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Steve McQueen: Giardini

Solo show at The British Pavilion, Venice. 2009
Date: 7 June, 2009 until 22 November, 2009
Curator: Richard Riley
Organiser: British Council

Artist Steve McQueen was selected to represent Britain in the British Pavilion at the 53rd Venice Biennale, which took place 7 June – 22 November 2009. Several partners supported McQueen’s contribution, namely, Thomas Dane Gallery, London; Marian Goodman Gallery, New York and the Art Fund Outset Production Fund Partners.  McQueen’s contribution was characteristically original and took the form of a film, given the title of ‘Giardini’. The film took its name from the ‘Giardini Pubblici’, the gardens located in the Castello region in the eastern part of Venice. ‘Giardini Pubblici’ is the name of the gardens in which the main pavilions of the Venice Biennale have, since 1895, been located.

‘Giardini’ took the form of a split screen film that documented the area of ‘Giardini Pubblici’, out of season as it were, in ways not normally considered or comprehended by the legions visiting the Biennale every other year. In McQueen’s film, feral dogs wandered, and shadowy figures lurked or engaged with each other in the hidden, less visible environs of ‘Giardini Pubblici’. This film presented a decidedly different view of gardens and buildings that are, during the time of the Biennale, pristine, manicured, and sanitised of the dubious or uncertain elements that characterized McQueen’s film. ‘Giardini’ presented an underside of the venue in which the Biennale is located, and in so doing, obliged its viewers to consider wider matters of visibility, abandonment, and the consequences and implications of a space that has in effect been reclaimed by an imprecise cast of characters. In some respects, ‘Giardini’ presented a counter view of the Biennale, in which ‘Giardini Pubblici’ was not so much empty, but more reclaimed, with the art world’s attention having moved on – for eighteen months or so – to shinier, more spruce, more socially disinfected spaces and locations.

‘Giardini’ was an understated, profound work, which drew much in the way of critical acclaim. It was a triumphant contribution by an artist whose trajectory since the first ICA Futures Award in 1996 had been onwards and upwards, including winning the Turner Prize in 1999 and receiving an OBE in 2002. Steve McQueen was the second Black British-born artist to represent Britain at Venice. The first Black British-born artist to win the Turner Prize was Chris Ofili. He too had gone on to represent Britain, at the Venice Biennale, in 2003.

A publication, Steve McQueen: Giardini notebook commemorated Britain’s Venice Biennale contribution of 2009. It included a text by T. J. Demos, “Giardini: A Fairytale,” reprinted as  ”Giardini: A Fairytale” in Nka Journal of Contemporary Art, Number 27, 2010: 6-13.

Giardini (when shown at Marian Goodman Gallery, New York) was reviewed by Vanessa Rocco, in Nka Journal of African Art, Number 27, 2010: 118-119. 

From Rocco’s text: “… The images conjuring a haunted ruin create a tension with others in the film that are more firmly rooted in current sociocultural contexts: furtive sexual encounters between strangers at night in a piazza, seeming to have nowhere else to rendezvous; the dislocation and anxious expression of a face in close-up, perhaps that of an immigrant; the overhang throughout of what Demos and others refer to as “cultural tourism” rather than place tourism. This statelessness and homelessness pervade the new social order. The Biennale resists acknowledging this at the peril of its own relevance in the art-world hierarchy. By showing the off-hours and in-between spaces of the Giardini and thus exposing the seeming “natural order” of nationalism and hegemony as a decaying fiction, McQueen achieves a film as political as Western Deep— an intention asserted by the artist in an interview with Demos…”

Related items

click to show details of Steve McQueen: Giardini Notebook

»  Steve McQueen: Giardini Notebook

Catalogue relating to an exhibition, 2009

People in this exhibition

»  Sir Steve McQueen OBE, CBE

Born, 1969 in London, UK

Exhibition venues

»  The British Pavilion, Venice

Venice, Italy