Artist and MIT professor emerita Joan Jonas will represent the United States at the La Biennale di Venezia 56th International Art Exhibition, the world’s most prestigious contemporary art event.
Jonas is a pioneering figure in performance art and video and is one of the most important contemporary artists today. She will create a new multimedia installation specifically for the U.S. Pavilion in Venice, Italy, to be on view May 9 to Nov. 22, 2015.
Jonas' art developed out of her art history studies, and then expanded to performance and film in the 1960s through her involvement with the New York avant-garde scene. Her work has been a major influence on contemporary art. Jonas has taught at MIT since 1998 and is currently professor emerita in the MIT Program in Art, Culture and Technology (ACT).
The U.S. Pavilion is curated by Ute Meta Bauer, a former colleague of Jonas’ at MIT who now directs the Centre for Contemporary Art (CCA) at the Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore, and by Paul C. Ha, director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center who also serves as commissioner for the project.
Ha, who recommended Jonas for the role, has more than 25 years of professional experience in art and museum administration, fundraising, curating, and teaching — having now curated and worked with more than 100 artists in solo and group exhibitions. Many artists received their first major museum exhibitions with his support at the List Center, Yale University Art Gallery, White Columns, and the Contemporary Art Museum in St. Louis.
Art of sight and sound
For the five galleries of the U.S. Pavilion, Jonas will create new, interrelated, site-responsive installations — incorporating video, drawings, objects, and sound — that focus on, as she notes, “landscape and natural phenomena” and “the ocean as a poetic, totemic, and natural entity, as a life source and home to a universe of beings.” Jonas shoots all the video, creates the sculptural and drawn elements, writes the script, and designs the soundtrack.
"Joan’s voice and vision continue to be powerful forces in contemporary art, and I am proud that we will present her newest work in Venice, one of the most important venues to present art," Ha says. "As I know from my encounters with her work, the experience will forever alter how visitors perceive visual art and understand how Jonas vitally constructs hers with a dynamic mix of sight and sound: sculpture, video, drawing, spoken and written text, and music.”
Jonas’ exhibition will mark the third Venice Biennale project the MIT List Visual Arts Center. It's preceded by "Fred Wilson: Speak of Me as I Am" (2003, commissioner Kathleen Goncharov), and "Ann Hamilton: Myein" (1999, commissioners Katy Kline and Helaine Posner). In addition, MIT alumna Jennifer Allora SM '03 represented the United States in 2011 in "Jennifer Allora & Guillermo Calzadilla: Gloria," organized by the Indianapolis Museum of Art.
Jonas, 77, lives and works in New York, where she was born. Her work encompasses video, performance, installation, sound, text, and drawing. Since 1968, her practice has explored: ways of seeing, the rhythms of ritual, and the authority of objects and gestures. The recipient of numerous honors and awards, Jonas’ most recent solo exhibitions include those at HangarBicocca, Milan (forthcoming, 2014); Centre for Contemporary Art, Kitakyushu Project Gallery, Japan (2014); Kulturhuset Stadsteatern Stockholm (2013); Proyecto Paralelo, Mexico (2013); Contemporary Art Museum, Houston (2013); Bergen Kunsthall, Norway (2011); and Museum of Modern Art, New York (2010). She has been represented in dOCUMENTA in Kassel, Germany, six times since 1972.
“Joan is incredibly respected in the international art world, and has been a major draw and influential teacher during her 15 year tenure at MIT,” says Philip S. Khoury, MIT associate provost and the Ford International Professor of History who oversees the arts at MIT.
The Venice Biennale dates back to 1895, when the first International Art Exhibition was organized. It is one of the most important international biennials and cultural institutions in the world. Every two years, curators in museums and institutions around the United States apply to mount exhibitions there.
This year’s exhibition is directed by Okwui Enwezor, a curator, art critic, and writer, and the director of the Haus der Kunst museum in Munich. Past exhibitions at the U.S. Pavilion can be viewed on the Peggy Guggenheim Collection website.
Art at MIT
In 1950, MIT established the Hayden Gallery, which in 1985 was renamed the List Visual Arts Center — in recognition of a gift from Vera and Albert List — and relocated to its current location in the Wiesner Building, designed by MIT Alumnus I.M. Pei BS '40 and Partners Architects.
Highly respected for its innovative, provocative, and scholarly exhibitions and publications, the List Center is one of the most significant university art galleries in the country. It presents six to nine exhibitions annually and offers a broad range of educational programs. The List Center maintains and adds to MIT’s permanent collection; commissions new works through the MIT Percent-for-Art program, a collection of more than 50 site-specific artworks throughout the campus; and oversees the Student Loan Art Program, a popular and unusual program for a university, as it lends more than 500 works of art annually to MIT undergraduate and graduate students.
Nearly 80 percent of incoming MIT freshmen have prior training in the arts and nearly 50 percent of undergraduates enroll in arts courses each year. The arts at MIT are rooted in experimentation, risk-taking, and imaginative problem solving. They connect creative minds across disciplines; encourage a lifetime of exploration and self-discovery; and strengthen MIT’s commitment to the aesthetic, human, and social dimensions of research and innovation.
For more information on the List Center, visit: http://listart.mit.edu; for more information on Arts at MIT, visit: http://arts.mit.edu. Jonas' Venice Biennale work can be found at joanjonasvenice2015.com.