Beyond Buildings


Outrage in Venice: Berlusconi Ousts Baratta

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Paolo Baratta. Photo: Pascal Le Segretain/Getty Images Europe


In a move that is producing outrage in Italy and around the art and architecture world, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi has ousted Paolo Baratta, the President of the Venice Biennale. He wishes to replace him with an executive from the food business, Giulio Malgara, who has shown no previous interest in the arts and whose main asset seems to be his friendship with the satyr-like Prime Minister.


Why does this matter? Because Baratta, an urbane an extremely intelligent former bank president and politician, has for the last four years made the Biennale a professional and effective organization, streamlining its operations, presenting extremely successful programs in all the areas in which it operates (art, architecture, film, theater, and dance), creating new space for its archives and in general making the case for the importance of the Biennale as the central arts festival in the world. As director of the 11th Architecture Biennale in 2008, I benefited from the strength of his leadership, and have enjoyed every event that he has managed since then.


The Cambridge-educated Baratta is extremely knowledgeable about the arts, and I found I could discuss every aspect of culture with him, enjoying his thoughtful opinions and clear analysis. Once convinced of the importance of a project, he is forceful in his support, and his ability to navigate the often complex intersection of politics, economics, governance, and culture that marks Italy is unsurpassed. He gets the right things done. I am also afraid that the excellent executive director, Andrea del Mercato, who translated Baratta’s vision into smooth internal operations, will follow him out the door.


When I arrived at the Biennale in 2008, the institution was still recovering from a previous bout of governance by political hacks. Several people, including the Dean of the Yale Art School, Robert Storr, who had directed the 2007 Art Biennale, warned me not to become involved because of the resulting chaos. Baratta, who had served a previous stint as President, changed all that in a few months, giving me the chance to work not only with a great sparring partner, but also with a well-oiled, effective machine.


Luckily, there is still some hope. My contacts tell me that the outrage this move by Berlusconi has produced is so intense that what is usually an routine procedure validating the Prime Minister’s choice might offer chances for reversal. If I find out what lovers of the arts can do to add their voices to this process, I will post that information. In the meantime, I can only thank Paolo Baratta for advancing the cause of thoughtful, open architecture, and hope that the Venice Biennale’s long traditions and achievements will allow it to survive this latest move by one of the world’s worst governments.




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About the Blogger

Aaron Betsky

thumbnail image Aaron Betsky is the director of the Cincinnati Art Museum, and in 2008 he was director of the 11th Venice International Architecture Biennale. Trained as an architect at Yale, he has published more than a dozen books on art, architecture, and design and teaches and lectures about design around the world. Aaron worked for Frank O. Gehry and Associates and Hodgetts & Fung Design Associates as a designer, taught for many years at the Southern California Institute of Architecture, and between 1995 and 2001 was curator of architecture and design at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. From 2001 to 2006 he was director of the Netherlands Architecture Institute in Rotterdam, the Netherlands.