Meet the Venice Biennale's Youngest Director, Massimiliano Gioni

Massimiliano Gioni, mastermind of the Venice Biennale, has the outsider spirit that insiders crave.

Photograph: Selva Barni/Courtesy of Fondazione Nicola Trussardi, Milan.

The youngest director in the 118-year history of the Venice Biennale, 39-year-old Massimiliano Gioni is determined to see that rebellion, not tradition, is served. As the top curator at New York City's red-hot New Museum since 2010, Gioni, who was raised Catholic near Milan, has perfected the art of what he likes to call "irreverent practices."

He has played the provocateur with wildly ambitious exhibitions like 2009's "Younger Than Jesus" (featuring the works of 50 artists under the age of 33) and 2011's "Carston Hller: Experience" (an interactive amusement park that included a carousel and a sensory-deprivation tank).

Gioni's motto, appropriated from Andy Warhol, is, "Always leave them wanting less." He has borrowed the title of the 55th Biennale, "The Encyclopedic Palace," from a theoretical project by the late outsider artist Marino Auriti. Conceived as a 136-story skyscraper containing the sum total of human knowledge, it's represented at Venice by Auriti's 11-foot-tall scale model.

That piece sets the tone for the other works Gioni has selected, including a "living sculpture" by Tino Seghal and a repurposed church, transported from Vietnam by the Hugo Boss Prize-winning artist Danh Vo. "It's impossible to make a Venice Biennale that everybody likes," says Gioni, who knows that his unorthodox vision will invite controversy. "No matter what you do, you're going to be crucified. So I might as well do it in a way that encourages crucifixion."

Gioni on the evolution of the word curator:

"The term has clearly moved beyond the art world. Today it's a universal metaphor for choosing. This may sound a little conservative, but I think it's important to remind ourselves that the word literally means 'to take care of something.' That element of dedication and devotion is important. Even if the word curator goes away, I know I'll still be doing this."

The Venice Biennale opens June 1, 2013.

—Laurence Lowe

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