Israel Moves Forward with Venice Biennale Pavilion as Palestine Museum US Says Its Proposal Was Rejected

As Israel continues to strike Gaza following an attack by the militant group Hamas earlier this month, Israel will move forward with its Venice Biennale pavilion for 2024, while the organizers of an exhibition of Palestinian artists that appeared in connection with the 2022 Biennale said their proposal for next year was rejected last week.

The Israeli Pavilion, by artist Ruth Patir and curators Mira Lapidot and Tamar Margalit, was announced in September and will continued to be staged as planned.

The Palestine Museum US, the Connecticut-based institution that mounted a show of Palestinian art in connection with the 2022 Biennale, had not announced any forthcoming plans for 2024, but its director told ARTnews Monday that the institution would not be returning to the Italian art show. (“From Palestine with Art,” the 2022 show, was mounted as a “collateral event,” meaning that it was sanctioned by the Biennale as an official presentation but not staged as a national pavilion.)

Geopolitics regularly impact the Biennale. In 2022, for example, after the invasion of Ukraine, Russia did not open its pavilion. Meanwhile, the Biennale opened a special presentation for Ukraine, which also mounted its own pavilion.

But it has so far been uncertain to what extent, if at all, the war between Israel and Hamas would impact the proceedings taking place next year at the Biennale, which, along with many other institutions worldwide, has not issued any statements about the conflict. The contents of the 2023 Architecture Biennale, which is nearing the end of its run, have remained unchanged.

On October 7, Hamas led an attack that killed more than 1,400 Israelis and involved the taking of over 200 hostages. (Israel has said citizens of other nations were also taken captive; two Americans were released on Friday and two Israelis on Monday) Following the Hamas attack, Israel has carried out airstrikes on Gaza and the West Bank. According to the Gazan health ministry, more than 5,000 Gazans have died since October 7.

“We have been left stunned and terrified by the horrendous attacks of October 7 by Hamas that brutally shattered the lives of so many of our relatives, friends and acquaintances,” Patir, Lapidot, and Margalit, the artist and curators of the Israeli Pavilion, wrote in an email to ARTnews. “Our immense sense of grief is compounded by profound worry about the escalating humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and extends to the tragic loss of lives there, and what’s still to come.”

They continued, “After the initial state of shock and despair that left us paralyzed, in recent days we began to grapple with the question you posed—how we can move forward, and continue to make art and plan the exhibition for the Israeli pavilion in these dark times. And yet we cling to the belief that there has to be a pocket for art, for free expression and creation, amidst everything that’s happening. This is the very thing that gives us hope these days. It’s also the very humanist values that we are fighting for; otherwise, we might as well contend that the extremists have won.”

An entirely different situation is playing out with the Palestine Museum US’s, whose director, Faisal Saleh, said in an interview that his institution would not be returning to the 2024 Biennale after its proposal was rejected.

Saleh said the proposed show was called “Foreigners in Their Homeland,” which was “to shed light on the conditions that Palestinians suffer from, including living under an apartheid situation and checkpoints.” The proposal, which was reviewed by ARTnews, reads, in part, “The establishment of the State of Israel resulted in the forced displacement of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians, transforming them into refugees in neighboring countries and beyond.”

The museum’s exhibition was rejected on October 20, Saleh claimed, because “when we wanted tell the real Palestinian story, the Biennale has decided to join the European governments in a blackout.” Saleh said the museum’s proposal for the 2023 Architecture Biennale was also rejected. He did not appeal either rejection because he was told the decisions were final.

He pointed out what he viewed as a contradiction regarding how the Biennale dealt with Russia and Ukraine. “Look at what the Biennale has done for Ukraine,” he said, referring to the Biennale’s accommodations for Ukraine in both the 2022 and 2023 Biennales. “They gave Ukraine all kinds of things, but they won’t even let Palestine participate as a collateral event.”

A Venice Biennale spokesperson did not respond to requests for comment.

Palestine has rarely had a presence at the Venice Biennale. Beside the Palestine Museum US’s 2022 show, there has only been one other Biennale-related show devoted to Palestinian artists: 2009’s “Palestine c/o Venice,” which included artists such as Emily Jacir and Khalil Rabah. That show was also staged as a collateral event.

Because Palestine is not considered a nation in Rome, it does not have a pavilion in the Biennale. In 2002, curator Francesco Bonami made attempts to add a Palestinian Pavilion, then was accused of antisemitism in the Italian press. Facing bureaucratic strictures, he ended up significantly downsizing his plan, which was realized as one large installation by Sandi Hilal and Alessandro Petti. Still, Palestinian artists have periodically appeared in the main show, with Jacir even taking the Golden Lion for an artist younger than 40 in 2007.