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Contemporary art has a new home – at the Vatican

5 November 2021

Introducing Rakewell, Apollo’s wandering eye on the art world. Look out for regular posts taking a rakish perspective on art and museum stories.

Vatican City now has its very own Kunsthalle. Yes, that’s right: Pope Francis has opened a new gallery for contemporary art in the historic papal library of the Vatican. The first exhibition, titled ‘EVERYONE: Humanity on Its Way’, features an installation by the artist Pietro Ruffo, who has ‘transform[ed] the space into a lush tropical forest’.

The pope has previously shared his zeal for contemporary art – in his book of 2015, Pope Francis: My Idea of Art (later a documentary of the same name), Francis described how the Vatican Museums must ‘embrace new forms of art’. ‘A work of art is the strongest evidence that incarnation is possible,’ he said. In 2018, the Vatican Museums were planning a touring exhibition of Andy Warhol’s Last Supper series in collaboration with the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh – although the Vatican City leg was cancelled, apparently due to scheduling conflicts.

Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c. 1650), Diego Velázquez. Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Portrait of Pope Innocent X (c. 1650), Diego Velázquez. Galleria Doria Pamphilj, Rome

Supreme pontiffs have appeared in the work of plenty of artists past and present. Raphael, Caravaggio and Velázquez – who in their own time were themselves considered to be working at the cutting edge of contemporary art – all produced famous papal portraits. And Velázquez, of course, furnished the inspiration for Francis Bacon’s series of screaming popes. Equally unlikely to appear in the Vatican’s new gallery any time soon is Maurizio Cattelan’s La Nona Ora (The Ninth Hour), a wax figure of John Pope II lying on the ground having been struck by a meteorite.

But perhaps the Vatican could play host to a performance by Pope.L (also known as William Pope.L)? The American artist is known for his feats of extreme endurance, in which he has crawled across Times Square and all 22 miles of the Broadway, to cite just two examples. With a total area of just 0.17 square miles, Vatican City would probably be a piece of cake.

Got a story for Rakewell? Get in touch at rakewell@apollomag.com or via @Rakewelltweets.