'Martin Puryear: Liberty / Libertà' Offers Layered Meanings in U.S. Pavilion at Venice Biennale

  • VENICE, Italy
  • /
  • May 06, 2019

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Martin Puryear installation at the Venice Biennale.
Martin Puryear, Matthew Marks Gallery and Madison Square Park Conservancy

Martin Puryear represents the United States at the 58th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia. Puryear is recognized for a fiercely independent visual language of object making that has developed over a half-century, and for a sculptural practice that has influenced generations of artists. Martin Puryear: Liberty / Libertà, is on view at the Venice Biennale, from May 11, 2019 – November 24, 2019.

“This moment has caught me being as much a citizen as an artist,” said Puryear, 77, to The New York Times.


Puryear created an entirely new body of work for the U.S. Pavilion, including new sculpture and a site-specific outdoor installation for the Pavilion’s forecourt titled “Swallowed Sun (Monstrance and Volute),” an enormous, bright lattice-work screen with a black, snake-like support that curls upwards. The piece was executed with architects Tod Williams and Billie Tsien.

Puryear’s work summons disparate sources of inspiration to realize a coherent vision that culls and clarifies across cultures, continents, eras, and perspectives. History is conjured up with a contemporary lens in some pieces.

One site-specific work, notes Holland Cotter in the New York Times, is "'A Column for Sally Hemings,' conceived to stand, linchpin-like, at the Pavilion’s precise center, directly beneath the Jeffersonian dome. Sally Hemings was an African-American slave owned by Jefferson and the mother of five children by him."

Another immense piece is "Tabernacle," which NYT describes as "the form of a military cap, six feet high, of a kind worn by both Union and Confederate soldiers. With its striking bulk, it encourages us at first to linger over its surface. But there’s a secret inside." It's a cannonball, mirrored. Cotter writes that "...you are reflected in it, a combatant, willing or not, in a political present that has sometimes been called a new American Civil War."

The 2019 U.S. Pavilion is commissioned and curated by Brooke Kamin Rapaport, Deputy Director and Martin Friedman, Senior Curator of Madison Square Park Conservancy. The exhibition marks the first time in the history of the Art Biennale that the U.S. Pavilion is organized by an institution whose visual art program is focused exclusively on public art. Madison Square Park Conservancy and Puryear previously collaborated on the commission of a public art installation of his monumental sculpture Big Bling in 2016-2017.

In conjunction with the presentation at the U.S. Pavilion, the Conservancy and Puryear will realize outreach programs with underserved youth through a collaboration between Studio Institute of Studio in a School Association, Inc. in New York and Istituto Santa Maria Della Pietà in Venice.

Tags: sculpture

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