by Catherine Kovesi

"A world without rhino and a world without Venice is unimaginable. Yet both Venice and the rhinos have become victims of their desirability and objectification as luxury objects - both consumed without discrimination by an ever-expanding class of consumers. " Catherine Kovesi (curator of the exhibition)

What do Venice and the rhino have in common? Although this glittering city and the magnificent beast might seem like an improbable coupling, not only are they threatened with extinction in the face of unrestricted consumption, but the rhinoceros is emblematically embedded in the city of Venice: Marco Polo provided one of the first descriptions of the rhinoceros of Sumatra; a rhinoceros is portrayed in an ancient mosaic in the heart of the city's basilica; and a rhinoceros visiting the city is remembered in a famous eighteenth-century painting by one of the great Venetian artists.

'Rhinoceros: Luxury's Fragile Frontier' by Catherine Kovesi is the new exhibition that brings together, for the first time, the works of artists working on opposite sides of the world, worried about the current situation of the rhinoceros. Their sculptural works will be framed against the backdrop of a single awareness campaign to reduce the demand for consumption of rhinoceros horn.
The exhibition opens on Saturday November 24th with a public and free symposium, which examines the paradoxical magnificence and fragility of Venice and the rhinoceros, bringing together an international group of artists, environmentalists, poets, writers and historians, who together will explore the often-surprising intersections between these two objects in danger of mass consumption.

The exhibition, which will be open from November 24 to December 21, at Magazzino Gallery of Palazzo Contarini Polignac, is composed of a selection of works by Shih Li-Jen, Gigi Bon and Lynn Johnson: an international collaboration of artists who have common love for the environment and nature and their commitment in the forefront for the future of rhinos, these wonderful "beasts" that need our help.
SYMPOSIUM - 24 November - Palazzo Contarini Polignac

EXHIBITION - 24th November - 21st December Warehouse Gallery, Palazzo Contarini Polignac


Li-Jen Shih was born in Changhua County, Taiwan, in 1955, and began his career in the art world as a curator and gallery owner in China and Taiwan. At the age of forty, following his artistic vocation, he began to create sculptures; among his first creations, the bronze works of art "Naked Female", "Leopard series", "Flocks of Sparrow", "The Formosan Mountain Dog". Up to be interested in the Rhinoceros and its symbolic power, creating various series of sculptures including the famous "King Kong Rhino" became his representative work.

Li Jen Shih is a modern artist but strongly connected to tradition, using contemporary language to reveal the ancient traditional subject. The form of "King Kong Rhino" contains elements of futurism and postmodernism, to renew and at the same time relate to the foundations of oriental style and knowledge.

His rhinoceros sculptures are now installed in urban centers of the most important Chinese cities including Taipei, Taichung and southern Taiwan, Beijing, Shanghai and Shandong. Everyone, including children, loves to gather around the rhinos of Li-Jen Shih so much as to give him a nickname: The Rhino Pope, the artist of the rhinos.

His work emphasizes the international resonance of the rhino's situation. His sculptures and installations, some of enormous height and on an industrial scale, question the strength and vulnerability of the rhinoceros and the increasing consumption of its horn in a predominantly Asian market.

He is the first Chinese artist to be invited to the Venice Biennial for two consecutive years.


Symbol of justice and power, "King Kong Rhino" was made of stainless steel material to reflect the daily changes in the sky and the environment around him. For his creation, the artist Li-Jen Shih wanted to transform the rhinoceros, a majestic creature that has always been a symbol of luck and kindness in Chinese culture, in a futuristic artistic work, a heroic and modern icon of the "real survivor" .

"The rhinoceros has always been a creature close to me. I have followed with pain, its precarious situation in the world and for this reason I decided to create a work that can testify its beauty and make men aware of the risk of extinction of rhinos in the world - states Li-Jen Shih - "On a spiritual level, my sculpture embodies many thoughts rooted in ancient Chinese culture, while, in style and expression, it represents modernity. Although "King Kong Rhino" is considered an urban sculpture, it is more than this: I have incarnated myself in it, and my spirit will be inherited and carried forward ".

The sculpture of the Rhinoceros of steel, with its armor, accompanied by rivets and modern vajra, exudes a strong air of perseverance different from traditional sculptures. In the horn is a human digital imprint that represents the predatory action of man and recalls the importance of respect due to all animal species on earth.

"King Kong Rhino" before arriving in Venice, was the sculpture chosen as an annual theme at the Shanghai Art Fair in 2011 and was installed in the main square of Kelti International Co in Taipei.


Of the 30 existing species of Rhinoceroses in the world, only 5 remain that live in Asia and Africa. The horn trade is threatening the existence of these imposing animals with a peaceful nature. The so-called "horn war" killed more than half of the rhinos on earth during the seventies and today the poachers are acting increasingly devastatingly using helicopters and automatic weapons. In the last 3 years, 1,349 horns have been poached.

Traditional Chinese medicine uses the powdered rhinoceros horn to heal fever, epilepsy, malaria, poisonings and abscesses, turning it into a precious material that is worth very high sums on the black market, representing a strong incentive to poaching. In Yemen, on the other hand, the rhinoceros horn is used as an ornament of the handle of the "Jambiya", the traditional curved dagger. In Vietnam, its powder has become more expensive than cocaine. The new oriental wealth has increased the demand for this that has become a real fashion contributing to the killing of 90% of rhinos in Kenya, Tanzania and Zambia and to their extinction in 7 other countries.

In March of this year, the last white male rhinoceros of North Africa, following a bone and muscle degeneration and the appearance of numerous wounds on his body, was subjected to euthanasia; so now only two white rhino females of North Africa are left all over the world, putting the breed in serious danger of extinction. (Source: WWF Italia)

This emergency situation has affected some of the most important international activists and VIPs such as Leonardo Di Caprio, Uma Thurman and directed the work of the artist Li-Jen Shih towards the theme of respect for the environment and ecology, making it the main objective of his artistic career, to remind man how his actions reflect on nature.