Photo Matteo de Fina

A recent history of the US Pavilion at Venice

As Martin Puryear’s Liberty exhibition engages with issues affecting the United States, we look back at some of the artists who have been chosen to represent the USA at the Venice Biennale across the past 30 years

  • 1
  • 2017, Mark Bradford Tomorrow Is Another Day

In brief: Themes of community, nationality and how it feels — as a gay black man — to be an outsider in America were explored in a series of sometimes monumental site-specific installations, many of which referenced mythology. The works operated in direct reaction to the Palladian pavilion building, which was modelled on Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello plantation.

Installation view Mark Bradford Tomorrow Is Another Day, La Biennale di Venezia, US Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2017. Photo Joshua White. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

Installation view: Mark Bradford: Tomorrow Is Another Day, La Biennale di Venezia, US Pavilion, Venice, Italy, 2017. Photo: Joshua White. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth

What they said: ‘I’m black, but just because I’m black doesn’t mean I’m representing the whole black race. I don’t believe in a univocal representation of nationhood either. That’s impossible. That’s not what I’m about’ — Mark Bradford

Works by Mark Bradford offered at Christie’s this season

Mark Bradford (b. 1961), Untitled, 2009. Acrylic, ink and printed paper collage on gypsum. 14 x 22  in (35.6 x 55.9  cm). Estimate $150,000-200,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Mark Bradford (b. 1961), Untitled, 2009. Acrylic, ink and printed paper collage on gypsum. 14 x 22 in (35.6 x 55.9 cm). Estimate: $150,000-200,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Mark Bradford (b. 1961), Keep Their Bellies Full, 2010. Acrylic on paper. 41¾ x 59⅜  in (106 x 150.8  cm). Estimate $300,000-500,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Mark Bradford (b. 1961), Keep Their Bellies Full, 2010. Acrylic on paper. 41¾ x 59⅜ in (106 x 150.8 cm). Estimate: $300,000-500,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

  • 2
  • 2009, Bruce Nauman Topological Gardens

In brief: A thematic survey across three separate sites that revealed ‘the magic of meaning as it emerges through relentless repetition of language and form’, arranged under three themes: ‘Fountains and Neons’, ‘Heads and Hands’, and ‘Sounds and Space’.

What they said: ‘If Bruce Nauman’s work were a liquor, it might well be Campari, the vile Italian drink that nevertheless tastes so refreshing on muggy Italian afternoons. Come to think of it, isn’t a Campari and soda called an “Americano?”’ — Ben Davis, Artnet

Works by Bruce Nauman offered at Christie’s this season

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941), From Hand to Mouth, executed in 1967. 35⅜ x 26¾  in (89.8 x 68  cm). Estimate $700,000-1,000,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Bruce Nauman (b. 1941), From Hand to Mouth, executed in 1967. 35⅜ x 26¾ in (89.8 x 68 cm). Estimate: $700,000-1,000,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

  • 3
  • 2005, Ed Ruscha Course of Empire

In brief: The artist explored the nature of change through his ‘Blue Collar’ pictures of dark urban landscapes from 1992, together with a new cycle of images. The original, black and white Blue Collar works were displayed on one side of the building; the new paintings in colour on the other, with Ruscha describing the pairs as alluding to ‘the anxiety that had developed around the modernist vision of progress in a postmodern age’.

Ed Ruscha with two works shown at Venice Blue Collar Telephone, 1992. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 120⅛ in (137.16 x 305.11 cm); and Blue Collar, 1992. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 120 in (137.16 x 305 cm). © Ed Ruscha. Photography by Gary Regester. Courtesy of Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery

Ed Ruscha with two works shown at Venice: Blue Collar Telephone, 1992. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 120⅛ in (137.16 x 305.11 cm); and Blue Collar, 1992. Acrylic on canvas. 54 x 120 in (137.16 x 305 cm). © Ed Ruscha. Photography by Gary Regester. Courtesy of Ed Ruscha and Gagosian Gallery

What they said: ‘It would be difficult to name an artist who has remained as consistently in the vanguard of contemporary art for as many years as Ed Ruscha’ — Linda Norden, co-curator

Works by Ed Ruscha offered at Christie’s this season

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Hell Heaven, 1988. 23½ x 36  in (59.7 x 91.4  cm). Estimate $1,000,000-1,500,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Hell Heaven, 1988. 23½ x 36 in (59.7 x 91.4 cm). Estimate: $1,000,000-1,500,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Regal, 2001. Sheet 40⅛ x 60  in (101.9 x 152.4  cm). Estimate $500,000-700,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Ed Ruscha (b. 1937), Regal, 2001. Sheet: 40⅛ x 60 in (101.9 x 152.4 cm). Estimate: $500,000-700,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Morning Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

  • 4
  • 2001, Robert Gober Robert Gober

In brief: An entirely new body of work specifically for the exhibition, composed of six independent sculptures, three prints, one photograph, and an artist’s book. The exhibition explored the ‘persistent promises of democracy and the essential contradictions that attend the exercise of citizenship’.

What they said: ‘I have never seen as good a show in the American pavilion as Gober’s…. [His] sparse and precise installation of sculpted objects, hand-etched newspaper clippings (they look torn from the paper, but they’ve been re-created exactly) and Xeroxed flyers advertising for a cat-sitter, are all meditations on America’ — Mark Wallinger

Works by Robert Gober offered at Christie’s this season

Robert Gober (b. 1954), Untitled, 1984. 10⅜ x 8¼  in (26.4 x 21  cm). Estimate $30,000-40,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Gober (b. 1954), Untitled, 1984. 10⅜ x 8¼ in (26.4 x 21 cm). Estimate: $30,000-40,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

  • 5
  • 1997, Robert Colescott Recent Paintings

In brief: The first black American artist to represent the United States at Venice in a solo show exhibited 19 luscious paintings executed in the previous 10 years, which collectively offered a scathing commentary on American racism. ‘Colescott’s paintings are the work of a contemporary American painter fully aware of the entire spectrum of American and African-American art and culture,’ wrote Miriam Roberts in the show’s catalogue.

Robert Colesecott in 1997, standing between A Visit from Uncle Charlie (left) and The Emir of Iswid (How Wide the Gulf), which were shown at the Venice Biennale. Photo Chang W Leeeyevine. Artworks © Robert Colescott, DACS 2019

Robert Colesecott in 1997, standing between A Visit from Uncle Charlie (left) and The Emir of Iswid (How Wide the Gulf), which were shown at the Venice Biennale. Photo: Chang W Lee/eyevine. Artworks: © Robert Colescott, DACS 2019

What they said: ‘There’s something here to offend everyone, but there’s also real painting — a fluent interaction of form and colour which derives, through many permutations, from Fernand Léger, with whom Colescott once studied, and from Pablo Picasso, the artist he thinks about most often these days’ — The New Yorker

Works by Robert Colescott offered at Christie’s this season

Robert Colescott (1925-2009), The Phone Call (1978). Oil on canvas. 84 x 65⅜  in (213.4 x 166.1  cm). Estimate $100,000-150,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Colescott (1925-2009), The Phone Call (1978). Oil on canvas. 84 x 65⅜ in (213.4 x 166.1 cm). Estimate: $100,000-150,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Colescott (1925-2009), The Boss (1990). Acrylic on paper. 40⅜ x 26  in (102.6 x 66  cm). Estimate $50,000-70,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Colescott (1925-2009), The Boss (1990). Acrylic on paper. 40⅜ x 26 in (102.6 x 66 cm). Estimate: $50,000-70,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Afternoon Session on 16 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

  • 6
  • 1993, Louise Bourgeois Recent Work

In brief: An exhibition of nine sculptures and four installations executed between 1984 and 1993, four of which were created specifically for the Biennale. The period covered by the exhibition saw Bourgeois produce some of her most monumental works, which address themes of anxiety, alienation, love, identity, sex and death.

Louise Bourgeois in her Brooklyn studio in 1993 with her sculpture, WOMAN WITH PACKAGES, 1991-93. Photo by Vera Isler-Leiner © Artists Rights Society (ARS), NYProLitteris, Zurich. Artworks © The Easton FoundationVAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Louise Bourgeois in her Brooklyn studio in 1993 with her sculpture, WOMAN WITH PACKAGES, 1991-93. Photo by Vera Isler-Leiner © Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ProLitteris, Zurich. Artworks: © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois Recent Work, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice 1993. Photo Piermarco Menini, © The Easton Foundation. Artworks © The Easton FoundationVAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Installation view of Louise Bourgeois: Recent Work, American Pavilion, Venice Biennale, Venice 1993. Photo: Piermarco Menini, © The Easton Foundation. Artworks: © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

What they said: ‘Although Bourgeois’s presence had been felt in the art world for more than half a century, she has remained outside the mainstream and ahead of her time, fiercely independent, avidly feminist, and singularly visionary… [Her] legacy is central to our understanding of art at the end of the millennium’ — Charlotte Kotick, curator

Works by Louise Bourgeois offered at Christie’s this season

  • 7
  • 1982, Robert Smithson A Retrospective View

In brief: A touring exhibition of minimal sculptures by the American artist, who died in 1973 while inspecting one of his vast outdoor earthworks projects, the most famous of which is Spiral Jetty in Utah’s Great Salt Lake.

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What they said: ‘Smithson’s... reputation was very much a product of the cultural and political upheavals of the 1960s. The artist was seen by his admirers to represent everything that was most innovative and daring in the art of that tumultuous decade’ — Hilton Kramer, The New York Times

Works by Robert Smithson offered at Christie’s this season

Robert Smithson (1938-1973), Double Nonsite, California and Nevada, 1968-1969. Floor installation dimensions 71 x 71 x 12  in (180.3 x 180.3 x 30.5  cm). Estimate $800,000-1,200,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York

Robert Smithson (1938-1973), Double Nonsite, California and Nevada, 1968-1969. Floor installation dimensions: 71 x 71 x 12 in (180.3 x 180.3 x 30.5 cm). Estimate: $800,000-1,200,000. Offered in Post-War and Contemporary Art Evening Sale on 15 May 2019 at Christie’s in New York