Kazakhstan scraps its first ever Venice Biennale entry weeks before opening

Kazakhstan scraps its first ever Venice Biennale entry weeks before opening
Image: Samuel Goff under a CC licence

25 March 2019

Kazakhstan has cancelled its inaugural appearance at the Venice Biennale of Contemporary Art amid claims that staff who dedicated months to the project have not been paid.

The Kazakh pavilion had been commissioned by the National Museum of Kazakhstan and its head of contemporary art, Roza Abenova. The team appointed art historian Nadim Samman to curate the project, called Modern Kazakh Culture in a Global World.

A press statement shared on Facebook, however, told the curators that their services “were no longer required” just weeks before the Biennale’s 11 May opening, The Art Newspaper reported. It said that budget problems had scuppered the country’s plans.

Kazakh officials told local outlet informburo.kz that the country had never confirmed its participation, and that an official letter sent to the Biennale’s president had only outlined “plans” to take part. It also alleged that the National Museum had not followed standard procedures to get plans for the pavilion approved by higher-ups.

Abenova has since resigned her post, while Samman claims that he is still awaiting payment for the five months of work he’d given the project.

“I am disappointed that a viable project was smothered in opaque circumstances, with little regard for artists and curators,” Samman wrote on Facebook. “Kazakhstan is home to serious artists who deserve to meet an international public, and who require a national cultural infrastructure that reflects their values. The current directorate of the National Museum, and in particular, Acting Director [Almaz] Nurazkhan, is not fit to represent their country’s artists.”

The 58th Venice Biennale will open on 11 May, 2019.

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