Benetton’s famous “shock factor” may have been discarded but Luciano Benetton’s vision is still a global one. Never one to shy away from a challenge, the ex-head of the international fashion brand (and former Italian senator) has now turned his attention to contemporary art.
The first stage of his Imago Mundi collection has taken Benetton and his team five years to curate. It currently contains over 1,000 paintings, both commissioned and collected, from emerging artists in Australia, India, Japan, South Korea, and the United States. The travelling exhibition will make its debut at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice on August 28th and will run through October—simultaneous to the Venice Biennale.
The concept is an innovative but simple one. Locally selected artists from each region were asked to produce any image they wished, with whatever medium. There was only one condition: that they restricted their creations to the uniform dimension of 12cm by 10cm, about the size of a postcard. The resulting collection is an intriguing combination: huge, wooden framed mosaics of tiny images, each standing over six feet high. Bright daubs of color sit alongside, dark, meticulous illustrations—each piece bursts off the canvas, vying for audience attention.
It’s a project that 78-year-old Benetton says he hopes will celebrate cultural differences between artists and draw the critical spotlight onto lesser-known, international talent.
“What we really want to do is to eventually map the contemporary art situation all over the world, trying to include as many countries as possible. No countries excluded,” he told The Daily Beast, speaking from his Italian home in Treviso.
The collection is organized and curated by geographical location. According to Benetton, every piece acts as “a unique business card” for the individual artists whilst also presenting a snapshot of their region’s cultural diversity. The techniques and materials used are as varied as the images, piecing together a creative landscape as rich as it is wide-ranging.
“What was difficult was when I had this idea in the very beginning, because there was no previous precedent for what was being done,” said Benetton, adjusting his trademark round glasses. “But the more works I collected, the more I realized how important this project was,” he said. “I want these artists to be discovered, to be known, to come to light,” he added. With the help of curators and local experts, Benetton aims to expand the collection to include over 10,000 artists by 2016.
As well as creating a showcase of contemporary talent, Benetton also hopes the exhibition will facilitate a wider dialogue between different cultures, particularly opposing ones. “I’ve always thought that while in politics it might be very difficult to smooth conflicts between neighbouring cultures, whereas artists can do it very well and much more easily,” he said. “They help us to value and treasure differences.”
Imago Mundi will be on view at the Fondazione Querini Stampalia in Venice from August 28th—October 27th.