For the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia, curator Ralph Rugoff selected only living artists—an uncommon move at events of this scale. His motivation for this decision is two-fold: it ensures lively and active discussion about contemporary art, and acts as a kind of antidote to the “alternative facts” that define the post-truth age. As such, this year’s theme, “May you live in interesting times,” results in predictably unpredictable artworks that explore current themes including sustainability and climate change, tech and robotics, social and economic divides, politics and fake news.
Rugoff even tapped several artists to help select other artists, in order to obtain a wide body of works from a diverse group that goes beyond the status quo of normal curatorial narrative. With so much to see at the Biennale, we separated our coverage into themes, and here we take a look at the bold and bright—in all definitions of the words.
On Lubugo (a traditional bark cloth), Michael Armitage paints complex and colorful scenes—oftentimes referencing Renaissance altarpieces, but depicting daily life and contemporary political and social issues in his native Kenya. Bold and cheerful at fist glance, these pieces typically carry a deeper meaning in their depiction, such as an image of rallies that led up to the 2017 Kenyan general elections.
Using herself as a muse, Martine Gutierrez‘s Body En Thrall is more than a riff on glossy magazine shoots, it also explores queer and indigenous identity, intimacy, and beauty. With maximalism a common thread in this series, the bold colors, bright jewelry and garments, and vibrant textures are no match for Gutierrez’s poignant gaze throughout.
LA-based, Nigerian-born Njideka Akunyili Crosby‘s portraits are not simple representations of her subjects; they also explore the body and face as a kind of canvas. She uses photo-transfers and paints for her portraits, and contrasts Yoruba marks/scarifications with Western haircuts, tribal jewelry with contemporary American fashion—exploring identity, culture and tradition.
Blending traditional styles with undeniably contemporary subjects, multidisciplinary artist Nicole Eisenman explores the human condition through painting, drawings, mixed-media and more. In her paintings on display at the Biennale, computers and smartphones and other modern devices punctuate intimate scenes that are gloriously lit, and luscious.