Ralph Rugoff Announces the Title of the Venice Biennale 2019: May You Live in Interesting Times

Words by Lara Morrell
July 16, 2018

On July 16 at Ca’Giustinian, Paolo Baratta alongside the Artistic Director Ralph Rugoff presented and announced, for the first time, the title of the 58th International Art Exhibition; “May You Live in Interesting Times”, which will take place from May 11th to November 24th 2019.

The title of the 58th International comes from a reference during a speech in 1930 by British MP Sir Austen Chamberlain in which he refers to an ancient Chinese curse he had learned from a British diplomat who served in Asia which took on the form of saying, “May you live in interesting times.” “There is no doubt that the curse has fallen on us”, Chamberlain observed. “We move from one crisis to another, We suffer one disturbance and shock after another.” Mirroring our current situation today of chaos and uncertainty. Ironically, in an era of fake news and a lack of trust in communication, it turns out that the ancient Chinese curse was completely made-up, despite being used by Politicians in the west for over a hundred years. The 58th International exhibition will be titled after a counterfeit curse, as Rugoff states “this kind of uncertain artefact suggests potential lines of exploration that are worth pursuing at present, especially when the “interesting times” it evokes seem to be with us once again.”. Art, Rugoff claims, can help us to find ways to live in interesting times, so they don’t feel like a curse but rather a spur for out creative action and thinking.

The Biennale in 2019 will not have a theme as such, instead it will seek alternative approaches to making art which exalt its social function, embracing pleasure and critique and above all experience, with multiple points of entry. Rugoff states “the exhibition will focus on the work of artists who challenge existing habits of thought and open up our readings of objects and images, gestures and situations..artists who think in this manner offer alternatives to the the meaning of so-called facts by suggesting other ways of connecting and contextualising them.” Art embraces contradiction “as human beings we are contradictory creatures, we have desires, motivations, thoughts which conflict with each other and art is a place where that is explored and acknowledged”, art is one of the few places in our culture where this can happen and “plays a great role in helping us to retune our thinking to allow it to become more nuanced, allowing us to develop and understand multiple perspectives”.

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