Vatican confirmed for Venice Biennale

A pavilion for the Holy See is set for inclusion in the 2013 event for the first time.

New Statesman
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican City. (Photo credit: FILIPPO MONTEFORTE/AFP/GettyImages)

The Catholic Church is set to embark upon a new engagement with contemporary art, after confirming that the Vatican will be given its own pavilion at the Venice Biennale in 2013.

This is the first time the Holy See will be represented at the event – undeniably one of the most prestigious art exhibitions in the world – after several years of discussion. Pressure for increased exposure of different nationalities has also meant that eight other countries will be participating in the Biennale for the first time next year; the Bahamas, Bahrain, Kosovo, Kuwait, the Maldives, Ivory Coast, Nigeria and Paraguay.

In the past, the Vatican has described the Biennale as a “debacle” which demonstrates “the breakdown of art in modern times”. However, in recent years, the attitude has notably changed, with Vatican officials spekaing increasngly of a desire to “get a dialogue up and running between the church and contemporary art – particularly artists at the highest level”.

Indeed, the pavilion will come as particularly welcome news to Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, who was appointed as Pontifical Council of Culture in 2009. Since his appointment, he has repeatedly spoken of his belief that contemporary art should be used in harmony with religious faith, to inspire the "transcendence" which inspired ecclesiastical art throughout the centuries:

"Today our problem is to get ordinary people to welcome this type of art. We need to help them to understand that art is part of the spirit”

Information about what will be exhibited at the pavilion remains tightly under wraps, but Italy’s La Stampa newspaper revealed that the “subject matter will be the first 11 chapters of the Book of Genesis”.