Pope Visits Venice Biennale For First Time

"The world needs artists," said Pope Francis during his historic visit to the Vatican Pavilion on Sunday, April 28.

Apr 29, 2024By Emily Snow, MA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial Studies
During his landmark visit to the 2024 Venice Biennale, Pope Francis greets an artist at the Giudecca Women’s Prison facility. Source: Vatican Media.


Pope Francis became the first pontiff to ever visit the Venice Biennale on Sunday, April 28. The Catholic Church leader toured “With My Eyes,” the Vatican Pavilion exhibition at the 60th international contemporary art festival. This year, the Venice Biennale aims to highlight marginalized artists with the theme “Foreigners Everywhere.” The Vatican Pavilion exhibition is installed in a women’s prison and features works by Maurizio Cattelan, Simone Fattal, and Corita Kent.


Pope Francis Declares “The World Needs Artists”

Pope Francis tours the Vatican Pavilion exhibition. Photo: Vatican Media.


During his visit to the Venice Biennale, Pope Francis greeted artists and gave a speech at the Vatican Pavilion. He emphasized the power of art to address social issues. “The world needs artists. This is demonstrated by the multitude of people of all ages who frequent art venues and events,” said Pope Francis. “I beg you, dear artists, to imagine cities that do not yet exist on the maps: cities where no human being is considered a stranger.”


Pope Francis also emphasized the importance of women artists in his speech. He discussed Corita Kent—an American pop artist, activist, and former Catholic nun whose art is showcased in the Vatican Pavilion exhibition—as well as the French sculptor Louise Bourgeois and the Mexican painter Frida Kahlo. “I hope with all my heart that contemporary art can open our eyes, helping us to value adequately the contribution of women, as co-protagonists of the human adventure,” said Pope Francis.


The Vatican’s Prison Pavilion: A Venice Biennale First

Mural by Maurizio Cattelan at the Vatican Pavilion, photographed by Luca Bruno. Source: Associated Press.


“With My Eyes” is installed in a women’s prison on Venice’s Giudecca Island. The Venice Pavilion exhibition aims to illustrate the power of art to transform the lives of inmates. The facade of the pavilion features a mural by Maurizio Cattelan that depicts the soles of two dirty feet, echoing Andrea Mantegna’s Lamentation of Christ (c. 1480). The Italian contemporary artist is known for his controversial life-size sculpture of Pope John Paul II being struck by a meteorite.

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Visitors to the Vatican Pavilion must hand in their cell phones before entering, as the site still functions as a working prison. Inside, exhibition tours are given by inmates, who wear self-designed uniforms. Art by Corita Kent is displayed in the prison cafeteria, and a series of poems written by women at the prison were fired in lava rock by Lebanese-American artist Simone Fattal. Additionally, a video installation on the subject of freedom, featuring inmates as actors, was directed by actor Zoe Saldana and her husband, Italian director and producer Marco Perego.


Visitors to the Venice Biennale Face a New Fee

Source: La Biennale di Venezia 2024.


Held every other year since 1895, the Venice Biennale celebrates its 60th edition this year. Welcoming pavilions of contemporary art from around the world, the 2024 Venice Biennale opened on April 20 and will run through November 24.


During his April 28 visit to the Venice Biennale, Pope Francis discussed the impacts of climate change on the UNESCO-listed city, which is slowly sinking. “Venice is one with the waters on which it stands,” he said in an address at St. Mark’s Square. “Without the care and protection of this natural environment it could even cease to exist.” Just last week, Venice implemented a new entry fee for visitors in an attempt to combat the consequences of climate change and over-tourism.

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By Emily SnowMA History of Art, BA Art History & Curatorial StudiesEmily Snow is a contributing writer and art historian based in Amsterdam. She earned an MA in art history from the Courtauld Institute of Art and loves knitting, her calico cat, and everything Victorian.