The 2019 Art Biennale (May 11 – November 24) promises to give us an interesting time. The event will highlight a general approach to making art and a view of the social function on art, which embraces both pleasure and critical thinking. Curator Ralph Rugoff has therefore entitled the event ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’.
With 79 artists from all over the world at the ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ exhibitions, 90 national participations and 21 collateral events, the official program of the Art Biennale has a lot to offer for art lovers visiting Venice in 2019.
The main sites for the exhibitions and pavilions are, as usual, Giardini and Arsenale. There are however 35 national pavilions, 19 collateral events and 1 special project which are spread across the historic center of Venice, Giudecca, San Servolo and Forte Marghera.
This post will present you more details about the history of the Art Biennale, about curator Ralph Rugoff and about the ‘May You Live In Interesting Times’ exhibition. It will also give you a first impression of what you can expect from the national pavilions and collateral events.
The history of the Art Biennale
The 2019 Art Biennale is in fact the 58th International Art Exhibition, which is the official name of the event. The 2019 edition is also the 20th anniversary of Paolo Baratta as President of La Biennale di Venezia, and of the major transformation which La Biennale went through in 1998.
The history of La Biennale started in 1893 when the Mayor of Venice, Riccardo Selvatico, and the city council decided to organize a prestigious international exhibition. On April 30, 1895, the ‘I Esposizione Internazionale d’Arte della Città di Venezia’ was opened in the presence of the King and Queen, Umberto I and Margherita di Savoia. There were over 200,000 visitors, an impressive number for that time. The 2017 Art Biennale, ‘Viva Arte Viva’ curated by Christine Macel, attracted 615,152 visitors, of which 31% younger than 26.
If you want to know more about the history of La Biennale, you can read my guest post which is published on the website of Monica Cesarato.
Curator Ralph Rugoff
Ralph Rugoff (°1957, American) was appointed Director of the Visual Arts Department at La Biennale di Venezia, with specific responsibility for curating the 58th International Art Exhibition. Since December 2017, he worked closely with the Biennale team to prepare ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’.
Ralph Rugoff has been the Director of the Hayward Gallery of London since 2006, one of the leading public art galleries in the United Kingdom. There, he curated numerous group shows, including ‘The Painting of Modern Life’ (2007), ‘Psycho Buildings’ (2008) and ‘The Infinite Mix’ (2016), as well as important retrospectives and solo exhibitions by Ed Ruscha, Jeremy Deller, Carsten Holler, Tracey Emin, and George Condo. Rugoff was also the Artistic Director of the XIII Biennale de Lyon in 2015 titled ‘La vie moderne’.
He wrote for numerous periodicals, art magazines and newspapers, including Artforum, Artpresse, FlashArt, Frieze, Parkett, Grand Street, The Financial Times, The Los Angeles Times, and The Los Angeles Weekly.
“I think that there’s a real conversation between a work of art and its audience. So, I wanted to have a show that started a conversation with as many people as possible.”
May You Live in Interesting Times
For Ralph Rugoff, art is about relentlessly asking questions. ‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ will explore the potential of art as a method for looking into things that we do not already know – things that may be off-limits, under-the-radar, or otherwise inaccessible for various reasons. The exhibition should open people’s eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world. In an indirect way, perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times.’
For the Art Biennale in Venice, Ralph Rugoff sought artworks that were multivalent, that were richly ambiguous, that could deal with paradox and contradiction, that generated many, many associations, that could be interpreted in different ways by viewers, that were talking about different key aspects of this time, that reflect on social divisions but in a way that was an open conversation. This approach is inspired by Umberto Eco’s ‘The Open Work’, published in 1965.
‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ is a combination of 2 central exhibitions and several related events, all organized under the guidance of the curator.
‘May You Live in Interesting Times’ exhibitions
Each of the 79 artists selected by Ralph Rugoff will present his/her work in both exhibition locations, i.e. the Corderie in Arsenale and the Central Pavilion in Gardini. The number of artists is therefore much lower than in previous editions. The two exhibitions will however be totally different as the artists will present very distinct works at each site. If you want to make sure you recognize the works of a specific artist, you will therefore have to rely on the signs next to the art works. There will be many paintings, but also film, video, sculptures and digital works.
Looking at it from different angles, there is a wide variety of artists. They come from all continents across the world. The split between men and women is more or less equal. There are estabilished names and less-know artists. Ralph Rugoff also only selected living artists. The youngest (29 years) is Augustas Serapinas from Lithuania, while the American Jimmie Durham (79 years) is the oldest artist.
The exhibition wants to create an expansive experience of deep involvement, absorption and creative learning. This will entail engaging visitors in a series of encounters that are essentially playful. Aspects of the exhibition format will be tweaked, where possible, to make sure they are sympathetically aligned with the character of the art being presented. I look forward to discover this design aspect in the exhibition.
For the Art Biennale 2019, 2 special projects have been selected. Ludovica Carbotta has been invited by Ralph Rugoff to make a work in Forte Marghera (Mestre), inside the Austrian Polveriera building. Marysia Lewandowska is the artist who will exhibit in the Pavilion of Applied Arts located in the Arsenale. The project is the result of the collaboration with the Victoria and Albert Museum in London.
A broad educational programme has again been scheduled for 2019. It targets both individuals and groups of students, children, adults, families or companies. You can take part in one of the guided tours (with and without reservation) or in workshop activities (for children). You can book the tours via the website of La Biennale.
National participations and collateral events
This year, 90 countries will present stunning art works in their national pavilion. Four countries will be participating for the first time to the Art Biennale: Algeria, Ghana, Madagascar, and Pakistan. The Dominican Republic and the Republic of Kazakhstan will have for the first time their own national pavilion. Besides the national pavilions, there are also 21 collateral events which are admitted by the curator and worth a visit. The difference with the national pavilions is not always clear to me, so I add them here to the same category.
From what I have read so far, and I’m more or less halfway through the list of exhibitions, there will be a wide variety of contemporary art, including photography, video, performance and conceptual art. Out of these 111 art exhibitions, I have already bookmarked 11 pavilions which immediately appealed to me and which I don’t want to miss.
- Cathy Wilkes, who represents Great Britain, is famous for sculptural installations of profound and mysterious intensity, which often evoke the rituals of daily life while alluding to existential questions at the core of human existence. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Great Britain‘)
- The Lithuanian pavilion will transform into an artificially lit, everyday beach. This will be the stage of the contemporary opera performance ‘Sun & Sea (Marina)’, by Rugilė Barzdžiukaitė, Vaiva Grainytė and Lina Lapelytė. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Lithuania‘)
- In ‘Former Uncertain Indicated’, Stanislav Kolíbal (°1925) shows large-scale drawings inside and ouside the pavilion of the Czech Republic, in combination with white sculptures from the 1960s and minimalist conceptual wall-installations from the 1970s. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Czech Republic‘)
- Grenada selected Dave Lewis, Billy Gerard Frank, Shervone Neckles, Amy Cannestra, Franco Rota Candiani, Roberto Miniati, and the collective CRS avant-garde for ‘Epic Memory’ and challenged the artists to look at their own memories related to their region. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Grenada‘)
- ‘We, Elsewhere’ is a site-specific installation by İnci Eviner for the Turkey pavilion. She uses reconfigured objects as well as drawings, video, sound and performance. It is an investigation into the spaces that we create, and are created for us as a result of collective displacement. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Turkey‘)
- There is also the intriguing project ‘Here we go again… SYSTEM 317’ by Marko Peljhan for Slovenia. His projects combine art, technology and science.
- New Zealand selected Palazzina Canonica along the Riva dei Sette Martiri for the ‘Post hoc’ exhibition of Dane Mitchell. He will symbolically revive vanished, extinct and defunct phenomena via 5 cell-phone stealth towers across Venice. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: New Zealand)
- Angelica Mesiti, known for her large-scale video works, will present ‘ASSEMBLY’ in the Australian pavilion. She explores how society is shaped through communication and participation. (more information in ‘Preview of the Art Biennale 2019: Australia‘)
- Marina Telleria brings ‘The name of a country’ to the Arsenale for Argentina.
- Larissa Sansour shows a surreal futuristic world ‘Heirloom’ in the Danish pavilion in Giardini.
- Ireland selected Eva Rotschild, who is inspired by minimalism, and ‘The Shrinking Universe’.
Art is however a very personal matter, and tastes differ widely. Similar as for the previous Art and Architecture Biennale editions, I will publish previews on several national pavilions so you can decide for yourself which ones are worth visiting. For your reference, I suggest you bookmark my Art Biennale 2019 page where you can always find the latest articles. Shortly after the opening of the Biennale, I will publish additional details and let you in on my favourite pavilions of this year’s event.
You can also find practical tips to prepare your visit in my post ‘How to prepare your visit to the Art Biennale 2019’. More information on the Biennale, including an overview of all the artists and national participations, can be found on the website of La Biennale.
Enjoy the Biennale!