Jeffrey Gibson Is Selling Cashmere Blankets to Fund His Venice Biennale Exhibition

Sotheby's is selling 60 limited-edition blankets designed by the artist to fund his upcoming solo exhibition at the 2024 Venice Biennale.

Man stands in wood-walled room holding colorful blanket
Jeffrey Gibson at his studio in Hudson, New York. Menelik Puryear/Courtesy Sotheby's

In 2022, a performance at the Aspen Art Museum saw more than a dozen color guard performers spin flags designed by Jeffrey Gibson, an artist known for works that fuse Indigenous identity and culture with modernism. Raised in the U.S., Germany and Korea, the artist has incorporated flags into his interdisciplinary practice for over a decade. Blankets have also appeared frequently in his artwork; often beaded with patterns and phrases, layered across other objects or in the form of recycled army blankets.

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Now as Gibson (who is of Cherokee descent and a member of the Mississippi Band of Choctaw Indians) prepares to make history as the first Indigenous artist to represent the U.S. at the Venice Biennale with a solo exhibition, he has designed a cashmere blanket featuring a reworked flag motif now available for sale via Sotheby's to help fund the U.S.’s 2024 pavilion.

“Flags, for me, represent the idea of taking up space, in the model of nationhood,” Gibson in a statement. “Different kinds of subcultures have created their own flags as ways of identifying himself.”

Created in partnership with SITE Santa Fe and the Portland Art Museum, the commissioning institutions for the U.S. Pavilion, Sotheby’s limited run of sixty blankets are priced at $7,500 each. The design features brightly colorful triangles and the phrase “I feel real when you hold me” in the artist’s own handwriting. The text refers in part to the fact that “many North American collections contain objects that have been removed from their communities,” according to Gibson. “The most important thing that people do when they are reunited with these objects is to hold them.”

Colorful patterned blanket with embroidered phrase "I feel real when you hold me."
Jeffrey Gibson, I Feel Real When You Hold Me cashmere blanket, (2024). Courtesy Sotheby's

Funding for the U.S. Venice Biennale pavilion comes from many sources

The sale proceeds will support the build of Gibson’s solo exhibition at the 60th Venice Biennale, taking place from April through November. In addition to filling the U.S. Pavilion with new sculpture, paintings and multimedia works, the artist will install a site-specific installation in the pavilion’s courtyard.

Representing the U.S. at the Venice Biennale presents a financial challenge for artists and commissioners. Simone Leigh’s show at the American pavilion in 2022, for example, cost roughly $7 million, and Gibson’s is estimated to cost around $5 million, as reported by The New York Times. The U.S. State Department provides the United States’ commissioning institutions with a $375,000 grant to mount the show but the rest may funded through donations and sales.

“I think there is an understanding even before a selection is made that if you apply, then you have the ability to fundraise,” Brooke Kamin Rapaport, artistic director and chief curator at Madison Square Park Conservancy, told the New York Times, adding that Biennale artists tend to be “self-selecting.”

As if representing the U.S. at the “Olympics of the art world” wasn’t enough, Gibson recently was tapped for a major commission at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. The artist’s project, which will be installed in 2025 and includes four sculptures referred to as ancestral spirit figures, will become the sixth commissioned work for the museum’s facade.

In tandem with Gibson’s commission, the Met has asked artist Jennie C. Jones to produce a project for its roof garden that will engage with acoustic sculptures. “Though stylistically different, both Jones and Gibson see the potential for beauty and form to carry the potency of individual and cultural histories,” said Max Hollein, the museum’s director and CEO, in a statement.

Jeffrey Gibson Is Selling Cashmere Blankets to Fund His Venice Biennale Exhibition