Hayward Director Ralph Rugoff Chosen as Artistic Director of the 2019 Venice Biennale

Rugoff is the first UK-based curator ever to secure the coveted position.

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

The American-born, London-based curator Ralph Rugoff, the director of London’s Hayward Gallery, has been appointed artistic director of the 2019 Venice Biennale. He is the first UK-based curator to land the prestigious role and the first American to fill the post since Robert Storr in 2007.

“I am absolutely thrilled with this appointment,” Rugoff said in a statement. “The Venice Biennale is the oldest and most prestigious exhibition of its kind internationally.” He noted that he plans to remain in his current position at the Hayward while he tackles the Biennale.

Rugoff is no stranger to juggling a day job with extracurricular projects. He was the curator of the 2015 Biennale de Lyon and recently co-organized the talks program at Frieze London. (The program focused on artists’ ability to disrupt conventional ideas of the real—a highly topical subject in the era of fake news.)

At the Hayward, Rugoff has developed a reputation for original exhibitions and a program that attracts a broad public. He has organized intriguing and ambitious group shows around the themes of light, outsider art, humor, and Brutalist architecture. He has also overseen solo exhibitions of artists ranging from Martin Creed and Tracey Emin to Carsten Höller and Ed Ruscha. The Hayward is due to reopen after a revamp on January 25 with an exhibition of work by photographer Andreas Gursky.

During its closure last year, Rugoff organized the off-site show “The Infinite Mix,” which was both a critical and popular success. The exhibition brought together 10 large-scale video works inside a former office building called The Store. Most of the artists—including Cyprien Gaillard, Ugo Rondinone, and Rachel Rose—composed, commissioned, or remixed soundtracks that related to the visual element of their work in unexpected ways.

In a statement, the Venice Biennale’s president Paolo Baratta said that Rugoff’s appointment underlines that the exhibition can “engage the viewers directly with the artworks in such a way that memory, the unexpected, the possible provocation, the new and the different can stimulate their visions, their minds and their emotions.”

The New York-born director has led the Hayward for more than a decade. Before that, he was the director of the CCA Wattis Institute for Contemporary Arts in San Francisco.

Rugoff was working as an arts journalist in Los Angeles when he first dipped his toe into curating in 1990. That first show, “Just Pathetic,” featured work by Chris Burden, David Hammons, Mike Kelley, and Cady Noland, among others. The exhibition came about after the late Kelley heard Rugoff give a lecture about the art of failure, embarrassment, and the mundane, and encouraged him to turn it into a show.

The Venice Biennale is due to run from May 11 to November 24, 2019.


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