VENICE,ANYONE?

For the remainder of the 19th century, however, the Biennale mostly featured less incendiary subject matter, like historical pieces and traditional academic painting. Even Picasso himself was turned down for exhibition in the 1910 Biennale. (At that point, everyone else was turning him down, too.)

During the rule of Benito Mussolini, the Biennale disintegrated into a blunt instrument of cultural propaganda for Il Duce's fascist regime. Das Fhrer himself, Adolf Hitler, attended the 1934 festivities, this eerie event itself memorialized in an installation piece created by German artist Hans Haacke for the 1993 Biennale.

Following World War II, the Biennale made up for lost time, showing the work of a number of great artists banned during the war as "degenerate."

In 1964, American art dealers Leo Castelli and his wife, Ileana Sonnabend, were accused of wheeling and dealing their way through that year's Biennale, helping Robert Rauschenberg cop international grand prize for painting (the first time an American had won) and firmly establishing the legitimacy of pop art in the international art world. One of their more questionable tactics in the quest to elevate pop art was their abortive attempt to increase U.S. exhibition space by converting the former American Consulate building into temporary gallery space. Italians still bristle with indignation at the very mention of what they continue to believe was a conspiracy. Student activists protesting the commercialization of the art world took over the festival grounds in 1968, taking paintings down entirely or hanging them upside down. Prizes were eliminated in the aftermath, though finally reinstated in 1986, and the exposition's prestige grew.

Politics again intervened in 1988 when infighting between the Italian Communist and Christian Democrat parties threatened to close down the Biennale for the first time since World War II.

Outrageousness reigned supreme in 1990 when an installation by a group called Gran Fury coupled photographs of the pope with those of an erect penis and texts discussing AIDS, safe sex and condoms. Sculptor Jeff Koons got his fair share of the limelight with giant, airbrushed photos and polychromed sculptures of himself and newly acquired significant other, Ilona Staller, porn queen turned Italian parliament member, showing them engaged in, ahem, various sexual activities. And the 1993 Biennale (they skipped a year, so that the 46th Biennale could be celebrated during its 100th year), saddled with multicultural baggage in the thematic guise of "cultural nomadism," rattled the cages of animal-rights activists, who actually went to court to bar exhibition of Japanese artist Yukinori Yanagi's "World Flag Ant Farm." Yanagi's sculpture used live ants in see-through plastic ant farms to slowly decimate colored sand in the configuration of national flags. Yes, readers, the ants were actually liberated by court order and the piece remained on display minus the ants. Who knows what drama will unfold at the 1995 Venice Biennale? Bill Viola's projected installations, which traditionally deal with more spiritual, mystical and universal concerns, demonstrate none of the abominable kitschiness, boring appropriationism and slavishness to current style of much postmodernist work plaguing the Biennale--and the art world in general--in recent times. Viola and Zeitlin are suitable art ambassadors for the Valley of the Sun. And they just may quietly walk away with the gran premio of next year's Biennale.

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