12.04.2024 Venise #art

Iván Argote

Time to rest

Last year, we met Iván Argote at Perrotin Paris on rue de Turenne, where he presented the solo show “Premonitions”. He told us about his arrival in Europe, his debut at the prestigious Parisian gallery, and his artistic practice, which tackles colonialism through interventions in public spaces and historical monuments. As the 60th Venice Biennale opens its doors, we cross paths with the Colombian artist and filmmaker again, as he unveils a new installation in the heart of the Giardini, “Descanso”.

 “I wanted to propose a new approach, to knock down these heroes who are bearers of pain and suffering, and leave room for something else, for life.”

Looking at “Descanso”, we immediately think of the works featured in “Premonitions”. Is this piece a follow-up of the series?

Iván Argote :

It is, indeed. In a way, ‘Premonitions’ was the antechamber to this installation in Venice. It featured paintings and drawings where we could see nature taking over the ruins. In fact, I gave that title to the show because sometimes I like to draw and paint things that I would like to see materialize, like a lucky charm. The exhibition at Perrotin, which was conceived alongside an exhibition at the Centre Pompidou and toured Madrid, Paris and London, revolved around my exploration of historic monuments and recounted some of my interventions through three films.

How did this second instalment of the project arrive in Venice?

Iván Argote :

The Biennale’s director, Adriano Pedrosa, contacted my gallery in Madrid, Albarrán Bourdais, enquiring about a sculpture I had created for an exhibition in 2022. The piece at issue was also a ruin invaded by nature, only on a smaller scale. We met again in the studio and he suggested that I develop the project further. I then proposed creating a replica of the Christopher Columbus statue in Madrid, including the pedestal, both sculpted in stone, which we have installed spread out over the ground, invaded by nature.


Once we created the piece, I went back and forth to Venice several times, and when the location was determined, we sowed invasive plants around the sculpture and the entirety of the space. Some of them will grow taller and blossom, so by the end of the Biennale, in November, the installation will have become a garden in itself, which I think will be quite beautiful.


I take it that the use of these so-called “invasive” plants is also a deliberate choice…

Iván Argote :

That’s right. While working on the project, I discovered that there is a somewhat official European government directory classifying so-called “invasive exotic” plants as “invasive aliens”. These are generally plants introduced to Europe during the colonial period or that came naturally, but mainly through the transport of people or goods, for medicinal or ornamental reasons, agriculture… They have spread throughout Europe and are now considered invasive.


I was quite struck not only by the fact that some cities, such as Madrid, have eradicated these plants from public gardens, but also by the language used to speak of them, as it often employs words such as “replacement”, frequently used by the far right when addressing the topic of immigration. So I decided to use these ‘hunted’ plants, immigrants themselves, to take over this sculpture of Christopher Columbus. I have also mingled them with local indigenous species because, rather than just using “exotic” plants, the idea is to use what is at hand.

The theme of this 60th Venice Biennale, “Strangers Everywhere”, is quite the perfect framework for your work, as it revolves around colonialism and migration.

Iván Argote  :

I’m particularly excited about this 60th edition because this is the very first Biennale directed by a Latin American, Adriano Pedrosa. We’re about 30% Latin American artists participating this year, around a hundred, which is quite a lot! I had already developed the concept of my installation in 2022: I knew it was about the figure of Christopher Columbus and that I wanted to use these invasive plants. The timing was perfect, my project just ticked all the boxes.


The reception of works tackling subjects like colonialism and historical monuments is different in Europe than in America. Does this Biennial mark a turning point? 

Iván Argote :

The presence of artists exploring these themes in major exhibitions is increasing, and this Venice Biennale is also a sign of this change. Above all, I think it will offer new perspectives, not only on this subject per se but also on the history of art itself. It features the work of little-known artists who nevertheless have a fantastic body of work, both from our generation and previous ones. Many names have been forgotten and excluded from the official Art History narrative, so this edition opens up a new perspective and promises many discoveries, both historical and contemporary. I have discovered artists I didn’t know myself too!

“Descanso” means “rest” in Spanish, a feeling we get by this Christophe Columbus pleasantly lying down, surrounded by plants.

Iván Argote :

I thought it would be nice to put this somewhat violent story on hold, to let it rest. My work is driven by a public vocation and a need for universal sharing. I try to create works that are accessible to a wide public, and that will ultimately stimulate viewers to raise new questions and project themselves. With “Descanso” I wanted to propose a new approach, to knock down these heroes who are bearers of pain and suffering, and leave room for something else, for life. In a world that is increasingly tense, increasingly polarised, and where we have the impression that violence keeps on escalating for various reasons, we need a bit of calm.


I also like the idea of the sculpture travelling from Madrid back to Italy. In a sense, it is like his return journey: Columbus left Italy to go to Spain, before sailing to America, and now through me, coming from America, I’ve travelled to Madrid and I’m bringing the sculpture back to Italy once again.



Interview by Cristina López Caballer

Photos: Michaël Huard, Karen Paulina Biswell & Courtesy of Galería Albarrán Bourdais, Perrotin and Galería Vermelho.


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