The 58th edition of the Venice Biennale, which will open in May 2019, will carry the title “May You Live in Interesting Times,” an allusion to periods of uncertainty, crisis, and turmoil. The name comes from a speech given in the late 1930s by Austen Chamberlain, a member of British Parliament, in which he cited what had wrongly been understood as an ancient Chinese curse.
In a statement, the curator of the 2019 Venice Biennale, Ralph Rugoff, said, “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.”
About the title’s provenance as an aged curse with a note of wryness in it, Rugoff said, “In this case it turns out that there never was any such ‘ancient Chinese curse,’ despite the fact that Western politicians have made reference to it in speeches for over a hundred years. It is an ersatz cultural relic, another Occidental ‘Orientalism,’ and yet for all its fictional status it has had real rhetorical effects in significant public exchanges.”
Rugoff hinted at a change to the exhibition structure of the upcoming Biennale to deemphasize the art object and feature forms of playfulness in the interest of “deep involvement, absorption, and creative learning that art makes possible.” The show will also focus, he said, on that which “may be off-limits, under-the-radar, or otherwise inaccessible for various reasons.”
“Artists who think in this manner offer alternatives to the meaning of so-called facts by suggesting other ways of connecting and contextualizing them,”Rugoff said. “An exhibition should open people’s eyes to previously unconsidered ways of being in the world and thus change their view of that world.”
In his statement, Rugoff said art all on its own cannot stop the rise of nationalism, end authoritarian governments, or help those who have been displaced. “But in an indirect fashion,” he said, “perhaps art can be a kind of guide for how to live and think in ‘interesting times.’ 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.”
“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,” he added.