Behind the scenes at the Venice Biennale

Master of Art Curatorship student Mary-Louise Carbone was the 2019 recipient of the Venice Biennale Scholarship. The scholarship made it possible for Mary-Louise to undertake an internship at the Venice Biennale, working with world-renowned Australian artist Angelica Mesiti and curator Juliana Engberg. She has shared her experience with us.

Every second year since 1895, artists, curators and art enthusiasts have converged in Venice for one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art festivals, the Venice Biennale (la Biennale di Venezia).

The Biennale was the first international art exhibition of its kind and, taking its cue from the great world’s fairs of the 19th century, was traditionally a platform for countries to showcase their finest art and artists.

Australia’s participation at the Biennale began in 1954 and has included work from Sir Sidney Nolan, Tracey Moffatt and Arthur Boyd.

This year, contemporary video artist Angelica Mesiti became the 39th artist to exhibit work at the Australian Pavilion with her display ASSEMBLY. Angelica’s exhibition was curated by internationally-established curator Juliana Engberg.

Angelica and Juliana characterise the talent, rigour and strength of the contemporary visual arts scene in Australia and, thanks to the University of Melbourne and the Venice Biennale Scholarship, I had the privilege of interning with both.

The University of Melbourne is the official Education Partner for the Australia Council for the Arts’ Aus at Venice project. The Australia Council is the Commissioner for the Australian Pavilion in Venice and responsible for supporting and managing Australia’s representation at the Biennale.

Mary-Louise at the Australia Pavilion
Mary-Louise at the Australia Pavilion. Photo: Caterina Marino

The partnership and Venice Biennale Scholarship allow selected graduate students to undertake an internship with the Council and experience the organisation, production and opening of the Australian Pavilion exhibition.

As part of the internship, fellow scholarship recipient Corrina Berndt and I spent a week at the Australia Council’s headquarters in Sydney.

This was two months before the opening of the Biennale and our visit gave us the opportunity to meet Angelica and Juliana, take part in meetings with project stakeholders and assist with some of the project’s administrative tasks. We were also given insight into the operations and management of a peak arts funding body and the range of roles needed to put together such a big project.

In early May, we travelled to Venice for the opening of the Australian Pavilion during the Biennale’s vernissage week. The Biennale was at its most intense as artists, curators and their pavilion teams eagerly prepared for the grand opening. It was incredible to watch the Australia Council work seamlessly to deliver ASSEMBLY and coordinate the associated media coverage and events.

We worked at the Australian Pavilion throughout the duration of the opening week. This gave us first-hand exposure to the delivery of a large-scale international project. We learnt about exhibition management and design, event co-ordination, stakeholder engagement, project administration as well as public relations and media management.

Venice is the centre of the contemporary art world over the course of the Biennale. Being on location exposed us to the best of the global art scene and provided the opportunity to network and develop connections with industry professionals.

Angelica Mesiti, 'ASSEMBLY', 2019 (installation shot)
Angelica Mesiti, ASSEMBLY, 2019 (installation shot) three-channel video installation in architectural amphitheatre. Photo: Josh Raymond

Angelica, Juliana and the Australia team were incredibly generous with their time, support and mentorship and I feel extremely privileged to have been given the opportunity to work with and learn from exemplars of Australian art.

The experience was like no other and would not have been possible without the support and encouragement of the University of Melbourne. I’m exceedingly grateful to Faculty of Arts staff and the Melbourne Humanities Foundation Board, in particular Board Member Peter Jopling, for facilitating this exceptional learning opportunity.

Learn more about the Master of Art Curatorship

Learn more about the Melbourne Humanities Foundation

Angelica Mesiti, ASSEMBLY, 2019 (installation shot) three-channel video installation in architectural amphitheatre. Photo: Josh Raymond