58th International Venice Art Exhibition

The 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, titled May You Live In Interesting Times, will open to the public from Saturday May 11 to Sunday November 24, 2019, at the Giardini and the Arsenale; it will be curated by Ralph Rugoff and organised by La Biennale di Venezia chaired by Paolo Baratta.


“The title of this Exhibition could be interpreted as a sort of curse”, President Paolo Baratta stated, “where the expression ‘interesting times’ evokes the idea of challenging or even ‘menacing’ times, but it could also simply be an invitation to always see and consider the course of human events in their complexity, an invitation, thus, that appears to be particularly important in times when, too often, oversimplification seems to prevail, generated by conformism or fear. And I believe that an exhibition of art is worth our attention, first and foremost, if it intends to present us with art and artists as a decisive challenge to all oversimplifying attitudes.”

“Twenty years have passed since, in this same location, I presented my first Exhibition”, the President recalls, “after the Biennale underwent major reform in 1998. Let me tell you, they have been very interesting times. ‘Openness’ was our response to the many critics who accused the Biennale and its ‘national pavilions’ of being old-fashioned; in those years, cosmopolitanism and globalisation were in vogue. Now, twenty years later, some people raise the doubt that cosmopolitanism might also have been a way for dominant societies and economies to exert a sort of soft power.”
“To this end, I remember how the word ‘open’, more than any other, resounded in us in the early years”, Baratta continues, “and it characterised our choices in 1999 and 2001: to be ‘open’ to new spaces; to ‘open’ our exhibition, in order to represent art as a phenomenon of humanity (the title of our first Biennale was APERTO overALL, the second was entitled Plateau of Humankind; these two titles became the motto for all the following editions of the exhibition).”
“During these years, we have increased the number of visitors and found a new partner. Over the course of the past years, the double cost of transportation in the lagoon obliged us to ask for additional support, and our expressions of gratitude and our press books included many market participants. The increase in the number of our visitors has allowed us to considerably cut back on this practice, as you can see in the drastic reduction in our expressions of gratitude, both when presenting the works and in the catalogues, with the exception of a few ‘special’ presences (characterised by the high cost of their realisation and/or transportation). Our visitors have become our main partner; more than half are under 26 years of age. Calling notice to this result seems to me the best way to celebrate the twenty years which have passed since 1999.”

“We want to offer them an open gym, where they can feel involved in encounters with the works and the artists, in the direct discovery of the ‘other’ which the work of art offers. To us, it is important that, when entering the exhibit, the ‘public’ becomes ‘visitors’, who then become
‘observers’ of the work. First, the necessary disorientation, then the involvement, followed by the discovery; it is almost a fencing drill. To share this direction is one of the reasons we have asked Ralph Rugoff to collaborate with us on this twentieth anniversary.” (The full text by Paolo Baratta is included in the press kit and the catalog) The Exhibition is is divided into two separate presentations, Proposition A in the Arsenale and Proposition B in the Giardini’s Central Pavilion, comprising 79 artists from all over the world.

“From the acceleration of climate change to the resurgence of nationalist agendas across the globe, from the pervasive impact of social media to the growing disparity of wealth, contemporary matters of concern are addressed in many of the works in this exhibition”, Ralph Rugoff explains. “But let us acknowledge at the outset that art is more than a document of its times.”

“May You Live In Interesting Times highlights artworks whose forms function in part to call attention to what forms conceal and the multifarious purposes that they fulfil. In an indirect manner, then, perhaps these artworks can serve as a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times’. We can certainly learn from the way the artists in this Biennale challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of widely varied objects and pictures, scenarios and situations.”

“In order to call attention to the exemplary multiplicity of these artistic practices, with their open-ended and many-sided explorations, it seemed to me that this Biennale would need a slightly different approach. Hence there is no over-arching narrative or thematic umbrella. To underscore the fluid complexities of this kind of art, I have chosen to make a small adjustment to the usual format of the Biennale Arte: May You Live In Interesting Times is divided into two separate presentations, Proposition A in the Arsenale and Proposition B in the Giardini’s Central Pavilion. The works presented in these two venues, and the atmospheres they generate, are quite distinct from each other – not because they are grouped around separate ideas or principles, but because they feature different aspects of each artist’s practice.”

“Our encounters with works of art are invariably modified by the architectural contexts that frame them, and the dissimilar settings and viewing conditions offered by these two sites inevitably create a fissure in our experience of any exhibition staged across them both. This edition seeks to make a virtue of that situation. Meanwhile, the 58th International Art Exhibition also includes 90 national pavilions in addition to the international exhibition; it has thus always formulated itself in a kind of split format, in which the utopianism of the international exhibition is counter-balanced by the nationalist manifestations embedded in the separate pavilions. This is one of the unique characteristics of the International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, which – to my knowledge – is unmatched by any other biennial of art and which links it to the tradition of world exhibitions that arose in the 19th century.”

“In his ground-breaking book The Open Work, first published in Italy in 1962, Umberto Eco drew attention to art’s capacity to inspire novel ways of seeing and behaving, which he linked to its relentless testing and questioning of cultural standards and norms. This activity includes continually disrupting the rules and conventions of current artistic practice and seeking open-ended conversations over any exercise of closure. Almost 60 years after the publication of Eco’s book, it is precisely these characteristics of ‘the open work’ that this exhibition aims to explore through the work of the artists that it brings together.”

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