After months of controversial rumors, an African-American artist has been chosen for the US pavilion in Venice Biennial, showing Trump’s leap forward from the Obamas…
Text by: Fiammetta Cesana
The long-awaited (and surprising) announcement
Normally, the countries’ representatives at the Biennial are announced a year before the exhibition, in order to give the artists enough time to create new works for the installation of the pavilions. This year instead US Department of State has taken much longer to reveal the name of its artist. It seemed that the delay was due both to internal disorders in Trump’s administration, unable to cover key roles, and to the hostility towards the art world expressed by the government after cutting funds to National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Many thought that the state administration wouldn’t have selected an artist at all… Other said that being the US voice at the world’s most important art meeting would have meant supporting Trump’s political hardline. But now all these uncertainties and heated debates has been cooled down as the name of Martin Puryear, an African-American sculptor, finally came out: a choice that brings back to life a socially and culturally significant campaign started during Obama’s mandate. And it actually move it forward.
The Obamas and the arts
Barack and Michelle Obama largely promoted the integration of “black art” within the country, by introducing for instance the works of Glenn Ligon, William Johnson and Alma Thomas within the White House’s walls. They also have chosen two African-American artists, Kehinde Wiley and Amy Sherald, to do their official portraits for the National Portrait Gallery in Washington. In 2011, Barack Obama awarded Martin Puryear the National Medal for the Arts and Humanities, institutions that today Trump is trying to marginalize. So the 2019 American Biennial pavilion raises questions about the relation between the US government and the arts. However, despite all the conspiracies about the delays of his administration for the Venice exhibition, Trump has allowed an African-American artist to be the face of US, moving the social-artistic commitment undertaken by the former Presidency’s couple from the national borders to a global scale. Not only, his administration has also gone beyond Obamas’ action by making in charge for the first time a body specializing in public art to choose the American pavilion’s representative at the Biennial.
Why Martin Puryear?
He has been selected by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, curator of the US Pavilion for the Biennial and Deputy Director of Madison Square Park Conservancy, an organization renewed for combining art production with the natural ecology of the park. Puryear is 77, and he is considered as a classical artist thanks to his use of materials like wood, stone, metal and traditional carving techniques. His in-depth research between his works and the surrounding environment made him the perfect choice for the 58th edition of Venice Biennial. He has been selected by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, curator of the US Pavilion for the Biennial and Deputy Director of Madison Square Park Conservancy, an organization renewed for combining art production with the natural ecology of the park. This is the first time that a public art organization has been commissioned to choose the American pavilion’s representative at Venice Biennial.
Puryear’s is defined as a Post-minimalist, merging traditional art with an engaging analysis of identity and culture. His diversified yet classical art production perfectly fits with the theme of 2019 Biennial, “May you live in interesting times”, which enhances the power of art of understanding different perspectives of reality. As the exhibition’s Curator, Ralph Rugoff, suggests, as we live in a world of fake news that undermine any formative discourse, we should take a step back and reconsider our point of view. Throughout different ludic performance, the Biennial will invite visitors to engage with both their pleasure and critical thinking, breaking up categorizations for the achievement of new social and inner awarenesses.
“We are contradictory creatures, we have desires that conflict with one another. And art has a role in which all this is recognized and explored. An enormous role to play in helping us to re-tune our thinking, developing our understanding of different perspectives. This is one of the great cultural values of what artists do: they do not create interesting works if they have only one point of view. It will be an exhibition dedicated to this spirit, an art that embraces multiple types of view, questioning the categories we already have.” – Ralph Rugoff