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Visitors to the 60th Venice Biennale this month will encounter a dramatic display in St Mark’s Square, which has been criticised by a local heritage group. The public art project, by the Spanish artist Manolo Valdés, comprises 13 bronze sculptures lined up near the Doge’s Palace in Venice’s historic centre (until 15 June). The project, entitled Las Meninas a San Marco, is inspired by Velázquez’s celebrated 1656 painting Las Meninas and is overseen by the Venice-based Contini Art Gallery.

“[Valdés] who has been collaborating with the Contini Art Gallery since 2016, has always shown a deep sensitivity in decontextualising subjects from famous works of the calibre of Velázquez, Picasso, and Matisse, transporting them into a sculptural three-dimensionality, thus giving them a new identity,” a gallery statement says.

Diego Velázquez’s Las Meninas (1656)

But the heritage organisation Italia Nostra-Venezia criticised the move, saying in a statement: “The surprise of seeing a series of black effigies recalling Las Meninas in Piazza San Marco has not been welcomed by many Venetians: it reads like yet another imposition, yet more violence on an already tortured body.

“This extemporaneous use, or exploitation, of the city is part of a phenomenon that has taken hold for decades now: the ‘biennialisation of the city’ … Not everything is for sale in Venice and especially not our cultural heritage, which has made us who we are, and is our identity.”

In a statement, Contini Art Gallery says that the display is presented in collaboration with the Municipality of Venice (Comune di Venezia), the Venice superintendent of fine arts at the Municipality of Venice and Vela S.p.A, a subsidiary company of the city of Venice. When the exhibition ends, one of Valdés’s sculptures will be donated to the city of Venice.

According to the publication Venezia Today, the gallery paid €122,000 to Vela S.p.A. to host the show; Contini Art Gallery declined to comment regarding the fee and the Comune di Venezia did not respond to a request for comment.

The Valdés display is also sponsored by the Italian finance company Banca Ifis, the insurance company Assicurazioni Generali, and the publisher Gruppo Editoriale Italia. Two other works by Valdés, Mariposas and Diadema, are also on show in Venice near the Arsenale.

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