Charges of Cronyism Threaten Belgium’s 2015 Venice Biennale Pick

Belgian pavilion (2009). Photo: Chimay Bleue, via Flickr.

Multimedia artist and freelance curator Vincent Meessen‘s status as Belgium’s Venice Biennale representative for 2015 is in jeopardy thanks to accusations of cronyism and a nontransparent selection process, the Art Newspaper reports.

Last week, Meessen’s selection was suspended by the Belgian State Council, which ruled that his application, which did not include a resume detailing his qualifications, did not meet the requirements. Belgian artists must have had at least two international solo exhibitions at major museums into order to represent the country in Venice.

The Baltimore-born, Brussels-based Meessen was chosen from among 13 candidates by a seven-person jury appointed by the French-speaking half of the country’s Minister of Culture, Fadila Laanan. Charles Szymkowicz, a painter who had also applied for the honor, filed a complaint with the Council following his rejection by the committee.

The council found that the jury, four of whom had a personal or professional connection to Meesson, was “predisposed to favor Mr. Meessen.” The artist has since released a statement calling his association with some jury members “inevitable” based on their related careers. Meessen criticized the decision to suspend his selection, arguing that “it is, in fact, Belgian representation being taken hostage here.”

Szymkowicz has a history of challenging Belgium’s Biennale selection procedure. His lawsuit caused Brussels-based artist Angel Vergara’s 2011 representation to be retroactively revoked in 2013 because there was no open call for applications.

For the 2015 Biennale, Laanan may have to start the selection process afresh, with a new jury, as a prolonged legal battle might prevent the country from preparing their pavilion in time for the exhibition.

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