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Professor emerita Joan Jonas to represent U.S. at Venice Biennale

A pioneering figure in performance art and video, Jonas will create a multimedia installation for the U.S. Pavilion in Venice
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Joan Jonas in "The Shape and the Scent of the Feel of Things" performance at Dia Beacon, 2005.
Joan Jonas in "The Shape and the Scent of the Feel of Things" performance at Dia Beacon, 2005.
Photo: Paula Court

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:; for more information on Arts at MIT, visit: Jonas' Venice Biennale work can be found at

Press Mentions

Boston Globe

Writing for The Boston Globe, Sebastian Smee writes that 2015 “was a banner year for great artists and curators who just happened to be women.” In his article, Smee highlights the work of Prof. Emeritus Joan Jonas, who represented the U.S. at the Venice Biennale this year. 

Boston Globe

“MIT professor emerita Joan Jonas, who represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, has been named the next visual arts mentor for the Rolex Mentor and Protégé Arts Initiative,” writes Meredith Goldstein for The Boston Globe. Jonas was named to the initiative along with five other artists.


In this video, Jared Bowen reports for WGBH on a retrospective of Professor Joan Jonas’ work at the MIT List Visual Arts Center. “One only has to experience it and you get immersed in it,” says List Visual Arts Center Director Paul Ha of Jonas’ work. 


WGBH reporter Jared Bowen highlights the selection of Prof. Emertia Joan Jonas’ films and videos currently on display at the MIT List Visual Arts Center in his weekly roundup of recommended exhibitions, movies and musical performances. “Those of us who can’t make it to Italy can see seven of her films and videos that pushed the media forward, right in Cambridge.” 


Guardian reporter Jason Farago writes about Prof. Emerita Joan Jonas’ multimedia installation at the Venice Biennale. Farago writes that Jonas’ exhibit has been “has been the hit of the Giardini,” and “that in a show with too little regard for form, her profound and affecting new work proves that politics and beauty are not at odds.”

New York Times

Prof. Emerita Joan Jonas’ installation at the Venice Biennale is a “triumphal exhibition,” writes Roberta Smith for The New York Times. Smith says that Jonas’ exhibit is “one of the best solo shows to represent the United States at the biennale in over a decade — an effortless combination of maturity and freshness.”

Boston Globe

Boston Globe reporter Laura Collins-Hughes speaks with Professor Emerita Joan Jonas about her upcoming display at the Venice Biennale. “At the moment what attracts me, what I’m focusing on, is that the world is sort of in trouble in relation to the natural environment,” said Jonas about her motivation for her installation.

Boston Globe

The MIT Visual Arts List has released details about Professor Emerita Joan Jonas’ upcoming video presentation at the Venice Biennale, writes Meredith Goldstein for The Boston Globe. Jonas “will present a new video performance, ‘They Come to Us Without a Word II,’ three times from July 20 to 22, with live musical accompaniment.”

Boston Globe

MIT’s List Visual Arts Center is displaying a collection of Prof. Emerita Joan Jonas’ video art, writes Sebastian Smee for The Boston Globe. “The selection adds up to a fascinating overview of Jonas’s achievement, which is as rich and complex as it is disarming and improvised,” Smee writes. 

New York Times Style Magazine

Lisa Cohen writes for The New York Times Style Magazine about the work of MIT Professor Emerita Joan Jonas, who has been selected to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale. “If the idiosyncratic qualities of Jonas’s work have made it inscrutable to some, its power is undeniable,” writes Cohen.

Boston Globe

In an article highlighting the 35 “must-see” arts events in New England, Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe features the Joan Jonas exhibition organized by the MIT List Visual Arts Center. “The List will present an exhibition in Cambridge that features seven of the artist’s seminal film and video works, surveying the breadth of her career,” Smee writes. 

Boston Globe

Cate McQuaid writes for The Boston Globe about “Reanimation,” a piece of performance art created by Professor Emeritus Joan Jonas. “This densely layered piece deploys drawing, video projection, and passages read aloud from the novel ‘Under the Glacier,’ by Halldór Laxness, the Nobel Prize-winning Icelandic author,” writes McQuaid. 

Boston Globe

“The MIT List Visual Arts Center threw a party Wednesday for artist Joan Jonas, who was chosen recently to represent the United States in its national pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” write Mark Shanahan and Meredith Goldstein for The Boston Globe

Boston Globe

“On Wednesday, Jonas was announced as the artist who will officially represent the United States in its national pavilion at the Venice Biennale,” writes Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe on Professor Joan Jonas’ selection for the prestigious art exhibition, which is widely regarded as the world’s most important exhibition of contemporary art.

New York Times

New York Times reporter Carol Vogel writes that Professor Emerita Joan Jonas has been selected to represent the United States at the 2015 Venice Biennale. Paul C. Ha, director of the MIT List Visual Arts Center, nominated Jonas and will serve as commissioner of the exhibit.   

Boston Globe

“Artist and MIT professor emerita Joan Jonas, 77, has been chosen to represent the United States at the 56th Venice Biennale, the world’s most prestigious exhibition of contemporary art,” writes Sebastian Smee of The Boston Globe. Jonas is considered a pioneer in performance and video art.

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