BY Frieze News Desk in News | 15 AUG 18

‘Social Surrealist For Our Times’ Martin Puryear Chosen to Represent US at 2019 Venice Biennale

After months of speculation, Puryear has been chosen for the US pavilion, organized by the Madison Square Park Conservancy

BY Frieze News Desk in News | 15 AUG 18

Martin Puryear, Big Phrygian, 2010–14, installation view, Glenstone Museum, Potomac, MD, USA. Courtesy: Matthew Marks Gallery, New York, © Martin Puryear; photograph: Ron Amstutz

It’s finally official: artist Martin Puryear has been chosen to represent the US at the 2019 Venice Biennale. The US Department of State confirmed the news today. Brooke Kamin Rapaport, deputy director and senior curator of the Madison Square Park Conservancy, will act as commissioner and curator for the presentation at Venice. 

In a statement, Rapaport commented: ‘For more than five decades, Puryear has created a body of work distinguished by a complex visual vocabulary and deeply-considered meaning.’ She told the New York Times: ‘Martin is one of the most important artists working today.’

ARTnews first reported that Puryear had been chosen to represent the US over the weekend, though the news was only officially confimed today. The very conspicuous delay in the US announcing an artist for Venice has become a matter of heated speculation. The US was three months later than normal with its announcement this year – coming in April for the last two editions (Mark Bradford in 2017, Joan Jonas in 2015).

Although there is no formal obligation to announce until the end of this year, the US’s delay was much commented upon. Though contrary to some speculation, it ‘seems unlikely that Trump and his State Department are actively attempting to scupper the American Pavilion at the Venice Biennale,’ Cody Delistraty wrote in frieze. But what the lateness did suggest was the White House’s shambolic state of affairs, Delistraty argued: ‘the US is no longer a country that leads; it is, instead, contented with seclusion and narrow domestic concerns.’

According to official details, Puryear’s contribution to the US pavilion will include all new work, and an outreach programme ‘with underserved youth’ through a collaboration between New York’s Studio in a School and Venice’s Santa Maria Della Pietà. Darby English has been named exhibition scholar, and Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects chosen as the exhibition designers. Paula Scher will be responsible for graphic design, and Anne M. Wagner will write a catalogue essay.

The 77-year-old artist is well known for his monumental works, in wood, metal or stone, that deal with issues of identity and history. In a review of Puryear’s recent exhibition at London’s Parasol Unit, our critic drew attention to how the artist engages with themes of roots, race, and liberty – the symbol of the Phrygian cap often crops up in Puryear’s work – describing the artist as ‘a social surrealist for our times.’