Artist Martin Puryear ART ’71 HON ’94 will represent the United States at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia — otherwise referred to as the Venice Biennale — from May 11 to Nov. 24. Puryear, a renowned sculptor and object-maker who often works with both organic and industrial materials such as wood, granite, iron, tar and fieldstone, will present an exhibition entitled “Liberty” that expands themes integral to Puryear’s oeuvre.
“When Puryear learned that he would represent our country at the Biennale, his response was that he would do so as both an artist and as a citizen,” said Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the deputy director and Martin Friedman Senior Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. “This position is not a discovery for those who know Puryear and his sculpture. His enduring approach has galvanized his work for more than five decades; issues of citizenry, allegiance, democracy, liberty and responsibility have long propelled the artist.”
Rapaport, who is curating the United States Pavilion at the Biennale, highlighted the “significance and urgency” of Puryear’s work.
“Martin Puryear is one of the most important artists working today,” Rapaport said. “His sculpture confronts historic and contemporary issues and ideas. For more than five decades, Martin has created a body of work distinguished by a complex visual vocabulary and deeply-considered meaning.”
The Venice Biennale consists of a large group exhibition as well as separate exhibits from dozens of participating countries. This year’s group exhibit, entitled “May you live in interesting times,” will be curated by Ralph Rugoff — the first UK-based curator to helm the Biennale. Rugoff selected 83 artists to be featured in the exhibit, five of whom are Yale-affiliated: Alex Da Corte ART ’10, Njideka Akunyili Crosby ART ’11, Michael Smith ART ’08, Tavares Strachan ART ’06 and Hito Steyerl, a Hayden Visiting Fellow at the University.
Each participating country presents an exhibit in a separate, unique venue. For example, Albania’s “Maybe the cosmos is not so extraordinary” and Georgia’s “REARMIRRORVIEW, Simulation is Simulation, is Simulation, is Simulation” will be on view at the Arsenal, a complex of former shipyards and armories in Venice. Hungary’s “Imaginary Cameras,” Japan’s “Cosmo-eggs” and the Republic of Korea’s “History Has Failed Us, but No Matter” will be presented at the Giardini della Biennale, the traditional site of the exhibitions since the Biennale’s inception in 1895.
The United States Pavilion, located in the Giardini, will house Puryear’s “Liberty.” Every two years, in preparation for the Biennale, curators from across the United States submit exhibit proposals to the National Endowment for the Arts Federal Advisory Committee on International Exhibitions, who submit their recommendations to the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. The Bureau then decides what proposal will prevail in the Pavilion.
This year, the winning proposal was presented by the Madison Square Park Conservancy, a commissioning body in charge of maintaining Madison Square Park. According to a Biennale press release on Feb. 5, the Conservancy “creates an urban oasis that welcomes a diverse community of over 60,000 visitors each day” through its “public art commissions, horticultural stewardship and engaging programming.”
Puryear has collaborated with the Conservancy in the past. In 2016, the organization commissioned a monumental outdoor work entitled “Big Bling” in Madison Square Park. The work is currently on view in the Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art.
“It was [‘Big Bling’] that became the catalyst for proposing that he represent the United States at Biennale Arte 2019,” Rapaport said. “In Venice, Martin will create new work for the outdoor forecourt of the U.S. Pavilion. New and recent sculptures will be on view in the Pavilion’s galleries. The selection of the Conservancy as commissioning institution in Venice is a sign that public art has come of age.”
The U.S. Pavilion requires an extensive team of individuals to fully realize the exhibit. This team includes many Yale affiliates. Architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien ’71 will design the exhibit, graphic designer Miko McGinty ’93 ART ’98 and Rebecca Sylvers ’15 will design the catalogue, Gregory Miller LAW ’93 will publish the catalogue and both Anne Wagner ’71 and current Ph.D. candidate in the Department of English Tobi Haslett GRD ’22 will contribute essays to the catalogue.
Past Yale affiliates who have represented the United States at the Venice Biennale include Sarah Sze ’91 and Ann Hamilton ART ’85.
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