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The 55th Venice Biennale: Canada Brings Shary Boyle
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The 55th Venice Biennale: Canada Brings Shary Boyle

Picture of Eleanor Cunningham
Updated: 16 March 2016
The Canada Pavilion is sending one of its most acclaimed and controversial artists to represent the country. Praised for her amazing ability to move from one medium to another, Shary Boyle explores strong and confronting issues within her practice. Despite the exhibition being kept a secret until the exclusive previews in May, Boyle has left some intriguing clues. We investigate and take a look into what is potentially in store at this year’s Venice Biennale.

Toronto-based artist Shary Boyle has been selected by Marc Mayer, the director of the National Gallery of Canada, to represent the country at the 55th Venice Biennale International Art Exhibition in 2013. The Biennale is famous for making the careers of many Canadian artists including Janet Cardiff and George Bures Miller in 2001, and David Altmejd in 2007. The Canada Pavilion has been participating since 1952, with its representation organised by the National Gallery of Canada and the Canada Council, both dedicated to ensuring the continuation of Canadian presence at the Venice Biennale. One of the world’s most prestigious visual arts showcases, the Biennale is set to open its doors to the public from 1st June. Boyle however plans to be in Venice much earlier, by mid-April in fact, to get started on her ambitious project titled Music for Silence for the Biennale’s preview on 29th May.


A graduate of OCAD (Ontario College of Art and Design University), Shary Boyle has so far accomplished many high-end awards for her work; in 2009 she won the coveted Gershon Iskowitz Prize at the Art Gallery of Ontario. In 2010 and 2011, a survey of her work entitled Flesh and Blood was organised by Universtie du Quebec a Montreal and the AGO, and toured several major venues across Canada. Her work is primarily focused on issues within social class and gender injustice, and she is renowned for exploring these topics through imaginary narratives, fictional characters and make-believe worlds. She is also known for being committed to handmade, interdisciplinary collaborations. Most famous of her creations are her delicate and wonderfully disconcerting figurines that address personal yet universal themes of childhood and family, human and animal, animate and inanimate, life and death, young and old, male and female. A keen show woman, she has previously collaborated with several musicians including Peaches and Feist, and developed a unique take on live drawing and shadow theatre using quaintly charming overhead projectors.


Everything Under the Moon 2012
Ⓒ Shary Boyle and Jessica Bradley Inc.

Aiming to create a couple of major parts for her presentation while in Venice for the exhibition, Boyle is focused on creating a brand new, ambitious and diverse body of work. Dedicating 80-hour workweeks running up to the deadline, she aims to get it right. Boyle has visited previous Biennales as a spectator in 2007 and 2011, and understands what needs to be done.


Of course, just what constitutes that work will remain a secret until late May. Boyle has stated that the exhibition will take her known style to the next level, thanks to the support of the National Gallery of Canada. She promises a real transformation and holistic experimental dialogue with the exhibition space consisting of many components yet fitting together: she describes this quality with the metaphor of a Russian doll. Music will also be installed as another metaphor. Expect recurring notes, quiet sections, crescendos, little solos, and choruses – almost like a composition. Curated by National Gallery of Canada’s Josee Drouin-Brisebois, it promises to be quite a spectacle in contrast with the quiet mood of Steven Shearer’s display two years ago.


Boyle has stated that she is drawn to the city of Venice as it has a natural fit to her work. Its history is filled with outcasts persecuted from other areas of Europe who came to hide in the city of water, and later become the very powerful merchant class. That history – the idea of a group of strugglers, bound together to create this strong and high-class identity – is a common theme within her own work. She is also mesmerised by the idea of water lapping up the staircases, like a city of Atlantis. With its many ancient buildings, a mix of Eastern Islamic, Roman, gothic, and classical architecture, Venice is a place where she feels the ‘Other’ can exist.


The Canadian Pavilion – shaped like a nautilus shell with a sloping, tepee-like ceiling made using glass and wood – was designed by the Milanese architecture firm BBPR and built under the guidance of the National Gallery of Canada. It has frustrated artists, curators and installers alike since its 1958 opening, however Boyle has been ‘charmed’ by it. Considering it thoroughly through using to-scale models in her studio, Boyle has developed an intimate relationship with this unique space. Even the tricky shell shape has proven inspirational, with Boyle using it as a motif in work.

With a true passion for the space and the ability to take her artwork to new heights, this exhibition is one not to be missed.

Canada Team

Canada Pavilion Theme: Music for Silence

Artist: Shary Boyle

Commissioner: National Gallery of Canada / Musée des beaux-arts du Canada

Curator: Josée Drouin-Brisebois Venue: Pavilion at Giardini


About The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Project

The 55th International Art Exhibition of the Venice Biennale will take place from 1 June – 24 November. The Culture Trip’s Venice Biennale Series is an article series leading up to the start of the exhibition. With 88 countries participating in this year’s Biennale — 10 of them for the first time — and 150 artists from 37 countries, our coverage over the next couple of months will highlight a selection of the National Pavilions that will be participating in the 2013 edition of the Venice Biennale. Watch this space for our daily Venice Biennale updates or follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Pinterest!


By Eleanor Cunningham