Quebec’s mixed-media collective BGL has been named Canada’s representative at the 2015 Venice Biennale, for more than a half-century the most prestigious art exhibition in the world. The announcement was made Thursday afternoon in Ottawa by the National Gallery of Canada, which organized the five-member panel that chose BGL and will install the collective’s site-specific works at the Canadian pavilion for the event, running May 9 through Nov. 22, 2015.
BGL – an acronym composed of the first initial in the surname of each collective participant (Jasmin Bilodeau, Sébastien Giguère, Nicolas Laverdière) – was founded in the mid-90s when its members, all now in their early 40s, were studying at Université Laval in Ste-Foy, Que. The collective, short-listed in 2006 for the Sobey Art Award, currently works and lives in Quebec City.
In its release, the NGC notes that BGL “takes a hands-on, artisanal approach” in the preparation of its sculptures and mixed-media installations/interventions/situations, using materials as diverse as wood, drywall, cardboard as well as everyday objects (including fluorescent lights, cars, security fencing, Christmas ornaments, festive banners, tires). “We try to provoke accidents because they help to generate better directions,” they told an interviewer in 2013. “the ones we never think about are usually the best; the unexplainable is also very satisfying.”
For NGC director/CEO Marc Mayer, the Venice commission “is an exciting moment for BGL who have recently come into their own as an aesthetic force to be reckoned with. I’m convinced international audiences will be as enthusiastic about their work as Canadians have become.”
Canada’s last two appearances at the Biennale – in 2011 with Vancouver’s Steven Shearer and in 2013 with Toronto’s Shary Boyle – were curated by Josée Drouin-Brisebois, NGC curator of contemporary art. While Drouin-Brisebois was a member of the committee that chose BGL, for 2015 the curator slot will be occupied by Marie Fraser, a professor of art history and museology at the Université du Québec in Montreal. (The other members of the selection committee were Mayer; Bruce Grenville, senior curator, Vancouver Art Gallery; and Gerald McMaster, former curator of Canadian art, Art Gallery of Ontario, current deputy assistant director, Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian, Washington, D.C.)
The panel made its choice this month during a day-long deliberation, drawing, in part, on lists of names provided by invited contemporary art experts from across Canada. The 2015 announcement comes earlier than usual for Canada: for Shary Boyle, the announcement was made in May 2012, barely 13 months before the 55th Biennale was to open. Said an NGC spokesperson: “We’ve made a real effort [this time] to give as much time as possible for the artists to prepare an extraordinary exhibition and to give us as much time as possible to raise funds.” It’s estimated the total budget for Canada’s participation in Venice will be $1.0-$1.3-million.