Artist Martin Puryear has been picked to represent the United States at the 2019 Venice Biennale, the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs and the Madison Square Park Conservancy announced today.
Brooke Kamin Rapaport, the deputy director and senior curator of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, will serve as commissioner and curator of the presentation in the U.S. pavilion, which is set to run next year from May 11 through November 24. In 2016, the Conservancy presented the artist’s large-scale sculpture Big Bling at Madison Square Park in New York, which later traveled to Philadelphia.
“Martin Puryear confronts contemporary issues as a maker of objects in the studio,” Rapaport said in a statement released to press this morning. “For more than five decades, Puryear has created a body of work distinguished by a complex visual vocabulary and deeply-considered meaning.”
Puryear will create all new work for the pavilion, according to the announcement, and “realize outreach programs with underserved youth through a collaboration between Studio in a School in New York and Istituto Santa Maria Della Pietà in Venice.” Scholar Darby English has been tapped to be exhibition scholar for the project, creating texts and interpretive materials with Rapaport, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects will be the exhibition’s designers. Paula Scher of Pentagram is handling graphic design, and art historian Anne M. Wagner will pen a catalogue essay.
On Saturday, ARTnews reported that Puryear would represent the U.S., though his selection was not confirmed by State until today. A spokesperson for the department had said on Sunday that the grant process for the pavilion was still in progress and that “until the grant is finalized, no selection of an artist can be made.”
New York magazine senior art critic Jerry Saltz was the first to float Puryear’s name in public, writing on Twitter last week: “I glean in the tea-leaves for the next American Pavilion at next Spring’s Venice Biennale: American sculptor Martin Puryear will represent the United States. An abundant bloom.”
In recent months, the question of which artist would represent the U.S. at the Biennale had become a hot topic, given that many past selections were revealed in the winter or spring in the year between Biennales, but no announcement had been made so far.
Puryear, who is 77, has won wide renown for his exquisitely crafted work in wood, which touches subtly on myriad aspects of American and world history. His work has appeared in the Whitney Biennials of 1979, 1981, and 1989, the year he was awarded a MacArthur Foundation Fellowship.
In 2007–08, Puryear was the subject of a retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, and he has had numerous other museum exhibitions and surveys, at the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., the Art Institute of Chicago, and elsewhere.
Other recent artists to show in the U.S. pavilion include Mark Bradford (in 2017), Joan Jonas (2015), Sarah Sze (2013), and Allora & Calzadilla (2011).
Update, August 12: A comment from the U.S. Department of State has been added, as has information about the NEA’s involvement in the selection process.
Update, August 15: Confirmation about Puryear’s selection and details of his project have been added to this post, which was originally published on August 11.