Message of Ambassador Massimo Roscigno at the Press Conference on the Philippine Participation in the 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale

April 17, 2015

Press Conference on the Philippine Participation in the 56th International Art Exhibition, Venice Biennale
15 April 2015 | DFA Building, Pasay City

Hon. Secretary Albert F. Del Rosario,
Hon Senator Loren Legarda
Hon. Chairman of the NCCA Felipe M. De Leon

Mr Curator of the Philippine Pavillon  Patrick  D. Flores

Distinguished guests, ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a great pleasure for me to attend this Press Conference for the participation of the Philippines to the 56th International Art Exhibition in Venice, or, as it is more known, the “Biennale di Venezia”, and I am grateful for your invitation to attend and to share with you today the importance of your presence in Venice, and the details of your participation.

I want to congratulate warmly all those whose efforts made this possible: particularly the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA), Senator Loren Legarda, the National Commission for Culture and the Arts.

La Biennale di Venezia – according to many  – is the most prestigious cultural institution in the world.
The Art biennale runs every two years, alternating with that of architecture, while the Venice Film Festival,  is held on an annual basis; and takes place in two official sites: the Arsenale, hosting the international exhibition, and the Giardini di Castello in the east of the city, which houses the national pavilions.

The last edition (2013) had More than 160 artists from 38 countries and 88 National Participations (among these, 10 countries  for the first time), and had almost half a million visitors.

The Venice Biennale as you know is made of several events, including Art, Music, Theatre, Cinema, Architecture, Dance.

•    Art Biennale, also referred to as International Art Exhibition, since 1895
•    Biennale Musica, also referred to as International Festival of Contemporary Music, since 1930
•    Biennale Teatro, also referred to as International Theatre Festival, since 1934
•    Venice Film Festival, also referred to as Venice International Film Festival, since 1932
•    Venice Biennale of Architecture, also referred to as International Architecture Exhibition, since 1980
•    Dance Biennale, also referred to as International Festival of Contemporary Dance, since 1999
•    International Kids’ Carnival, since 2009.

It is remarkable that both the International Art Biennale and the Venice International Film Festival are the first events of their kind, and  the oldest which are still in existence.

The Venice Art Biennale, born to celebrate the silver anniversary of King Umberto and Queen Margherita of Savoy, opened first on April  30,  1895.  Since its inception, it was an distinctly  International event, hosting many foreign artists.

Throughout its evolution the Biennale strengthened its vocation of fostering research and promoting new art trends, gradually evolving in today’s model of exhibitions and research in all its  sectors, in a typical multi-disciplinary model which traditionally encourages pluralism of expression, openness, and experimentation.

In fact During the decades, the Biennale featured all the main trends of the new art.

In 1920 it had the presence of avant-garde, notably Impressionists and Post-Impressionists. The French Pavilion, exhibited Signac, Cézanne, Seurat, Redon, Matisse, and Bonnard;  the Dutch Pavilion a retrospective of Van Gogh; the Swiss Pavilion, Hodler.
In the 1922 edition a retrospective of Modigliani took place.

In 1930s, the central Government took over the Biennale from the City, and introduced new sections (Biennale Musica in 1930, Biennale Teatro, and the Venice Film Festival) and the Grand Prizes in the art exhibition.
Those are the years when Venice became the site of festivals par excellence, the place of industrial culture which still attracts experts, scholars and tourists of all kinds.

Interrupted during WW II, it resumed in 1948 with two major events: the retrospective of Picasso presented by Guttuso, and the rich Peggy Guggenheim collection.

In the 50s the most advanced new trends were featured as well, such as Cubism, Surrealism, Futurism. (Ernst, Dali, Kandinsky, Klee, Mirò, Mondrian). Abstract expressionism was also introduced in the 1950s.

In 1962 the Arte Informale was introduced with Fautrier, Hartung, Vedova, and Consagra; and in 1964 the first Pop Art came from America, with a Prize awarded to Rauschenberg; this opened also the way to a shift of the contemporary art markets, from Europe to America.

But, along with new trends, Politics also had a distinct presence in some editions of the Biennale.

Like In 1968, when the wave of social revolution was sweeping Western countries, Chants like “Biennale of capitalists, we’ll burn your pavilions!” could be heard by protesters, who were attacking the rampant capitalism and the commodification of art.

Or The 1974 edition dedicated to Chile: where exhibitions, theatrical performances, concerts and murales celebrated solidarity to the Chilean people who suffered under the dictatorship of Gen. Pinochet.

Or in 1977 when it was the ‘Biennale of Dissent’ (particularly referring to the USSR). With ensuing controversies, which brought President Ripa di Meana to resign.

But after all  controversy, scandals, arguments, are also part of the nature of the Biennale itself.

Interestingly, in its very first edition of 1895 a scandal already happened; a painting : Giacomo Grosso’s “Supreme Meeting”, depicting a dead man in a coffin  surrounded by nude female figures, stirred much emotion. The Patriarch of Venice, (later to become Pope Pious X), requested it not to be exhibited. Finally it was exhibited in a rather isolated room. But it even won the prize assigned by a popular poll. So, since the beginning Venice displayed controversies, passions, but also independence of artistic judgement.

In 1910, a cubist painting by a young Picasso, was denied exhibition because at the time appeared too revolutionary and shocking, and could have scandalised the public. Only in 1948 Picasso, then already 67, had his first exposition in the Biennale.

In 1972 somebody “exhibited” a boy affected by Down’s Syndrome, hanging a sign from his neck reading “Second solution for immortality: the universe is immobile”. This caused a major scandal and public protests, including in the Italian Parliament.

Many more re the episodes anecdotes and scandals that enrich the  history of the Biennale.

But, after all this may help explain the great appeal and the fascination that the Biennale itself always continues to inspire.
Its attraction derives from its prestige, the exposure it offers, the challenge of simply being there.

But also, the profiles of many episodes, provocative controversial or bizarre, add to the myth of an event which remains unique in the world for impact, visibility and fascination. Not to mention the breathtaking context of the city where it takes place.


As the representative of the Italian Government in the Philippines I am trilled and proud to see, after 50 years, a  return of a Philippino Pavillon in Venice.

I think is a fantastic achievement that rightly gives tribute to the richness and vitality of the Philippine’s art scene, which definitely deserves to be more internationally exposed, better known and more appreciated.

I believe that the contemporary art scene in this country is currently one of the most dynamic and interesting in Asia. It reflects, in a way, the ongoing changes and progress of the whole country, that – despite difficulties and challenges – keeps evolving and developing, with determination and pride, asserting itself also on the international scene, under your leadership, Mr Secretary.

The filipino presence in Venice  of course will also offer great potentiality and many opportunities to further increase and strengthen our bilateral relations, already excellent, by opening new avenues; and not only in the field of cultural exchanges.

Italians and filipinos are very similar; we communicate well, we share many values and principles, have a commonality of character. I see enormous  future potential in closer and stronger ties between us.
No wonder that the filipino community in Italy – the largest in continental Europe, is so well integrated  in the Italian socio-economic fabric.
And they will be very proud to see a Pavillon representing their nation in Venice !

Again, to all the protagonists of this adventure: congratulations for this well deserved and historical opportunity of being at Venice. Welcome back at the Biennale !

Italy awaits your team of artists, scholars, and organisers with open arms.

Thank You !