When the Florence Biennale was founded, by the end of the 1990s, it could have been an art exhibition like many others in Florence – a city that boasts an ancient art tradition and has been regarded as the ‘cradle of the Renaissance’. By contrast, an International biennial of contemporary art aimed at being a ‘showcase’ and also a space for dialogue between the artists themselves and a wide audience turned out to be an extraordinary event.
The founders, Pasquale and Piero Celona, and a committee of artists, curators, and art critics, developed a model for a biennial in which emerging talents and established artists as well could show their works within a free and independent context. The Florence Biennale, conceived as summoning of artists from around the world called to participate to the International contemporary art exhibition in Florence, had come to life. In 1997, which means at a time in which the internet had not yet spread, the response to such a call was surprising: 317 artists from 20 countries came to show their works in the Medicean city.
Since then nearly 6,000 artists from more than 100 countries have participated in the Florence Biennale as exhibitors in one or more editions. Today, under the direction of Jacopo Celona, this biennial still is an international, independent, and multifaceted platform for contemporary art.
During each edition of the Florence Biennale an International jury composed of distinguished scholars, art historians and critics from different countries confer the ‘Lorenzo il Magnifico’ Award to the best exhibiting artists for their works on show.
Furthermore, the ‘Lorenzo il Magnifico’ Lifetime Achievement Awards are conferred to individuals and/or organisations who have reached pinnacles of artistic achievement and/or stood out for their contribution to culture.
Amongst the award recipients of the past editions, mention should be made of Arata Isozaki, El Anatsui, Sauro Cavallini in memoriam, David Hockey, Christo and Jeanne-Claude, Gilbert and George, Marina Abramović, José Luis Cuevas, Agatha Ruiz de la Prada, Anish Kapoor, and Marta Minujín.
Cross-cultural dialogue through art, espousal of such values as peace and tolerance, acknowledgement of diversity and respect of differences are fundamental values of the Florence Biennale, which is held with the patronage of the Italian governmental, regional, and municipal authorities. Included in the UN program ‘Dialogue among Civilisations’ in 2001, in 2007 the Florence Biennale received an award from the Society of Artists for Human Rights founded by Anne Archer, who gave that prize to Pasquale Celona, an artist himself, for his commitment to advancing respect for human rights through the languages of art. In 2013 the Florence Biennale entered a partnership with the Italian Federation of the UNESCO Clubs, Centres, and Associations and presented the Charter of Ethics for the New Millennium Artist at the 33rd General Conference of the World Federation Unesco Clubs. In 2015 Eugenio Giani, President of the Regional Council of Tuscany, awarded the Florence Biennale with the ‘Pegaso d’Argento’ for their excellence in promoting contemporary art at an international level.