Jeffrey Gibson, a multidisciplinary artist known for his vibrant work that melds Indigenous, Queer and American identities, has been chosen by the U.S. Department of State’s Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs to represent the country at the 2024 Venice Biennale. A member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians, Gibson, who is also of Cherokee descent, is set to make history as the first Indigenous artist to present a solo exhibition at the U.S. Pavilion during the Biennale.
While artwork from Indigenous artists such as Hopi painters Otis Polelonema and Fred Kabotie were included in a group show at the U.S. Pavilion for the Biennale in 1932, many Native American artists were left unnamed, with their work primarily included to support a presentation of American painters and their depictions of the West.
Who is Jeffrey Gibson?
Sculptures, paintings, multimedia works and a site-specific installation from Gibson will fill the U.S. Pavilion as of April 2024, according to the State Department. Gibson, 51, grew up in the U.S., Korea and Germany as the son of a U.S. Army employee. His vibrant and patterned artwork explores identity and culture through the combination of Native American styles with those of modernism. Beadwork and trading post blankets appear throughout his work, as do references to artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat and lyrics from popular musicians like Prince and the Beatles.
As a child, Gibson immersed himself in punk and rave music alongside the powwow traditions of his Native heritage. “Music plays a huge part,” said the artist, who frequently listens to specific albums as he works, in a 2010 interview. “The ability to sample and remix the past and present is reflected in photoshop, the internet and music.”
Gibson’s exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale will be co-commissioned by Abigail Winograd, an independent curator; Louis Grachos, the director of arts organization SITE Santa Fe; and Kathleen Ash-Milby, a member of the Navajo Nation and curator of Native American art at the Portland Art Museum. Winograd and Ash-Milby will co-curate the presentation.
“Throughout his career, Jeffrey has challenged us to look at the world differently through his innovative and vibrant work,” said Ash-Milby in a statement. “His inclusive and collaborative approach is a powerful commentary on the influence and persistence of Native American culture within the United States and globally, making him the ideal representative for the United States at this moment.”
Gibson, who studied painting at the Art Institute of Chicago and the Royal College of Art, is a recipient of the 2019 MacArthur Foundation Fellowship. Recent solo exhibitions include 2022 shows at the Institute of Contemporary Art San Francisco, SITE Santa Fe, Portland Art Museum and deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum. His work also hangs in institutions like the Museum of Modern Art and Whitney Museum of American Art.
The Venice Biennale, often referred to as the “Olympics of the art world” due to its prestige and international nature, will become the first major global event to showcase Gibson’s work. Established in 1895 and held every two years, its upcoming edition will be curated by Adriano Pedrosa.
Following sculptor Martin Puryear in 2019 and painter Mark Bradford in 2017, Simone Leigh was commissioned as the U.S. representative for the Biennale in 2020, the first time a Black female artist was chosen for the honor. Artists including Felix Gonzalez-Torres, Ed Ruscha, Jenny Holzer, Jasper Johns and Isamu Noguchi have also represented the nation at the global event.