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Notes from the Biennale

Over 337,000 people have visited Making Worlds, the 53rd Venice Biennale, since it opened this summer. Split into two main sections, the Giardini and the Arsenale, this biennale consists of national pavilions and sections curated by Daniel Birnbaum, along with numerous off-site pavilions and collateral events. When I was there a few weeks ago, it was readily apparent to me how many artists represented there have connections to the Art Institute; some have works in our collection, some have had exhibitions or have exhibited work at the museum, and others have given artists talks, presented by our Society for Contemporary Art.


Starting in the national pavilions, this year Bruce Nauman represents the U.S. and was presented with the coveted Golden Lion for Best National Participation. In the Art Institute’s Modern Wing, Nauman has a monographic room dedicated to his work. A few hundred feet away in the British Pavilion is Steve McQueen’s new film Giardini, a special commission for Venice. In 2002 McQueen had a focus exhibition at the museum, and the inaugural installation in the Modern Wing’s Donna and Howard Stone Gallery for Film, Video, and New Media was his film, Girls, Tricky. The Art Institute is also planning a 2013 exhibition of his work.

Artschwager, Pink Tablecloth

The curated exhibition in the former Italian Pavilion, renamed Palazzo delle Esposizioni, includes John Baldessari (who received a Golden Lion for Lifetime Achievement), Wade Guyton, Sherrie Levine, Gordon Matta-Clark, Gilbert & George, Spencer Finch, Wolfgang Tillmans, and Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster, whose film leaves clues about what visitors eventually find outside the Arsenale. For anyone familiar with our Artschwager Table with Pink Tablecloth there is also a fantastic recreation by Rachel Harrison of it playfully topped with a cardboard box and silver lobster. The Arsenale, which used to be a rope factory, features work by Pae White, Paul Chan, and additional installations by Spencer Finch.

It was great to be in Venice and see new work by these familiar artists.  I could go on at length about the specific history that each of these artists has with our museum, but instead I’ll direct you to a few links: to the Department of Contemporary Art and to the Society for Contemporary Art. And if you happen to be in Venice before the Biennale closes on November 22, keep an eye out for these artists. Or if you can’t attend, check out the Biennale website.

Bruce Nauman. Dance or Exercise on the Perimeter of a Square (Square Dance) , 1968. Gift of Society for Contemporary Art.

Richard Artschwager. Table with Pink Tablecloth, 1964. Gift of Lannan Foundation. © 2008 Richard Artschwager / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.