After a False Start in 2019, Kazakhstan Has Announced Plans for Its First-Ever Venice Biennale Pavilion

Feb 1, 2022

Kazakhstan is taking a second try at launching a pavilion during the Venice Biennale in April.

The plans were announced at an in-person press conference on Tuesday at the A. Kasteyev Museum of Arts in the city of Almaty, which has also been the site of bloody protests in recent weeks.

The pavilion’s new organizers are taking an optimistic tone in spite of ongoing social unrest. They have chosen art collective ORTA to represent the Central Asian country with a project inspired by the Almaty artist and polymath Sergey Kalmykov.

The 2019 pavilion was called off just two months before the opening of the 57th edition of the biennale in spring 2019. The cancelation—announced by officials over Facebook—caught the exhibition’s two hired organizers, curator Nadim Julien Samman and Roza Abenova, the former head of contemporary art at the National Museum, by surprise. (Samman was informed that he would not be paid for his work in the comments section.)

Meruyert Kaliyeva, the commissioner of this year’s Kazakhstan pavilion, told Artnet News that 2022 marks a “fresh start” for the country. “It’s hard to compare to previous years as it’s a completely different commissioning body for 2022, and our team had no involvement in the 2019 pavilion,” she said.

One of the biggest changes is that, this year, the commissioner will not accept funding from the government. Instead, the pavilion will receive support from the Saby Charitable Foundation, the Nurlan Smagulov Foundation, the clothing distributor G&G, and the Marusya Assaubayeva Foundation. The pavilion will maintain official support from Kazakhstan’s Culture Minister Dauren Abayev.

News of the new pavilion comes after a month of deadly protests, the largest uprising in the country’s 30-year history. In early January, what began as a peaceful demonstration against government corruption amid rising oil prices devolved into violence and reports of abuses by security forces; the Russian military was called in for “peacekeeping.”

The country’s Venice pick, the art collective ORTA, was founded in 2015 by director Rustem Begenov and actor Alexandra Morozova. They will consider the work of surrealist avant-garde artist and inventor Sergey Kalmykov who, despite dying in obscurity, was hugely influential to contemporary artists in and around Kazakhstan .

In a statement about the show, curators noted that Kalmykov’s oeuvre fits well with the theme of this year’s Biennale group exhibition, which is entitled “The Milk of Dreams” after a book by Surrealist painter Leonora Carrington.