Christine Macel to Direct the 57th Venice Biennale, Its Fourth Woman Curator in 122 Years

Ian Epstein
Jan 26, 2016 1:00AM

Portrait of Christine Macel courtesy of Jean-Claude Planchet, Centre Pompidou.

In a move that has been heralded as “a double honor, for France and for women,” on Saturday the Venice Biennale named French curator Christine Macel as the artistic director of next year’s 57th edition. (The biennale is scheduled to run from May 13th to November 26th, 2017, keeping the earlier opening date that in 2015 coincided with EXPO Milan rather than a June opening, ahead of Art Basel in Basel.) Since 2000, Macel has led France’s Centre Pompidou as chief curator, organizing numerous important exhibitions of contemporary artists (including Gabriel Orozco, Sophie Calle, Philippe Parreno, and Nan Goldin, among others) as well as inaugurating the museum’s department of contemporary and prospective creation.

Macel, who has twice curated national pavilions at the Biennale, is just the fourth woman to have directed the Venice Biennale since 1895. She follows Nigerian-born Okwui Enwezor, whose critically lauded and thoroughly political 56th edition, “All the World’s Futures,” tallied more than half a million visitors in the nearly seven months it was open.

In a statement, Biennale president Paolo Baratta both praised Enwezor and hinted at a new direction for Macel’s edition. Baratta noted that Enwezor’s Biennale focused on “the rifts and divisions that pervade the world,” a reflection “that we are currently living in an age of anxiety.” He goes on to call Macel “a curator committed to emphasizing the important role artists play in inventing their own universes and injecting generous vitality into the world we live in.” Between the lines, there may be a desire for a more upbeat, potentially less political exhibition.

Macel is no stranger to the opportunities and challenges that organizing one of the world’s most important exhibitions will afford her. Her first foray in Venice came in 2007 at the Belgian Pavilion. With artist Eric Duyckaerts she installed Hall of Mirrors and Discovery (2007), a labyrinthine tangle of glass, mirrors, and screens that disoriented its viewers.

Six years later, she returned for a second round—this time for her native France at the Biennale’s 55th edition. Macel, together with German curator Susanne Gaensheimer, coordinated an unprecedented swap of their spaces—Germany showing in the French pavilion and France in the German pavilion—on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the historic Élysée Treaty. To confuse nationalities further, France, in the German Pavilion, showed work by the Albanian video artist Anri SalaRavel Ravel Unravel (2013).

The pavilion built on a collaboration between Macel and Sala at the Centre Pompidou the previous summer. And Sala’s film has become one of the most widely remembered artworks from the 55th Biennale. The piece, showing two pianists’ hands playing simultaneous interpretations of Maurice Ravel’s “Piano Concerto for the Left Hand in D-major,” will make its United States debut at the New Museum next week.

In one section of Ravel Ravel Unravel, a DJ attempts to modulate and harmonize the two pianists as they come in and out of sync. And a much similar challenge awaits Macel in curating the Biennial: using her sensitivities to the “new energies coming from various parts of the world,” as Baratta put it, to attempt to translate a world out of phase into a cohesive exhibition of contemporary art.

Ian Epstein