Ralph Rugoff announces theme for 2019 Venice Biennale

Ralph Rugoff & Paolo Baratta. Photo: Andrea Avezzù. Courtesy La Biennale di Venezia


Paolo Barrata, director of the Venice Biennale and Ralph Rugoff, curator of the 2019 edition, have revealed the title and direction of the next exhibition. Titled May You Live in Interesting Times, the show will consider the role of art in response to the current political climate, especially in the context of fake news and alternative facts. ‘At a moment when the digital dissemination of fake news and “alternative facts” is corroding political discourse and the trust on which it depends,’ Rugoff explained, ‘it is worth pausing whenever possible to reassess our terms of reference.’

The title of the biennial refers to a speech given by British MP Austen Chamberlain in 1936, in which he wrongly cited the phrase as being a Chinese curse. Although there exists no such Chinese curse, the phrase has been referenced by Western politicians on numerous occasions over the past century, making it, in Rugoff’s terms ‘an ersatz cultural relic, another Occidental “Orientalism”’, which ‘for all its fictional status it has had real rhetorical effects in significant public exchanges.’

Rugoff said the biennial will look to highlight the role of art and artists in enlarging the perspective of its audiences and challenging ‘habits of thought’, shifting the focus from the actual art object to the discussions it can generate: ‘what is most important about an exhibition is not what it puts on display, but how audiences can use their experience of the exhibition afterwards, to confront everyday realities from expanded viewpoints and with new energies’. The biennale will run from 11 May to 24 November 2019. 

17 July 2018