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L. Barry Hetherington

MIT Professor Emeritus Joan Jonas, who has been chosen as the United States’ representative at the 56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia.

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Joan Jonas, a professor emeritus at MIT and a prominent contemporary artist, has been chosen to represent the United States at the 2015 Venice Biennale, one of the world’s most prestigious contemporary art exhibitions. Venice Biennale (Biennale di Venezia in Italian) takes place in Venice every two years and brings new exciting art to hundreds of thousands visitors. The 56th International Art Exhibition of La Biennale di Venezia (May 9 — November 22, 2015) will be directed by Okwui Enwezor, writer, art critic, curator, and the Director of the Haus der Kunst, Munich.

Jonas was nominated for this role by Paul C. Ha, director of MIT List Visual Arts Center, who will serve as a curator and commissioner for this project. “Joan Jonas has taught at MIT since 1998 and has played an important role at the Art Culture and Technology department, as a teacher and a colleague,” Ha told The Tech. “As a pioneering artist who began her career in New York in the 1960s, her [renown] brought in students of high caliber and potential. With her support, mentorship, and generosity of spirit, her students are practicing and thriving within the contemporary art world.”

The recipient of numerous awards, fellowships, and grants, Jonas developed her work from art history studies, which later evolved to performance and film in the 1960s as a result of her involvement with New York’s avant-garde scene. Since then, her art has expanded to various media, and today it encompasses video, performance, installation, sound, text, and drawing.

For the five galleries of the U.S. Pavilion at Venice Biennale, Jonas will create interrelated, multimedia site-responsive installations that focus on, as she described it in a press release from Arts at MIT, “landscape and natural phenomena” and “the ocean as a poetic, totemic, and natural entity, as a life source and home to a universe of beings.” The U.S. Pavilion at Venice Biennale, a building in neo-classical style, opened on May 4, 1930 and has been owned by the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation and managed by The Peggy Guggenheim Collection in Venice since 1986.

This is the third time that the MIT List Visual Arts Center is presenting work at Venice Biennale — previous projects include Fred Wilson: Speak of Me as I Am (2003) and Ann Hamilton: Myein (1999). Nevertheless, this event will be equally important for arts at MIT as it was before — if not even more so.

“When you think about all the biennials that occur throughout the world today: the Cairo, the Berlin, the Gwangju, and the Singapore — to name a few — you can safely say that the Venice started the biennial model,” said Ha. “And one can also easily argue that out of all the biennials, the Venice still remains the most prestigious and most sought-after. This is one of the largest honors an artist can receive to represent their country in this hugely attended event — some five hundred thousand people attend the Biennale. So, having a member of our faculty chosen as the most important American artist, as presented by MIT List Visual Arts Center, brings great awareness to the art world that MIT is a place where leading artists teach, exhibit, and develop their talent.”

Ha added, “This being the third time the List has presented at the Biennale is — we believe — unprecedented for one organization.”

Ha hopes that 2015 Venice Biennale will help spread the word about MIT List Visual Arts Center to the rest of the world. “As the science labs at MIT are considered to be the top labs throughout the world, MIT List Visual Arts Center too is considered to be one of the top contemporary art institutions in the world. For those working in the field, the mentioning of the List brings acknowledgment and prestige,” he added. This exhibition will hopefully also emphasize the wide artistic talents among the students and faculty at MIT, which is mostly known for its focus on science and engineering. “One prime example is [MIT alumna] Jennifer Allora who went on to represent the U.S. at 54th Venice Biennale,” said Ha. “It is fitting that Joan will now be presented in that same pavilion.”