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Last Updated: Wednesday, 11 June, 2003, 09:52 GMT 10:52 UK
Art row mars festival debut
The festival has been dubbed art's equivalent of the Oscars
Outspoken UK Culture Minister Kim Howells has revealed a major gap in his knowledge when it comes to artists from his native Wales.

Mr Howells had been trying to defend Welsh art, after a row blew up over the artists representing Wales at a prestigious international arts event.

It is the first time Wales will be represented at the Venice Biennale - the world's oldest and most important international art exhbition.

But the debut is threatened to be overshadowed by the fact that - out of the four artists representing Wales - only two were born in Wales, but no longer live or work in the country.

Speaking on BBC Radio Four's Today programme, the MP for Pontypridd denied this showed a "worrying" lack of talent in Welsh art.

Artists representing Wales
Paul Seawright, born in Northern Ireland, works in Gwent
Bethan Huws, born in Bangor, works in Malakoff, near Paris
Simon Pope, born in Exeter, works in Cardiff
Cerith Wyn Evans, born in Llanelli, works in London

"I think there are a lot of very interesting artists working in Wales, some of whom are Welsh," he said.

"I go down to Cardiff and look at the galleries down there, and there are plenty of young artists on display."

When pressed however, Mr Howells could not actually name any of the artists he was referring to.

He blamed this oversight on the fact that visual arts were very much the poor cousin of the arts in Wales.

"It says something about the way we teach art and we present art," Neale Howells added.

"I am very glad to see we are taking people in Wales and saying it is good enough to have work represented at the Venice Biennale.

Kim Howells
UK Culture Minister Kim Howells defended Welsh art

"Art should be international - it shouldn't know frontiers."

Mr Howells was responding to fierce comments from artist Neale Howells - who said a lot of Welsh art was "rubbish", and that the artists representing Wales at the Biennale were unsuitable.

"It is boring, bland - no-one is doing anything exciting," he said.

"How can these four people represent a contemporary Wales - it's flabbergasting.

"It is saying the people of Wales are not good enough, so we have got to import them."

Profile boost

Welsh assembly Culture Minister Alun Pugh, who is going to the Biennale, said the choice of representatives showed the nature of Welsh society.

People around Wales give their view on the visual arts.

"We are pretty open and pretty welcoming," he said.

"We are a bilingual society here in Wales - perhaps that's not very British, but it is very European, and that's entirely in track with the sort of modern outward-looking Wales we are trying to create."

Visual arts, architecture, dance, music, theatre and cinema are all showcased at the Venice Biennale.

Simon Pope, one of the artists who is representing Wales, said it was a real privilege.

"This is going to do great things for the profile of the visual arts to come from Wales," he said.

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