Of the 85 national pavilions, five are presented by countries participating in the Biennale for the first time. The most eye-opening is the pavilion of Antigua and Barbuda (population 91,295), which features a historical presentation of the self-taught artist Frank Walter, who made delicate paintings but also wrote a 25,000-page hulk of autobiography, philosophy and fictional genealogy. Walter (1926-2009), who styled himself as the Seventh Prince of the West Indies, lived his last decades in a scrap-metal shack, evoked here in a video installation. But his paintings — of Antiguan flora, the insignia of European nobility, or small abstractions of stars and circles that recall the Pop Art of Robert Indiana — open onto a world much larger than that small dwelling.
From the Pavilion’s curator:
Frank Walter, The Last Universal Man (1926-2009), marks Antigua and Barbuda’s inaugural representation at the Venice Biennale. The exhibition invites visitors to inhabit the creative world and humanist vision of seminal Caribbean artist Frank Walter through a selection of his paintings, sculpture, audio recordings, and writing—as well as through video exploration of his entire oeuvre consisting of 5,000 works of art and a 25,000-page archive. The Last Universal Man is also conceived of as a space to inspire dialogue—a posthumous fulfillment of Walter’s intention to open his house and studio as a center for art.
Fittingly situated in the tranquil, garden-like setting of central Venice’s fifteenth-century monastery Don Orione Artigianelli, the exhibition recreates the contemplative mood of Walter’s artistic retreat and paradisus terrestris, which he built above the southern Antiguan coastline in the last decades of his life. The artwork that once filled Walter’s house and studio is inextricable to his postcolonial experience. Yet the issues he engaged with—such as identity, memory, and environment—resonate today.