Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute) by Martin Puryear '71 MFA, as it will appear in this year's Venice Biennale.

The Venice Biennale is one of the largest, most prestigious events in the art world. Held every other year, it features the biggest names and brightest stars in contemporary art, all assembling to celebrate their shared craft and its finest and most renowned practitioners.

Big Phrygian Hibernian Testosterone, by Martin Puryear '71 MFA. Installation view. Photo by Joshua White - JWPictures.com.
Big Phrygian Hibernian Testosterone, by Martin Puryear '71 MFA. Photo: Joshua White-JWPictures.com.

In 2019, it will have a distinctly Yale presence.

Yale alumni make up a fair share of the artists and collaborators in this year’s U.S. contingent. They are led by Martin Puryear ’71 MFA, who will represent the U.S. at the 58th edition of the Venice Biennale with his exhibition, “Martin Puryear: Liberty/Libertá.”

In addition, Njideka Akunyili Crosby ’11 MFA, Alex Da Corte ’10 MFA, Michael Smith ’08 MFA, and Tavares Strachan ’06 MFA are among the artists to be featured in the Biennale’s group exhibition, “May You Live in Interesting Times.” Contributors to the U.S. pavilion include exhibition architect Billie Tsien ’71; catalogue designers Miko McGinty ’93, ’98 MFA, Rita Jules ’99, and Rebecca Sylvers ’15; catalogue publisher Gregory R. Miller ’93 JD; and catalogue essayists Tobi Haslett ’22 PhD and Anne Wagner ’71.

“The number of Yale alumni represented at this year’s Biennale speaks to the rich tradition of thriving artists at Yale, as well as the strength of the university’s art programs and departments,” said Cristina Gonzalez ’94, associate professor of art history at Oklahoma State University and founding member of the Yale Alumni Art League. “For us to celebrate that tradition in Venice, and to celebrate Martin and his incredible career as well, is both fitting and completely wonderful.”

"I Belong Here" by Tavares Strachan ’06 MFA. Photo courtesy Joyner-Giuffrida Collection.
"I Belong Here" by Tavares Strachan ’06 MFA. Photo courtesy Joyner-Giuffrida Collection.

To commemorate the accomplishments of its alumni and to host those in Venice for the Biennale, the Yale Alumni Art League, in coordination with the Yale Alumni Association, will be hosting a reception at Palazzo Dandolo, Hotel Monaco & Grand Canal Venice on May 10, the day before the Biennale opens to the public. The Biennale will be on view from May 11 to Nov. 24 of this year.

“The event is part welcome reception and part celebration,” said Nicholas Roman Lewis ’93, senior director of shared interest groups for the YAA. “More than anything, it is an opportunity to reflect on the amazing work that has been done by Yale alumni throughout the art world and to recognize those who have made such important contributions to the 2019 Venice Biennale.”

Puryear is the third Yale artist honored as the U.S. representative at the Venice Biennale, joining Sarah Sze ’91 and Ann Hamilton ’85 MFA. In Venice, he will exhibit a new sculpture and a site-specific outdoor installation created expressly for the U.S. pavilion.

"Triple Point (Pendulum)" by Sarah Sze '91, as featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale.
"Triple Point (Pendulum)" by Sarah Sze '91, as featured at the 2013 Venice Biennale.

Puryear is widely recognized as one of the greats in his field. His 2007 retrospective was organized by The Museum of Modern Art in New York and traveled to the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth in Texas, the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., and the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art. He has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards – including a MacArthur “Genius” grant in 1989 and a National Medal of the Arts, presented by President Barack Obama, in 2011.

Puryear was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1992, and he was awarded an honorary doctorate from Yale in 1994.

"What can I say about Martin Puryear that hasn’t been said? I believe representing the U.S. pavilion can be a capstone to a career, though I probably think Martin will look at it as another opportunity to continue experimenting and pushing at the limits of his work," said Professor Martin Kersels, the director of graduate studies in sculpture at the Yale School of Art. "I believe he is always looking for another challenge, another problem to solve. This is what makes him and his work so special to me.

"For all the well-deserved accolades and his engagement with the world, I will always think of Martin as an artist’s artist — the studio as a primary residence and his artist’s tools as his primary mode of communication."

In addition to the alumni highlighted, the following Yale affiliates will also have a role in the 2019 Biennale: Yale School of Art Hayden Distinguished Fellows Carol Bove and Hito Steyerl, and School of Art Professor Peter Halley ’75, who will be exhibiting in Venice.

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