Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum – Chiesa di Santa Maria delle Penitenti

Titled Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum, the exhibition will feature an international roster of 73 artists whose works are in response to the environmental crisis in the age of climate change, of particular urgency for Venice, endangered by sea level rise.

On the occasion of the 58th International Art Exhibition—La Biennale di Venezia—curators Phong Bui and Francesca Pietropaolo are organizing an official Collateral Event that addresses the environmental crisis in the age of climate change—of particular urgency for Venice, endangered by sea level rise. The exhibition titled, Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy: Mare Nostrum, brings together an international roster of 73 artists whose selected works, in a wide range of media, invite critical awareness on the fragility of nature and human life while poetically invoking the regeneration of living systems. The curators are also organizing 1001 Stories for Survival—an interdisciplinary program of public conversations with artists, scientists, scholars, poets, and writers that will take place during the entire course of the show, which will be on view during the run of La Biennale, from 11 May–24 November, 2019, with a preview from 8 May–10 May.

Positioned in the central space of the church, Wolfgang Laib’s installation Passageway (2013) sets the exhibition’s prevailing meditative tone as it offers a poetic rumination on the human being’s fleeting journey in life. Lauren Bon’s site-specific installation Inverted Mediterranean Pine (2019), made of papier-mâché, and painted with carbon sourced from the recent California wildfires, is poised over a pre-existing hole in the church floor, revealing the foundation and water beneath. Bon’s sound-scape, Oratorio Mare Nostrum, (2019), also produced for this show, is intended to connect the lagoon and the moon cycles in a layered aural map of the Mediterranean Sea. Her sculpture St. Jerome’s Study (2007-2019) recalls themes of translation and obliteration, while drawing attention to the threat of oil spills on our sea. Shoja Azari and Shahram Karimi’s video projection on painting, Untitled: Meditation on Water Surface (2007), invokes a quiet moment of contemplation. While exploring the relationship between nature and technology, Julian Charrière’s new work from his ongoing series Metamorphism (2016-2019) poignantly amplifies the subjects of ephemerality and transformation. Shirin Neshat’s video Sarah (2016) creates a physical and emotional landscape, where the relationship between Woman and water is powerfully brought to the fore.

The Brooklyn Rail journal—a radical, and free publication based in New York City, founded by Phong Bui will be present with its staff during the course of the exhibition. The Brooklyn Rail team will recreate its “social environment” in Venice where it will produce its monthly issues as well as an issue of the River Rail, an offshoot of the Brooklyn Rail, focusing on the condition of the Mediterranean Sea by documenting our public programming. Presented within the Brooklyn Rail’s working space are Phong Bui’s portraits In Conversation #1 (2011-2019), calling forth the cultural significance of creative individuals, while evoking a democratic vista spanning generations, genders, races, and disciplines, as well as The Wall of Offering: To Venice With Love, an altar-like installation of paintings, drawings, photographs, and sculptures by a wide range of established and emerging artists such as Yasi Alipour, Dana Buhl, Alex Katz, Jonas Mekas, Nathlie Provosty, Ugo Rondinone, Cordy Ryman, Amy Sillman, Jack Whitten and Lisa Yuskavage, among many others. The Wall of Offering invokes the spirit of cross-pollination that characterizes the collective energy of the Brooklyn Rail. Among the works included is Kiki Smith’s Singer (2008), a sculpture of a young woman symbolically welcoming all viewers. Furthermore, a video of Newton Harrison’s seminal lectures A Meditation on the Mediterranean (2019) is presented alongside his Book of Lagoons (1974–1984). Featured in the same space is also Lauren Bon’s Honey Collection from the environmentally endangered Mediterranean countries (2008–ongoing).

In the courtyard, Maya Lin’s Water Water Everywhere, Not a Drop to Drink (2019), a site-specific installation of blown-glass dew droplets, poetically encapsulates the theme of water. The courtyard will also be animated by performances: during the opening and closing receptions (on 8 May and 24 November, 2019), Rirkrit Tiravanija, Tomas Vu, and Sarah Sze will stage their cooking performances, bringing together the local and international community.

The Curators

Phong Bui is an artist, writer, independent curator, publisher, and artistic director of the monthly journal the Brooklyn Rail and the publishing press Rail Editions. He is a board member of the Third Rail of Minneapolis and St. Paul, theMiami Rail, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, the Sharpe Walentas Studio Program, the International Association of Art Critics United States Section (AICA USA), Anthology Film Archives, Studio in a School, Second Shift Studio Space of Saint Paul, among others. In 2013 he founded Rail Curatorial Projects, which aims to curate group exhibits that respond to location, cultural moment, and economic conditions. In 2017, both the River Rail (a free publication that focuses on environmental and climate change issues) and Occupy Rail (an ongoing endeavor to encourage and support motivated individuals to create their own Rail publication in their local communities) were founded to facilitate and provide critical dialogues of how the arts, politics, and culture are integral parts of the common wealth of greater public. He has recently co-founded the Graphyne Foundation, which aims to curate ongoing exhibitions and public programing in collaboration with Mana Contemporary in Jersey City, Chicago, and Miami, among other museums of contemporary art in the U.S. and abroad. His 2019 projects include: The River Rail: On Puerto Rico; and exhibitions Jonas Mekas: A Retrospective; Occupy Colby Museum: Artists Need to Create on the Same Scale that Society Has the Capacity to Destroy (Year II), among others.

Francesca Pietropaolo is an Italian-born art historian, curator, and critic based in Venice. Her research interests focus on post-war European and American art, and on international contemporary art. She has held curatorial positions at the Walker Art Center, Minneapolis; The Museum of Modern Art, New York; the Fondazione La Biennale di Venezia, Venice; and the Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris. During her time at MoMA, she worked on Roth Time. A Dieter Roth Retrospective (2004), Plane Image. A Brice Marden Retrospective (2006) and exhibitions drawing from the museum’s collection of works on paper. She was on the curatorial team of Greater New York 2005 at MoMA P.S. 1, New York. At the Fondation Louis Vuitton she was in charge of artist commissions, notably a site-specific installation by Ellsworth Kelly for the Auditorium as well as works by Cerith Wyn Evans, Adrian Villar Rojas, and Taryn Simon. Her projects as independent curator include exhibitions such as North by New York: New Nordic Art (American-Scandinavian Foundation, New York, 2011), and Wrinkles in Time (IVAM, Valencia, 2009). In 2015 she co-curated the international film festival Fireflies in the Night at the Stavros Niarchos Foundation Cultural Center (SNFCC), Athens as well as its second edition Fireflies in the Night Take Wing (2016). In 2017 she co-curated Only Connect!, an international program of performances, at the SNFCC, Athens presenting performances by Kim Jones, Mieskuoro Huutajat (Screaming Men’s Choir), and Tania Bruguera, among others. She is the editor of Ellsworth Kelly, first issue of “Les Cahiers de la Fondation” (Fondation Louis Vuitton, Paris, 2014), realized in collaboration with the artist. She is the author of numerous essays in publications for, among others, MoMA, the Walker Art Center, Tate, Fondation François Pinault, Venice, and the Estorick Collection, London. She is the editor of Interviews on Art, the first collection of interviews with artists conducted by Robert Storr (Heni, London, 2017), and of its Italian edition Interviste sull’arte (Il Saggiatore, Milan, 2019). As critic, she has contributed to Flash Art International, ARTnews,Art in America, the Brooklyn Rail, Art Press, and Arte e Critica.

Artists in The Exhibition:
Peter Acheson, Yasi Alipour, Shoja Azari & Shahram Karimi, Max Becher & Andrea Robbins, Emma Bee Bernstein, Louis Block, Lauren Bon, Katherine Bradford, Joe Bradley, David Brooks, Dana Buhl, Phong Bui, Bunny Burson, Julian Charrière, Chuck Close, Christian de Boschnek, Iran do Espírito Santo, Aleksandar Duravcevic, Cameron Gainer, Tamara Gonzales, Ron Gorchov, Justin Brice Guariglia, Newton & Helen Mayer Harrison, EJ Hauser, Alfred Jensen, Bill Jensen, Alex Katz, Benjamin Keating, Wolfgang Laib, Chris Larson, Eugene Lemay, Matvey Levenstein, Dean Levin, Margrit Lewczuk, Maya Lin, Chris Martin, Hans Meebush, Jonas Mekas, Cy Morgan, Loren Munk, Hans Namuth, Shirin Neshat, David Novros, Optics Division of The Metabolic Studio (Lauren Bon, Richard Nielsen, Tristan Duke), Renate Ponsold, Diane Pontius, James Powers, James Prosek, Nathlie Provosty, Joanna Pousette-Dart, Joyce Robins, Dorothea Rockburne, Ugo Rondinone, Cordy Ryman, Meyer Schapiro, Cindy Sherman, Amy Sillman, Arthur Simms, Kiki Smith, Sarah Sze, Kazumi Tanaka, Rirkrit Tiravanija, Daniel Turner, Tomas Vu, Merrill Wagner, Jack Whitten, Peter Lamborn Wilson, Lisa Yuskavage

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