Letter to the New York Foundation for the Arts

A Letter to the editor of the New York Foundation for the Arts, in response to the artist’s participation and funding of an International Bienniale experience.

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I am writing to you at the New York Foundation for the Arts, as I would care to share my views on the Florence Biennial with the readers of the NYFA Quarterly. I am an Australian artist who came from Australia to participate. Some artists have written, as I have read in your magazine, that the Florence Biennial was not worth their time and money.

Because of my own considerable expenses, coming from Australia and my view that it was worth it all, I’d be grateful if you could include this letter of mine in your next newsletter, for your readers to add to their consideration, before they make any decisions about the Biennial.

After reading the comments some participants expressed in the last issue, I think it is essential that I express a statement of my experiences, as they do offer a completely different response which I had, to another level of awareness, an immensely nourishing one, which was occurring at the Florence Biennial, obviously the artists who wrote these letters missed this completely, unfortunately for them.

One of the first points I would like to make is that, after receiving my invitation to participate in the 2003 Florence Biennial, I suggested to a Law firm in Australia that if they sponsored me to go, I would in return give them an artwork, which would be in equal value of the sponsorship.

Immediately I received the sponsorship to the value of $10,000.00. I am amazed how quickly businesses respond to sponsorship requests, when they can see a tangible return. This may give some ideas to those artists who had difficulty raising the money to participate.

Upon arriving at the Biennial, I saw that there was a mixture of professionalism and enthusiasm during the set up days and there was a fair amount of complaining by some artists, who became largely preoccupied with their complaints for the entire length of the Biennial.

Now to be honest, some of the practicalities surrounding the Biennial were not perfect. It also has to be remembered that this event has only been going now for a relatively short period of time, compared to the Venice Biennial, which celebrated it’s 50th last year and as such, the Florence Biennial is still growing and refining its operation.

I’m actually very happy to have been selected to participate in Florence, as there is generally a noticeable absence of Australian artists invited to participate in the Arsenale curated exhibitions in Venice, which is in my view appalling.

I also, would have loved to walk into a modern museum quality space when I arrived in Florence, but it was not so, and from my extensive looking around this incredibly beautiful city of Florence, I could not  imagine where else the organisers could host such an event. So having accepted that, I went onto thoroughly enjoy the whole experience.

In particular, I was quite in awe of the generosity the director of the Biennial, Mr John T Spike showed on a daily basis, with his unselfish interaction with the participants and members of the public. From what I observed, there were some artists who seemed to be complaining about anything and everything, while so many were having such a fulfilling time, making many friendships and connections.

Presently I am in New York for my one-person show which was a direct result of the Biennial. I will also be showing in a one-person show in Milan in May, again a direct result of the 2003 Florence Biennial. I can assure all of your readers that I would have not been offered these shows, if I had not been in this event.

I most certainly would not have been offered these shows if I had spent the majority of my time in Florence complaining all the time, clearly I would have missed the opportunity.

I would also like to say as a final note that some of the comments made previously about the Biennial were clearly misleading, like the following: “We did not meet any of the people in the so-called list of people in charge, nor did we see them except from a distance, shrouded like celebrities!”

I personally feel this type of comment is more fear based than anything. John Spike, the director greeted people daily.

Even David Hockney made himself available constantly while he was there and I had the opportunity to walk through Florence with him one evening discussing art amongst other things for a couple of hours.

The Biennial was not perfect, but it was great, it provided innumerable opportunities and I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.

John Dahlsen New York February 2004

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