Days before the opening of the 1st Venice Biennale, every city discussed the painting Supremo Convegno, by the Italian artist Giacomo Grosso, without having seen it yet.
Days before the opening of the 1st Venice Biennale, every city discussed the painting Supremo Convegno, by the Italian artist Giacomo Grosso, without having seen it yet.

The first major scandal of censorship of a work of art, involving even the Vatican, occurs in 1895, in the middle of Belle Epoque, when the artist Giacomo Grosso sends his painting to the 1st Venice Biennale Il Supremo Convegno, which depicts a wake inside a church, with five of the dead's lovers naked, in lascivious poses, one of them having the mortuary coffin between her spread legs. The then obscure painter and professor from Turin broke the bank, set fire to the iconic Italian city with a boldness never seen before. The painting is a snapshot of a world in crisis, captured through the eyes of a libertarian artist.

Grosso relates eroticism and death and anticipates the thought of George Bataille, who was born two years after this episode, by attributing a religious dimension to eroticism and “violence”, making them the means to achieve a mystical experience “without God”. .

Under the title Prima Edizione della Manifestazione Internazionale di Venezia, the Bienal emerged in 1895 as a structuring model for exhibiting art and, fifty years later, the experience spreads like a “plague” across the five continents. The exhibition's initiative came from a group of intellectuals who met at Café Florian, the oldest in the world, created in 1720, which still operates today in San Marco square.

When The Supreme Convention arrives at the Giardini della Biennale, where the exhibition has taken place until now, destroys the great hegemonic illusion of art submissive to kings and popes. It breaks all the protocols of the Bienal, creates a bridge to a future where the artist can dream his dream and provokes artistic, political and religious confrontations.

The canvas on the wake of a dongiovanni was released to be exposed in a room without much prominence, but it became the most visited and received the Audience Award: XNUMX lire and marked notoriety.
The canvas on the wake of a dongiovanni was released to be exposed in a room without much prominence, but it became the most visited and received the Audience Award: XNUMX lire and marked notoriety.

With part of the population against and another in favor, the chatter takes over the bridges of the city. On another level, politicians, religious and intellectuals promote the dialectic that manifests itself face to face through letters or through newspapers. The cardinal of Venice, Giuseppe Sarto, the future Pope Pius X, also goes to check out the painting and doesn't like what he sees. He immediately writes to the then mayor, Riccardo Selvatico, a prestigious intellectual, demanding that the painting not be exposed. Accustomed to controversy, Selvatico, who was running for a second term as mayor of Venice, defends Grosso's work, after all, he doesn't want to hear about confusion at the festive exhibition that also commemorates the wedding of King Humberto I. He calls for a meeting of sympathizing intellectuals of painting, which created a commission to defend the right to artistic freedom and, consequently, the work of the artist from Turin. To give strength to the movement, they chose to represent them and write the letter to the mayor, the writer Antonio Fogazzaro, unanimity in the political and religious environment. The letter that the prefect would later deliver to the cardinal, among other arguments, says: “It seems to us too strong to condemn the work The Supreme Convention in the name of morality… We, dear Riccardo Selvatico, unanimously answer no to the censorship. Giacomo Grosso's painting is not an insult to public morals, but a great work of art”.

After several days of debates, The Supreme Convention is released on condition that it is displayed in a half-hidden room. It's no use. A curious crowd, with the women dressed elegantly and with lace parasols and the men in tails and top hats, faces hours in line to see the graceful Girls naked. Grosso receives the Popular Award for Best Work, according to visitors, and £1000, as well as notoriety. The painting is quickly bought for £15.000 by Venice Art Company, an American company that organizes a tour to show it in the United States, where the echo of the scandal was already tinkling in the cash registers.

Knowing about the itinerancy, the people of Turin asked themselves when and where they would see the famous painting, made by a local artist and which shook all-powerful Venice. It was the local newspaper that gave the sad response by publishing the fire that occurred in the place where the controversial painting was kept, before being exposed to the Americans. Today, only copies of the canvas remain, photos in the Biennial archives and in the book Venice Biennale, but all this was told to me by Luigi Carluccio, in 1984, in the library of the Venice Biennale, when he was president of the institution. He laughed a lot remembering that episode which, for him, was one of the tastiest that the Venice Biennale had ever produced. Years later, in 1991, when I was an art commentator on the Metrópolis program, on TV Cultura, I interviewed Leo Castelli, the famous New York gallery owner and mentor of pop art, at the Hotel Regina, in Venice. The cameraman was the videomaker and my friend Rafael França, from the Três Nós Três group. Amid so many stories, Castelli comes up with this one: “Many Italians like me like to The Supreme Convention because it reminds us of joy, sensuality and the dream of freedom until death”. I agreed and signed with him.

In today's Brazil, Grosso would certainly have serious problems with the censorship that insists on intimidating us. Perhaps he would be taken to the police, arrested, and his wonderful, daring canvas…executed!

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