The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) announced that they would partner with Benetton for Vision and Vernacular: Eight African-American Artists in Venice, an exhibition of self-taught African American artists during the Venice Biennale from June 1–15, 2011. Luciano Benetton, chairman of the Benetton Group, said “It gives me great pleasure that our first use of Fondaco dei Tedeschi will be an exhibition with an American Museum of such importance that has not been seen in Venice during the Biennale before. My family and I have great respect for the nature of their collection. The work that they have chosen to show is in keeping with the philosophy of the ‘One World of Benetton,’ whose principals have gilded not only our business but our personal philosophy, philanthropy, and lives.”

“The inclusion of these African-American self-taught and graffiti artists at the Venice Biennale will be revolutionary. These artists have never had the opportunity to situate themselves within a broader contemporary art dialogue— but their time has arrived” said Dr. Laura Parsons, president of The American Folk Art Museum (AFAM) board. Maria Ann Conelli, AFAM’s executive director, stated “The exhibition will present a truly American artistic vision to an international audience, and the central location and historic significance of the Fondaco dei Tedeschi ensures the installation will be one of the most visible and celebrated during the 2011 Biennale. While Venice has long prided Itself on presenting the most cutting edge art environments, the exclusion of contemporary self-taught and graffiti artists is a serious omission, but one that will be rectified this June. The American Folk Art Museum has been a national leader in celebrating the contributions made by African-American artists. This exhibition advances the much-deserved stature on an international stage. Who becomes a self taught artist is so interwoven with issues of race and economics. This work tells a great American story.”

Eight artists have been chosen by AFAM to be showed in Venice. Each will execute an original site-specific installation for the Fondaco dei Tedeschi. Lonnie Holley, Gregory Warmack (a.k.a. Mr. Imagination), Charlie Lucas (a.k.a. Tin Man) and Kevin Sampson represent the virtuosity of African American Contemporary Outsider artists. Steven Ogburn (a.k.a. Blade), Chris Ellis (a.k.a. Daze), Lin Felton (a.k.a. Quik), and Aaron Goodstone (a.k.a. Sharp) will represent different aspects of the urban vernacular of Graffiti. This exhibition showcases the diversity of contemporary African American self-taught artists by pairing two distinctive yet complementary approaches to art making, using the building’s architecture as inspiration for the work itself.

The four-floor Fondaco dei Tedeschi surrounds a grand glass covered central courtyard. It is for this courtyard that the four outsider artists’ installations will be created. The four graffiti artists will create their murals that surrounding the courtyard.

Benetton’s commitment to this project, in addition to the use of this extraordinary building, includes the involvement of Fabrica, Benetton’s communication research center and educational foundation, who will design and install the exhibition. Further Fabrica students will be assisting the artists with the constructions of their installations. Said Maria Ann Conelli, “Benetton has proved to be a most generous friend to our Museum. But this is unparalleled. It allows us to show this art on a world stage. We are most grateful to Mr. Benetton. His vision is legendary. ”

This exhibition is made possible by a major grant from the Ford Foundation.

About The Fondaco dei Tedeschi:

The Fondaco dei Tedeschi (Venetian: Fontego dei Tedeschi “The Germans’ Inn“) is a historic building in Venice, situated on the Grand Canal near the Rialto Bridge. First constructed in 1228, the building was rebuilt between 1505 and 1508, after its destruction in a fire. The reconstruction produced a very functional 4-floor building which surrounds a grand inner courtyard. Its architecture is typical of the cinquecento (Italian Renaissance) style, but the basic concept (and the word fondaco) is derived from a type of building in Arab countries. Like the Fondaco dei Turchi, the Fondaco dei Tedeschi was a palazzo, warehouse, and restricted living quarters for its population, in this case mainly Germanic merchants from cities such as Nuremberg, Judenburg and Augsburg.

At one time this building was the headquarters and restricted living quarters of the city’s German merchants. A broad definition was taken of the term German which included what would today be regarded as separate nationalities.

The ground floor of the building is accessible by water and was used for storage, the first floor was dedicated to offices and an upper area contained about 160 living quarters. The facades were covered with frescoes by Titian and Giorgione, but their work has not survived the Venetian climate (fragments survive in the collections of museums such as the Ca’ d’Oro). The German merchants arrived shortly after the building was originally constructed in the thirteenth century and stayed until the Napoleonic occupation. It was one of the city’s most powerful colonies of merchants, and consequently the fondaco became an important trading center for goods passing from the Orient on their way towards the Alps. The Venetian Republic took commission on the transactions of the fondaco. In the nineteenth century the leading figure of this community was the wealthy merchant Vittorio Tedeschi who had ties with the Transylvanian Nobility in the Austro-Hungarian Empire.

In the 20th century the building served as the Venice headquarters of the Poste Italiane. Edizione Srl, the holding company of the Benetton family, having acquired the building, has entrusted it to the renowned Dutch architect Rem Koolhaas, who will plan its renovation and transformation into one of the city’s most important centers for culture and retail.