HOW TIME FLIES. It certainly doesn’t seem like two years has elapsed since Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor’s historic turn as artistic director of the Venice Biennale and “All the World’s Futures” featured more than 35 black artists, including Glenn Ligon who graced the entrance to the 56th International Exhibition with a neon work. Artists El Anatsui and Adrian Piper received Golden Lion Awards and architect David Adjaye designed The Arena, a performance space within the Central Pavilion where the international exhibition was presented.
Nevertheless, three months from now, the latest edition of Venice Biennale opens anew (May 13-Nov. 26). Christine Macel, chief curator at the Centre Pompidou, is serving as artistic director this year, curating the 57th International Art Exhibition. Featuring a roster of 120 invited artists, the announced list includes African American artists Sam Gilliam, Senga Nengudi, and McArthur Binion.
All three U.S. artists began their careers in the 1960s and 70s. Chicago-based Binion’s detailed paintings involve a unique visual language exploring personal narratives through Minimalism. Associated with Washington, D.C.’s Color School, Gilliam continues to push the possibilities of color with improvisational and experimental prints and paintings. At the 36th biennial in 1972, his work appeared in a group show in American pavilion. Colorado-based Nengudi is a conceptual and performance artist whose practice examines race, gender, culture and spirituality, often utilizing tights and pantyhose.
Nigerian performance artist Jelili Atiku and Malian artist Abdoulayewho Konaté, who creates textile installations, were also invited to participate. The selected group spans 51 countries, and most of the artists, 103, are participating for the first time. Gilliam was included in a 1972 group show in the U.S. pavilion.
IMAGE: Above, McArthur Binion with DNA Study, 2015, 84 x 84 inches | Photo by Christopher Burke Studio. © McArthur Binion. Courtesy Galerie Lelong, New York
From left, U.S. artists Senga Nengudi and Sam Gilliam began their careers in the 1960s and 70s and are enjoying renewed recognition, including participation in the international exhibition. | Photos by Ron Pollard (Nengudi), Courtesy White Cube; and Stephen Frietch (Gilliam), Courtesy David Kordansky Gallery
In the announcement, Macel explained the title of the international exhibition “is an exclamation, a passionate outcry for art and the state of the artist. VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists.”
She continued, emphasizing the power of art: “Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions. Art is the last bastion, a garden to cultivate above and beyond trends and personal interests. It stands as an unequivocal alternative to individualism and indifference.”
“VIVA ARTE VIVA is a Biennale designed with artists, by artists and for artists. She continued, emphasizing the power of art: “Today, in a world full of conflicts and shocks, art bears witness to the most precious part of what makes us human. Art is the ultimate ground for reflection, individual expression, freedom, and for fundamental questions.”
— Christine Macel, Artistic Director, 57th Venice Biennale
AT THE GIARDINI, at the Arsenale and in the historic city centre of Venice, 85 nations are participating in the historic pavilions.
Mark Bradford (at left) is representing the United States at the biennale. The Baltimore Museum of Art (BMA) and The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University are collaborating on Bradford’s presentation in cooperation with the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. Christopher Bedford, director of the Baltimore museum commissioned the exhibition, which he is co-curating with Katy Siegel, the museum’s senior curator for research and programming.
Los Angeles-based Bradford is presenting, “Tomorrow is Another Day,” an exhibition of new paintings and sculpture. His layered, mixed-media abstract paintings explore social justice issues and bring to light overlooked cultural concerns.
At a press event last month in New York, the artist provided little information about the art he is presenting in Venice. He did however announce a local initiative as a part of his participation. It’s a six-year project organized to help male and female prisoners market products they create, everything from vegetables to cosmetics and tote bags.
Bradford is the third African American artist to individually represent the United States at the biennale. Robert Colescott (1925-2009) was the first in 1997, followed by New York-based Fred Wilson in 2003. Another milestone, in 1990, Studio Museum in Harlem curators presented a special exhibition of five contemporary African artists. According to the New York Times, the display received honorable mention from judges and was the first time art from Nigeria and Zimbabwe was shown at the biennale.
IMAGE: Above left, Mark Bradford in Venice. | Photo by Christopher Bedford, Courtesy The Rose Art Museum
From left, Jelili Atuku of Nigeria and Abdoulaye Konaté of Mali are among the artists selected to participate in the international exhibition. | Photos by Enoh Lienemann (Atuku) and Simon Broughton (Konaté)
FOUR COUNTRIES are officially participating for the first time—Antigua and Barbuda; Kiribati; Nigeria; and Kazakhstan (debuting its own national pavilion).
Several African countries, including Angola, Kenya, South Africa, and Zimbabwe, have previously presented national pavilions at the Venice Biennale, but interestingly Nigeria is making it maiden appearance this year. Adenrele Sonariwo, a graduate of Howard University who owns Rele Gallery in Lagos, is curating the Nigeria Pavilion. Four artists will be featured in the West African nation’s inaugural show—Peju Alatise, Victor Ehikhamenor, Quddus Onikeku, and Wana Udobang.
THE INTERNATIONAL EXHIBITION curated by Enwezor in 2015 and dubbed “All the World’s Futures” featured more than 35 black artists. In 2017, VIVA ARTE VIVA includes five. CT
Participating Artists Include:
1. ATIKU, Jelili
b. 1968 Nigeria, lives and works in Lagos
2. BINION, McArthur
b. 1946 United States, lives and works in Chicago
3. GILLIAM, Sam
b. 1933 United States, lives and works in Washington
4. KONATÉ, Abdoulaye
b. 1953 Mali, lives and works in Bamako
5. NENGUDI, Senga
b. 1943 United States, lives and works in Colorado Springs
View full list of Artists invited to participate in international exhibition
See full list of countries presenting National Pavilions