Is Ralph Rugoff’s Venice Biennale Exhibition Too US-Centric?

We crunched the numbers on which country's artists are most present in "May You Live In Interesting Times."

Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 58th Venice Biennale Art, attends the press conference at Ca' Giustinian on March 7, 2019 in Venice, Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images.
Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 58th Venice Biennale Art, attends the press conference at Ca' Giustinian on March 7, 2019 in Venice, Photo by Simone Padovani/Awakening/Getty Images.

When it comes to asking which nations are represented at the Venice Biennale, perhaps no artist could better represent how fraught the question is—and how important—than photographer Rula Halawani. Born in 1964, Halawani’s birthplace is listed as “Palestine” on the official artist list of curator Ralph Rugoff’s soon-to-open Venice Biennale. Yet the topic is very complex. Here is the artist herself, talking about her project Palestinian I Am (2003):

When I was 18 years old, I applied for my first travel document; I completed an application form on which I stated my nationality as a Palestinian. When I received my travel document back from the Israeli authorities, [it] had been changed to Jordanian. I have no choice but to carry, until this day, a travel document, stating my nationality that is not of my choosing and one that I feel does not represent me.

This is about as dramatic an example as you can find of how the seemingly simple gesture of listing nationality can be loaded with very active political meaning.

A US-Centric Show

Whatever the pitfalls of counting, it also seems important to do. Sometimes described as the “Olympics of Art,” the Venice Biennale is inherently about national representation. In the coming weeks, counties around the world will compete to outshine one another in Italy through their presentations at national pavilions.

So, what geographies will be represented in Rugoff’s centerpiece show, “May You Live in Interesting Times,” which he has said “invites us to consider multiple alternatives and unfamiliar vantage points”? The tally of the participants (we’ll get into the complexities and finer points a bit more below) reveals it is show notably focused on vantage points from the United States.

At a time when the US’s hegemony on the world stage is eroding fast, 17 US-born artists are included in the exhibition. China and France come in second with six artists each. Tied for third, with three artists apiece, are Germany, India, Japan, South Korea, and the UK.

Overall, comparing the lists of where artists were born versus where they work also confirms that the art world—as mapped by Rugoff’s show, at least—is considerably more diverse in terms of national origins than it is in terms of where the centers of art-industry power are.

The US dominance only becomes clearer when considering where the show’s artists work. No fewer than 26 of the 83 artists—just shy of a third—are based somewhere in the US.

Germany is the second-most-represented in terms of where artists work, with 14. Yet just three artists in the show are actually German-born, showing how key Berlin’s status as a studio hub has been to making Germany a preeminent art capital.

Counting the Totals

Figuring out how to elucidate such matters is messy. In the case of collectives and teams, I have let individual members count separately.

So, for instance, the artist collective Slavs & Tatars (whose cross-disciplinary work, it so happens, specifically reflects on the matter of transnational identity), was founded by the duo of Payam Sharifi, from an Iranian family but born in Texas, and Kasia Korczak, born in Poland. I let them count as one entry for “USA” and one for “Poland” in the “Where Artists Are From” column, and two entries for “Germany,” in terms of “Where Artists Work,” since they say that they are based in Berlin.

In the case of artists who list multiple current residencies, I have let those, too, stand as separate entries—except for joker Darren Bader, who says he splits his time between “New York” and “Elsewhere.”

In the case of Rula Halawani, her official biography says that she currently works in “occupied East Jerusalem.” Israel annexed East Jerusalem in 1967; most of the world recognizes it as “Occupied Territory.” I have simply counted Halawani as working, as the Biennale list says, in “Jerusalem,” letting the question of nation stand unresolved.

 

 

The full artist list for “May You Live in Interesting Times” is below.

1. Lawrence Abu Hamdan
b. 1985 Jordan, lives and works in Beirut

2. Njideka Akunyili Crosby
b. 1983 Nigeria, lives and works in Los Angeles

3. Halil Altındere
b. 1971 Turkey, lives and works in Istanbul

4. Michael Armitage
b. 1984 Kenya, lives and works in London and Nairobi

5. Korakrit Arunanondchai
b. 1986 Thailand, lives and works in New York and Bangkok
in collaboration with
Alex Gvojic
b. 1984 USA, lives and works in New York

6. Ed Atkins
b. 1982 United Kingdom, lives and works in Berlin and Copenhagen

7. Tarek Atoui
b. 1980 Lebanon, lives and works in Paris

8. Darren Bader
b. 1978 USA, lives and works in New York City and elsewhere

9. Nairy Baghramian
b.1971 Iran, lives and works in Berlin

10. Neïl Beloufa
b. 1985 France, lives and works in Paris

11. Alexandra Bircken
b. Germany, lives and works in Berlin

12. Carol Bove
b. 1971 Switzerland, lives and works in New York

13. Christoph Büchel
b. 1966 Switzerland, lives and works in Reykjavik and Basel

14. Ludovica Carbotta
b. 1982 Italy, lives and works in Barcelona

15. Antoine Catala
b. 1975 France, lives and works in New York

16. Ian Cheng
b. 1984 USA, lives and works in New York

17. George Condo
b. 1957 USA, lives and works in New York

18. Alex Da Corte
b. 1980 USA, lives and works in Philadelphia

19. Jesse Darling
b. United Kingdom, lives and works in London and Berlin

20. Stan Douglas
b. 1960 Canada, lives and works in Vancouver

21. Jimmie Durham
b. 1940 USA, lives and works in Berlin

22. Nicole Eisenman
b. 1965 France, lives and works in New York

23. Haris Epaminonda
b. 1980 Republic of Cyprus, lives and works in Berlin

24. Lara Favaretto
b. 1973 Italy, lives and works in Turin

25. Cyprien Gaillard
b. 1980 France, lives and works in Berlin

26. Gauri Gill
b. 1970 India, lives and works in New Delhi

27. Dominique Gonzalez-Foerster
b. 1965 France, lives and works in Paris

28. Shilpa Gupta
b. 1976 India, lives and works in Mumbai

29. Soham Gupta
b. 1988 India, lives and works in Kolkata

30. Martine Gutierrez
b. 1989 USA, lives and works in New York

31. Rula Halawani
b. 1964 Palestine, lives and works in Jerusalem

32. Anthea Hamilton
b. 1978 United Kingdom, lives and works in London

33. Jeppe Hein
b. 1974 Denmark, lives and works in Berlin

34. Anthony Hernandez
b. 1947 USA, lives and works in Los Angeles and Idaho

35. Ryoji Ikeda
b. 1966 Japan, lives and works in Paris and Kyoto

36. Arthur Jafa
b. 1960 USA, lives and works in Los Angeles

37. Cameron Jamie
b. 1969 USA, lives in Paris, works in Paris and Cologne

38. Kahlil Joseph
b. 1981 USA, lives and works in Los Angeles

39. Zhanna Kadyrova
b. 1981 Ukraine, lives and works in Kyiv

40. Suki Seokyeong Kang
b. 1977 Republic of Korea, lives and works in Seoul

41. Mari Katayama
b. 1987 Japan, lives and works in Gunma

42. Lee Bul
b. 1964 Republic of Korea, lives and works in Seoul

43. Liu Wei
b. 1972 People’s Republic of China, lives and works in Beijing

44. Maria Loboda
b. 1979 Poland, lives and works in Berlin

45. Andreas Lolis
b. 1970 Albania, lives and works in Athens

46. Christian Marclay
b. 1955 USA, lives and works in London

47. Teresa Margolles
b. 1963 Mexico, lives and works in Mexico City and Madrid

48. Julie Mehretu
b. 1970 Ethiopia, lives and works in New York

49. Ad Minoliti
b. 1980 Argentina, lives and works in Buenos Aires

50. Jean-Luc Moulène
b. 1955 France, lives and works in Paris

51. Zanele Muholi
b. 1972 Republic of South Africa, lives and works in Johannesburg, Durban and Cape Town

52. Jill Mulleady
b. 1980 Uruguay, lives and works in Los Angeles

53. Ulrike Müller
b. 1971 Austria, lives and works in New York

54. Nabuqi
b. 1984 People’s Republic of China, lives and works in Beijing

55. Otobong Nkanga
b. 1974 Nigeria, lives and works in Antwerp

56. Khyentse Norbu
b. 1961 Bhutan, has residences in India and Bhutan

57. Frida Orupabo
b. 1986 Norway, lives and works in Oslo

58. Jon Rafman
b. 1981 Canada, lives and works in Montreal

59. Gabriel Rico
b. 1980 Mexico, lives and works in Guadalajara

60. Handiwirman Saputra
b. 1975 Indonesia, lives and works in Yogyakarta

61. Tomás Saraceno
b. 1973 Argentina, lives and works in Berlin

62. Augustas Serapinas
b. 1990 Lithuania, lives and works in Vilnius

63. Avery Singer
b. 1987 USA, lives and works in New York

64. Slavs and Tatars
founded 2006, based in Berlin

65. Michael E. Smith
b. 1977 USA, lives and works in Providence, Rhode Island

66. Hito Steyerl
b. 1966 Germany, lives and works in Berlin

67. Tavares Strachan
b. 1979 The Bahamas, lives and works in New York

68. Sun Yuan (b. 1972 People’s Republic of China) and Peng Yu (b. 1974 People’s Republic of China), both live and work in Beijing

69. Henry Taylor
b. 1958 USA, lives and works in Los Angeles

70. Rosemarie Trockel
b. 1952 Germany, lives and works in Cologne

71. Kaari Upson
b. 1972 USA, lives and works in Los Angeles

72. Andra Ursuţa
b. 1979 Romania, lives and works in New York

73. Danh Vo
b. 1975 Vietnam, lives and works in Mexico DF

74. Kemang Wa Lehulere
b. 1984 Republic of South Africa, lives and works in Cape Town

75. Apichatpong Weerasethakul
b. 1970 Thailand, lives and works in Chiang Mai
in collaboration with
Tsuyoshi Hisakado
b. 1981 Japan, lives and works in Kyoto

76. Margaret Wertheim and Christine Wertheim
b. 1958 Australia, both live and work in Los Angeles

77. Anicka Yi
b. 1971 Republic of Korea, lives and works in New York

78. Yin Xiuzhen
b. 1963 People’s Republic of China, lives and works in Beijing

79. Yu Ji
b. 1985 People’s Republic of China, lives and works in Shanghai and Vienna

The Venice Biennale “May You Live in Interesting Times” is on view in Venice, May 11–November 24, 2019. 


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