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An affair of State: Courting partners

Pullout sends the department on a search for help to select works for international exhibitions.

August 05, 2004|Scott Timberg

The process by which United States artists reach international art exhibitions, such as the Venice Biennale, has hit a snag because of the pullout of two private foundations.

For years, the funding and curating of the Venice Biennale and similar international festivals has been handled by a partnership of the Pew Charitable Trusts, the Rockefeller Foundation, the State Department and the National Endowment for the Arts. The two foundations withdrew last year, largely for financial reasons, putting the partnership in limbo.

State Department officials say they have been looking for a partner and last month began speaking to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum about assisting with the roughly $1-million cost, as well as artist selection. As yet, the Guggenheim has not committed.

"We at the State Department's cultural affairs unit are committed to mounting a U.S. presence at international cultural exhibitions, including Venice," said Joseph Merante, cultural affairs director. "To mount these biennales is very expensive. That's why there has to be some kind of public-private partnership."

Some in the museum world, however, have cried foul about the possibility of a single institution curating American representation at an important international event.

Merante said an open request for partners was made and that the Guggenheim, which owns the American Pavilion in Venice, is well equipped to handle the process for 2005. "We hope this is a transition," he said, adding that some kind of broader partnership should be restored in time for the 2007 Biennale.

Officials at both the NEA and State made it clear that, despite some reports to the contrary, support for Venice and other biennales is firm and that in some cases funding has increased.

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