Although American artist Joan Jonas is nearly 80, her work at the U.S. Pavilion at this year’s Venice Biennale is not a retrospective. Nor is it a lifetime-achievement award for her pioneering ’70s artwork using video or the TV monitor as a sculptural object.
Rather, among the committee of top curators and artists assembled by the U.S. State Department under the advisement of the National Endowment for the Arts, the choice of who represents the USA always indicates a “consensus of curiosity about an artist’s future and what’s next,” explains Paul Ha, who is curating Jonas’s installation in Venice along with Ute Meta Bauer. (The Biennale runs from May 9 to November 22.)
“Her work is endlessly thought-provoking and inspiring, as proven by the entirely new genres of art it has catalyzed,” says Ha, who as head of the MIT List Visual Arts Center took the initially reluctant Jonas, a longtime art professor at MIT, “to a little pizza joint on campus” to persuade her to throw her hat in the ring.
For They Come to Us Without a Word, she will transform the pavilion’s five galleries into a dynamically immersive environment with new, original video, drawings, objects, and sound, including fragments of music from jazz artist Jason Moran. It will extend her investigation into the work of the late Icelandic writer Halldór Laxness and other literary inspirations.
For those not in Venice, the MIT List Center is doing a victory lap in the form of a small survey (through July 5; listart.mit.edu) of Jonas’s oeuvre of 40-plus years. For more information, go to joanjonasvenice2015.com.