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Holy souls on display at 2024 Venice Biennale

by editor

Italian visual artist Maurizio Cattelan is known for shocking crowds with his tongue-in-cheek installations and bombastic structures, but he has painted something a little more down-to-earth for one of the art world’s most anticipated events, the 2024 Venice Biennale: a pair of feet.


A pair of black-and-white feet are painted on the façade of the Giudecca island prison chapel in Venice. Responsible for the larger-than-life brushstrokes is Italian artist Maurizio Cattelan, who is showing the wall art piece now until November as part of the 2024 Venice Biennale.

Although the 129-year-old annual art event attracts roughly 800,000 patrons per annum, according to organisers, exhibition commissioner Cardinal Jose Tolentino de Mendonca said Cattelan’s work would be poignant to a particular set of viewers – prison inmates residing near the chapel. 

“It is a message that says: ‘We appreciate you, we want beautiful things to be close to you, we value your contribution’,” he said. 

This is not the first time Cattelan has exhibited at the Biennale. In 2001 the hyperreal visual artist shocked devout Catholics by showing a provocative life-size wax statue of Pope John Paul II lying on his side, crushed by a massive meteorite.

De Mendonca, however, remains steadfast in selecting Cattelan to appear for another Biennale, saying the programmers sought out “real artists” for this year’s roster. 

“Cattelan’s work is very interesting under a religious point of view, very interesting because, it is true that there is something of iconoclasm in his work, but also in the mystic there is something they call iconoclasm, which means the deconstruction of the religious representations,” he said.

Tolentino de Mendonca, prefect of the Dicastery for Culture and Education, mirrored these calls, saying the Vatican did not want to exclude iconoclastic artists or those critical of institutions like the Catholic church. “Pope Francis calls us to dialogue. Dialogue is not just with the people who are mirrors of ourselves,’’ he said.

Pope Francis is expected to visit the pavilion on April 28 where he will meet inmates and artists.

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