliva and Harald Szeemann, which marked a watershed in the Biennale’s history. In addition to this, its location is unbeatable. It is behind the Fondazione Peggy Guggenheim and a few yards from the new site of the well-known François Pinault collection which is due to be inaugurated at the same time as the opening of the Biennale in June 2009, in a building by the Japanese architect Tadao Ando. The Magazzini, which are owned by the city council, also house the city’s archives and are home to various cultural, civic and sports organisations, as well as the famous racing yacht Il moro di Venezia. The Dorsoduro, where it is situated, is an emerging area which the city council wants to promote as an artistic hub by locating some of the classrooms of the Accademia di Belle Arti there. The magazzino eventually chosen was number 3, which the council has placed under the management of the Accademia veneziana.

On 15 February 2008, at the central event of the Congress of the Associazione Italiana di Studi Catalani, which brings together university lecturers, philologists and literary critics, held at the Università Ca’ Foscari in Venice, mayor Cacciari, who was in the chair beside the director of the Institut Ramon Llull, publicly reiterated his support for the presence of a Catalan pavilion at the Biennale and his satisfaction at its being located in a council facility. In his speech he also highlighted the historical links between our country and his city.

Parallel to these developments, the Institut Ramon Llull, in line with the recommendations in the Document of Good Practice in Museums and Art Centres, appointed a committee of outside international experts to draft the guidelines for Catalonia’s participation at the Biennale and decide, through an international public competition, the project that would shape the Catalan pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition 2009.

This committee, which also acted as the jury of the international competition, was formed by: Manuel Borja-Vilell, director of the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía (who acted as chairperson); Ignasi Aballí, guest artist at the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition in 2007; Daniela Ferretti, head curator of the Palazzo Fortuny (Venice); Marta Gili, director of the Jeu de Paume (Paris); Chus Martínez, currently chief curator of the MACBA (Barcelona), but at that time director of the Frankfurter Kuntseverein (Frankfurt); and Vicent Todolí, director of the Tate Modern (London). In other words, the people in charge of some of the most highly acclaimed contemporary art museums in Europe, as well as a representative of Venice’s Musei Civici and the Catalan artist chosen by the Biennale to take part in it the last time it was held. Prestigious names with a clear international outlook to decide on the path to be taken by our pavilion.

The Institut Ramon Llull took in hand the organisational, logistical and budgetary aspects, while leaving the definition of the project and its contents to the specialists. The jury’s international prestige ensured fulfilment of one of our wishes: under no circumstances to present a local or conservative project, but to become one of the benchmarks at the Biennale as far as showing the lines along which contemporary art is working.

The meeting to constitute the jury was held on 16 May 2008 in Barcelona and work began on drawing up the brief for the submission of projects and the conceptual framework within which the candidates to become curator of our pavilion would have to draft their proposals. On 15 July the bases for hiring the curator to prepare the proposal were made public. The deadline for presenting projects was set at 2 September. The conceptual framework outlined by the jury consisted in using contemporary art to explore the new forms of relationship questioning the concept of identity in contemporary communities.

Presentació del projecte Venecia Catalunya 2009

Josep-Lluís Carod-Rovira, Josep Bargalló, el comissari Valentín Roma, els artistes i el director de l'Institut Italià de Cultura, Fortunato Ceraso. - Nicola Mesken

By the time the deadline expired on 2 September, the Institut Ramon Llull had received proposals from 32 professionals, some of them jointly. In total 18 projects entered the selection process, most of them from Catalonia, but also from elsewhere in Europe –Italy, Finland and Switzerland- and from America –Mexico and the United States. On 12 September the jury concluded the first stage of the process and asked the authors of the three short-listed projects to work them out in greater detail for the jury to assess.

In keeping with the planned timeline, the authors of the three short-listed projects were interviewed by the jury in Barcelona on 26 September and its unanimous verdict was made public on 1 October. The winning entry was by the curator Valentín Roma, who had presented a project entitled La Comunitat Inconfessable (The Unavowable Community). Roma’s project includes the Arxiu post-capital (Post-capital Archive), a multimedia project of nearly 250,000 documents devised by Daniel G. Andújar/Technologies To The People; Archivo F.X. (The F.X. Archive), a collection of photographic and cinematographic images on the subject of anticlerical iconoclasm assembled by Pedro G. Romero, and a selection of work by Sitesize, a platform set up by Elvira Pujol and Joan Vila-Puig that explores the sphere of social analysis in the Barcelona metropolitan area.

The jury explained its choice of this project “for its conceptual affinity with the philosophy expressed in the brief, the viability of its process of production and because it feels that production of the project offers theoretical and critical content that gives meaning to contemporary artistic practices in Catalonia”.

Despite being presented as a whole, the project has three lines of action: an exhibition, a publication and a website. Valentín Roma, who teaches at schools of artistic creation (Elisava, Mecad and Esdi) and has an extensive track record as a curator, has worked in domestic and international institutions, and has published numerous texts in catalogues and specialist magazines. His choice as curator of the Catalonia Pavilion at the Biennale di Venezia 2009 is no doubt recognition of this record, but, in essence, offers the possibility of presenting there a process of reflection, the inclusion of theoretical approaches –philosophical, political, sociological, etc.- in creative practice. In other words, that wish of ours to formulate new trends, to put forward the Catalan pavilion as a space of debate.

On 3 November, as specified in the competition brief, Valentín Roma presented the Institut Ramon Llull with the executive proposal for his project, which was part of the official application to participate in the Biennale di Venezia, and according to the regulations had to be submitted by the beginning of December. Bringing the whole process to a close, on 18 December 2008, the Institut Ramon Llull received confirmation that its project had been accepted for inclusion in the official programme of the Biennale di Venezia International Art Exhibition 2009. And since then the machinery has been in action: the curator Valentín Roma completed his project in regard to both the exhibition space and the book-catalogue, designed by Nieves and Mario Berenguer, based on a multidisciplinary reflection on the essay The Unavowable Community by French writer Maurice Blanchot, which gave rise to the project, and its presentation, focusing on the work of the artists who have been selected.

To develop the exhibition side, the Institut Ramon Llull, which is the producer and the organisation in charge of the whole project, has turned to the MACBA, which will take care of the executive production of the exhibition. Other institutions of immense prestige have also taken part in implementing the projects involved such as the Württembergischer Kunstverein in Stuttgart and the Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía; organisations such as the Ateneu Enciclopèdic Popular de Barcelona (AEP) and HANGAR, and collectives such as ZEMOS98 and Estudio Columpio. Likewise, distribution of the book-catalogue has been entrusted to to ACTAR, which will also be joint publisher.

Venezia, Catalunya. 2009. La comunitat inconfessable poses the idea of what is communal on the basis of two territories, the territory of art and the territory that is Catalonia. The community of two territories in tension. The tension of creativity in progress. Venezia-Catalunya, an age-old relationship, as highlighted, once again, by Dr. Patrizio Rigobon, lecturer at the Università Ca’ Foscari di Venezia and chairperson of the Associazione Italiana di Studi Catalani, at the beginning of November last year in Majorca at the opening of the academic year of Catalan studies abroad, organised by the Institut Ramon Llull and the Xarxa Vives d’Universitats. Rigobon, who has recently translated Ramon Llull’s Consolatio Venetorum into Italian, gave the inaugural lecture at the event on Ramon Llull, Venice, Genoa and the Mediterranean, reminding us of the tensions in the community that is the Mediterranean and the influence of the Venetians, Genoans and Catalans in it.

Ramon Llull, Catalonia, Venice – a relationship that goes all the way back to the 13th century.

Josep Bargalló Valls, director, IRL