Belgian Pavilion at Venice Caught in Legal Turmoil

Art world heavyweights denounce “legal harassment” of artist.

Vincent Meessen Photo via: arts flanders

Almost four months after it was first announced, the selection of artist Vincent Meessen and curator Katerina Gregos for the Belgian pavilion at the 2015 Venice Biennial is still unconfirmed.

Meessen was chosen for his project Personne et les Autres, which takes Belgian colonial history as a starting point, and involves a slew of artists from different backgrounds. Situationism, and particularly the little-known Congolese contribution to the movement, is also to be featured.

One Artist Objects

But Personne et les Autres could very well never see the light of day. Charles Szymkowicz, an artist who was among the 14 candidates applying for the pavilion, seems set to use every legal means in his possession to invalidate the appointment, La Libre reports.

In May, he appealed against Meessen’s nomination, leading the Council of State to suspend the appointment, partly due to the “close connection” between the chosen artist and four of the seven experts in charge of the nomination. This was overturned on the advice of a committee of experts. Another appeal was equally rejected.

Charles Szymkowicz.

Charles Szymkowicz.
Photo via: Académie des Beaux-Arts.

It isn’t the first time Szymkowicz has opposed the Venice appointment. In 2011, he also appealed against the nomination of Angel Vergara and Luc Tuymans. And he still has a card to play against Meessen: the rules of appointment for the Belgian pavilion stipulate that “a substantial monograph” on the artist’s work must have been published in the seven years prior to the biennale.

Folio, a monograph on Meessen, was published in Mexico during the requested period, but Szymkowicz argues that it isn’t “substantial” enough to back his Venice nomination. The auditor of the Council of State accepted the argument, and Meessen’s appointment is once again under review.

In Defense of Meessen

Key art world personalities have now stepped up and sent an open letter to the newly-appointed ministry of culture Jöelle Milquet to denounce a situation described by La Libre as “ubuesque” and “nightmarish.”

Catherine David, Chris Dercon, Elena Filipovic, Cuauhtémoc Medina, Dirk Snauwaert and Corinne Diserens condemn the monograph argument as “pointless,” “completely inappropriate,” and “frankly ridiculous.”

“By refusing to consider this publication as a ‘substantial monograph’ and by demanding that it responds to European market norms, it seems that the auditor is proving in his own way the necessity of this pavilion,” reads the open letter. “It is impossible not to see in the complaint a Euro-centric reading which ignores the economic and cultural reality of contemporary Latin America.”

They call upon the minister to avoid “this scandalous legal harassment” and “allow the nominated artists to focus on their work.”

According to La Libre, the Council State was meant to take a final decision on Monday but no official announcement has been made. As we go to press, the cabinet of minister Milquet was yet to answer artnet news’ request for comment.

UPDATE: On August 13 late afternoon European time, the last appeal was overturned and the project will go ahead. “We are enormously glad and relieved,” says Meessen.

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