• 1914
  • 1934
  • 1936
  • 1938
  • 1948
  • 1958
  • 1993
  • 2021
  • Background

  • Toni Elster, Bremer Hafen, around 1920
  • Map of the pavilions in the Giardini, 1934, courtesy of Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia – ASAC, © Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia)
  • Richard Scheibe, The Liberated Saar, 1936, courtesy of Georg Kolbe Museum
  • Map of the pavilions from the catalogue of the Biennale di Venezia, 1948, courtesy of Archivio Storico della Biennale di Venezia – ASAC, © Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia
  • © E.R.Nele, Courtesy Auswärtiges Amt / Politisches Archiv und Historischer Dienst
  • Nam June Paik, Catherine the Great, exterior German Pavilion, La Biennale di Venezia, 1993, photo: © Roman Mensing, artdoc.de
  • Cruise ships in the lagoon city of Venice © picture alliance / dpa / Andrea Merola
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  • It was in 1914 that women artists—Wera von Bartels, Toni Elster (s. fig.: Bremen Harbour, around 1920), and Marie Seeck—were first represented in the German Pavilion.

    In the history of the German Pavilion from 1909 to 2019 (including its beginnings as the Bavarian Pavilion), there were 29 participations female artists and 732 participations of male artists. Women were appointed as commissioners and curators 6 times and men 51 times, and there have been 1 female and 9 male vice-commissioners. There is no data to date on any non-binary/diverse artist exhibiting in the German Pavilion.

    The women artists:
    Wera von Bartels
    Hilla Becher
    Charlotte Berend
    Maria Caspar-Filser (three times)
    Hanne Darboven
    Toni Elster
    Maria Foell
    Katharina Fritsch
    Isa Genzken
    Dora Hitz
    Candida Höfer
    Anne Imhof
    Käthe Kollwitz
    Brigitte Meier-Denninghoff
    Jasmina Metwaly
    Gabriele Münter
    Dora Polster Brandenburg
    Helène Schattenmann
    Johanna Schütz-Wolff
    Marie Seeck
    Katharina Sieverding
    Dayanita Singh
    Renée Sintenis (twice)
    Hito Steyerl
    Natascha Süder Happelmann / Natascha Sadr Haghighian
    Rosemarie Trockel

    The women commissioners/curators:
    Susanne Gaensheimer (twice)
    Gudrun Inboden (twice)
    Hanna Hohl (Vize)
    Susanne Pfeffer
    Franciska Zólyom

    This information was gathered from archival documents at the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and refers solely to the contributions in the Bavarian/German Pavilion (and the German contribution in the French Pavilion in 2013). Contributions by Germans in other buildings, for example the main exhibition, and contributions of German Democratic Republic in the Venetian pavilion or the Arsenale have not been taken into account here.

  • The Belgian Pavilion built in 1907 was the first foreign pavilion in the Giardini. It was followed in 1909 by the inauguration of the Hungarian, Bavarian, and British Pavilions. (The Bavarian Pavilion was reconstructed in 1912 and 1938 to serve as the German Pavilion.) The French and Swedish Pavilions opened in 1912 (in 1914, the latter became the Dutch Pavilion, which was rebuilt in 1953). The Russian Pavilion followed in 1914. The first pavilion to be built after World War I was the Spanish, completed in 1922; its façade would later be renewed. The national pavilion of what was then Czechoslovakia opened in 1926, that of the U.S. in 1930, and the Danish Pavilion (later expanded) in 1932. The Venetian Pavilion was also inaugurated in 1932 (further modified in 1938). And Austria and Greece first had their own country pavilions at the Biennale in 1934, the year this map was published.

  • By the 1980s at the latest, scholars began directing more attention to former Nazis who had benefited from continuities in personnel and careers in the economy, medicine, and the judiciary in the young Federal Republic of Germany. In contrast, the art field might be considered relatively slow where the reassessment of its own “brown” past, for example that of the documenta, is concerned. It is especially remarkable that the failure to investigate these continuities also applies to the German Pavilion. Because in the figure of Eberhard Hanfstaengl, the smooth transition from the one system to the other immediately leaps to the eye. No sooner had Ludwig Justi been dismissed as director of the Nationalgalerie in Berlin in 1933 than the Nazis assigned Hanfstaengl—whose cousin Ernst was a close confidant and early supporter of Hitler—to the post. In 1934, 1936, and then for the first German post-war participation in 1950, Hanfstaengl was the commissioner of the German Pavilion.

    Among the works he selected in 1934 were the painting Deutsche Erde (German Soil) by Werner Peiner and the bronze portrait bust Reichskanzler Adolf Hitler (Reich Chancellor Adolf Hitler) by the sculptor Ferdinand Liebermann. And with works like Richard Scheibe’s Die befreite Saar (The Liberated Saar), he again catered openly to the Nazis in 1936. None of this did him any good, however. Because Hanfstaengl was prohibited from curating the German Pavilion in 1938—contrary to what Biennale president Giuseppe Volpi still assumed in a letter of February 1937 now in the Political Archive of the German Federal Foreign Office. It was Adolf Ziegler, an even more passionate party loyalist, who came in his stead. Presumably by way of compensation, the propaganda ministry proposed as far back as July 1937 that the Biennale award Hanfstaengl a medal for his services to the German Pavilion. The conferral never came about, however, because the same year he refused to place works from the Nationalgalerie collection at the disposal of the “Degenerate Art” exhibition and was dismissed as a result. This condemnation by the authorities would suffice to pave Hanfstaengl’s way to becoming the director general of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlungen after the war and acting as commissioner of the German Pavilion at altogether five (!) Biennales from 1950 onward. For his first post-war presentation in Venice, he chose (among others) Emil Nolde, of all artists, and also included Nolde in 1952 and 1956. At the same time, works of Jewish artists murdered by the Nazis, for example Otto Freundlich and Rudolf Levy, were sought in vain at the German Pavilion during Hanfstaengl’s tenure.

    Yilmaz Dziewior, “Post aus Venedig #3,” Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben, 02/2022.

  • For the city of Venice, there were several good reasons for launching the first edition of the mother of all biennials on April 30, 1895. The town was in urgent need of money, and what is more, the opening ceremony offered a splendid opportunity to celebrate its connections to the country’s monarchy. Because none other than the Italian royal couple Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia attended the event. Yet the Biennale, which originally took place as a sales exhibition, was not only to make the city richer and more prestigious, but also to promote an important source of its income: tourism. Economic considerations were thus a chief focus from the start, and on account of its small budget the Biennale continues to rely on strong support from private sponsoring to this day. Not uncommonly, it is the galleries that foot the bill for the production and transport of the artworks on display, with the aim of selling them directly from Venice.

    A peculiar find I made during my research in the Biennale archive testifies to the fact that money was scarce in the past as well. However absurd and improbable it might seem today, it was evidently no joke: Germany was planning to sell a country pavilion. Not its own, but that of its erstwhile neighbor Austria, for which the Nazis no longer had a use following the so-called “Anschluss” in 1938. Even the price had been fixed and possible interested parties identified. As far back as November 1938, the show’s administrative director reported—without naming any names—on a nation that regularly participated in the Biennale but had no pavilion of its own and therefore wanted to buy the Austrian one. The answer came promptly. In a letter of December 8, 1938, the president of the Reich Chamber of Fine Arts Adolf Ziegler informed the Biennale administration by way of the Foreign Office and the Reich Ministry of Public Enlightenment and Propaganda that the pavilion was to cost 70,000 reichsmark. On January 23, 1939, the Biennale again wrote to Ziegler, now advising him that “the presidency of the Academy of Fine Arts in Stockholm … is interested.” Yet Sweden apparently could not quite make up its mind after all, because three months later, on April 20, 1939, the Biennale suggested placing the venue at the disposal of Japan in 1940 “in a hospitable manner” if it had not been sold yet by then. Germany’s invasion of Poland on September 1, 1939 and the onset of the war naturally made all further deliberations on the sale of the pavilion superfluous.

    Yilmaz Dziewior, “Post aus Venedig #1,” Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben, 11/2021.

  • The first post-war Biennale Arte was held in 1948. Germany was not officially invited to participate with a national presentation, and the German Pavilion housed an exhibition on French Impressionism. Nevertheless, the central pavilion did include a small presentation of German artists, as indicated by the word “Tedeschi” on the map. This presentation took place by virtue of an arrangement between the German Pavilion commissioner of 1934 and 1936, Eberhard Hanfstaengl, and the Biennale president Giovanni Ponti. Since Hanfstaengl, in his capacity as Director General of the Bayerische Staatsgemäldesammlung in Munich, had agreed to lend several major works from that collection for the Impressionist show, he was granted the opportunity to present two dozen German artists—among them Otto Dix, Erich Heckel, Karl Hofer, Max Pechstein, and Karl Schmidt-Rottluff—in the central exhibition building.

    Read more on the history of the German Pavilion in: Germany’s Contributions to the Venice Biennale 1985–2007, ed. by Ursula Zeller / ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) (Cologne: Dumont, 2009).

  • If it had been up to the artist and documenta founder Arnold Bode, the German pavilion would look different today. On January 15, 1958, he sent the Foreign Office his draft, dated 1957, for a redesign of the building. His argument: “With its cold, antihuman ‘representation,’ this typical epigonic structure of the Nazi system triggers the insurmountable aversion of the visitor, especially the foreign visitor. … It contradicts all the humanitas the Federal Republic seeks to demonstrate with the artworks on view.” For a budget of 250,000-deutschmark, he planned a mezzanine, new stairways, walls, windows, and a glass ceiling. The main entrance was now to be shifted asymmetrically to the right; a second such patio would enable access from the left. The exterior façade, including the portico, would be “faced with a whitewashed half-brick wall.”

    The Nazi building cloaked in a more representative Bauhaus guise? As Julia Friedrich incisively remarked in a lecture in 2019, Bode’s design came at a time when the documenta was “helping the West Germans pass off the injuries they had caused others as their own. And heal them into the bargain.” Even if Bode’s pavilion design differs from the ruin aesthetics of his first documenta, the attempt to cover up the rupture of the Nazi era with cultural symbolic politics in the universal spirit is apparent here as well.

    A newspaper article of July 11, 1956 paints a similar picture. On the occasion of the 28th Biennale, Die Welt ran the headline: “You can’t present new art this way—in Venice, Germany needs young forces and a modern pavilion.” The recently erected or redesigned pavilions of Switzerland (Bruno Giacometti), The Netherlands (Gerrit Rietveld), Venezuela (Carlo Scarpa), and Japan (Takamasa Yoshizaka) were cited as models of a new sense of space. “If Germany wants to keep pace, the current exhibition pavilion—whose architecture is based entirely on the Renaissance box-space, Neoclassicistically filtered—will have to be torn down.” Not a word about the Nazi aesthetics.

    From the autumn of 1956 onward, the Foreign Office and the Consulate General in Milan likewise corresponded with the Ausschuss für Auslands-Kunstausstellungen (Committee for Art Exhibitions Abroad) on the issue of structural alterations or new construction. Their focus, however, was more on presenting modern art in the best possible light than on a critical reevaluation of the Nazi architecture. Yet although Hans Scharoun and Ludwig Mies van der Rohe have signaled their interest in the task and Egon Eiermann, Manfred Lehmbruck, and Wilhelm Riphahn were also to be invited to the competition, the idea ultimately came to naught for lack of funds. Bode untiringly continued to call attention to his proposal until 1964, when it was rejected for the last time.

    Leonie Radine, “Post aus Venedig #2,” Monopol – Magazin für Kunst und Leben, 01/2022

  • Even if artists of non-German nationality had already exhibited in the German Pavilion before, Klaus Bußmann—the commissioner appointed for the 1993 Biennale—was the first to address the topic of national affiliation explicitly by nominating Hans Haacke and Nam June Paik.

    The year 2009 was the first in which the German Pavilion presented a solo artist of non-German citizenship: Liam Gillick, chosen by the curator Nicolaus Schafhausen.

    In more recent years, artist biographies have become more global, increasingly dissolving national affiliations and attributions.

    Of all persons involved (in an artistic or curatorial capacity) in the history of the pavilion from 1909 to 2019, 750 were German citizens, 52 citizens of other countries, and 25 dual citizens.

    This information was gathered from archival documents at the ifa (Institut für Auslandsbeziehungen) and refers solely to the contributions in the Bavarian/German Pavilion (and the German contribution in the French Pavilion in 2013). Contributions by Germans in other buildings, for example the main exhibition, and contributions of German Democratic Republic in the Venetian pavilion or the Arsenale have not been taken into account here.

  • An image such as this one of Venice is a thing of the past. Since August 1, 2021, gargantuan cruise liners exceeding a length of 180 meters and/or a height of 35 meters are no longer permitted passage through Giudecca Canal and the San Marco Basin.

    For years, many Venetians and various initiatives have been actively engaged in the struggle against the crushing forces of mass tourism. The huge cruisers not only endanger the city’s ecobalance and the health of its inhabitants through exhaust fumes and fine particles, but also stir up the floor of the lagoon. They moreover cause waves that weaken the wooden foundations of the architecture. The UNESCO’s announcement of its plan to put Venice on the List of World Heritage in Danger for these reasons finally forced the Italian government to take action.

    For the environmental movement No Grandi Navi, the ban on cruise ships entering the city center was an important initial step, but the work is far from over. On the contrary, the problem still exists because now—at a cost of 157 billion euros—the industrial harbor of Marghera is to be converted to serve as a cruiser landing instead.