Behind the Biennale

Art | May 2015 | BY Tali Jaffe

As the Venice Biennale kicks off this week, we take a look at the making of the epic event, thanks to a new film series created by Artsy and UBS. The first part to the series—which documents the art exhibition through conversations with curators, artists, insiders and many of the team members behind the scenes—is directed by Oscar Boyson, and is online now on Artsy, while director Poppy de Villeneuve will capture the opening week’s events to be released over the course of the seven-month exhibition. Here, we chat with Boyson about the making of his film.

What was the most surprising thing you learned about the Biennale through this project?
One moment I really liked that we weren’t able to include in the film was when Robert Rauschenberg became the first artist to present at a pavilion that didn’t belong to his own country. In 1990 he presented a great painting at the Soviet Pavilion. For the Soviets to invite him to present at that moment in time, and for him to present the painting that he did—it’s beautiful and symbolic and has its own set of meanings and implications that demonstrate what the Biennale is and what it can be.

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What are you personally looking forward to most at the Biennale? Okwui Enwezor’s show is really exciting. After researching as much as we could for this project, it’s fun to go into the Biennale with gained perspective and more context.

Which artist/presentation are you most looking forward to? I’m excited about the Belgian Pavilion, the Ukraine Pavilion, the U.S. Pavilion where Joan Jonas is presenting, and of course the show curated by Okwui Enwezor. We got an early look at the Canadian Pavilion–that’s going to be exciting too. Thinking about the Biennale in a historical context has given me a lens to appreciate the most traditional approaches as well as the ones that are breaking a pattern.

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How long did you spend in Venice working on this series? For the history film, I was only there a few days. The Biennale doesn’t really let anybody into the Giardini until the preview week.

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Please share three examples of art-world insiders you interviewed for this film. Please give specific examples of their contribution.  We interviewed Sarah Sze, who represented the U.S. Pavilion in 2013 and has work in “All the World’s Futures” this year. We also interviewed Francesco Bonami who was the curator of the 2003 Biennale, and one of several curators in the ’93 Aperto show. We interviewed curator Marie Fraser and artist collective BGL, representing the Canadian Pavilion in this year’s Biennale.

How long have you been working on this project?  Not long enough! We turned it around really quick, which is a good and bad thing. Good because a deadline forces results…but with a 120 year history the Biennale offers the kind of subject one could research for years and years.

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