The United States Picks Allora & Calzadilla for the 54th Venice Biennale

After almost a year of speculation, the Puerto Rico–based multimedia duo Allora & Calzadilla has been announced as the United States' representatives to the 2011 Venice Biennale, marking the first time that an artist pair or collective has been picked by the nation to fill the prestigious role. The selection was made by the Indianapolis Museum of Art, which the U.S. State Department has entrusted to organize next year's pavilion; Lisa Freiman, the chair of the museum’s contemporary art department, has been tapped as the commissioner of the pavilion. She will also curate the presentation.


Following Bruce Nauman's triumphant showing at the 2009 biennale, when he won the Golden Lion for his country, the choice of Allora & Calzadilla signals both a willingness to take risks — the artists, hardly household names, are both under 40 — and a multicultural outlook: Jennifer Allora is a  Pennsylvania native, while Guillermo Calzadilla was born in Cuba. Having worked together since 1995, they are known for a diverse practice that incorporates sound, video, performance, sculpture, and other media to create work that engages with issues of politics, cultural identity, and authorship. Only a few weeks ago, the duo was named as a finalist to design a sculpture for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, considered by many to be the most prestigious public-art commission in the U.K. 


The pair’s most recent New York solo show, "Stop, Repair, Prepare," at Gladstone Gallery, featured musicians standing inside custom-built pianos playing a transcription of the fourth movement of Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony. Reviewing the show in the New York Times, art critic Holland Cotter wrote that the piece engendered "a kind of resistant pleasure, and joy is not too strong a word for the complex experience."


The awarding of the coveted commissioning role to the Indianapolis museum is a clear victory for Maxwell L. Anderson, the museum’s director and CEO, who has been credited with revitalizing the institution through a variety of innovative technological and curatorial initiatives in recent years. Earlier this year, the IMA unveiled 100 Acres: The Virginia B. Fairbanks Art & Nature Park, a new sculpture garden in a former quarry behind the museum, filling it with contemporary works. (Freiman, who is the curator of the park, spoke with ARTINFO about the project shortly after it opened.) Announcing the news of its selection, the IMA said that it planned to employ its highly-evolved social media presence and Internet platforms to help promote the event.

The Venice Biennale is set to open on June 4, 2011, and run through November 27, 2011. In May, art historian and curator Bice Curiger was picked as the director of the event. Before Nauman, the U.S. was represented by Felix Gonzalez-Torres (posthumously) in 2007, Ed Ruscha in 2005, and Fred Wilson (who, given Allora & Calzadilla's political commitments, may be the closet to them in spirit) in 2003. While the U.S. has never selected a collaborative group as its Venice entrant, Britain named Gilbert & George to fill its pavilion in 2005.