52nd International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennal: Shaun Gladwell

For nearly 30 years the Australian Government’s arts funding and advisory body, the Australia Council for the Arts, has managed and funded specially selected Australian artists to represent Australia at the Venice Biennale.  Every two years Venice becomes the world stage for the Biennale, which is the leading showcase for contemporary art. The Australia Council for the Arts is committed to creating opportunities within the international community to not only view Australian contemporary art, but also to collect it. The oldest and most important visual arts biennial event is the Venice Biennale.  

Just like each of the 29 countries that participate at the Venice Biennale, the Australia Council has its own pavilion.  Designed by renowned Australian architect Philip Cox, it was first opened in 1988. 

Australia’s presence at the Venice Biennale has been a great opportunity for a number of Australian artists.  Often their exposure at the Biennale has resulted in commissions or requests from other international art galleries and museums asking to show their work.


MADDESTMAXIMVS: Planet & Stars Sequence

Shaun ​Gladwell

One contemporary Australian artist, Shaun Gladwell, who works in video, film, photography, painting, sculpture/installation, performance/choreography and text, has represented Australia twice at the Venice Biennale.

In 2007, he was one of three Australian artists selected by Director Robert Storr to participate in the 52nd International Art Exhibition at the Venice Biennale. When he was again invited to exhibit at the biennial in 2009, he decided that his installation, MADDESTMAXIMVS: Planet & Stars Sequence, for the Australian pavilion would be built upon the foundation of interest and support created by his participation in the 2007 Venice Biennale.

While extremely contemporary in a format which consists of several projects that intersect with each other through various locations and performances this multi-screen work,

is steeped in art history.  By revisiting a nationalistic fervor associated with a previous period of Australian art and the old archetype of the hero exiled to the wilderness, (think of Mad Max from the movies) Gladwell puts a brave new spin on existentialist big-themes.

Gladwell’s continuing engagement with extreme sports is on display in MADDESTMAXIMVS by relocating inherently urban activities to the natural environment. The disparity encourages unique interpretations of the performances, while simultaneously littering the landscape with performing bodies and actions. The activities are provocative: road kill kangaroos, found on the side of highways by a black leather clad motorcyclist are given a ritualistic burial, a group of figures spin against natural rock formations and an individual rapidly painting and then erasing images of the universe in open arid settings.

Negotiating works within the conventions of art history and traditional landscape painting via performance, Shaun Gladwell re-imagines familiar territory. His the entire installation at the Australian Pavilion operates as a vanitas or memento mori with evocative images that are projected alongside sculptures that question function and the object’s relationship to the moving image.

The resulting work, which Gladwell describes as "per-formative landscapes" are both rhythmic and poetic with a distorted sense of speed, space, gravity, and time while he explores visual and spatial paradoxes.

Shawn Gladwell has gone on to become an internationally recognized contemporary artist exhibiting throughout Australia, Asia, the United States and Europe.