Archie Moore, Australian Artist, Wins Top Prize at Venice Biennale

Archie Moore, an Indigenous Australian artist who has created an installation including a monumental family tree, won the top prize at the Venice Biennale on Saturday.

Moore, 54, took the Golden Lion, the prize for the best national participation at the Biennale, the world’s oldest and most high-profile international art exhibition. He beat out artists representing 85 other countries to become the first Australian winner.

For his installation, “kith and kin,” Moore has drawn a family tree in chalk on the walls and ceiling of the Australia Pavilion. The web of names encompasses 3,484 people and Moore says it stretches back 65,000 years, although he has smudged some details so that they are hard to read. In the center of the room is a huge table covered with stacks of government documents relating to the deaths of Indigenous Australians in police custody.

Julia Bryan-Wilson, the chair of this year’s Biennale jury and a professor of contemporary art at Columbia University, said during the prize announcement that Moore’s installation was “a mournful archive” that “stands out for its strong aesthetic, its lyricism and its invocation of shared loss for occluded pasts.”

Before Saturday’s ceremony, which was streamed online, Moore’s pavilion had already been a critical hit. Julia Halperin, writing in The New York Times, said that the installation was one no Biennale visitor should miss. Moore’s hand-drawn family tree was so dense at points it was impossible to make out the names. “The implication is clear: expand the aperture wide enough and we are all related,” Halperin said. “It’s a concept that could feel trite if it weren’t rendered with such poetry, rigor and specificity.”

In his acceptance speech, Moore said every Biennale visitor had a shared “responsibility of care to all living things now and into the future.”

“We are all one,” he added.

Saturday’s other major award, the Golden Lion for best participant in the Biennale’s main exhibition, went to Mataaho Collective, a group of four Maori women from New Zealand, for an installation that evokes a traditional mat used during Maori ceremonies, including childbirth.

Announcing that prize, Bryan-Wilson said that collective had created a luminous “womb-like cradle” that casts “a dazzling pattern of shadows” across the gallery floor.

The jury awarded the Silver Lion for the most promising young artist in the main exhibition to Karimah Ashadu, a British Nigerian based in Hamburg, Germany, for “Machine Boys,” which depicts illegal taxi drivers in Lagos, Nigeria.

This is the 60th edition of the Biennale, which was founded in 1895 as a global exhibition of contemporary art. It has long featured pavilions for individual countries to present their own shows, with Belgium’s completed first, in 1907.

Today, the Biennale sprawls over the city, and countries without a permanent building to showcase their work mount shows in office blocks, decrepit mansions and, in one case this year, a women’s prison.

Every Biennale also features a huge central exhibition, devised by a single curator. This year, Adriano Pedrosa, the director of the São Paulo Museum of Art in Brazil, devised a show called “Foreigners Everywhere” that features work by hundreds of artists, many of them migrants or from Indigenous communities.

The Biennale, which opened to the public Saturday after a week of previews, runs through Nov. 24.

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