Self-Taught Artists to Exhibit in Venice, Italy at the Biennale

Mr. Imagination (photo courtesy of Rare Visions)
Lonnie Holley, Gregory Warmack (a.k.a. Mr. Imagination), Charlie Lucas (a.k.a. Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson represent the virtuosity of African American Contemporary Outsider artists. Steven Ogburn (a.k.a. Blade), Chris Ellis (a.k.a. Daze), Lin Felton (a.k.a. Quik), and Aaron Goodstone (a.k.a. Sharp) will represent different aspects of the urban vernacular of Graffiti.
Artwork by Mr. Imagination (from the Detour Art Collection)


New York, NY—The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) announced that they would partner with Benetton for an exhibition of self-taught African American artists during the Venice Biennale. Luciano Benetton, chairman of the Benetton Group, said “It gives me great pleasure that our first use of Fondaco dei Tedeschi will be an exhibition with an American Museum of such importance that has not been seen in Venice during the Biennale before. My family and I have great respect for the nature of their collection. The work that they have chosen to show is in keeping with the philosophy of the ‘One World of Benetton,’ whose principals have gilded not only our business but our personal philosophy, philanthropy, and lives.” 
 Lonnie Holley 

“The inclusion of these African-American self-taught and graffiti artists at the Venice Biennale will be revolutionary. These artists have never had the opportunity to situate themselves within a broader contemporary art dialogue— but their time has arrived” said Dr. Laura Parsons, president of The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) board. Maria Ann Conelli, AFAM’s executive director, stated “The exhibition will present a truly American artistic vision to an international audience, and the central location and historic significance of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi ensures the installation will be one of the most visible and celebrated during the 2011 Biennale. While Venice has long prided 2 Itself on presenting the most cutting edge art environments, the exclusion of contemporary self-taught and graffiti artists is a serious omission, but one that will be rectified this June. The American Folk Art Museum has been a national leader in celebrating the contributions made by African-American artists. This exhibition advances the much-deserved stature on an international stage. Who becomes a self taught artist is so interwoven with issues of race and economics. This work tells a great American story.”
 Artwork by Charlie Lucas (from the Detour Art collection)
Charlie Lucas

Eight artists have been chosen by AFAM to be showed in Venice. Each will execute an original site-specific installation for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Lonnie Holley, Gregory Warmack (a.k.a. Mr. Imagination), Charlie Lucas (a.k.a. Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson represent the virtuosity of African American Contemporary Outsider artists. Steven Ogburn (a.k.a. Blade), Chris Ellis (a.k.a. Daze), Lin Felton (a.k.a. Quik), and Aaron Goodstone (a.k.a. Sharp) will represent different aspects of the urban vernacular of Graffiti. This exhibition showcases the diversity of contemporary African American self-taught artists by pairing two distinctive yet complementary approaches to art making, using the building’s architecture as inspiration for the work itself. 
The four-floor Fondaco dei Tedeschi surrounds a grand glass covered central courtyard. It is for this courtyard that the four outsider artists’ installations will be created. Surrounding the courtyard is an arched passageway, where the four graffiti artists will create their murals. 
Benetton’s commitment to this project, in addition to the use of this extraordinary building, includes the involvement of Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research center and educational foundation, who will design and install the exhibition. Further Fabrica students will be assisting the artists with the constructions of their installations. 
Said Maria Ann Conelli, “Benetton has proved to be a most generous friend to our Museum. But this is unparalleled. It allows us to show this art on a world stage. We are most grateful to Mr. Benetton. His vision is legendary. ”

Kevin Sampson (photo courtesy of Rare Visions)
The Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Venetian: Fontego dei Tedeschi “The Germans’ Inn”) is a historic building in Venice, situated on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge. First constructed in 1228, the building was rebuilt between 1505 and 1508, after its destruction in a fire. The reconstruction produced a very functional 4-floor building which surrounds a grand inner courtyard. Its architecture is typical of the cinquecento (Italian Renaissance) style, but the basic concept (and the word fondaco) is derived from 3 a type of building in Arab countries. Like the Fondaco dei Turchi, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi was a palazzo, warehouse, and restricted living quarters for its population, in this case mainly Germanic merchants from cities such as Nuremberg, Judenburg and Augsburg. 
At one time this building was the headquarters and restricted living quarters of the city’s German merchants. A broad definition was taken of the term German which included what would today be regarded as separate nationalities. 
The ground floor of the building is accessible by water and was used for storage, the first floor was dedicated to offices and an upper area contained about 160 living quarters. The facades were covered with frescoes by Titian and Giorgione, but their work has not survived the Venetian climate (fragments survive in the collections of museums such as the Ca’ d’Oro). 
The German merchants arrived shortly after the building was originally constructed in the thirteenth century and stayed until the Napoleonic occupation. It was one of the city’s most powerful colonies of merchants, and consequently the fondaco became an important trading center for goods passing from the Orient on their way towards the Alps. The Venetian Republic took commission on the transactions of the fondaco. In the nineteenth century the leading figure of this community was the wealthy merchant Vittorio Tedeschi who had ties with the Transylvanian Nobility in the Austro-Hungarian Empire. 
In the 20th century the building served as the Venice headquarters of the Poste Italiane. Edizione Srl, the holding company of the Benetton family, having acquired the building, has entrusted it to the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who will plan its renovation and transformation into one of the city’s most important centers for culture and retail. 
Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research center, was set up in 1994. The fruit of the Group’s cultural legacy is based in Treviso, Italy in a complex restored and enlarged by Tadao Ando. Fabrica is not a school, advertising agency or university. It is an applied creativity laboratory, a talent incubator, a studio of sorts in which young, modern artists come from all over the world to develop innovative projects and explore new directions in myriad avenues of communication, from design, music and film to photography, publishing and the Internet. These artist-experimenters are accompanied along their research path by leading figures in art and communication, blurring the boundaries of 4 culture and language and transgressing the traditional borders between a diverse range of communication mediums. Communication research at Fabrica services a wide variety of social causes and disciplines such as economics, social or environmental sciences. Fabrica’s aim is to grasp the future by giving innovative exposure to cultural or scientific projects, which open a window onto tomorrow’s world. 
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The American Folk Art Museum is the premier institution devoted to the aesthetic appreciation of traditional folk art and creative expressions of contemporary self-taught artists from the United States and abroad. Based in New York City, The Museum preserves, conserves, and interprets a comprehensive collection of the highest quality, with objects dating from the eighteenth century to the present. Since its founding in 1961, the American Folk Art Museum has built an outstanding collection of more than 5,000 artworks from the eighteenth, nineteenth, twentieth, and twenty-first centuries. The collection naturally divides into the broad categories of traditional and contemporary self-taught, sharing a common non-academic language and complimentary sensibilities. The artwork under the auspices of Contemporary Self Taught is united by time—most of the work was created in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries. These artists have created a powerful and moving but frequently unacknowledged body of work that is essential to a full understanding of the art and culture of the world. 
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The Benetton Group, present in 120 countries around the world, has its core business in fashion apparel: a group with a strong Italian character whose style, quality and passion are clearly seen in its brands, the casual United Colors of Benetton, the glamour oriented Sisley, the leisurewear brand Playlife. The Group produces over 150 million garments every year. Its network of around 6,000 contemporary stores around the world, offers high quality customer services and generates a total turnover of over 2 billion euro (before final customer sales). 5 The development of Benetton’s commercial network, characterized by prestigious locations in historic and commercial centers and by the high level of customer services offered, has been supported by a major program of investment worldwide. As in the case of the commercial network, a constant commitment to innovation, a crucial factor for development, has always characterised the Group’s business organisation, from communication to IT, from research into new materials to integrated logistics. 
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(unless otherwise noted, all photos © 2011 Kelly Ludwig all rights reserved)