Curator’s Picks: Venice Biennale Artistic Director Ralph Rugoff Selects 5 Standout Works at the Sydney Biennale

The director of London’s Hayward Gallery shares his favorites from the Australian exhibition.

Ralph Rugoff. © Marc Atkins. Courtesy of the Art Fund​.

The Biennale of Sydney is in full swing. The event, which takes place across seven venues in the Australian city, features the work of 70 artists and collectives from 35 countries. The 21st edition, called “Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement,” has been organized by Mami Kataoka, the chief curator of the Mori Art Museum in Tokyo (March 16–June 11).

When the exhibition opened earlier this month, Ai Weiwei’s Law of the Journey, a 60-meter-long inflatable raft filled with sculptures of refugees installed in a former shipyard on Cockatoo Island, dominated the headlines—and received mixed reviews from the critics.

But there is much more to see in Sydney beyond Ai’s raft. We asked Ralph Rugoff, the director of the Hayward Gallery in London and the artistic director of next year’s 58th Venice Biennale, to pick the standout works that impressed him most this year. 

The Sydney Biennale is important to the Hayward. Back in 2016 at the 20th edition of the Australian event, which was organized by Rugoff’s former colleague Stephanie Rosenthal, the South Korean artist Lee Bul impressed many with her large-scale sculpture. Come May, the artist will have her first solo show in London at the Hayward, helping to mark the gallery’s 50th anniversary

See Rugoff’s selections from Sydney below, offering a highlight reel of the biennale. 

Michael Stevenson’s Serene Velocity in Practice: MC510/CS183 (2017)

“A provocative and creepy installation of an imaginary California college featuring apocalyptic classrooms animated by the rhetoric of right-wing Silicon Valley entrepreneur Peter Thiel and a new age/Christian fraudster.”

Marco Fusinato’s Constellations (2015/18)

Courtesy the artist and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. Photograph by Olivia Kwok.

“An ominous, menacing, and thrilling sound work activated by visitors striking a baseball bat against the surface of a huge wall outfitted with interior microphones.”

Anya Gallaccio’s Beautiful Minds (2015–18)

Courtesy the artist, Thomas Dane Gallery, London, and Blum & Poe, Los Angeles. Photograph by Luke Walker.

“A wonderfully eccentric sculpture-making machine, a disconcertingly visceral cross between a soft ice cream dispenser and a turd factory.”

Oliver Beer’s Composition for Mouths (Songs My Mother Taught Me) I (2018)

Courtesy the artist; Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac, London, Paris and Salzburg; and Anna Schwartz Gallery, Melbourne. Photograph copyright Oliver Beer.

“An intensely, almost claustrophobically intimate video of performers simultaneously singing into each other’s mouths, producing blended notes shaped by the interior space of the body.”

Ciara Phillips’s Workshop (2010ongoing)

Installation view at The Showroom, London, with Justice for Domestic Workers in 2013. Courtesy of Ciara Phillips. Photograph by the artist.

“An expansive installation/printing workshop that transforms a huge room at the Museum of Contemporary Art into a vibrant conjoining of radical poster design and minimalist color fields.”

The 21st Biennale of Sydney, “Superposition: Equilibrium & Engagement,” runs from March 16 to June 11 at venues across the city.

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