Vatican to have pavilion at Venice Biennale modern art exhibit

Tue May 14, 2013 12:17pm EDT
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By Philip Pullella

VATICAN CITY (Reuters) - For most people, the relationship between contemporary art and the Vatican - home of some of the world's greatest old masterpieces - is like oil and water - they just don't mix.

The Vatican's "culture minister," Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, wants to change that perception and so for the first time the Holy See will have its own pavilion this year at the 55th edition of the Venice Biennale, a sacred cow of modern art.

But don't expect anything that looks remotely religious or liturgical at the world-class exhibition, which started in 1895 and takes place every two years in the gardens and in a converted industrial area on the Venice lagoon.

"We are not sending any altar pieces," joked Ravasi, whose formal title is president of the Pontifical Council for Culture.

Instead, Ravasi's department and the Vatican Museums have awarded three contemporary art commissions, handing them out with a theme and permission to let the artists' imaginations run free - with no strings, moral or otherwise, attached.

"They were not given specific themes such as Mary or Jesus but asked to reflect on the first 11 chapters of Genesis because they are essentially a portrait of humanity," Ravasi said in his Vatican office.

Genesis recounts the creation of man and woman, the fall from grace and expulsion from Eden, the killing by Cain of his brother Abel, the Great Flood and the chance for humanity to start anew when the waters receded and the rainbow appeared.

The three commissions were given to Italy's Studio Azzurro cooperative, Australian-born American painter Lawrence Carroll and famed Czech photographer Josef Koudelka, each produced works on the themes of "creation", "uncreation" and "re-creation".   Continued...

A multimedia presentation inspired by Genesis is seen in this handout picture released by the Vatican on May 14, 2013. StudioAzzurro/Vatican Museum/Handout via Reuters