On 16 July, Ralph Rugoff, the curator of the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale, announced that the 2019 edition will fall under the overarching topic of May You Live in Interesting Times. Opening in May 2019, the conceptual framework derives from an ancient Chinese curse about times of uncertainty, crisis and turmoil, which has been euphemistically translated into “interesting times”.
"At a moment when the digital dissemination of fake news and 'alternative facts' is corroding political discourse and the trust on which it depends, it is worth pausing whenever possible to reassess our terms of reference. The 58th International Art Exhibition will not have a theme per se, but will highlight a general approach to making art and a view of art’s social function as embracing both pleasure and critical thinking. Artists who think in this manner offer alternatives to the meaning of so-called facts by suggesting other ways of connecting and contextualising them,” read an excerpt of Rugoff’s statement following the announcement. “May You Live in Interesting Times will be formulated in the belief that human happiness depends on substantive conversations, because as social animals we are driven to both create and find meaning, and to connect with others. In this light, the Exhibition will aim to underscore the idea that the meaning of artworks are not embedded principally in objects but in conversations - first between artist and artwork, and then between artwork and audience, and later between different publics. Ultimately, Biennale Arte 2019 aspires to the ideal that what is most important about an exhibition is not what it puts on display, but how audiences can use their experience of the exhibition afterwards, to confront everyday realities from expanded viewpoints and with new energies. An exhibition should open people's eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world.”
Rugoff went on to further add that the conceptual framework will lend itself towards playfulness—a moment when people are at their “most human”—and will see the exhibition format tweaked to differ slightly from previous iterations. This will include a Collateral Events sector, where international institutions will present citywide projects outside of the biennale’s main Giardini and Arsenale venues.
Venice Biennale president Paolo Baratta reinforced that they are committed to being a machine to boost the need to see further beyond, art is that vehicle, and has been since the biennale’s origins. “In 1998, on this very same date, July 16, the reformed Biennale appointed Harald Szeemann as first curator of the new Biennale. This choice was suggested by the very history of the institution. The Art Exhibition traditionally resulted from the coming together of several exhibitions, each one with its own theme and curators. In 1980, one of these sections was titled Aperto (Open), a name that encapsulated a different atmosphere of openness to the world; this was also curated by Szeemann, among others. It is unsurprising that his first Biennale in 1999 was titled dAPERTutto (APERTO overALL). The germ of the 1980 exhibition thus grew into the International exhibition,” read an excerpt from Baratta’s statement.
National Pavilions are currently in the process of announcing their artists and curators, with Turkey as the first from the Middle Eastern region to reveal Inci Eviner will represent the nation at a pavilion curated by Zeynep Öz.
The 58th Venice Biennale will run 11 May - 24 November 2019. Labiennale.org