Vatican Taps Maurizio Cattelan for Venice Biennale

The Vatican announced its Venice Biennale lineup at a press conference yesterday, March 11, and its curatorial selections feature one particularly unlikely choice — Maurizio Cattelan, the creator of such infamous conceptual artworks as the so-called “golden toilet” and “Comedian” (2019), a duct-taped banana. Cattelan will now create a large-scale artwork on the facade of the Vatican’s exhibition space. 

“Sometimes questions that we can at first judge as radical are ways of reconstructing the vision of the sacred, and this is part of the Church’s encounter with the artistic world,” said Cardinal José Tolentino de Mendonça, who heads the Vatican’s Dicastery for Culture and Education, in a statement about Cattelan’s inclusion.

The commission is especially ironic given the work Cattelan showed at the 2001 Biennale: “La Nona Ota (The Ninth Hour)” (1999), a life-size resin model of Pope John Paul II struck by a meteorite.

The Vatican will stage a multimedia exhibition, titled With My Own Eyes, inside Venice’s historic women’s prison on the island of Giudecca, marking the first time the site has been used in the Biennale. Around 80 people are incarcerated there, and according to the Vatican’s announcement, some of them will play a role in the exhibition by guiding visitors through the show, contributing poems and photographs to artwork installations, and acting in a 12-minute short film directed by celebrity couple Zoe Saldaña and Marco Perego. 

Curated by Centre Pompidou-Metz Director Chiara Parisi and former French National Library President Bruno Racine, the show will feature work by artists Corita Kent, Sonia Gomes, Claire Fontaine, Bintou Dembélé, Simone Fattal, and Claire Tabouret. 

Mendonça also offered an explanation for the exhibition’s title, stating that “seeing with one’s own eyes” affords “a unique status, as it directly involves us in reality and makes us not spectators but witnesses.” 

The Vatican staged its first Venice Biennale pavilion in 2013. This spring, Pope Francis will become the first pontiff to visit the international exhibition, which opens to the public April 20 and closes November 24.

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