Florence Biennale

The Florence Biennale is an international self-financed Art exhibition. Since 1997 it has been held every two years in the exhibition spaces of the Fortezza da Basso, Florence. Run by the Arte Studio organisation, the Florence Biennale is patronised by the President of the Republicand Ministry of Cultural Heritage of Italy as well as the Regional, Provincialand Municipal authorities of the city of Florence. Since 2013 it is also patronised by the Florence Unesco Centre onlus.

The first Art Director of the Florence Biennale to be appointed, in 1997, was the art historian Stefano Francolini. From 1998 to 2005 the Art Director in charge was the art historian and critic John Spike. In 2007 Emanuel von Lauestein Massarani, Secretary of Culture and Superintendent of Cultural Heritage in São Paulo (Brazil), took over. In 2009 and 2011 Stefano Francolini was called up again. In 2013 the Florentine art historian and critic Rolando Bellini was appointed and is currently in charge.

Structure of the Event

The Florence Biennale is one of few international art events structured as a self-financed independent platform for contemporary art.[1] It therefore represents an exhibition system in which participation is based on an individual artist paying to participate, rather than the system of gallery representation common to many other, notable Biennial events. Participation is not constrained by medium or topic of research. The main venue of this one-week exhibition is the Fortezza da Basso, whose exhibition spaces are set up and equipped according to the artist's needs. Starting from the 2013 edition, however, the Florence Biennale program envisages a series of collateral events taking place in different specific sites of the Florentine Renaissance heritage, including the State Archives and the Riccardiana Library.

Participants are selected by the International Selection Committee composed by historians, critics and curators from around the world. The selection process starts more than a year before the event. There is a participation fee that artists are required to pay to cover the expenses for the exhibition space, catalogue, and advertising. In order to comply with the principles of transparency and equal opportunities, the amount of the participation fee is expressly stated by the Florence Biennale. The criteria based on which it is determined, which means number of works displayed and age of the exhibiting artist, is also stated clearly in their prospects. The majority of the artists cover the cost of the participation fee as well as the travel and accommodation expenses with their own funds or with sponsorships. A restricted number of guest artists are invited to participate free of charge. Early-career artists have the opportunity to meet them, and also to attend workshops and seminars offered to young talents and students of the Art Institutes and Art Academies. As is common at some galleries, museums, and art events, the audience pays to view the exhibition.


Contrary to similar large exhibitions and art fairs where national governments bear the cost (Venice Biennale) or where galleries bear the cost (London Art Fair), the cost of the Florentine Biennale are borne directly by the participating artists. This has sometimes given rise to criticism that the Florence Biennale were a 'vanity' exhibition. The lack of a selection by governments and galleries would be detrimental to artistic quality. This criticism ignores the fact that the organization does have its participants selected by an independent professional jury. Moreover, the cost is relatively high for individuals, so most participants need to compete at the level of national subsidy-granting institutions for scarce funds - a second selection process. Finally, the quality assessment of the FB by independent press and art critics has over the years been favorable.[2][3]

Other criticism concerns the cost, aspects of organization, and the policy for invitations. A comparison of the ex VAT entry fees of the London Art Fair of January 2016 and the Florence Biennale of October 2015 shows the FB to be 18 pct. less expensive. Invitation policy criticism regarded independent invitations to artists with a gallery affiliation, and unsolicited email, implying a great honor, apparently delivered with little distinctiveness as to recipients.[4][5][6] Criticism on organizational matters were expressed in 2004 by a former member of the exhibition's selection committee and based on feedback from artists he had invited.[7]


The emergence of new art disciplines makes the discussion about funding structure gradually less relevant. Digital painters for example, have great difficulty of finding representation. In these areas no market has yet developed (2015) and there are hardly any active galleries at all. For them, the Florence Biennale is one of few opportunities to bring their work to the attention of a large and interested audience. Direct participation is also in line with a global trend in which new technical and communication possibilities tend to make creative professions more independent from their traditional representative bodies.[8] In these respects, the Florence Biennale gains in artistic significance.

The 'Lorenzo il Magnifico' Award

In each edition, the International Jury of the “Lorenzoil Magnifico” Lifetime Achievement Award assigns this tribute to individuals and organisations for distinguished merits in Art, Design, and Culture. Illustrious personalities received this award. Past recipients of the 'Lorenzo il Magnifico' for Art include Dolores Puthod, José LuisCuevas, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Marina Abramović, Sudip Roy,[9] Shu Yong, Gilbert and George, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Richard Anuskiewicz, Robert Chen, Alfredo Zalce, and David Hockney. The 'Lorenzo il Magifico' Award for Design was tributed to Ferrari, Pininfarina and Harley Davidson. Past recipients of the 'Lorenzo il Magnifico' Award for Culture include Carla Fracci, Ferruccio Soleri, Mario Luzi, Anne Archer - Artists for Human Rights. In 2013 the award ceremony will be held in the Salone dei Cinquecento at Palazzo Vecchio, Florence

Reviews and details from participants

Casagrande & Rintala's Installation 1:2001 in Piazza Della Republica during the Florence Biennale 2001.

Compared to similar large art events, the Florence Biennale has a relatively short history. The steering committee, therefore, had to take decisions, make choices, and face the difficulties that inevitably challenge the smooth delivery of a newly conceived project of any kind. All this may explain why, especially as far as the early editions were concerned, some solutions and ideas have been criticised.[10] The Florence Biennale, however, received praise for having engaged numerous artists from all around the world in a multi-faceted initiative, which filled a gap in the contemporary art life of Florence. It may also be noted that the Florence Biennale has achieved pleasing results for the curators, the audience, and the artists. Participants reported that a temporary, but far-reaching international community of artists gathers in Florence for the biennial.[11] Terrance Allen, an indigenous Australian artist from the Walhallow community in Kamilaroi, Caroona (New South Wales) who displayed his work at the 2005 Florence Biennale, affirmed that 'Having the opportunity to share Aboriginal art, culture and history is a privilege that I consider my duty'.[12] In recent years the Florence Biennale was judged positiely also by the critics, especially for the decisions taken in tributing the 'Lorenzo il Magnifico' Award.[13] In the case of Shu Yong and Marina Abramovich the choices made were far-seeing in that both artists would have later been invited to present their works at the Venice Biennale.

The New Florence Biennale IX edition had 370 artists represented from almost 50 countries. The Jury was virtually the same as the previous two editions 2009, and 2011. There was a considerable drop in entries. From 2009 with nearly 750 entries to 2011 with just under 500 and the last edition with about 370 artists. The reason is unclear. A change in invitation policy, a tougher selection by the jury and cuts in artistic funding as a result of the global economic recession, have all been suggested.

The Celona brothers run the Florence Biennale since the 1st edition in 1997, said to be a Contemporary Art Biennale, it is in reality an invitation to all amateur and professional artists via a payment to exhibit their works at the Fortezza di Basso, in the underground space, and not the ground floor exposition hall.


  1. "The Florence Biennale". Biennial Foundation. 2015. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  2. http://artdaily.com/news/7857/David-Hockney-to-Speak-at-Florence-Biennale-2003#.VUnSmFqIe2w/ Art Daily about the FB
  3. http://www.florencebiennale.org/stampa/stampa13_giornali.pdf / press survey Florence Biennale
  4. Mettera, Joanne (11/01/2010). "Marketing Mondays: Scam or Opportunity?". Joanne Mattera Art Blog. Retrieved March 19, 2015. Check date values in: |date= (help)
  5. "Florence Biennale Exhibition. Is It Real?". Art Web. 2008. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  6. "Florence Biennal". Wet Canvas. 2003. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  7. STEINER, RAYMOND J. (2004). "Art Times Journal". Florence Biennial. Art Times. Retrieved March 19, 2015.
  8. http://artradarjournal.com/2015/04/03/curated-private-selling-exhibitions-at-auction-houses-sweep-the-art-world/ Art radar
  9. "Florence Biennale: Sudip Roy wins award for Christ, Gandhi, Teresa-Trilogy". The Times of India. Dec 27, 2011.
  10. http://www.arttimesjournal.com/peeks/florence.htm
  11. (http://www.sculpture.net/community/showthread.php?t=2262
  12. http://www.abc.net.au/local/photos/2010/05/07/2893609.htm
  13. VII Edizione della Biennale Internazionale d'Arte Contemporanea di Firenze", "La Repubblica", 6 dicembre2009

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