Glasgow's Cathy Wilkes to represent UK at Venice Biennale

Celebrated for her melancholic sculptural installations, Wilkes will present at new work in the Giardini's British pavilion at the 58th edition of the world's grandest visual arts festival

Article by Jamie Dunn | 09 Apr 2018
  • Cathy Wilkes. Untitled. 2012. Gift of the Speyer Family Foundation and Mrs. Saidie A. May (by exchange). © 2017 Cathy Wilkes

The next Venice Biennale (11 May-24 Nov 2019) will feature Belfast-born, Glasgow-based artist Cathy Wilkes representing the UK in the British pavilion. Scotland has had its own show at the Biennale since 2003 – they recently launched an open call for proposals for the 2019 Biennale, closing on 4 May. It appears Wilkes will be the first Scottish-based artist to represent the UK in the pavilion's history. 

A sculptor and painter, Wilkes trained at Glasgow’s Art School and is celebrated for her melancholic installations concerned with scenes of domesticity and representations of physical and emotional loss. Speaking to The Herald, Emma Dexter, the chair of the British pavilion selection committee, commented that “Wilkes’ distinctive and highly personal sculptural installations, evoking the rituals of daily life while alluding to existential questions at the core of human existence, will trigger complex new meanings and atmospherics within the grand domestic architecture of the British Pavilion.”

Wilkes' intimate sculptures and tableaux should prove a marked contrast to the large scale sculptural work of Phyllida Barlow, UK's most recent representative at Venice Biennale. This won’t be Wilkes’ first show in Venice: she was part of group show Selective Memory at the Scotland+Venice pavilion in 2005, and showed as part of the Encyclopedic Palace in 2015 (as reviewed by one of The Skinny's roving reporters at the time). She was the subject of a recent survey in MOMA's PS1 space in New York, and in 2016 received the Maria Lassnig Prize for mid-career artists. Wilkes was also nominated for the Turner Prize in 2008.

Fiona Bradley, the director of The Fruitmarket Gallery in Edinburgh, and a member of the British pavilion selection committee, also commented on the choice of Wilkes as the UK representative, calling her work “eloquent and engaging, with an uncompromising visual intelligence that will reach across national borders to appeal to the many and diverse audiences for the Biennale Arte 2019."

The British Council have also announced the appointment of Dr Zoe Whitley, Curator International Art, Tate as curator of the 2019 presentation. This is the first time the curator has been selected from an open call for mid-career curators, in a move aimed at widening access to international working for UK visual arts professionals. 

The 58th Venice Biennale runs 11 May-24 Nov 2019