Venice Power Brokers: Okwui Enwezor, Curator of “All the World’s Futures”

27 April 2015

© Copyright 2015 Blouin artinfo. Eric Bryant, Angela M.H. Schuster, Art + Auction


Since its founding 120 years ago as a single exhibition with an array of mostly European artists, la Biennale di Venezia has grown into a sprawling collection of shows and events taking place over more than six months.

In fact, this year’s extravaganza — kicking off a month earlier than usual, on May 9, to capitalize on visitors coming to northern Italy for the Expo Milano world’s fair — will include the International Art Exhibition with more than 130­ artists; nearly 90 national pavilions, some featuring more than a dozen artists; 44 officially recognized “collateral events,” which typically remain on view for the full run; and dozens more ancillary pop-up shows, performances, mini-festivals, and parties.

Behind each of these is a person who wielded both creative imagination and force of will to bring the event into being. The artistic vision is on view for all to see. Less discernible is the labor and money, the connections and negotiations that determine what gets shown and what doesn’t.

In its May edition, Art + Auction looked at the power brokers behind the Biennale —curators, a gallerist, a patron, a banker, and a politician— who remain relatively unsung in their efforts to ensure that the art stands out.

First in the series: OKWUI ENWEZOR, Curator of “All the World’s Futures.”

Since his appointment as head of the Biennale’s International Exhibition 18 months ago, Okwui Enwezor has downplayed his status as only the second curator after the legendary Harald Szeemann to helm both the Biennale and Documenta in Kassel.

Yet the truly global nature of the Nigerian-born Enwezor’s expertise, together with the depth of his experience — since his 2002 show in Germany, he has led events of similar scope in Seville, Gwangju, and Paris — does set him apart.

Known for rigorously structured exhibitions, the curator fills his shows with unexpected juxtapositions and mixes artists who are diverse, both geographically and generationally.

This time out, he is speaking of a series of “filters” used to organize the hundreds of individual works with the aim of illuminating the prospects for what lies ahead — as promised in the title — as well as the last 120 years of exhibitions in Venice.

Among the 136 artists are thirty-somethings like the Peruvian-Danish Elena Damiani and the Turkish-Swedish Meriç Algün Ringborg and 80-year-old Teresa Burga from Peru; artists already feted as national representatives such as American Sarah Sze and Christian Boltanski from France; artist collectives formed in the past few years; and despite a plurality from Europe, a rich selection of artists from Asia, Africa, and South America.

There are complaints every year about the sprawling nature of the International Exhibition, but if anyone can create a show that stands up to the weight of history, it is Enwezor.