With nine months until the Venice Biennale, the State Department has yet to announce a U.S. artist.
It’s hard not to recognize the overt political messaging in the theme for next year’s Venice Biennale. Directed by the journalist turned curator Ralph Rugoff, the title of the festival’s 58th year, May You Live in Interesting Times, is a clear hit at the current wave of political turmoil making its way across the world. But with nine months to go until the opening, countries far and wide have been on the front foot when it comes to submitting their artistic representatives. All except for America.
As the first year Trump’s administration has overseen an entrant, so far the State Department has offered nothing but silence. Given the overall theme, it seems Trump’s administration is at a stumbling block when faced with the fear of letting artists run wild with the concept of fake news.
“I hope it is less of a curse and more of a challenge and that art may be a way to help us” remarked Rugoff when asked about his curatorial approach at a press conference earlier this month. “Art cannot stem the rise of nationalist movements and authoritarian governments in different parts of the world […] nor can it alleviate the tragic fate of displaced peoples across the globe.”
According to Artsy’s senior reporter Nate Freeman, some insiders are worried they “may not make an announcement at all.” In an email to the journalist, Rugoff made it clear that despite being so late in the game, American’s entrant was still very much up in the air: “Until the situation is clarified I don’t think there’s anything I can comment on.”
Trump’s attitude to the arts has never gone much further than posturing. After boasting about owning an original Renoir, its authenticity was later disputed when it was pointed out the original was gifted to the Art Institute of Chicago in 1933, and continue to hang comfortably on the gallery’s walls.
He’s also yet to award the 2016 National Medal for the Arts, with no one certain if it’s because of an administration backlog or if larger forces are at play. Last year, Trump became the first president in history to propose a total cut on all funding for the nation’s federal cultural agencies. But as someone who has continually proved his word isn’t worth as much as his inflated projections would have you think, the bill that eventually passed the Senate actually saw a boost for the countries’ cultural endowment.
But the stagnant response to the world’s preeminent art festival is particularly poignant given the theme for 2019. Given the president’s total disdain for publicly funded arts, the lack of action on our incoming Venice entrant is deafening.