Florence Biennale 2003

The Florence Biennale is a large art exhibit featuring over 600 artists from around the world. These artists are selected and invited by an international panel of judges to attend.

Helen Lucas was invited to attend the Biennale 6th-14th December, 2003 and she presented her painting ‘Dance’ to the Florentine art world.

Helen Lucas Dance

4 1/2′ x 8′

“This Biennale is a cultural, not a marketing event. It is intended to provide an opportunity for a forum where professional artists from around the world can meet and exchange ideas ….. There has never been an international event with such a direct link between the artists studio and the walls of the exhibition.”

This is an excerpt from Tapestry Magazine, April 2004, written by Helen Lucas about her experience in Florence:

The Florence Biennale
By Helen Lucas

The Letter which came a year before the exhibition began: “After viewing your artwork on your website the International Scientific committee has expressed favorable opinion for your participation in the Biennale Internazionale Dell’Arte Contemporanea, which takes place at the Forteza da Basso 6-14 December 2003.”

This, the 4th Florence Biennale, was the world’s most comprehensive exhibition of contemporary art representing 891 artists from 72 countries. Truly an offering of contemporary art on a global scale!

Inside the Fortezza Da Basso (named after John the Baptist in 1594) is a huge pavilion spanning three stories. So large is this pavilion that the whole of the Biennale was housed on the first floor. Each artist was allotted a space 2 metres high and 3 metres long. I sent a large painting, an acrylic canvas 4 ½ X 8 ft called DANCE which shows red poppies on an orange background (throughout the show I was identified as the Poppy Artist). Fellow King Township artist Ernestine Tahedl was also invited, Ernestine sent a free-standing screen of 5 panels, acrylic on wood with landscapes on both sides of the screens called SHIFTING CURRENTS.

In addition to the almost 900 artists, the Biennale offered many extra programs, musical concerts, lectures and demonstrations. For example, the English Painter David Hockney gave a talk on the use of optical instruments by artists (a practice that goes back as far as 1420). I thought “My, he’s getting old…”. That is until I looked at his resume and realized that I was a year older than him!

With us travelled Shelagh Wilkinson, a retired professor from York University who was on a grant to write up the experiences of the Canadian Women Participants and Hope Rogers, a professional photographer, who came to record the event.

On arriving at the exhibition hall we were given identification cards, maps showing where the work was hung (or standing) and programs of daily events. Later we were given beautifully reproduced hard cover catalogues, the size of phone books. My painting had been crated and shipped 3 months prior and Ernestine’s arrived from an exhibition in Vienna.

There were, what I thought, some beautiful works. I saw works that were bold and daring in their use of colour, line, space and composition. I also saw works that somehow missed the mark. But, the mandate of the Biennale was to show what artists (all over the world) were doing, working quietly in their studios. With so many artists from all over the world, displaying their work, it quickly became apparent to all that what we had was a veritable smorgasbord. And that we could not use North American standards to judge any of it. We were seeing art from Croatia, Ecuador, Georgia, Puerto Rico, Macedonia, India, Slovenia, etc. etc. And we were seeing it all at once, hanging together in the same pavilion.

But, I am glad to say that in the midst of it all, the Canadians did us proud. Beside each painting we placed a label of the Canadian Flag. That first day we were asked many questions about our techniques and materials. Many were from artists interested in how Ernestine assembled her panels, and just how typically Canadian her landscapes were. We even had students doing water colours in front of our works!

Some artists asked for their works to be critiqued. For us, we had other art to see – FLORENCE BECKONED!!!!!!! And (even better) being just before Christmas, we had few tourists to contend with!

Firenze – the city of Giotto, Botticelle, Leonardo, Michelangelo, Raphael, Galileo, Machievelli etc. etc.

We were staying at a small hotel in the centre of Florence on the via del Corso, within a block of The Duomo, Florence’s famous Cathedral and the city’s main landmark.

The sound of its bell, repeated and repeated which woke me up at 7:00am that first morning had me in tears. One low note, unlike any other sound heard throughout the city. I thought of all the other artists throughout time who had heard this same bell.

In Florence you walk everywhere and every time we saw the large poster advertising the Biennale, we felt connected to the city. In every street, on every corner, in every square, you are confronted with greatness. Turn a corner and there is Dante’s home – – or Michelangelo’s.

Florence’s other landmark is Michelangelo’s ‘David’. One cannot help but marvel that a man created such a masterpiece. Is there a greater work of art anywhere?

Then one day, standing outside the Basilica of Santa Croce, three of us saw an exceptionally handsome young Soldier in Dress uniform. He’ll never know that on that day three Canadian grandmothers agreed – God was still the consummate creator…