Jeffrey Gibson, the Colorado-born, New York-based artist who is a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians and of Cherokee descent, will represent the United States at the 2024 Venice Biennale, becoming the first Indigenous artist to have a solo exhibition in the US Pavilion.
Gibson’s work mixes many traditions, combining techniques from Indigenous beading, weaving, metalwork and more with the formal language of hard-edged abstract painting, Pop Art sculpture. It spans media such as sculpture, painting, installation and performance. He is perhaps best known for suspended punching-bag sculptures that incorporate elaborate threads, fringes and beaded text, as well as large-scale paintings that feature stylized text rendered in boldly colorful patterns.
For his exhibition in Venice, Gibson will create installations inside the US Pavilion, on its exterior and in its courtyard, incorporating elements of performance and multimedia in addition to static works. Through partnerships with the Institute of American Indian Arts in Santa Fe, New Mexico and Bard College in upstate New York, the pavilion will also incorporate educational programming.
“The last 15 years of my career have been about turning inward and trying to make something I really wanted to see in the world,” Gibson, reflecting on his selection for the Biennale, told The New York Times. “Now I want to expand the way people think about Indigeneity.”
Gibson’s presentation in Venice is being co-commissioned by Kathleen Ash-Milby (Navajo Nation), curator of Native American art at the Portland Art Museum in Portland, Oregon; Louis Grachos, executive director of the contemporary art museum SITE Santa Fe; and independent curator Abigail Winograd.
“Throughout his career, Jeffrey has challenged us to look at the world differently through his innovative and vibrant work,” Ash-Milby — who is also the first Native American co-curator in the 129-year history of the US Pavilion in Venice — said in a statement. “His inclusive and collaborative approach is a powerful commentary on the influence and persistence of Native American cultures within the United States and globally, making him the ideal representative for the United States at this moment.”
“I have long believed in the ability of Jeffrey’s work to be a force for positive change and to create the possibility of a radically inclusive future,” Winograd added in a statement. “It is my hope that as a global audience experiences his work through the Biennale, they will also find it to be a source of joy and healing, something sorely needed in a world driven by conflict and crisis.”
As is customary, in addition to the Portland Museum of Art in Oregon and SITE Santa Fe in New Mexico, the US Pavilion is being organized in cooperation with the US State Department.
Gibson’s work has been exhibited widely throughout the US over the past decade, including in major solo exhibitions at Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art in 2013 and the Ruth and Elmer Wellin Museum of Art at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York in 2018. His work figured prominently in the 2017 Desert X Biennial and the 2019 Whitney Biennial. Last May, the National Gallery of Art acquired a major piece from Gibson’s “Garment” series, a work that incorporates elements of Native American regalia as well as references to the late performance artist Leigh Bowery; he is also represented in the collections of many major US museums including the Buffalo AKG Art Museum, Denver Art Museum, the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, the Seattle Art Museum and SFMoMa, among others.
The US was most recently represented in Venice by Simone Leigh. Her 2022 presentation, “Sovereignty,” featured large-scale sculptures which “(interrogated) the extraction of images and objects from across the African diaspora and their circulation as souvenirs in service of colonial narratives,” the exhibition brochure explained.