Collecting the Venice Biennale at Clark Art Institute

July 4, 2019

The Venice Biennale surely has the status of the Oscars for the art world. It is the oldest and best-known manifestation representing the latest tendencies in contemporary art. Each edition brings a different curatorial concept, the accompanying program of guided tours, showcases, performances, lectures, and a number of special publications either artist books, monographs, posters, and other objects.

The influential American institution that has been collecting these materials since 2007 is the Clark Art Institute. Namely, their library made a partnership with London-based book dealer Thomas Heneage, who is commissioned to gather the materials so during these twelve years they managed to build a significant collection of limited edition of artworks, books, digital content and other accompanying materials produced especially for the Biennale.

Therefore, the Institute decided to present the collection in the exhibition titled Art’s Biggest Stage: Collecting the Venice Biennale, 2007–2019 aimed to provide a specific look at the most important global art event with a focus on the themes of identity, nationhood, and spectacle.

Christian Boltanski -Poster one
Christian Boltanski (French b. 1944) - Poster from Chance, French Pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale, 2011. 16 1/2 × 24 in.

The Curatorial Approach

An independent curator and editor Brian Sholis was commissioned to curate the exhibition and so he decided to underline the point in which the contemporary art received increasing attention in mainstream culture, the geographic expansion of the art world beyond its traditional centers, and the influence of technology on the public reception of this event. Solis stated:

This exhibition offers Clark visitors a wonderful opportunity to discover the Biennale, and by extension, the breadth of artmaking today, through the editioned artworks and other materials created for its myriad presentations. The Biennale has been the preeminent event in contemporary art for half a century, and its importance increases as contemporary art crosses over into popular culture. Everyone who has visited the Biennale leaves with great stories—and these objects tell many such tales.

Edson Chagas - Salmon poster
Edson Chagas (Angolan, b. 1977) - Poster from the series Found Not Taken from Luanda, Encyclopedic City, the Angolan Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. 19 × 27 in.

The Biennale Memorabilia

The exhibition encompasses an array of objects spanning from tote bags, party invitations, vinyl records, beer bottles, artists’ books, to posters, wallpaper, wax-sealed letters, and more created by artists from around the globe. Several objects to be on display will be from this year's edition of the Biennale.

For instance, in 2009 the artists Michael Elmgreen and Ingar Dragset arranged the Danish and Nordic Pavilions; they created The Collectors, two fictional houses - one for a bourgeois family, one for a single gay man. In those spaces, more than twenty artists produced various media to fill them, and some of them will be on display.

Jeremy Deller green print
Jeremy Deller (British, b. 1966) - Print from English Magic, British Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. 8 1/4 × 11 5/8 in.

Art’s Biggest Stage at the Clark

The upcoming exhibition will be accompanied by a fully illustrated catalog edited by the exhibition curator Brian Sholis and includes essays by Sarah Hamerman, art librarian and researcher, Susan Roeper, director of the Clark’s library, and himself.

Art’s Biggest Stage: Collecting the Venice Biennale, 2007–2019 is will be on display at the Lunder Center at Stone Hill, located within Clark Art Institute campus in Williamstown, Massachusetts from 4 July until 14 October 2019.

Featured images: Konrad Smoleński (Polish, b. 1977) - Flexidisc: Music for Bell and Tape, Polish Pavilion of the 55th Venice Biennale, 2013. 7 × 7 in.; Maureen Mooren (Dutch, b. 1969) - Pop-up maquette from Loose Work, Dutch Pavilion of the 54th Venice Biennale, 2011. 9 1/2 × 13 in.; Nathaniel Mellors (British, b. 1974) and Erkka Nissinen (Finnish, b. 1975) - Exhibition catalogue: The Aalto Natives: A Transcendental Manual, Finnish Pavilion of the 57th Venice Biennale, 2017. 11 3/4 × 8 5/8 in. All objects from Clark Art Institute Library, Venice Biennale Ephemera Collection.