IMA contemporary art chair Lisa Freiman answered that question for us, on its own terms, last year: “It's great for the museum because it puts us in the company of the best museums in the country who have done this. But it is also great for the city because it is another way that we can demonstrate very literally that we are ambitious and competitive and critically minded. This is not just saying that we've arrived, but that we've excelled our peers in many ways."
And, as it turns out, it's not just an either/or question, because local audiences without the expense account to make the trip to Venice will, beginning this week, have a chance to see parts of the Biennale installation, Gloria.
Created by the Puerto Rico-based team of Jennifer Allora and Guillermo Calzadilla, Gloria was a series of works blending sculpture, photography, performance, sound and video. Two elements of the installation will be recreated at the IMA: “Body in Flight (Delta),” a performative piece in which a female gymnast in red, white and blue unitard uses a replica of a business-class airline seat as a gymnastic apparatus; and the “Vieques Series,” a collection of short videos filmed on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques, the site of a U.S. army base until 2003, after which environmental remediation began. This will mark the first time all three videos in the "Vieques Series" will be screened together in the U.S.; only one video from the series, "Half Mast/Full Mast," was screened at the Venice Biennale.
Video: Allora and Calzadilla discuss "Half Mast/Full Mast" (courtesy IMA):
The “Vieques Series” runs in the Holeman Gallery through Oct. 14; “Body in Flight (Delta)” will have a shorter run, through April 22, perhaps because each performance requires the talent of an athlete affiliated with USA Gymnastics. Sadie Wilhelmi, who performed “Body in Flight (Delta)” throughout its Venice run, will reprise her role on March 8; she also trained the athletes performing through the rest of the piece's Indy run. Tonight's reservation-required opening will kick off with a performance of “Body in Flight (Delta)” in the entrance pavilion, followed by an open forum featuring Freiman, gymnast Dave Durante and others involved in mounting Gloria.
Some elements of Gloria didn't make the trip, notably “Track and Field,” described as the installation's “centerpiece” by The New York Times, which was an inverted military tank topped by a treadmill activated by a runner for 15 minutes on the hour.
There was also a “Body in Flight (American),” the male answer to “Body in Flight (Delta),” reviewed thusly by the Times: “The Delta seat functions as a balance beam for a female gymnast whose sensuous performance evokes an attractive model demonstrating appliances or cars at a trade show. The male gymnast uses the American seat as a pommel horse, and the loud thumps of his many energetic jumps, mounts and dismounts, executed without benefit of padding, provided a painful sound accompaniment. It seemed like debilitating, delegated endurance art.”
But the pieces that have made the trip should give viewers a sense of Gloria, which The Guardian described as emblematic of a politically-motivated biennale. There's another big deal: the IMA's entry set — or at least kept — the pace for the entire exhibition, reportedly engaging with pieces in other pavilions in a provocative way. Here's The Guardian, again: [“Track and Field”] is the eye-opener to the US pavilion at the 54th biennale and the loudest and punchiest affront in the place. The Centurion [the upturned tank] is a British creation, but let that pass, perhaps as further evidence of the special relationship. For this is an art tank, with a strong conceit and a cunning pun of a title, yoking imperialism, mechanisation, personal/political goals and much more, with the overall notion of pounding the world.”