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Florence Biennial

ART TIMES Mar, 2004

BACK IN 1998/99, I was invited to become a member of an international selection committee (Comitato Scientifico Internazionale) for the 1999 inaugural Exhibition of Contemporary Art at the Florence Biennial (Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea), the duties of which consisted of my choosing artists to participate. I was honored by the invitation and, as is my wont, took my duties seriously. The man who invited me had impressive credentials, the event promised to be prestigious, and I thought it would be a positive opportunity for the artists recommended. I prepared a list of those artists I thought worthy of being part of such a noteworthy event and, after correspondence with each of my choices both here in the United States and in Europe, sent a list of those who were interested in taking part to the 6-person International Jury (Giuria Internazionale) that was responsible for the final winnowing process. So far so good. I no longer recall how many artists I recommended, but after that inaugural exhibition I had gotten considerable feedback — enough to let me know that I would not serve on the committee a second time. Although a few — I could count them on the fingers of one hand — had a good experience — such as making contacts for future commissions — most of those I had recommended did not. They had run into hidden costs that were incurred after an already sizeable entry fee — an item of which I, as a member of the international selection committee, was not made aware. You can chalk that up to my naivete — most of the artists seemed to take it in stride as par for the course — but I had no idea just how much this "honor" was going to cost the participants. Worse, many had told me about poor organization, and unsympathetic ears to aid in problem solving which inevitably ensued from hasty planning. This being, however, the organization’s first attempt at such an international exhibition, one might expect some glitches along the way. In spite of that mitigation — and in spite of the few positive comments I had heard — I notified the organizing committee (Comitato D’Onore) that I would not participate in the next biennial, putting my refusal in writing when they sent me a letter asking me to once again become a member of the selection committee. At the time, I mentally filed it under the heading of experience and put it out of thought. Even though I no longer recommend artists to attend the Biennale, I continue to hear from artists who have chosen to participate in succeeding Florence Biennials — and again, not all of it good — the latest correspondence coming my way as recent as this past January. For my artist readers, then, I advise you to seek advice from fellow artists who have been part of the process before signing up for the next Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea. All I can tell you from the latest letter I received is that the costs are still considerable and the organization still deplorable. You have to decide whether the possibility of making a connection for future commissions is worth the trouble and expense. All I am saying is to look before you leap. I didn’t, and I was not too pleased with where I landed.

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