In 1976, art historian and curator Enrico Crispolti—charged with organizing the show, Ambiente come Sociale, for the Italian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale—radically rethought the exhibition form. In an unconventional move, he strategically chose not to house any artworks within the confines of the gallery space. Instead, he sprawled documentary photographs, videos, texts, pamphlets, and audio recordings on tables like the products of field research. The artworks themselves were site-specific and located elsewhere in various towns and cities across the country. Adhering to the Biennale’s overarching theme of environment and decentralization, Crispolti championed artists working in Arte Ambientale (environmental art), who were making art located in the urban context and social reality. Yet, Crispolti turned the institution’s theme inside out: while visitors came to its center to see the art, they were thrust outwards towards the peripheries, and outside the city, where the actual artworks were sited. The ingenuity of this action, and the re-conception of what could constitute installation art, is evident when Crispolti’s exhibition is compared to Germano Celant’s 1976 Biennale show Ambiente / Arte, a diachronic art historical study of this new art medium. While Celant presented self-referential examples based on formal qualities, Crispolti exponentially broadened the boundaries of installation art to include the environment, urban context, social questions, and political contingency. This paper examines Crispolti’s curatorial strategy as it aligned, but also critiqued, the Biennale as a cultural institution. Furthermore, it frames the exhibition as a medium for artistic innovation, particularly in the definition of environment and installation art.
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Martina Tanga, ‘Flipping the Exhibition Inside Out: Enrico Crispolti’s Show Ambiente come Sociale at the 1976 Venice Biennale,’ Journal On Biennials and Other Exhibitions, Why Venice, Vol. 1, No. 1 (2020): 62-77.