When the artist team Allora & Calzadilla was chosen to represent the United States at the 2011 Venice Biennale, the prestigious art exhibition that opens to the public this weekend, many art-world insiders were surprised. It wasn’t a matter of not liking the artists — it was a matter of not even knowing them.
Unlike Bruce Nauman or Ed Ruscha, who have represented the U.S. in recent years, this pair was a departure from the art-world establishment.
Allora & Calzadilla were also an unusual choice geopolitically. Guillermo Calzadilla was born in 1971 in Havana, and Jennifer Allora in 1974 in Philadelphia. They met in art school in Florence, Italy, and now live and work together in San Juan, Puerto Rico. Their trajectory raises the question: What does it mean to be an American artist — or represent the U.S. as an artist — in an age of a global art market and international art schools?
The artists’ installations at the Biennale, which include performances of aggressive routines by U.S. gymnasts that explore broader American shows of power, raise questions about national identity, as do several other contributions from the 88 national pavilions that make up the heart of the Biennale. In this respect, Allora & Calzadilla’s work in the Biennial is part of a growing trend: artists representing their countries at the Venice Biennale in unorthodox ways or resisting the idea of national representation altogether.